Getting the Most out of Life

Teaching English Abroad: A Rewarding Post-College Experience

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In the last several years, programs for teaching English abroad experienced a significant uptick in applications as Millennials who faced an uncertain future turned to teaching abroad as a way to explore the world, make some money, and figure out what would come next after college.

Why Leave the U.S.?

Unsure of how to answer the inevitable, “What are you doing after graduation?” question, Lisa Malmgren researched the option to teach abroad, and she realized that it could support her financially while she explored some of the world before settling into a career.

Lisa shared her vision with her boyfriend, Chris Radey, and he agreed to go with her. “All I knew is that I wanted to do at least a bit of traveling while I was still in my early twenties,” explains Chris. The couple spent 10 months teaching English in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Austria.

Another Millennial, Robin Mele, grew up traveling, which inspired her to teach English abroad. “I studied Japanese for four years in college, as well as education, so teaching English in Japan seemed like a logical next step,” says Robin, who spent two years living and teaching English to junior high school students in the Tokushima Prefecture in Japan.

Teaching abroad doesn’t necessarily have to connect to your career aspirations. Millennial Shane Riter decided to teach abroad because he’d never left the United States and wanted to experience a new perspective on the world. He spent a year in the Guangdong Province of China.

Becoming Eligible

You don’t need certification to teach abroad in every location, but most schools prefer to hire those who’ve received training. Lisa and Chris were not certified teachers coming out of college, so the couple elected to earn official certifications in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), which made them more competitive in the international teaching job market. A teaching certification also increases the likelihood of landing a better job and a higher salary.

Finding Teaching Jobs

The International TEFL Academy estimates that 250,000 native English speakers teach abroad. While you can find teaching jobs through job boards, certification programs tend to be the better option, since they vet schools and have legitimate connections. Two other options are specific country programs and agencies. For example, Robin went through the JET Program, which connects native English speakers with local governments and public schools in Japan, while Shane found an agent who connected him directly with a school in exchange for a commission taken out of his first two paychecks.

Chris and Lisa scoured job boards on and Dave’s ESL Cafe to find positions, and they lucked out. After landing in Slovakia, the couple was delighted with their immersive cultural experience. “When you are working side-by-side with people from another country, you see so much more about what they like to do, how they think, what they eat, and who they are,” says Lisa.

Returning to the States

In addition to offering a culturally eye-opening experience, teaching English abroad can increase your confidence, help you develop public speaking skills, and help you learn how to be creative and think quickly on your feet so that you feel ready to start a long-term career at home.

Other reasons for returning home include missing loved ones, craving stability, or feeling incomplete. Robin, for instance, found a lot of fulfillment during her two years in Japan, but she missed one of her passions: dancing. “I tried to dance while in Japan, but it is difficult for a U.S. citizen to get a work visa in Japan without teaching English.”

Most Americans who’ve taught abroad, regardless of where, return home with the intention of going back out again. Lisa uses this as motivation during tough days at work. “Sometimes, when the prospect of sitting at a desk for the rest of my career gets a little overwhelming, I remember that I can do another year or two abroad at any point, especially now that I have a year of experience.”