by Andrew Matusick
You are considering teaching English abroad. The thought of getting out on your own, traveling, and experiencing another culture has enticed you. Teaching English seems like the easiest method to achieving your personal travel ambitions. Maybe it’s the K-Pop or the excellent food that is drawing you to the Korean peninsula. Maybe you have friends that recommended teaching abroad. For me, South Korea just seemed to be the easiest option, logistically, to live and learn in a part of the world that seemed so distant and mysterious to me.
Regardless of your reasons for considering a teaching stint in South Korea, likely you have doubts that are keeping you from taking that next step. How can I live in Korea without knowing Korean? Do I really want to be a teacher? Can teaching in Korea advance my career? Not only are there cultural questions, but you may want to ensure that this decision makes sense in a longer-term context. How will this time investment pay off in my career?
I did not consider these career questions before going to South Korea. Instead, I enlisted career counselors to help me interpret my experience abroad after returning to the US. This allowed me the flexibility to go where the wind takes me and to ride out my travel bug. However, had I considered these questions before embarking on my two years in Korea, I could have done more to make the post-Korea job hunt easier.
Whether or not you aim to become a career educator, teaching for a year will help you build skills that are applicable in a number of careers. Teaching at a hagwon, I prepped and facilitated four to eight classes a day. This required me to sharpen my organizational and time-management skills. In the first weeks, I either couldn’t finish my lessons or ended with time to spare. I had to think on my feet and be creative with activities to keep the kids engaged. Every second counts and you will learn to control the flow of the class like a master. Nearly every job posting I reviewed after returning to the United States required time-management, attention to detail, organizational skills, and presentation skills. Check off all of these with a year as a teacher.
Then there is the cross-cultural aspect of teaching abroad. While you will have support from your recruiter, director and co-teachers, living abroad will expose you to challenges that will force you to build useful skills. You’ll learn how to patiently communicate with low-level, or no-level English speakers in order to pay your tab, find a good restaurant or get home after a late night. You’ll become a pro in navigating foreign lands from city streets to booking the best airline fares to nearby countries. Finally, if you put in some extra hours, you’ll learn the local language. An experience abroad tells an employer that you’re an independent problem-solver with the ability to communicate effectively with a wide audience.
Most importantly for your career, you’ll greatly expand your professional network. Because living abroad is a challenge, you’ll find it easy to build a support system and life-long relationships with others who are going through the same challenges at the same time. These people become close friends, colleagues, and professional contacts that you’ll be able to call on and help out later in your career. After teaching in Korea, I have friends who can attest to my professional abilities working in multiple industries on three continents and throughout the United States.
I have only touched on a few of the professional benefits to teaching abroad. There is a lot that I have left out, and I haven’t even mentioned all of the personal benefits. I used teaching English as a vehicle to gain first-hand, cross-cultural experience for personal reasons. In the process, I gained a passion for international relations and skills that helped me start a career in advocating for exchange visitors in the United States. You can either let your year abroad guide your career, or you can use this opportunity as a launching point to gain the skills that employers seek and an experience that sets you apart from the rest.