Teach Abroad

What to Do After You Return from Teaching Abroad

Carey Finn
Topic Expert

Carey is a writer, editor and Communications/EFL educator from South Africa who spent seven years teaching in Japan.

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After spending some time teaching English abroad, the move back home is one that’s filled with ups and downs, detours and discoveries (both internal and external). Suddenly you’re a foreigner on familiar turf, carrying expectations you may not even have realized you’d formed while living in a different country and culture. Time is different. Turns of phrase are different. You are different.

The transition back to 'real life' after teaching English abroad isn’t always easy, but one of the best ways to avoid reverse culture shock and build a strong career is to continue down a path with an international focus. Whether you choose to dive right into the workforce or volunteer in your spare time, there are a number of ways to keep the experience alive. You’ve come back equipped with a wide range of skills that can be a great asset -- so why not consider putting them to use in one (or more) of the following ways? Here are some ideas on how you can have a smoother transition to life after teaching abroad with a job or career in one of these fields.

1. Teach at an International School

Qualified teachers can keep the pedagogical passion alive by applying for jobs at international schools here or elsewhere. This is a little different than teaching English abroad, because you will typically teach classes in your specialization, such as music, math or science.

Many schools offer a professional development budget, decent settling-in bonuses and paid flights home -- all of which translate to a great way to continue with the career you love while seeing the world. Landing a post at an international school is no easy task, but connecting with a recruiter like ISS or SEARCH is a good first step.

Pro-tip: You may want to consider taking a job in a place that wasn’t your first choice. Once you have a foot in the international circles, it is much easier to change jobs after your contract is up. The longer you are in, the better your chances are for getting both the school and location that tops your list.

2. Become a Teacher in the U.S. (It’s Easier Than You Think)

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If you don’t have official credentials but are keen to keep teaching, you may be interested in an educator support program where you can gain classroom experience and a teaching certificate at the same time.

Teach Now is your first stop for information on alternative routes to teacher certification. But if you enjoy working with kids in need, then Teach for America (TFA) may be for you. TFA recruits people from all backgrounds and experience levels and is a fantastic way to further your professional abilities in the areas of organization, facing challenges, and building leadership skills. TFA requires a two-year commitment and, though you can preference your location assignment, often places teachers in underserved school communities around the US.

3. Become an English Tutor

Another way to keep the teaching muscle toned (and the bills paid) is by working with second- or foreign-language learners as an English tutor.

While language institutes can be found in most big cities around the world, you can also leverage your skills online. The number of online English schools has surged in recent years, allowing many teachers to work part- or full-time from the comfort of their home. Community colleges are also an option for English tutoring.

After doing this for a while, you may find you want to start your own language school, or set up support classes to help students prepare for their IELTS, TOEIC or TOEFL exam.

4. Keep Teaching English Abroad

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Of course, you could always jet off again to take up another English-teaching post overseas. There is ample work for Assistant Language Teachers and other types of English educators (including corporate instructors) in South Korea, China, Japan and other parts of Asia, as well as many countries in South America and the Middle East. Why not check out a new region this time around?

It’s possible to do TEFL long term, particularly if you invest in your qualifications (for example, consider obtaining a CELTA or DELTA). There are other ways to make a career of teaching English abroad too, including moving into the areas of teacher training or ESL/EFL publishing.

You can scout out work opportunities on job boards like the teaching job board on Go Overseas, as well as through LinkedIn.The JET Programme (Japan) and EPIK (South Korea) are also great ways to get back into the EFL scene. And there’s a good chance your former employer(s) could connect you with a local school or other job opportunities too.

5. Try Working in the Travel Industry

If you loved the adventure aspect of teaching English abroad but would prefer to leave the teaching English part to other people, a job in the travel industry could be the thing for you.

While often tough to break into, travel writing can be a viable career for those who can masterfully string a sentence or seven together. If this sounds like something you’d like to get into, it’s best to start blogging and pitching while you are still living abroad -- even if that means doing some wordsmithing for free.

Though it may require a bit of further studying, another option is to try your hand as a travel agent or tourism promotion agent. Thanks to their experience living and working in other countries, former EFL teachers are often perfectly positioned to serve travelers both inbound and out.

6. Use Your Intercultural Awareness & Language Skills

Teaching English abroad also stands you in good stead to work for organizations with a connection to your previous home away from home. Embassies, consuls and international companies often prefer to hire staff (for various roles) who have a solid understanding of their culture -- add language skills and even more doors start opening.

Potential career paths are as varied as translation and interpretation, foreign language instruction, management, recruitment, localization, international student or volunteer support and more. The foreign service, while not easy to get into, is another track that some ex-teachers consider after honing their intercultural awareness and foreign language skills.

7. Hit the Books & Go Back to School

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Going abroad opens up new ways of thinking about the world, and it may even open up new possibilities for a career. If you’ve managed to save a few dollars, you might consider going to graduate school or pursuing another qualification. Student loans get deferred while you are in school, so that helps.

There are myriad interdisciplinary and internationally-minded graduate school programs where you could extend the base of international skills that you have gained abroad. You could even choose to attend a university in another country and bolster your language skills.

If you’re wanting to stick with teaching ESL or EFL, getting a Masters or Ph.D. in TESOL, Linguistics, or a related field can be a stepping stone to going back overseas and teaching at the university level. There are a number of financial aid opportunities for schools with graduate programs in language acquisition both here and abroad.

8. Join a Nonprofit or Volunteer Organization

Depending on where you taught English, you may have some first-hand insight about the needs around the world (and how a lot of basic ones are not being met). There are a multitude of organizations who are looking for employees just like you; individuals who are able to work in diverse, multicultural environments and are looking to give back in meaningful ways.

If helping speaks to you, a career with a nonprofit might just be the perfect route. For example, you could be a grant writer for a small conservation organization or a volunteer coordinator for a nonprofit focused on education or hunger eradication. English teaching skills are transferrable, so combining your passions is the perfect formula.

Coming (and settling) back home after teaching English overseas can be challenging, but your international adventure doesn’t have to be over. Though the transition may take months or even years, focusing your energy on one of the above suggestions will help you connect your experience abroad with your life back home.

You can use the skills you gained to develop a meaningful career in any country. Whichever path you take, you can be confident that you have an important skill set to share. Joining communities of ex-expat teachers is a good way to reconnect and remind yourself of your worth. Search for alumni (e.g. from JET) and meet-up groups on social media to find out what’s nearby.

This article was originally published in May 2013 and updated in March 2018.