Learning works both ways when teaching abroad.
You took that job teaching English overseas because you wanted to travel the world and you weren't quite sure what you wanted to do when you grow up. Now that you're moving back home, you're worried that nobody will hire you since your work experience is in teaching, and question if teaching abroad can help with non-teaching careers.
Even if you've sent out resumes without getting any interviews (and you're starting to panic) rest assured: teaching abroad gives you lots of skills that will make you an attractive hire for almost any field.
Here are four ways to spin your teaching experience in your cover letter to make sure you get an interview:
Almost anywhere you teach in the world, it's likely that you'll be interacting primarily with people who speak a different language and have a different culture than you.
Even if you're teaching in a country where English is an official language, your students may have varied levels of written English, and it may be harder to communicate with them than you realize at the beginning. If you don't speak much of the local language, getting a lesson plan across to your students can be even more difficult.
That's where your communication skills come in. You don't necessarily have to have the right words or the same culture to teach abroad, but you do have to have the same human awareness. Your success as a teacher will depend on your ability to put your students at ease, and encourage them, and teach them something valuable in spite of your vast differences.
When I apply for jobs, I talk about the 10 year old student in my second grade class who told me that I was the first person who ever asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. That's important. It's inspiring. It makes a difference. Being able to connect on a basic, human level with all kinds of people from all different backgrounds is a valuable skill in any field.
Finding a job will be another adventure!
Going abroad anywhere for any significant length of time often requires jumping through lots of administrative hoops. Not only do you have to find the jobs and apply for the positions, you can also be required to take language tests, get medical clearance, obtain a visa, and find a place to live in a foreign country.
In other words, if you want to work abroad, you have to do a lot of advanced planning, meet a lot of deadlines, and be completely motivated to see the process through. It's not for the faint of heart.
Not only does teaching abroad show your willingness to take on a lot of pain-in-the-butt administrative stuff for your job (let's not pretend it's fun - it's not), it also shows you know how to make important things happen. Demonstrating how you'll be highly motivated to make stuff happen for your career and your employer will make you a catch for any employer.
Teaching abroad is not easy.Your students will frustrate you when they don't understand the material you've been patiently trying to teach them for a month. Your school's administration will frustrate you when they don't pay you on time or they don't approve of your "unorthodox" creative teaching methods.
Your host country will frustrate you when they send you away for the 3rd time after you wait in line for 3 hours because your form is filled out in blue ink instead of black ink. Or when you can't get an apartment because you can't open a bank account, and you can't open a bank account until you have a lease and proof of address. If you get through all of these challenges and are still mostly sane, you win. While traveling and teaching abroad may seem natural to you, remember that not everyone has the stomach for jet lag, foreign food, and spending long stretches of time away from their family and friends.
Employers who value independence and open-mindedness will therefore place a premium on your experience teaching abroad, as it shows you can commit to a challenging experience for a year or more and work without direction in a foreign country.
As much as jumping through hoops to go abroad shows that you're motivated, actually finishing the year and your contract proves that you're going to stick around even if things get tough. You've survived culture shock, homesickness, and all of the frustrations of living in a foreign country, so surely you can adapt to company culture and get through the tough parts of your job.
Presentation skills will come in handy outside of class too.
Unless you teach in a rich private school, you'll probably have to contend with the same problem teachers everywhere face: lack of funding and materials. In many schools around the world, lack of resources - especially for language classes - is a huge barrier to learning, and it's up to you to make your class work with what you have.
When I was teaching English in a Paris suburb, the school was considered very generous because the administration gave me a printed 4-page outline of the English curriculum and a photocopy budget of 1000 copies for 200 students for the year. And there were no level-appropriate books. Yikes.
So I did what I had to. I paid for art supplies with my own money, and spent hours working without pay to make Jeopardy boards and Memory games and search the internet for creative teaching ideas. I used my photocopy budget sparingly. And I made the kids talk a lot.
But lack of resources wasn't the only problem. Sometimes, I spent hours preparing a series of innovative, level-appropriate activities only to have my students look at me blankly in incomprehension. Other times, I prepared super-complicated multi-level lessons that the students finished in five minutes before asking what was next. In both cases, I had to think quickly on my feet to fill the rest of the classroom time with a new, by-the-seat-of-my-pants lesson.
Teaching almost anywhere is a huge lesson in making do with what you've got, and potential employers in any field should be able to appreciate the resourcefulness that teaching abroad imparts.
Photo credits: Maria Cappon, pennstatenews, and danaspencer