Volunteer teaching is perhaps the most popular and varied of all volunteer projects abroad. From helping with ESL conversation classes and running math and science courses to teaching computer skills and other adult education courses, volunteer teaching abroad is far broader than just teaching English to children.
So whether you're a freshly minted TEFL graduate, a mid-career professional with an in demand skill, or a retiree with years of teaching experience, finding a volunteer teaching program abroad could be just the way to interact and experience a new culture while helping to improve education.
What to Teach
Of all the subjects you can volunteer to teach abroad, teaching English is one of the most common. There are opportunities to teach English abroad on almost every continent and for every level or class size.
For most programs and projects, a teaching background is not necessary, but having some experience or a TEFL certificate does help. The most important skills to have are English fluency, patience, and attention to detail.
You can choose to work with children or adults. Depending on what program you work with, you may be asked, or encouraged to bring your own supplies. If you have no experience or qualifications for teaching, look for volunteer opportunities that set you up as an assistant teacher or conversation partner -- rather than independently leading a class yourself.
As a sports or physical education volunteer, you have the opportunity to learn about another culture, not only by living in a new country, but also experience the joy of sports with the local people.
Most volunteers in this field will be working with children at a school to organizing sporting events or teach new sports. Playing soccer is popular around the world, and some programs will have you volunteer to organize matches.
Other programs will want you to teach new sports to the students you’ll be working with. Make sure to check out various programs to see if they want you to teach a new sport or teach other subjects as well, including science, math, or English, or whether they require teaching certification, as some programs will.
Music education volunteers can help their students express themselves in new and powerful ways. Music teachers will be expected to have knowledge of different instruments and some volunteer programs will be looking for knowledge of music theory.
Most programs will have you teaching music to children, but there are opportunities to teach adults in the community as well. You will also have the chance to learn about local music of whatever country you choose to volunteer in. Like sports programs, some schools will want you to teach other subjects as well.
If you’re lucky enough to read this, you're most likely lucky enough to have basic computer literacy skills and access to a computer. Not everyone in the world can say the same. Basic computing knowledge is becoming increasingly important as more and more careers rely on computers to get things done. These days, you can even volunteer virtually, helping by becoming a skill builder in communities around the world from the comfort of your home.
As an education volunteer working with computer literacy, you can teach children and adults basic computer skills like how to turn on a computer, use software like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, as well as teach them how to use the internet for communication and research. Many of these programs are in Africa although there are some in places like Cambodia as well.
For more qualified and experienced volunteers, you could potentially volunteer teaching other subjects, such as math, science, or arts. If you have experience working with students with special needs, your skill set is highly sought after in developing countries.
Where to Go
Asian countries are some of the most popular destinations for those looking to teach English abroad. From Nepal to China, Thailand, and Turkey, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities here to teach English. While teaching English is popular here, you can find opportunities to teach other topics as well, including sports, music, and public health such as HIV/AIDS awareness. The Asian continent offers many different cultures, climates, and classrooms to immerse yourself in.
In the last five years South American countries have been the most popular destinations for those looking to volunteer abroad. Countries in South America also provide many opportunities to teach English to both children and adults. Sports education can also be a popular option with programs in places like Costa Rica. For many countries in South America, knowledge of Spanish will be helpful, or in some cases required, so make sure to brush up on your language skills. Opportunities for HIV/AIDS and music education are present here as well.
The African continent provides plenty of opportunities for those looking to volunteer with education. You can volunteer as an English teacher, teach new sports to children in Kenya, teach computer literacy in Ghana, or volunteer as an after school tutor to teach many different subjects in Malawi. HIV/AIDS awareness education is also a popular option in some African countries. Again, these programs are not in a typical classroom setting. They are generally awareness programs and seminars for adolescents and adults.
Many of the opportunities to teach abroad are in Eastern Europe although there certainly are some programs in Western Europe as well. Eastern Europe usually has more English Education opportunities than Western Europe. There are also programs that will allow you to teach in summer camps. In this case, you will help the children with their day-to-day life as well as teach them various subjects and sports. There are also standard classroom volunteer opportunities.
Teaching, particularly as a conversation partner or as an au pair, may also be the only option for Americans looking to teach abroad in Europe.
How to Choose a Volunteer Teaching Program
In addition to the type of volunteer teaching program you want to do and in what location, you should consider a few other things. Think about what kind of environment you want to teach in -- with other volunteers or yourself?
Is the volunteer teaching program ethical, sustainable, and responsible? A good way to check this is by reading reviews and interviews from alumni (like right here on Go Overseas!) to make sure the organization is transparent, using your program fee wisely, and truly helping the people you came to teach in the first place. A good tip-off is that the program is well throughout and run, and provide lots of support to their volunteer teachers.
Below are some organizations that work with bettering education abroad, and are great resources for furthering your search for the perfect volunteer teaching opportunity abroad:
- UNICEF: UNICEF does way more than the little Halloween bank you may or may not have toted around as a child. UNICEF is the UN’s initiative to help children around the world. As of 2010, it was estimated that there were about 60.7 million children who were not in school. UNICEF is currently working to make sure every child has at least a primary education.
- UNDP: Another part of the United Nations, the UN Development Programme, is currently working towards their Millennium Development Goals, the second of which is Universal Primary Education by 2015. Volunteers abroad can help the world achieve this goal by volunteering, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is estimated that more than half of the world’s children not receiving primary education live.
- World Education: World Education works to improve the lives of the world’s poor. Working in over 60 countries, World Education has projects and initiatives from Basic Education to Girls’ and Women’s Education, to HIV/AIDS, to Literacy and Health.
Planning Your Trip
If you plan to teach abroad and want to bring donations for your school or host organization, get in touch with them before leaving and ask if they have any special requests. The needs of the school may surprise you.
For example, crayons and stickers may be nice, but a few packs of good quality pens might be what the students really need to simply take notes and complete lessons. Others, however, would really benefit from a classroom set of children's books.
Regardless, it's always a good idea to bring a few nicer outfits with you if you'll be working in a school -- no, we don't mean a suit and tie, but a nice, casual top and a pair of slacks would be perfectly fine.
Health & Safety
Every country will differ in health and safety, so you may have to do some country-specific research. However, it's important to find a volunteer teaching program that will help you before your departure with paperwork, training, and education on your health and safety in the country.
Teaching in your home country can be very different from your volunteer placement country, so training and preparation is key to avoid conflict, have the tools for resolution, and to keep safe. The organization will usually also provide tips on vaccinations or medications you may need, and transportation to and from the airport to maintain volunteer safety. If you don't have guidance on these items, make sure to ask.
Contributed by Kylie Genter
Volunteer Teaching Programs
What does a volunteer teacher do?
A volunteer teacher helps manage a class, assists with lesson preparation and planning, and helps students learn the daily material.
How can I volunteer as a teacher in a different country?
Whether you want to teach in Asia, Europe, Africa, or South America, volunteer programs have teaching placements around the world. While researching how you can best support education abroad, consider this list of 7 countries for volunteer teaching: Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Nepal, Cambodia, Guatemala, Nicaragua.
How do I become a vounteer teacher?
Depending on the subject you plan to teach and the volunteer program you choose, your requirements may change. Some volunteer programs require a TEFL, however, many positions don't need a bachelor's degree or previous teaching experience.