The Author and his daughter travelling through Mexico
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The Author and his daughter travelling through Mexico
Fifteen years ago I had a strong desire to teach English overseas but was deterred by the apparent difficulties. Working in Asia or South America or elsewhere seemed foreign and exotic. The Internet existed, but I knew little about the possibilities and didn't even have email. I searched for a job the proverbial old-fashioned way: In newspapers and at job boards at the local university. I prepared the application, got three letters of reference, a notarized diploma, a copy of my transcript, and I waited two months only to get rejected. In retrospect, my experience and qualifications were far beneath the minimum needed for the position I applied for. But at the time I mistakenly thought that acquiring a decent job would not be challenging.
 
All I wanted to do was live overseas - any job seemed romantic, but I knew nothing about my prospects. Simply by buying a ticket to any destination where English is in demand I could have had a job in a week or even less. Diplomas and transcripts helped get a work visa, but many teachers worked illegally and did not have to prove anything. The surety of finding employment existed fifteen years ago (and long before) and except that the greater difficulties of working illegally still hold now, that surety is perhaps heightened via the technological advances of Internet and telecommunications coupled with the growing importance of English as a global language. If you want to teach English in a foreign country there is no excuse why you cannot.  It is still necessary to do a lot of research, and your experience overseas should be predicated upon “looking before you leap”.
 
Since 1995 I have learned much about teaching English. I have traveled to six continents and more than forty countries, wrote a guide published in Canada, The World is a Class, and have spoken at bookstores and colleges on the subject. ESL has become huge, and is no longer necessarily attached to traveling; that is, you can make a career and stay at home. Most cities in North America have large immigrant populations that want to learn English. To provide for worldwide demand not only are certificates available, but undergraduate and graduate degrees. Though pedagogy is definitely important, my focus in giving advice usually centers on the question I am most often asked: How do I find a job?
 
These days high unemployment has increased the numbers of those seeking positions overseas, and though demand for teachers is still high, many developing countries are feeling similar economic uncertainty. This should be no deterrent, because command of English remains necessary, but the English teacher who wantonly wants to take advantage of their situation will have fewer options. In East Asia, China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan jobs are not biting people on the foot as they used to…I lived in Taiwan for almost two years, beginning in early 2002, and even then high school teachers, wives without diplomas, and so forth, were able to find jobs with little effort. But now jobs are not as easy to find, especially for those who are not prepared. Opportunities to teach privately, as well, have decreased because with the shrinking economy fewer parents are able to send their children to private schools. This should not be a problem for most, but the backpacker who wants so save enough for three months of high times in Thailand or India no longer can pick and choose employment.
 
This does not mean the demand to learn English has lessened, quite the contrary, it just means countries with a high demand for TESL are using more efficient methods to learn English. The public and private sectors no longer throw huge amounts of money on government and private schools without seeing results. A decade ago, in South Korea and China, students spent ten years studying English only to graduate without any useful comprehension of the language, and even the diligent student suffered from severe reverse illiteracy (reading and writing skills being superior to speaking and listening skills) caused by little contact with native speakers. The unqualified ESL teacher was quite common, and little was required except being a native speaker. Jobs are still available for the mercenary teacher from South America to East Asia, but as expectations from schools rise, and salaries and benefits become more attractive, there are fewer opportunities.
 
This needs to be taken into account, although the answers to “How to get a job?” are still quite similar as they were when I started, with the exception of the growth of Internet. Great places to start are www.eslfocus.com and www.eslcafe.com . Always prepare for the basics, have more than one option, call your potential employer, ask for contact info for other teachers working at the school, do not take the first job offered without asking the right questions concerning bonus, vacation, air fare, transportation, and so on. You hope to spend a year in a foreign country, thus your happiness will depend greatly on your relationship with your school and employer, and therefore utilize all information available to make the most of your experience.