For some, teaching abroad is about having fun, finding adventure, and taking a break from the realities of “normal” life. Others, though, teach abroad for reasons that go beyond enjoyment, and into professional development.
Neither one of these approaches is wrong; however, often a combination of these two can doubly fuel an ESL teacher’s passion during their sojourn. This is an amazing aspect about teaching abroad, in that it provides the opportunity to truly combine both dichotomies of having fun and developing professionally in an a very unique way.
Obviously professional development is a broad concept; and ESL teaching offers a spectrum of beneficial experience to different sectors or fields. Want to become a teacher back at home? Your experience will translate considerably. How about a banker? Maybe not as much. One sector where your teaching English abroad can certainly greatly benefit your future is in academia and expertise related fields.
Living and working in a foreign country can give you an insider understanding of the culture and people. Meaning, anything an ESL teacher does on a day-to-day basis is training for future cultural know-how, including seemingly mundane teaching. This is important to later establish yourself as an expert in a particular region or area of the world.
So, want to enter academia or become some sort of consultant later on? Here are some tips on setting yourself up to become an expert while teaching abroad:
Learn the language
This should be a given, yet the fact remains that many ESL teachers do not take any efforts to learning their host country language. There are a variety of reasons for this, like not enough time, too tired after work, or simple having no interest in the language.
But for those of you who are really interested in being considered an “expert” in your host country, this skill is of the upmost important. Fight the urge to be lazy after work, and dedicate a small bit of time once a day for language study.
Even if you are not a person that absorbs languages very well, still put in the effort. A small amount of language upon returning can provide legitimacy to your experience abroad.
Immerse Yourself with the Locals
There are some who go abroad and only interact with local people during their days at work, and then surround themselves with only Westerners socially. This is such a waste of the experience, especially for those looking to fashion themselves as regional or country ‘experts.’
Make a concerted effort to reach out and make friends from host country locals. These relationships will help shape your understanding of the country’s or region’s culture. This will be important when critical analyzing local policies and history.
Certainly there will be awkward or uncomfortable moments, but these should be viewed as valuable learning experiences. Every interaction can be an addition to your knowledge database in your mind of the county. The smallest, most inconsequential moments can provide surprising resonance later on. Do try to remember and build upon them.
The Right Circles
For those looking to make their way into academia or expert type work, understanding the field itself is of the upmost importance. To really do this broad landscape, you need to understand the other professionals in the sector, especially the opinion leaders.
Traditional ways in the past to do stay up with these figures have been reading books or news articles written or about them. While still crucial to gaining insight, this is the old way of doing it. Now, social media (and other new media) has allowed this converge to be updated instantly, with input and access directly with the entire community.
Twitter seems to be the key for engaging with specific academic or expert circles. Luckily, journalist, academics, and other experts are actively using this media to interact with each other, their readers, and followers. So, you need a Twitter account, and then you need to find the opinion leaders. Find well-known journalist in the field, see who they follow or interact with. This will be a nice way to establish a base to branch out from.
Do not be afraid to interact or comment with these experts. Remember, you are establishing yourself as an expert too, and have experiences that give you insight into the subject. Also, try to consume as much information coming out of these circles as possible—this includes articles, blog post, and even podcast. With this interaction and consumption, you will be nicely ingrained in these expert circles.
Now that you have positioned yourself as an expert in your host country or region, what is next? There are several routes to take. The most obvious one is through academics. Applying to graduate programs with your recent credentials should give you a major boost.
Another route is working outside of the ESL teaching or education world in your host country. With your foundations as an expert properly laid, you might be a valuable asset to organizations operating within the region. This is especially true with non-profits and NGOs.
Perhaps, though, the best option is to head back home. Going back home can provide the beneficial advantage of less completion for people with your international experience. If an organization is doing business with your host region, you can offer valuable insight for them. However, your chances of finding something directly connected might become more limited while heading back home.
Whichever route you decide, the foundations that you set for yourself during your ESL teaching will play a crucial role in this future. Try not to waste this opportunity.
About the Author
Ryan Allen formerly studied abroad in Paderno del Grappa, Italy through the CIMBA program. He then later moved to South Korea to teach English at a high school in Incheon. While there, he completed an MA in international cooperation at Yonsei University. Currently, he is studying politics and education at Teachers College-Columbia University. He is also an adjunct lecturer at Berkeley College and the communication specialist at AIED Council.