My Experiences Teaching Overseas (5 countries)

“If you could do it all over again Caz, would you still become a primary school teacher?”

I was out to lunch with some of my oldest friends and we had just been sharing horror stories of teaching in Australia – mine, those of some other teachers there, and those that had been heard through the hallways at the local schools.

I had to pause for a moment to think about my answer; an answer that would either show a life filled with regret or one with gratitude for the experiences I had been served.

There are plenty of things I wish I did choose instead. Things that I were more passionate about and perhaps more highly skilled in.

I enrolled into teaching because I didn’t know what else to do, nor did I know what I was good at. I had no sense of myself and what I was hoping to achieve with my life. I just chose something for the sake of choosing it.

Everything in life happens for a reason, and sometimes when your path is not clear to you, it is clear to some other unseen force who guides you until you get it.

“You know, if  it wasn’t for teaching, I probably wouldn’t have travelled as much as I did. It was the teaching that got me around the world and allowed me to live in certain countries and travel. So, for that reason alone, I would probably choose it again.

I am so grateful for it being the portal to so much joy and wealth of living.”

As I work now to extract myself from a career I was never passionate about, I write this post in celebration for what it did give to my life.

I hope those who are thinking of teaching overseas embrace it for the amazing experience it will give, in becoming, not just a better teacher, but a better person. Most of all embrace it for the travel it can gift you.

Everywhere in the world needs teachers.

London (97-99)

Talk about being thrown in the deep end.

I had my interview with a teaching agency in the UK before I finished Uni. I was accepted and so when I arrived in London in 1997 on my UK working holiday visa, I was ready to start my teaching career in Hackney, East London, an area I was soon to discover to be one of London’s most challenging.

I wasn’t quite ready to settle into a full time job as I had travel on my horizon, so I went straight for the supply (casual, substitute)  teaching. This meant I was running all over the East End going to different schools every day. It was a great way for me to get to know the city, and lose a whole lot of weight.

It was also a fantastic way for me to learn how to be an adaptable teacherdifferent students, different classes every day. There is nothing like stopping students from throwing chairs at each other; teaching a whole class of Bangladeshi students with limited English; having a 7 year old boy you just meet scream at you “You fucking bitch” before compassion hits you as you realize he was the boy whose mother you saw getting arrested in the school foyer that morning for dealing drugs; and learning how to manage a Somalian refugee with severe autism.

Yep. That is real learning right there.

In the midst of this I did have a couple of permanent days at some schools throughout my one and half years of supply teaching.

For the last six months I decided to find a more permanent position,  and had a year 5 class at a pretty good school. A highlight of that was the Class Space play we created and performed for the whole school. A little nerve wracking, but lots of fun.

Pay: About 100 pounds a day.

Sydney (2000-02)

After my very educational London teaching experience, I returned home and managed to secure a position teaching year 4 at a very nice school in Wahroonga on Sydney’s North Shore.

The principal hired me because she had spent a couple of years in her youth traveling and knew just how much it made you grow as a person and what it could teach you about life.

She took a chance on me where other principals weren’t so willing. In their eyes my jet-set lifestyle wasn’t as professionally appealing.

Wahroonga is a very wealthy suburb and I found myself teaching the children of some pretty influential people, like the head of Australia Sony Music and AMP, our biggest insurance provider.

I also had a student in my class who performed in Les Miserables for the Aussie Broadway version, and a member of the Qantas choir.

After the challenges of London, this was a total dream teaching experience for me.

Bangkok (02)

Foreign teacher with blond hair and blue eyes walks up on stage, grabs the microphone to address 500 high school boys in a language barely any of them could understand.

Yet they nodded to me like they understood everything and welcomed me with gi-normous smiles.

Welcome to teaching in Bangkok.

For six months I taught every class from year 7 to year 12, each having numbers that ranged from 15 – 42 students.

I had some boys who could barely say hello and some that I could hold conversations with, making it almost impossible to teach.

I had to learn how to aim for the middle and do my best to differentiate with the non-existent resources I had. I became very good at getting my message across using non-verbal forms of communications. The boys loved my ridiculous mimes, charades and games.

As my school was attached to one of the oldest and most respected temples in Thailand, Wat Saket, I was able to attend many important ceremonies during my time there.

Wat Saket Buddhist ceremony
Private ceremony at Wat Saket

I also helped to organize a two-day English camp at a beach not far from Bangkok. Many of these students had never seen the ocean before and it was one of my teaching highlights to be able to gift them that opportunity and have a really fun time together.

My students in Bangkok taught me far more than I taught them.

I also taught at a private language school for six hours on a Saturday. For this one day, I received half my monthly wage at my high school. The school was connected to Chulalongkorn University and had amazing resources and small ability based classes.

Pay: Wat Saket- $500USD per month.

Lodging in an old converted office on the third floor was also given as a benefit.

Go- Inter Language School– $250 for 6 hours teaching

Dublin (03)

I spoke of my experience teaching in Dublin on our working holiday stories podcast.

It was one of my favourite teaching experiences to date.

I was not allowed to teach a class of my own as all teachers have to be able to speak Gaelic in order to teach. I started off supply teaching as this was allowed. I found a job advertised in the paper for a Language Resource Teacher, and applied.

The Principal of the school, John, phoned and suggested I meet him for an interview at the school’s Christmas party at the pub. I responded with delight and over red wine, we discussed all things Aussie Rules and Gaelic football, to which he was a major fan. School was not talked about only to say

“You’re hired!”

For six months, my job alternated between teaching small groups of newly arrived immigrants English, and the “Pikies” who are the Irish minority people.

If you have seen the movie ‘Snatch’ then you know what I am talking about. It was a real eye opening cultural experience for me. The job was brilliant and I just loved the people I worked with. It was too easy, the only way the Irish know how to do things.

While in Dublin, I did a 100 hour TEFL course which gave me the opportunity to teach English to Italian high school students during the summer at a language school.

Apart from the teaching, I also took them on tours around Dublin to famous landmarks and historical places. Free tours for myself!

Pay – 140 euros a day.

USA (04-06, 08-10)

Teaching in the US was a fantastic cultural experience for me as well as really helping me to grow in strength as a teacher. Not only that but it gave Craig and I a way to live in the States like we had always wanted. We loved it.

North Carolina, USA
My class in North Carolina, USA

I taught grade 5 for my four years there at two different schools. And my last year, I had half the day re-mediating small groups of students, which I loved, and the other half teaching Year 5 Science and Social Studies.

VIF was the cultural exchange teaching program who hired and placed me.

It was founded by two brothers from Chapel Hill who had spent years studying overseas and traveling. They understood the need and benefits to American children being exposed to those from other countries, and so built a large organization who recruits teachers from around the world.

I have gone through their program twice now and loved it. It gave me the opportunity to meet fellow international teachers, and a support system to assimilate into teaching in the US, which was incredibly different to what I had previously been used to.

I miss my US school family and the feeling that I was doing something important. Not only helping students to have an education, but bringing the world to many who would never get a chance to travel

Ever year I did an Australian exhibition where the students would display information they learned about a certain aspect of Australia and its culture, as well as having food to try, games to play and other interactive exhibits. It was fun and the students gained so much from it.

My final year I ran a five minute morning broadcast show on Australia, which was a ton of fun. I loved being wacky singing Australian songs, making animal noises and other crazy things.

Benefits and Pay: Return flights to the US, subsidized health insurance, reduced car insurance, interest free relocation loan. Sign on bonus from school district approx $38,000 USD a year.

Travelling the world for many years is really possible when you make it a working holiday experience.

Doing this as a teacher gives you the added bonus of good pay, benefits, frequent holidays, cultural insights, and incredible experiences that can only make you a better teacher.

41 thoughts on “My Experiences Teaching Overseas (5 countries)”

  1. I’ve never been drawn to teaching, although my all four of my best friends work in education (three teachers, one is a social worker in schools) and my mom was an English/French teacher. I envy their vacation time (of course!) but I know that I simply don’t have the patience to work as a teacher. Such a great opportunity to work abroad–all of your experiences were such great chances to really work and live abroad–but not quite my path πŸ™‚

    1. Teaching is not a great path really. It has been great for the travel experiences but other than that it gives me little joy and mostly stress. Definitely not a path to walk if you are not interested. There are plenty of other ways to travel the world

  2. I can completely, 100% relate. The single greatest decision I ever made was to quit my dull job in retail back in 2007 and take the scariest plunge of my life and go to South Korea.

    2.5 years, a string of relationships, one amazing relationship, and a lot of travel later – I’m a vastly different person than the shy country boy I was in 2007.

    I’ve fallen in love with new cultures, new experiences, and sharing them as a result of that one snap decision. While I don’t think teaching is a career I’ll ever pursue long term – I owe most of my current happiness to my teaching.

    Great article πŸ™‚

    1. That is great you had a such a positive experience. I do recommend use it as a base for travel but do not turn it into a full time career. It is not worth it and it will drive you insane

  3. Great article! I know I question where I am in my life sometimes, but I always remember that all things happen for a reason. And your career path let you travel all over the world.

    1. It has been interesting!! It’s a shame that when I returned to my home country, they didn’t see any value in this and reduced my teaching experience level down and the Catholic system now won’t allow me to teach. They changed the rules for required years of study while I was gone and apparently that extra year of study would have taught me way more than all this teaching experience around the world!! Ahh Beaurocracy at its finest/

  4. Roy Marvelous | cruisesurfingz

    I’ve never heard of the VIF program in the US before this. I taught English in Prague for a year (as you know) and loved it. Great way to work and travel!

  5. I always wanted to travel O/S as a teacher but instead have settled with working in different states across different sectors , Child Care, Preschool , Primary , Special Education and University and can very much relate to your fantastic article – teaching can totally do your head in but at the same time it can totally open your world to things you might otherwise not have imagined or dreamt you could experience. I also understand your statement about rule changes and beaucracy have taught interstate for the last few years and have just recently returned to my “home” state only to discover the change in rules that happened just in the 3 years away – very frustrating ! Love your blog it is what I have been looking for in the way of blogs – looking forward to reading about your journey ahead and what you decide to do next.

    1. Thanks so much Karen for sharing your experience and your positive comments. You have quite a diverse teaching experience. The beaurocracy is head wrecking. Just let us do our jobs!!

    1. Absolutely. I think they should teach us that more at school. You might spend years trying different things until you get to the one that is really meant for you.

  6. I could see myself teaching for a little while while traveling, but it has never been a passion of mine. That’s great that it has given you so many opportunities to travel while still making an income, but I can see why it would also get old after a while. πŸ™‚

    1. Yeah. It’s great for the travel aspect but it is a demanding and high pressure job. There really is no such thing as 12 weeks vacaction a year like most people seem to think teachers get.

  7. What a wealth of amazing experiences. I have an old teaching degree but left it behind years ago… then again, if they are still paying those kinds of bonuses in North Carolina, perhaps I should go down there for a few years and save up some travel money!

    1. Hmmmmm. Not sure if the bonuses are actually worth all the stress πŸ™‚ It’s always good to leave the teaching degree behind

  8. I’m working on my masters in TESOL right now, other than doing my student teaching in Rio de Janeiro I’ve never really taught. Although I know it’s what I was meant to do, and I hope that it gives me opportunities to travel like you. Was it hard getting visas to work in all those countries or did the teaching companies provide them? I’ve added VIF to my list of resources and would love any others that you would be willing to share @(^_^)@

    1. The teaching companies provided the visas for Bangkok and the US which made it easy. I organized it for UK and Dublin which was easy as it was a working holiday visa. VIF is the only company I went through that is still in operation. The others aren’t. But if you check out this page https://www.ytravelblog.com/working-abroad-2/ we have some resources listed under there.

  9. great post Caz, and nice that your very honest in admitting why you chose to go down the teaching road. I’ve just done the same thing. I am signed up to start teaching in China in the next couple of months. I am admittedly nervous, mostly because I have never been a teacher before! But also because as you mentioned. “I didn’t know what else to do…” I am looking forward to the challenge, and the thought of being able to use it as a great way to continue my adventures further down the road! πŸ™‚

    1. It’s such a great way Sam. And you will do fine. It takes some getting used to but just be relaxed and friendly to your students at the same time as setting those boundaries. Enjoy it as much as you can

  10. I’ve taught in South Korea and Taiwan and absolutely loved it – best experiences of my life. I met so many people, learned about myself (my limits and my strengths), and opened myself up to new cultures and experiences. I enjoyed hearing about the different countries you taught – gave me some ideas for my next adventure. πŸ˜‰ Thanks.

    1. Pleasure Julie! I’m glad it’s given you fuel to keep on going. I think the best part to teaching overseas is learning just how strong you really are. It is pretty challenging and you learn so much. Makes you pretty confident to try scary things a lot more.

  11. Caz, our family are moving to Raleigh from Melbourne for my husband’s work. We are in the process of locating a school for our daughters – Grades 1 & 4. We are grappling with public vs private. What are your thoughts?

    1. Oh Emma!! I am beyond excited for you, yet completely jealous. I have been missing Raleigh so much lately.

      North Carolina is known to be one of the best states for education. There are more residents with PHD’s then any other state. (That’s what I’ve been told anyway)
      I think, depending on where you live, you will find a public school that is really great. I honestly don’t think you’d need to go to the extra expense of a private school. But, I haven’t had much experience with the private schools so I can’t comment too much on why one would be better than the other.

      I am sure they still have to abide by the ridiculous No Child Left Behind rules, which puts a lot of focus on testing. IT sucks, but there are a lot of schools who don’t let this impact real and proper education.

      Do you know where in Raleigh you will be living? I might be able to suggest some schools in the area or give you some insight. Magnet schools are known to be really great schools, so if you have one in your area it would be great to try and get into that. With public schooling in the States you have to go to the school you are zoned for. Many Americans base where they live on this. Its a big deal.

      LEt me know if you want any more tips on Raleigh

      1. Thank you so much for your response Caz! You are very generous. We are planning to live in North Raleigh or Carey and are now thinking we would really prefer to go with public schooling. Any advice you have on schools in these areas would be amazing. Thank you again, Emma.

        1. The schools in Carey will be great. It is a bit more of an affluent area. Great facilities in Cary, it is a good area of Raleigh. North Raleigh is also good depending on which area you move to. There’s a few pockets that aren’t ideal but on the whole it is a good spot. Lots of new housing estates. I don’t know any specific schools in any of these places though.

  12. Hi Caz,
    thank you very much for sharing such a nice and inspiring experience! Congratulations for your amazing blog. I’m a 28 years old Italian bboy (breakdancer) and teacher. I don’t have a degree in teaching, but I’ve worked in Italy as a tutor in projects funded by the government. I was also a freelance journalist for a local newspaper and a breakdance teacher. I always loved what I’ve done but it was never enough to be indipendent (in Italy things are gone sour). Feeling so frustrated, in 2011 I just decide to move to London, where I stayed for two years, working as a Barista. It was enough to understand that I love travelling, so I bought a online TEFL course and I’m still working on it. I’ve understood that teaching can really be my way, but I would like to use my other talent, even if sometimes I think it’s too late because of my age.

    Do you think a 120h online TEFL is enough to find a job? If not, shall I go back to London and study something else? Do you have any advice about the chance of using my dance skills in order to travel abroad?

    I’d appreciate any suggestion from you.

    Filippo

    Ps: if you are curios you can see my face here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zgciuvwhRs

  13. Hi Caz, I’ve signed for vif and I already had the phone interview, I will have the personal interview. What cocerns me is the fact that they never say nothing about the salary. I just want to know if it’s gonna be worth enough to save some and bring back to my country. Could you give me a salary range please?

    1. It really depends on where you are placed and your degree. And it has probably changed since I was there last. I don’t want to say a number that might concern you as you could get something very different. I was on about $38,000 a year. It was enough to live off and travel. I taught in a region that had lower salaries though so yours could be much better.

  14. Reading your blog through the interest of wishing to teach in the US myself. I contacted VIF recently, however they are no longer recruiting from Australia. Do you know of any other similar programs, as google searches aren’t giving me the answers that I need. Thanks for your time.

  15. Really enjoyed this and can totally relate to the challenges of teaching in the UK! I’ve just finished my teaching training year in Sheffield where both my placement schools were equally stressful and challenging. At the same time, this year has definitely made me realise that I want to fulfil my travel dreams before getting a full-time teaching job which all my peers will be doing from September except me. Instead, I’m hoping to start a travel blog and head off traveling from end of October. Fingers crossed, plenty of time for teaching!

  16. Reading this gave me more inspiration to teach English overseas. I am a Comm major and love it but for a year I have been debating on double majoring in English (especially after seeing an ad for Oxford Seminars). I would love to be able to help people in that way. I am an English tutor at the college I go to and I love it. I like helping fellow students form better essays and I never realized how patient I was until working there in January. I like English and would like the opportunity to travel, learn about other cultures and grow as a person. What else can I do to get started? Any other tips? Are you going to continue to teach abroad in the years to come?

  17. Wow,I really envy what you are doing now. I am studying to become a future primary school teacher in my country -Malaysia for science subject but I would like to be like you actually and the problems that I’m facing now are I’m not really good in English but I would like to be a teacher like you, who can travel around the world, meet a lot of different students, learn new cultures, and meet a lot of new friends. Could you please tell me how am I going to be like you? Thank you ~~

    1. That’s a hard question to answer!! I’d look at how you can do English teaching – as in English as a second language. That will open up lots of teaching opportunities around the world.

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