Have you been wanting to get into teaching English abroad but don’t have the qualifications or experience? How about volunteering to teach ESL abroad?
There is a position for you! With savings and an open mind, volunteering is a great option for prospective ESL teachers wanting to gain unpaid experience. Most paid jobs require prior experience, and the more you have, the higher your potential paycheck will be. That’s why some people do voluntary teaching abroad first.
Reputable organizations will provide the best experience – before, during and after – and will make the most positive impact in the country you teach in.
Consider your comfort level in how long you stay and where you stay. Some programs are up to three months, some 1-2 year commitments. For three months and under, a visitor visa will likely suffice. Over three months will enter a more complicated visa process.
Want to know more? Keep reading for all the information you need to know about volunteering teaching abroad!
Qualifications for volunteering to teach ESL abroad
Although you’ll be volunteering, there are some basic qualifications that you need to have in order to teach abroad.
In some volunteer abroad organizations, they will require you to obtain a TEFL certificate before you travel. Sometimes this will decrease the amount of money you need to pay to join the teach abroad program
It is ideal, for your own experience and wallet, to find the organizations that offer TEFL training as part of the program. The programs might cost more, but will set you up for a paid teaching position in the future.
Generally speaking, teach abroad organizations will not require you to have teaching experience. They rely on people who want to gain experience as a way to give back to a disadvantaged community and/or as a way to gain experience for teaching English in the future
Criminal Record Check
Because you’ll likely be teaching young people. you’ll likely need to get a criminal record check done. This is usually done at your local police station. Check with the organization you’re volunteering with to see if it’s necessary before you travel and if they’ll cover the cost.
What you need to do before departing for volunteering to teach English abroad
In order to be stress-free on your way to your destination and for the duration of your stay, you need to sort out a few things. Read below for the most important things to consider before you depart:
Having the appropriate immunizations will be a requirement for both obtaining your Visa, and having permission to travel and participate with the organization you volunteer with. Check with your doctor to ensure you get the proper immunizations.
Almost always the organization you volunteer with will help and provide guidance with obtaining a Visa. Make sure you educate yourself about Visas during the process so you are well aware of what you need.
Health insurance if not provided
It’s also likely the organization you volunteer with will provide you with health insurance. Make sure you receive all documentation prior to travel to ensure you have insurance. You do not want to be in a foreign country without health insurance.
In some countries your regular medication may not be available. It is wise to visit your doctor and get additional refills before you travel. This will help make sure you won’t run out of necessary medication while you’re away.
This may seem like a silly point, but make sure you take appropriate clothing for the climate. You aren’t going on a vacation. You’ll want to be comfortable with what you’re wearing, and you’ll want to follow the local cultural norms regarding clothing. If you’re unsure, research the country’s climate and check with fellow volunteers and your organization to make sure you take the right clothing.
Some of the countries you might volunteer in will not have the same access to teaching materials that we do in the Western world. It’s a good idea to take teaching materials with you. Check with the teaching style of the country, but also don’t be afraid to try new things. It’s also wise to check with your volunteer organization if they provide any materials.
Top countries for volunteering to teach ESL abroad
The opportunities to volunteer to teach ESL abroad are endless. Essentially every developing country and some developed countries will accept foreign volunteers to help teach their children and adults. Depending on the organization you choose to volunteer with, you will have different opportunities on where to volunteer.
Six Countries to Consider Volunteering to Teach ESL Abroad
- South Africa: The extremely diverse country still emerging from apartheid, so still experiencing related issues such as racism, poverty, HIV/AIDs. Expect culture shock, but also to make a huge difference.
- India: Massive country with endless opportunities. Many cultures to experience, and opportunities to learn a new language. Government red tape can make volunteering difficult and the caste system still very much exists, poverty is evident.
- Kenya: Huge youth population and lack of teachers. Opportunity for volunteering is abound. Poverty is evident and hard to avoid.
- Ghana: Thought to have one of the better education systems in Africa, so easier to volunteer in. However, the urban and rural divide is evident and you will have fewer resources in rural areas. However, this is an opportunity for you to make a difference.
- Cambodia: Beautiful country to explore while volunteering. Another country with a huge youth population and a small amount of skilled teachers. You may be overwhelmed with responsibility, but will make a huge difference.
- China: A great country to get your ESL teaching feet wet before moving onto paid jobs. Familiarize yourself with the country and culture as a volunteer and make a difference in a country quickly increasing English capacity as a world power, and make connections to paid jobs. Find out more about ESL Teaching in Beijing.
Your best option is to determine where you believe you can make the most impact on the local area, and which culture you want to immerse yourself in. This list may not be exhaustive, but is some of the best countries to volunteer in and where you can make the biggest impact. Do you have experience in another country you’d like to see here? Let us know in the comments below!
Reputable organizations for volunteer teaching ESL abroad
If you want to have an enjoyable and less-stress experience volunteer teaching ESL abroad, you need to sign up with a reputable organization. You want to have someone to discuss any issues you have – may it be classroom-related, safety-related or other issues. It’s important to research any organization you consider, but a couple of organizations are known to be ethical and reputable: Global Volunteers and UN Volunteers are both places that you can find great opportunities. The British Council also posts some opportunities, so check them out as well.
Avoiding Unethical Organizations for volunteering to teach English abroad
“Voluntourism” is a word combining volunteer and tourism. Participants usually come from Western countries and volunteer while they vacation.
Many organizations are ethical when they offer this type of volunteering. But others aren’t, and you need to do your research on the organization before you enrol.
Some of the issues associated with unethical organizations offering “voluntourism” vacations are as follows:
- Children are exploited and used as props for the organization to use for publicity. Once the children are finished participating in photo-ops, the organization checks out and leaves teachers and children to fend for themselves, resulting in inadequate supervision and lack of living conditions;
- Volunteer teachers are often left without supervision, leaving them to make guesses on how to approach certain issues, handle disagreements, and address any other issues that may arise;
- Host families often are forced to use their resources to house the volunteers, thereby losing those valuable resources for themselves due to lack of involvement by the organization;
- These types of trips for volunteers often last only up to a couple of weeks. This results in inconsistent teaching for the locals and loss of jobs for local labourers.
Keep the above points in mind when you choose the organization you want to volunteer with. Research the company online, check with fellow volunteers who’ve had experience with the organization, use reputable organizations instead of others. Do your due diligence and you will have an excellent, rewarding time volunteering abroad.
Things to consider for volunteering to teach English abroad
There are some important considerations, similar to paid teaching, that you need to take into account before you accept an offer to volunteer teach. Read along for these considerations:
- The age group you teach will usually be children, but sometimes there are adults;
- There is a good chance your living situation will be less conventional and comfortable than your current situation, so keep this in mind;
- It is likely the water in your area will not agree with your body. You might want to take water purification tablets with you;
- There will likely be a lack of teaching resources, so bring some with you;
- Depending on country and region, cultural norms and local laws will be different than your home country. Make sure to talk to your organization, and do your research to ensure you don’t get in trouble. For cultural norms, part of the experience is learning – so go in with an open mind;
- Both women and members of the LGBTQ community have different levels of rights abroad. Do your research before travel and make sure you follow the cultural norms and local laws to ensure you don’t get into trouble;
- Depending on your destination, insects and pests may be a part of life – be prepared for it!
FAQs for volunteering to teach ESL abroad
See below for some FAQs that people have for volunteering to teach ESL abroad!
Will I receive pay or benefits for going abroad to teach ESL?
You may receive stipends for food, but you will not be paid. In fact, you will likely pay to volunteer abroad. With a reputable organization, you can expect everything needed to be covered and someone to communicate with to discuss any issues that arise.
What if I’m a new English teacher who wants to teach abroad?
Great! If you have the funds to volunteer, this is a great option to gain experience. Volunteering abroad will give you a great appreciation for teaching in foreign countries and educate you on what to expect. You’ll be fully set up for a future paid position teaching abroad!
Will I get sick while I volunteer teach ESL abroad?
You might, but there are ways to mitigate this. Firstly, talk to your doctor about any immunizations you should get before you travel. This will save you from any serious sicknesses while abroad. Second, get extra refills before you travel so you don’t risk running out. Finally, take water purification tablets and anti-nausea medication to mitigate any sickness that arises from food or water.
(And, if you’re like me and have food allergies, travel with Benedryl and take extra Epi-pens with you!)
Will it be safe to volunteer teach English abroad?
Check with your local authorities before travelling – such as your government’s travel advice – to make sure you are going to a place that is safe. You can usually find this information online. Furthermore, make sure you get your immunizations before you travel!
How do I avoid unethical “voluntourism” organizations?
You can avoid an unethical organization by doing your research. Start off by looking into various organizations, and doing a deep dive into their business practices. There will be a lot of information online. Also, check with fellow ESL teachers who have experience with the organization. If you have any doubts, maybe move on to a different organization.
Do you have a question? Put it below in the comments and let us know!
Have your Say about Volunteering to Teach ESL Abroad
What are your thoughts on volunteering to teach ESL abroad? Have a personal experience you want to share? Leave a comment below and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.
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