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Why Teach Abroad on Your Career Break

Student in Africa

We’ve all been there. You’re sick of reading Facebook posts about twenty somethings and recent college grads adventuring around Europe or chilling on the beach in South America. It seems like everyone you know has a profile picture hanging out under the Eiffel Tower or riding an elephant in India, and you’ve decided enough is enough. You’re going to take a career break!

Making the decision to embark on a period of extended travel takes some guts. Maybe you’ve decided to leave your current job, maybe you’ve been laid off, or maybe you’re a contractor that has some time between projects. But whatever your situation, the good news is that “career break” is no longer a dirty phrase. Travel isn’t just for twenty somethings, and more and more employers and employees alike are opening up to the idea. So, taking a significant break from work (more than just your two weeks of vacation time) to travel doesn’t have to spell the death of the career that you’ve worked so hard to build.

Teaching may or may not directly relate to your career path, but the experience you gain by leading a classroom is valuable in and of itself.

But now, the question is, how do you make the most of your career break? If you take advantage of this opportunity and use your time productively, you’ll better your chances of having both an enjoyable experience abroad AND resuming a rewarding career afterwards. While a quick Google search will inform you there are many ways to take advantage of your career break, here are five reasons why teaching English abroad is one of the best ways to do so.

1. It'll Boost Your Resume

School in Costa Rica

It’s less of a faux paux than it used to be, but a significant gap on your resume can still be an issue when talking to prospective employers. The person hiring you is, of course, going to ask what you were up to during your time off, and you’ll want to have an answer you feel confident in.

Let’s face it: “I spent eight months at a challenging, but rewarding job teaching English to speakers of other languages while seeing a fascinating new part of the world,” sounds quite a bit better than “I was partying and hanging out on the beach in Costa Rica.”

Teaching may or may not directly relate to your career path, but either way, the experience you gain by leading a classroom is valuable in and of itself. It shows adaptability, confidence, and a willingness to try new things, and employers will be much more understanding of your career break if you have some tangible personal and professional development to show for it.

And if teaching does relate to your chosen profession, then all the better! A TEFL certificate is never a bad thing to have -- especially since ESL is becoming a bigger market in nations where English is the first language too and teaching abroad can be a great foot in the door to this burgeoning industry.

2. You'll Fund Your Travels

Regardless of your financial situation, you’ll likely have a better experience traveling if you have a steady income at the same time. Even if you have significant savings before your career break, a teaching job means that you’ll at least be able to cover your month to month living expenses (or even save and make bank teaching ESL, depending upon where you’re located). A salary means you’ll be able to indulge in unique experiences without feeling guilty or burning through all of your reserves. And if you don’t have a hefty savings account to fund your travels, then teaching abroad can be the perfect way to make a career break abroad financially feasible.

Whatever your situation, the good news is that "career break" is no longer a dirty phrase. Travel isn't just for twenty somethings, and more and more employers and employees alike are opening up to the idea.

Student loans are one of the main reasons that people feel like they have to put off extended travel in favor of a lucrative career, but many don’t realize that teachers living abroad are often able to defer their loans. For example, at LanguageCorps, we often write letters in support of loan deferment for teachers, and it’s successful the majority of the time. The specifics will vary by lender, but if student debt is a concern, then it’s most definitely worth looking into.

3. You Can Immerse Yourself in a New Culture

Teachers in Nepal

If you’ve done much traveling, you know that you’ll feel like you stick out like a sore thumb sometimes. It’s tempting to surround yourself with fellow expats in a new location, and, sadly, you can easily spend an extended period of time living in a new place but not really interacting with, or experiencing the local culture at all.

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in a foreign culture is to work in it! You’ll work alongside locals and interact with them in a much more substantive way than most travelers, and your students can provide an unbeatable window into life in the local community. It’s not uncommon for students and their families to invite the teacher over for a meal or a holiday celebration. If you really want to get a feel for your new location, experiences like this just can’t be replicated by sightseeing or a guided tour.

If you’re looking to improve your language skills during your time abroad (why wouldn’t you be?), exchanging English lessons for local language lessons can be a great way to accomplish just that. There’s no better way to achieve fluency than by immersion, and teaching English can introduce many learning opportunities that you would otherwise ever encounter.

4. You'll Help Eager English Learners

If you’re going to be taking a career break anyways, why not use that time to help others?

English is one of the best skills a person in a developing nation can learn in order to break the cycle of poverty. Adding fluent or near-fluent English ability to a person’s repertoire dramatically improves their job prospects and earning potential, and can have a long lasting, multi-generational impact on their entire family. The look on a student’s face when they grasp a difficult new concept is a great reward, and that deeply satisfying feeling alone can make teaching English abroad worthwhile.

Leaving your resume aside, spending your career break teaching abroad will leave you a more confident person. There's nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of a classroom full of wide-eyed students staring expectantly up at you, and you'll have to learn to think on your feet.

It feels good to give back to the community you’re living in, and as a responsible, well-rounded citizen of the world, teaching English can be a great way to ensure that you have a positive impact on the area where you choose to spend your career break.

5. You'll Grow Personally

Teachers at Baan Yuu Suk

Leaving your resume aside, spending your career break teaching abroad will leave you a more confident person. There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of a classroom full of wide-eyed students staring expectantly up at you, and you’ll have to learn to think on your feet. You’ll learn to be organized, budget your time, speak in front of a crowd, and mix things up to keep people engaged. All valuable skills that you will be able to draw upon for the rest of your life, whether in work, relationships, or any other number of situations.

You'll also gain a better understanding of yourself when you teach abroad. Students not only learn from their teachers, but teachers learn from their students as well. Be open to letting your students show you more about yourself, and you might be surprised at what you find!

The only constant when living in a foreign country for the first time is to expect the unexpected, but one thing is for sure: you’ll return from your time teaching abroad ready to tackle whatever challenges life throws you next.

Make the Most of Your Career Break

There are many aspects of a career break that make it an appealing option for ambitious professionals. And while relaxation is definitely a big one, it’s not the ONLY reason. The goal of a career break should be returning to your life with renewed vigor.

You want to come home with a clearer sense of your goals, your passions, and your life’s purpose. And the key to achieving that state of mind is spending your time wisely on your career break. Striking a fine balance between leisure, work and long-lasting unique experiences is the ultimate goal, and teaching abroad can be a great way to find that balance on your career break.

Photo credits: Ben Grey, Frontierofficial, and jg world.
Steve Patton

Steve calls Boston home, though he spends as much time on the road as he does in any one place these days. He's part of the marketing team at LanguageCorps and a freelance writer, in between playing drums in various touring bands and trying to be a better photographer. Follow him on Google+.