Teach English to University Students Abroad

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You’ve decided to teach English to foreign students. That’s good. It’s a noble way to spend a year or two abroad, and by all accounts it’s one of the most fulfilling jobs abroad. But what happens when your students aren’t the bright-eyed youngsters that you see in all the advertisements? There are more than just children, looking for an education in the English language.

As the world becomes more and more flat – and as English continues to dominate the global economy – university students all over are realizing that picking up the second language can do nothing but help their job prospects. And luckily, they want foreigners to teach them! Note that teaching older students is radically different from teaching children.

Children are malleable and especially responsive to new languages, while adults simply aren’t – they require a different, sometimes more strenuous teaching method. Though, because they’re older, responsible, and more relatable, the reward can be so much more satisfying.

  • Average Term Length: 9-12 months
  • Average Salary: $1000-2000 per month; salaries vary, as you most likely won’t have a work visa if you’re doing unofficial teaching work. If working under the table, expect to be paid mostly in perks, such as free food and accommodation. If you’re doing independent tutoring, you can set your own price for lessons.
Photo credits: Jirka Matousek.

Since there are so many people yearning to learn English, students take classes in many different forms. Once you know where you’d like to teach, a lot of options present themselves. The decision should take into account variables, such as how much time abroad you’d like to spend, the ratio between travel and teaching, and your own background in teaching.

TEFL + Teach:

The official way to go about teaching university students is through a combined TEFL + Teach program. These types of programs provide the teacher with the training to help students with whom they don’t share a language, as well as an internationally recognized certificate that many universities require for official positions.

These types of positions can be found through job postings or through school-run exchange programs. However, the TEFL course is expensive and geared more towards those who want to teach for several years, or as a career.


For those looking at teaching as a means to travel (rather than a reason to travel in and of itself), an unofficial position would be cheaper and allow more flexibility. These can be university-run or self-organized. If you’re going for the former, look for student groups seeking foreign tutors on job boards. If the latter, you will need to get entrepreneurial.

Print out flyers, head to your desired campus, and offer your services to any and everyone who will listen. Keep in mind: this way is more difficult. The freedom it offers is counterbalanced by the fact that it involves diving headfirst into a class without any formal training on how to teach it. An unofficial position also pays less than an official one, so consider how that will affect your travel plans.

Popular Destinations:

Almost any non-English speaking country has a market for teachers of university-level students! There’s always someone eager to learn, even in the countries that have well-established English-speaking bases – Europe, especially Spain, comes to mind. However, the biggest, and therefore most accessible, places to teach are in Asia. The economies there, from the Philippines to Vietnam to South Korea, are some of the fastest growing in the world, creating a vacuum of jobs for university graduates (preferably English-speaking university graduates) to fill.

Pros of Teaching University Students
  • University students are more mature and easy to work in groups than small children, who are more likely to be distracted.
  • Nobody learns a language in their late teens/early 20s unless it’s what they really want. Thus, older students can be expected to work hard and focus on learning, which can expedite the process for all involved.
  • When the students are close enough in age to the teacher, they tend to interact more outside of the classroom. There’s nothing like finishing up a course, heading over to the bar, and beginning a much more informal lesson on much less educational topics (i.e. chatting in broken strings). This can help the students pick up some real world experience with the language as well.
  • Teaching in general is a great way to finance travels, as well as take in the local culture. Immersion is a two-way street here, and your students won’t be the only ones learning!
Cons of Teaching
  • Because university students are often learning English for a specific reason (i.e. the job hunt), they are looking for an expedited and specific type of coursework that may be difficult to work around. It may not be enough to start with the universal basics – they want to know how it applies to them.
  • Adults and adult students have busy schedules, and they often don’t line up. Children may run on a strict school day, but university students don’t have the leisure of not being responsible for their own care. With this, they often have to cancel class, or reschedule, or leave halfway through it, making it difficult to hold class in the first place.
  • Since university classes, especially informal ones, change throughout the year, the course may need to be compressed into a space of 2-3 months. It can be challenging to help the students improve much in that time. That’s not to mention the fact that a 2-3 month course either requires the teacher to have shorter travel plans or cause uncertainty in long-term ones.
Contributed by Colin Heinrich

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