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How to Teach Abroad While You're Still in College

Students and volunteer teacher

College rules. Where else can you discuss the fissures in America’s criminal justice system with tenured professors on Friday, then go to a Cops-and-Robbers themed party on Saturday? It is a magical place that encourages exploration of ideas and desires.

Volunteer teaching programs are the most likely to hire college students.

But if your desire, my academic amigo, is to teach abroad while still enrolled, you’ve got a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Go Overseas and I, with some very valuable advice from industry insiders, have come up with a guide to help you figure out how to teach abroad in college.

Teach Abroad in the Summer

The first decision to make is when you intended to teach. And, honestly, this one is largely decided for you, but it comes with some special considerations to... well, consider!

Realistically, most college students will have to teach abroad in the summer. Short of withdrawing for a semester, or taking a gap year (which is an option!), the summer is the only stretch of time long enough to accommodate teaching abroad. Spring break and winter break are too short, so aim for the warm months!

As Caitlin Ivester, Admissions Coordinator at WorldTeach, says, “as a college student, you are logistically limited to a summer or semester abroad... but it ignites the desire to return to that community or country and continue working [after college].”

Try Volunteer Teaching...

An unhappy side-effect of this chronological inflexibility is that it rules you out of getting a full time job as an English teacher. Because you will only be sticking around for three months before returning home, many schools are reluctant to hire, train, and pay someone who will be abandoning them in the immediate future.

Fear not, volunteer teaching programs are the most likely to hire college students and they're a great way to experience teaching English abroad.

An investment in you is not a long-term investment for schools (not directly, anyway), so many college students will have to take their payment in the form of an incredible experience, and maybe a free place to stay.

... Or Teaching at a Summer Camp Abroad

And speaking of an incredible experience and a free place to stay, why not teach English at a summer camp abroad? That's right! America isn't the only country with summer camps, and those bastions of our halcyon youth also give college students a way to teach abroad.

Latin America, Europe, and China are all popular destinations for English teachers, where many summer camps include classroom English lessons each day. These positions are usually volunteer and rarely require a TEFL certification (though it doesn't hurt to have one. Your school may even offer it as a course.)

Focus Your Search on Developing Nations

ESL Class

You have considerably more flexibility regarding where you can teach than when you can teach. However, there are still some binding factors to keep in mind.

First of all, you can only teach in a country that does not require English teachers to hold college degrees. Yes, demand for native English teachers is so rabid that there are jobs out the wazoo available, but certain countries with strict academic standards, like South Korea and Dubai, for example, will only let their students be taught by degree-holding instructors. (Working as a teaching assistant is a differnt story.)

Instead, focus your search on developing nations, where demand for English teachers in the modern global economy is outstripping concerns about paper qualifications. China, Eastern Europe, and Latin America are all hotbeds for college students looking to teach abroad.

In a happy coincidence, many of these countries -- due to their developing status -- will also be places where extensive volunteer infrastructures are already established, so finding volunteer teaching programs in-country will be a breeze.

Consider a TEFL Certificate

So, you don’t need a college degree. Bully for you, college student! However, it's still helpful to have some sort of qualification -- we can’t just have lunatics and idiots teaching the children. They are our future, I’m told.

Yes, the golden qualification you want is a TEFL (also known as TESL) or CELTA certificate. This is an international certification of your competency in teaching English to students who do not speak it, and it's your ticket to lots of teaching jobs. For many volunteer position, this certification is not required, but it'll open the door to many paid opportunities later.

As a college student, you can consider taking an online TEFL course or checking to see if your university offers a TEFL certification course. Many universities, typically in the education, English, or international studies department, will offer an actual TEFL course, which you can enroll in like a normal class and (double win!) get credit for.

Look for Grants for College Students to Teach Abroad

Not just that, but there are organizations and colleges who will give out grants to teach abroad. Top-notch universities (including Notre Dame, Harvard, UNC, and Braindeis, to name a few) offer department-specific scholarships for students willing to work abroad in their field of study while enrolled.

This means you have to be pursuing a degree related to teaching ESL (like linguistics or education) but we’re talking mon-ayy, cash moo-lah, real cake.

More than anything, I would suggest getting involved in your local and college community, especially working with immigrant populations or international students to aid them in improving their English skills.

Caitlin Ivester thinks this is one of the secret goodies about teaching abroad in college. “Now is a great time to pursue this sort of opportunity... to take advantage of the resources your college has to offer. Many colleges offer funding and grant opportunities for students who show initiative in working or teaching abroad. So many students are unaware of this or never take the time to look into it.”

What If I Want to Teach Abroad After College?

Then you’re reading the wrong article! Just kidding, can you imagine?

If you think you want to teach abroad after college, teaching abroad during college is a great place to start. Getting a sample of what its like before diving in post-graduation is a smart move. It gives you a chance to test the waters, as well as experience to put on that teaching resume later on.

Caitlin Ivester agrees that “if at all possible, I would still encourage [students] to try to teach or study abroad, since it provides valuable insight into living abroad as a professional teacher for [the] much longer period after you graduate.”

Additionally, go ahead and get that TEFL certification now. You’re going to need it later. Remember all those doors that having a TEFL certification unlocks for you? It still does that after college, too. Those jobs will still be waiting if you still have that juicy, juicy TEFL certification.

Get Relevant Experience During the School Year

Student and ESL teacher

In addition to getting a TEFL certification, you can also help prepare yourself to be a better teacher -- whether you're going overseas for a summer or a full gap year -- while you're still at home, during the school year.

Ashleigh McLean of The English Camp Company, an English summer camp, says the skills and experience of internships are transferable to teaching abroad:

“Take internships that are away from home, so [you] can get used to being away from home, but first in [your] own country.”

Caitlin Ivester suggests that getting a homegrown taste of being in English-as-a-Foreign-Language situations before departing can prepare you to succeed once abroad:

"More than anything, I would suggest getting involved in your local and college community, especially working with immigrant populations or international students to aid them in improving their English skills. It will not only boost your application for future programs, but will also expose you to a variety of students and ability levels..."

"Take any chance you can to get out of your comfort zone, be it partnering up with an international student to learn their language, working in an ethnic restaurant where you as a native English speaker are in the minority, or participating in a service trip.”

Eventually the Student Always Becomes the Teacher

It’s great that you want to teach abroad, college dude or dudette! Doing so while still in school can help you decide if it is something you want to pursue after graduation, or if it simply a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you can’t do without.

Either way you decide, we hope this guide will help you navigate the process, and remind you of the important things you can do before, during, and after to improve the whole experience!

Because after all: eventually, the student always becomes the teacher.

Peruse our programs for teaching abroad.

Photo Credits: Prinda Mulpramook, Cooper, and Ellie Taylor.

Jason Rodgers

Jason is a hockey player from Virginia, and his passport is a quilt of stamps and visas. He studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris, worked in International Ed in China, celebrated Thanksgiving in Amsterdam and cheered July 4th in Brazil. Jason can recite Sartre in 3 languages just as fast as he can put a puck past your ear. Follow Jason on Twitter @HeyJayJRogers and on Google+.