Teaching Careers Abroad: Event Recap

Julia Thompson – November 1st, 2017

On October 23, the Career Center, in partnership with the Batten and Curry Schools, hosted Teaching Careers Abroad. The panel featured various Hoos, each with different experiences teaching abroad. Below is a recap of the experiences shared and advice given about teaching abroad.


Outline of Recap

  • Panelist Backgrounds
  • Q & A
    • What was each person’s process of getting interested in international teaching?
    • Can you describe the international teaching setting? How does it compare to the US? Challenges you faced while abroad or sources of support?
    • Describe a time when a lesson or something you did worked well, or when you failed but learned.
    • What prior experience helped you with going abroad. Is an educational background necessary?
    • Takeaways from teaching abroad? How does it shape your current outlook?
    • Is the teaching abroad salary sustainable?
  • General advice for students considering pursuing teaching abroad

Panelist Backgrounds

Maureen O’Connor participated in the UK Fellows program at Bryanston School, which is a boarding school in Dorset, England. There, she taught history, art history, and health courses for middle and high school students.

Stan Marshall studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador during his time at UVA. He was then accepted to the Spanish Ministry of Education’s program “Auxiliares de Conversación.” He lived in Palma de Mallorca and taught English for a year.

Sarah Benson served with the Peace Corps from 2004-2006 in Jordan as a special education teacher and trainer. In 2012, she was a Fulbright Roving Scholar in Norway, teaching Norwegian high school students about American history and government, while working on best teaching practices. She also served as a learning support specialist at the International School of Brussels. Most recently, she completed a six week summer study abroad at the HoGent College in Belgium.

Meg Gould, a fellow for Princeton in Africa who worked in Botswana, unfortunately was unable to make the session.

Q & A

What was each person’s process of getting interested in international teaching?

Maureen: While at UVA, she studied abroad in Scotland. She also served as a docent at the Fralin Museum of Art, where she learned she enjoyed interacting with the public around works of art. In her fourth year, she knew she wanted to be an educator--however, she missed cut off dates and didn’t have certain requirements for certain teaching opportunities. Knowing she had a passion for education, she looked for programs that would allow her to go back to the UK while involved in education, and fell onto the UK Fellows program “by accident.”

Stan: Heard about the Spanish Ministry of Education program through word of mouth from a friend, who said Spain is a good place to start--there is opportunity and you don’t need an advanced educational background

Sarah: She knew she wanted to do Peace Corps for a while. That experience led her into her current field of international special education research; she then got her advanced degree and applied to Fulbright, where she taught in Norway, followed by teaching in Brussels.

Can you describe the international teaching setting? How does it compare to the US? Challenges you faced while abroad or sources of support?

Maureen: Noted that the UK was not notably culturally challenging; there are some small structural differences, and she did live in a more rural area. She lived in the boarding school, so living where she worked was interesting. However, this provided a strong support system of other teachers and mentors.

Stan: The school he worked as was very culturally diverse--it was interesting teaching English as a third or fourth language. He served as the “English speaker in the room.” His job wasn’t similar to that of a typical teacher position--he had 22 hours of class weekly, and served a diverse age range.

Sarah: Her various experiences were different from one another--she focused on Jordan and Belgium (Brussels). In Jordan, she was in a special ed school run out of a rented home, where she had few resources--no chalkboard, toys were rare. This made her a more creative teacher, tested her understanding of how things can be done differently, and developed her willingness to be flexible. It wasn’t “what she was trained to do” in a US based education, and she developed a new point of view in understanding a different educational system. Belgium was the opposite--she worked at a well funded international school more similar to that of a US school. Teachers were trained, and the educational ability of students was quite high.

Describe a time when a lesson or something you did worked well, or when you failed but learned.

Maureen: She went straight from UVA to teaching. At UVA, she was used to lectures, but as a teacher, the goal is to engage students by addressing their needs and learning styles. The first day of class, she prepared a lecture but the students were not paying attention; she realized the students needed something else. Teaching in a way other than lecturing was sometimes difficult during times she needed to give students a lot of information. But she found that debate and conversation around topics to be engaging and effective. Though it required more planning on her end, it was more fruitful on the student end.

Stan: He made a lesson plan around the bluegrass song Fox, with a colleague-illustrated booklet and an English sing-a-long. He thought it was going to go great...but it didn’t! However, he noted music as a whole was great for teaching English. Teachers have to have a lack of shame!

Sarah: In Norway, she taught American history and government, and she had a toolkit of powerpoints, prezis, and interactive materials. Sometimes, these lessons went really well; in Norway, many students had a high level of English, and therefore did well with these types of lessons, which was a lot of fun. However, one vocational school she taught at had students with a much lower level of English; the powerpoint and prezi materials didn’t work with these students. So she changed the lesson for the day and had students give her a tour of the metal shop in English. This goes to show that you don’t know what is going to work in different situations, so flexibility is important.

What prior experience helped you with going abroad. Is an educational background necessary?

Maureen: She had no education degree when she taught abroad, and noted similarly, students don’t necessarily need one to teach abroad. A lot of young recent graduates go to teach prior to getting a higher level education certification, so she didn’t feel like she stuck out as a teacher without having an education degree. Experiences as a docent and as a rowing coach were both applicable to her experience teaching abroad. Although not an RA herself, she mentioned this could be a helpful experience. She overall felt prepared though with her own life experiences.

Stan: You just need an undergraduate degree and native language speaking in English to be eligible to apply for the Spanish Ministry of Education! Entry is low barrier. He noted that his time abroad prior to Spain helped inform his experience teaching abroad.

Sarah: She noted applications to joining the Peace Corps are more competitive now than before. But if you are interested in Peace Corps or international teaching, you don’t need a national education certificate. For Fulbright, as an English teacher she didn’t need a certificate; but for quality international schools, most require some sort of teach certification. Her college and career path have been around education though; from undergrad up until now, she continues to work around special education.

Takeaways from teaching abroad? How does it shape your current outlook?

Maureen: Maureen notes that with her teaching abroad experience, she can’t see the growth of her students. But it was enriching and inspiring to be in a classroom for a whole year: where she had her own class, where both her and students collectively grew, where she could see her students truly grasp material. Learning how to take information and make it applicable to diverse audiences is a skill she developed and is useful in any job. Teaching abroad also changed her  mindset around history, which she hopes she can translate into museum experiences.

Stan: He learned how valuable it is to go where students’ interests are if they are willing to work and are motivated. For instance, he had one student who would get really into interesting novels, and that though unplanned, allowing that student to explore that was truly valuable for that student.

Sarah: Teaching in Jordan shaped her the most, and the students there influenced the path she is on now to look at how different countries understand including special education as a best practice. In Jordan, she saw how different life for special ed students was; she was able to show the village what was possible with special ed, and how to incorporate special ed students into everyday life as contributing members of society. She wants to go back to Jordan for her dissertation.

Is the teaching abroad salary sustainable?

All: If you teach abroad long term, you may not have increased salary over time, but you’ll find new ways to get teaching work (like tutoring) to earn more money. And the pay isn’t terrible so you can live well. International education schools (especially in Asia) also do, in fact, pay a lot--ten to fifteen thousand more than teaching in the US, with benefits like tax breaks and housing assistance.

Additional General Advice

  • It’s a good short term commitment if you’re not sure what you want to be doing; it’s also a great stepping stone toward future goals you may have, as teaching abroad develops many applicable professional skills. 
  • Talk to people! Good people to reach out to are: someone who has studied abroad before, UVA advisors. 
  • Keep tabs on dates and deadline timelines. Get a jump on these deadlines! 
  • Great opportunity to explore the world! 
  • Don’t expect certain processes, like getting your VISA, to happen quickly. Don’t stress about it! 
  • Do your research: you can find a lot of programs of teaching english abroad. Look out for red flags. You should reach out to people currently in the program or ask schools to connect you with current teachers at the school. If the program or school can’t do that...run!
  • Don’t have too many expectations. Experiences often don’t align with expectations. It can be hard to get over those expectations, but once you do, your experience will be amazing! 

If you are interested in connecting with any of the panelists above, reach out to Michelle Ball at mball@virginia.edu.