Teach Abroad

The Biggest Fears about Teaching Abroad & How to Overcome Them

Lauren Salisbury
Topic Expert

A California native, Lauren has worked, taught, and lived in four countries, including the United States, Australia, Spain, and Costa Rica.

Fears About Teaching Abroad Featured

As many who have successfully added the role of 'overseas teacher' to their resume will tell you, teaching abroad is one of the most rewarding jobs there is. After all, teaching abroad not only allows you the opportunity to develop professional skills and add to your resume, it also presents you with the opportunity to live in a new country where you can experience a new culture, make new friends and travel to new places.

Even with this much responsibility and opportunity, you may find yourself a bit afraid as you embark on your teaching career. After all, moving to a different country to pursue a new career is a very daunting prospect! These feelings are completely normal as I know from my own experience of moving to Madrid to teach English at an Elementary school. There were so many fears inside me as I prepared to cross the Atlantic.

If you are considering teaching English abroad and feeling some fear, take a moment to read through these six most common fears about teaching ESL and my top recommendations on how to overcome those fears. BI hope you’ll feel less alone -- and more prepared -- after you make it through the list!

Fear #1: You'll Pack All the Wrong Things

Let’s face it -- it can be difficult to pack for a weekend getaway to the beach. Packing to move to a new country for several months to several years to teach abroad seems like an incredible challenge. Before you even get to your new home country, you may feel a bit paralyzed by the fear of what you'll pack -- and what you'll inevitably forget.

Packing is the art of balancing between need and want, as in you want to bring every hair care product or your massive collection of DVDs, but figuring out what you actually need and will benefit you greatest while being abroad will help ease any fears about packing.

Take some time to research the climate and customs in your new home country so that you can pack clothing items that will be most appropriate for the weather and culture in the region.

You’ll also want to make sure you bring some items such as photos or memorabilia that showcase who you are and where you come from so that your students will be able to connect with you and your culture more deeply. While you may not need these items, they'll help you feel grounded when inevitable homesickness and/or culture shock strike.

Fill your suitcase with items significant to who you are and where you are from to better show your new students about your life, culture, and interests in your home country.

Follow the rule of thumb that less is more and pack no more than you’ll be able to navigate through the airport on your own. Remember that there are stores overseas as well, so if you forget a necessary item you’ll likely be able to find it -- or at least a similar brand/version -- in your new home.

Fear #2. You'll Be Terrible at Classroom Management

Fears About Teaching Abroad: Classroom Management
Photo by Ben G., Volunteer Teaching Assistant

From the suitcase to the classroom, another common fear ESL teachers have comes down to the topic of classroom management. Many teachers abroad are teaching for the first time, and the idea of commanding an entire room full of students is one that certainly ignites fear.

While it’s only natural to feel nervous about being in front of your new students for the first time, a little preparation can go a long way. Make sure you put in time before you step in front of the classroom to thoroughly plan a lesson that will introduce your students to their new teacher and vice versa.

Commanding respect from a class is extremely important for classroom management and a huge hurdle new and seasoned ESL teachers face. Simple techniques liking faking confidence leads to an ease with moving through a lesson. Being conclusive shows students your control of the class. Being concise with instructions or lessons allows for less confusion.

Make sure to keep calm under stress as it allows for control over the situation and sets a standard for students to follow. Having a detailed lesson plan helps maintain control over the class. And lastly, listening to what students have to say is key to gaining respect. If you respect what your students have to say, they will ultimately respect what you have to say.

Still feeling a bit uncertain? Try reading these two resources:

Fear #3: You'll Be a "Bad" Teacher

Beyond classroom management, another common fear new teachers have is that of being a “bad teacher.” After all, you have been hired to teach your students new language concepts and help them grow in their command of English. You've likely never done this before, and it's a big burden to know you're trying to teach your students a skill that can improve their lives forever. How do you become a great teacher and make a real difference?

Being a good teacher is more than explaining information in a simple way for students; it’s about being able to connect with students and bring the information to life.

Keep in mind that you're starting a new job, so treat it as such.

The key to being a good teacher doesn’t lie with a person’s educational background necessarily, but with the passion and enthusiasm someone has for the subject being taught and the utmost faith and confidence in their students. The biggest impact a teacher can make is to believe in student’s ability, show students they are capable of anything and pave a future filled with reachable aspirations. And of course, proper lesson planning will help you go a long way as well.

Fear #4: You'll Be Bored (In & Out of the Classroom)

Fears About Teaching Abroad - Make Friends

Leaving all you know behind to start a new adventure comes with many risks and one is boredom. If you are new to teaching, you may be worried that the profession won’t interest you and that you will be bored in your work. If you are new to the country or city where you teach, you may also be worried that life overseas will come with a sense of boredom.

Many teachers find that teaching is such a challenge that there is no space for boredom. Even if you find teaching is not as engaging as you had hoped, the power to make it more exciting lies with you. Give yourself a little wiggle room to add excitement to a syllabus. Incorporate games or conversation topics that interest you as much as your students.

When it comes to life outside the classroom, there really is no excuse to be bored -- you are in a new place with much to explore! Get out and meet as many new people as you can. Try new cafes, restaurants, and shops. Join a club or a language meet up. Visit museums and parks or take day trips to nearby points of interest on the weekends.

Fear #5. You'll Fail to Adapt

Moving to a new city, let alone a new country, requires you to adapt to a whole new way of life. Change is a huge fear for many and living abroad splashes all those fears right in a person’s face. From learning a new language, to living in a new city, to eating unfamiliar foods and celebrating previously-unheard of holidays, change is ever present in the life of a teacher abroad.

The key to overcoming this fear is to embrace these changes and create a mixture of shared cultural experiences to better understand your new home and your old. Easing into a new life abroad takes time, but prepare by learning basic phrases of the language or purchasing a phrase book, knowing popular holidays celebrated and researching the culture in order to reduce the shock of the newness of everything.

In challenging times, lean on friends and family from home or even your fellow teachers overseas. Realizing you aren’t alone will help you feel more confident in tackling the challenge of adaption.

Fear #6: You Won't Want to Go Home

Fears About Teaching Abroad: You Won't Want to Go Home
Photo by Chelsea, WorldTeach Tanzania Alum

Deep down, many of us worry that when we start adventure, it won't be all of the bad things we fear that will happen -- it will be that we love the whole experience so much that it changes the whole trajectory of our lives.

For many teachers, their first teaching job is a turning point. Teaching abroad shows you that you're brave and curious and open to new experiences and to meeting new people. Teaching abroad gives you a new home, new friends, and the confidence that you can find these things almost anywhere in the world you might someday go.

Teaching abroad is empowering, and it's normal to find you've changed by the time your teaching contract has ended. There is a world of opportunity available once you've taught abroad.

You can do any number of things with your life after teaching abroad, including finding a new teaching post, somewhere else in the world. If you know you want to keep traveling and living abroad, you can do that!

You may find that you miss home and your friends and family, but they're only a plane ride away. Becoming a teacher helps you see that the world is worth exploring -- and while that might seem scary at first as you wonder whether you'll ever go home -- it's also a massive opportunity. Embrace it.

Tips on Overcoming Your Fears About Teaching Abroad

Fear is a completely natural emotion and everyone, despite their background has them. No matter what fears are running through you as you prepare to teach abroad, it’s important to remember that you have the strength inside you to overcome them.

To overcome your fears, you must first acknowledge them. Feel them and get them out into the universe, either through writing or talking to a close friend or family member.

Once you’ve spent time feeling the fear, move beyond. Instead of focusing on the fear itself, focus on the actions you can take to overcome them. Envision yourself overcoming these fears and picture what it looks like on the other side. Push yourself to do and soon you will find yourself far away from the thoughts that once held you in fear.

Ready to get started teaching abroad? Check out the Go Overseas Teaching Job Board to find your perfect teaching job abroad.

This article was originally published in May 2014, and was updated in 2018.