7 Secrets to Becoming an International Teacher
Updated: Jul 24
By: Lindsay Peak
Becoming an International Teacher is a great way to see the world while doing something you love.
Everyday I get to live my dream of inspiring young people about my home. Where is that home, exactly? Wherever I choose to make it - my home is the world! Working as an international teacher seems to be the world’s best kept secret and even now I am selfishly reluctant to share it. But alas, the more GGIs I have the opportunity to share this lifestyle with, the more thrilling it becomes. So listen up, ladies!
First things first: The Definition of “International Teacher”
An International Teacher is NOT, I repeat NOT, the same as teaching English, or TEFL, overseas. Both are noble professions but are often confused. An international teacher is a licensed elementary or secondary teacher who teaches in an English speaking school. These schools are international, generally private schools not sponsored by the local government. Students are typically proficient in English, although many are now offering English as an additional Language.
For example, I teach Middle and High School Humanities at the International School of Belgrade, Serbia. I teach in English to both native English speakers and EAL students, just as I would ‘back home’ in the U.S. Licensed teachers who either want a change from their home countries or are impacted professionally by tough economic conditions often find themselves jumping across puddles (or oceans) and into International Schools. Inevitably, they wonder why they didn’t make the jump sooner.
1. The Preparation: What if I'm Not a Licensed Teacher?
Aside from obtaining a teaching certificate in your home country, graduate programs are also available internationally, including global programs like The College of New Jersey, which offer courses in the summers as well as around the globe, particularly catered towards those who are already teaching internationally or are interested in doing so. Counseling and Administrative degrees are also offered.
If you are passionate about learning from other cultures and guiding young people through an ever changing world, this might be what you’ve been waiting for – or maybe they’ve been waiting for you!
2. The Search: How do I find an international teaching job?
The best way is to register with an International Teaching Recruiting Service. The most well known are Search Associates and International Schools Service (ISS). In the fall, apply to be accepted to one of these services. There is a $100-200 USD fee, but my personal experience has shown that it’s a small price to gain my dream lifestyle. Once accepted, candidates can view jobs posted by International Schools. You can begin to send schools CV’s or some might even contact you.
3. Job Fairs: What are they and do I really need to go?
Imagine a weekend-long convention full of schmoozing, smiling and modestly bragging about yourselves through (on average) 8 interviews. Some find this exciting and exhilarating and others exhausting. Frankly, it’s both.
Bottom line: It’s worth it. While many schools are starting to hire before job fairs via Skype interviews, many will still wait for the opportunity to meet candidates in a face-to-face environment. To be fair, they are not just inviting you to their school as a teacher, but also as a whole person – a real live member of their community. The best schools will welcome you into their communities but also
may want to be honest about what theirs has to offer and whether it will be the right fit for you.
4. The Package: Why should I move across the world for a teaching job?
International Schools know you are making a monumental life change that often involves leaving family and friends behind as well as bungee jumping out of the comfort zone of your home country. High quality international schools offer competitive benefits packages to accompany sound salaries in order to make your international transition an easy one. Schools know your personal life needs to be just comfortable enough in order to perform to your best abilities as a teacher.
Before accepting an international teaching position, ensure that the benefits package includes:
furnished housing or at least a housing allowance
local and/or international health insurance
round trip annual flight allowance from your home or “point of origin”
“settling in” allowance
These are the basic benefits. Some schools may offer more or less but expect to be ‘taken care of’ by your new international community. If your potential employers do not mention any of the above allowances, ask before signing a contract. If none of these are offered, be wary of the quality of the school.
5. The Community: How will I fit in?
Once you are settled in your classroom, you must venture out of it! Teaching abroad can offer a variety of opportunities for socializing and enriching your personal life in a number of ways. While there are often a plethora of other expats around the world to meet and bond with, international teaching provides an instant community of colleagues and friends who you will inevitably relate to (you can’t help it – you’re all teaching abroad and therefore instant bff’s). Whether you want it or not, other new international teachers as well as long-time returning staff will become your intimate happy hour or venting buddies, or both! The school community is often a tight-knit one and will provide a constant support network. But in order to make the most of your international experience, don’t forget to explore other communities as well. Search for local clubs and groups and (obviously!) Girl Gone International will help you find friends to, let’s be honest, talk about things other than school with!
Last but not least – get to know the local culture! You will likely be living in a community which is happy to meet and socialize with “foreigners”, hoping to swap stories about your home cultures, and maybe even looking for a language exchange partner.
6. The Students: Your window to a new culture
While socializing can be one of the best ways to experience your host country, many forget how much one can learn about a culture from its young people. Adults are often trained to be politically correct in descriptions of their own cultures (understandably so, in this complex world), but children and teenagers will give you an unfiltered, candid insight into this culture that is so fascinating to you but so “normal” to them. Your students will undoubtedly open your eyes to a whole new perspective, often without even realizing they are teaching you just as much as you are teaching them.
7. The Travel: What more can I say?
I do not recommend that anyone enter this profession purely for the travel opportunities. Teaching, (whether internationally or not), takes a dedicated and extremely motivated type of person. That being said, the travel opportunities in this profession are fantastic! It’s understandable that if you’re living in the U.S., the idea of taking a trip to Paris or anywhere across the ocean can seem unfathomably expensive. But when one lives in Belgrade (as I do!) you find yourself planning to visit your newfound GGI friend in Paris during your next 5 day autumn break in October and planning a weekend train trip to visit a fellow teaching friend in Budapest before that, and inviting your friends to join you for the Christmas festivals across Europe in December. International teaching is rewarding, exhausting and often thankless, but luckily provides built in vacation times which give us NO EXCUSE to say no to exploring our own backyards, which in my case, is the entire Balkan region and ultimately, the rest of the world.