Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why ESL Teaching?

"Decision making process: how and why you decided to become an ESL teacher?" 

 Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. The host for this month is ‘Sarah Steinmetz‘, here you can find other similar articles. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article to this blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me at, and I’ll let you know how you can start participating!'

Honestly, my primary reason to teach English abroad was because I wanted to travel. I wanted an adventure and an ESL job could get me there. This article talks about how wrong that is as a driving force. But it wasn't my only driving force - I was very interested in international education and study abroad and, at the time, my goal was to become a study abroad adviser. Teaching English abroad seemed a good way to get my foot in the door with international education, and I had a lot of experience being a teacher and camp counselor with kids. I could see myself in a little study abroad office in some prestigious college, the nicely dressed young professional, helping excited college students choose a destination as we discussed programs in Peru, China and France. I could live vicariously through them, I could help mold young minds by facilitating their adventures, I could maybe use my job as a means to visit those countries! 

But every single study abroad job wanted two years of experience or a Masters. Oh the dreaded combination - I see it as a formula guarding the door to every "entry level" position "2yrs experience or MS = job".  I applied for study abroad and teaching abroad jobs simultaneously, spreading the net wide. I finally found a study abroad related job that was actually entry level and made it to the final round of interviews - I lost out to the other person because I had less international experience. Well, teaching abroad it was then. 

My plan was always to graduate college, work/volunteer/travel abroad and then head back to grad school for international education/non-profit management/international development/anthropology (I wasn't quite sure yet - the years abroad were supposed to help with that). I initially wanted to teach in South America, but their semester started in July and I had a great summer internship I didn't want to leave. I also didn't have much money and wanted a program that paid for flights or visa fees or SOMETHING so I didn't arrive broke. Leaving broke was one thing, arriving broke was just too sad. So where was the program that started in August, paid for some expenses and smacked of adventure and the unknown? 

In my intensive research (really, I spent hours every day) I stumbled upon a program in the country of Georgia. I had never heard much about this country. It was obscure. It was tiny. It was apparently full of moonshine and dancing with swords and really beautiful alphabet. (You can read about my pre-travel impressions here.) They paid for your flight, you didn't need a visa, and you got a small but livable salary. I started learning Georgian phrases and mentally packing my bags. I read every blog on Georgia and ESL teaching I could find. I flew through the interviews riding my enthusiasm, got an offer, accepted the offer, and started actually packing all within a few weeks. My parents were supportive, only adding the caveat to "please don't marry some Eastern European man who we can't communicate with at all".  I assured them I would only marry someone who at least spoke basic English. 

My plan at the time went something like - Go to Georgia for a semester. Teach English. Go to South America. Teach English and improve Spanish. Either get a better job teaching or with a non-profit and apply to graduate schools for the yet-to-be-determined awesome program which I will definitely be accepted to because I will have all of this international experience.

Strangely and unexpectedly enough, my plan worked. I went to Georgia and it blew my mind. I adventured, I was humbled, I had a whirlwind romance, I traveled and yes, I drank a lot of moonshine and danced. I also taught English to the best of my ability, swapping strategies with my fellow ESL teachers and researching games and activities. I loved (most) of my students and (most) of my co-teachers and it was a grand experience. I then headed off to the Dominican Republic which started with teaching English preschool and then turned into teaching Spanish elementary school and adult English and working as a non-profit assistant. Flexibility is key. I then found a job in New Orleans with a larger non-profit that I love, decided on international development AND anthropology as my Masters, and was accepted into my top-choice program.

 It still blows my mind that I'm following the plan that my senior college self made over mojitos with my roommates. 

So for me, teaching abroad was a great way to enter (what was then) my career of choice, and a path to travel and adventure. I didn't end up going into education, but I don't regret my time spent as a teacher. I would recommend anyone who is seriously interested in teaching or education and desires an adventure to look into ESL teaching abroad. As long as you enter it with the right attitude, humbly, open-minded, and ready to work hard, it can change your life. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, yes it is really incredible that you followed your plan so closely - but so great too!

    I have similar interests -- international education / travel / teaching / study abroad -- so it was neat to see your path. I have no idea what will be next for me, after I finish up teaching here in South Korea in 8 weeks. Time will tell!

    And congratulations on getting accepted into your top choice, Mary Ellen -- that's wonderful!