College is a time for difficult decisions. You want to have fun and enjoy yourself, but the looming worry of life after graduation always seems to interrupt the fun.
With unemployment around 10%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, post-college jobs are tough to come by and many grads are finding the situation incredibly frustrating as they stay unemployed or under-employed for months after graduation.
One post-graduation option that more college students are pursuing is teaching English abroad. From Japan to Africa to eastern Europe, English teaching positions are available to native English speakers with often little or no formal teaching experience.
Once again, no, you don’t have to be an education major to teach English abroad.
Teaching English abroad is the perfect chance to make some money, diversify your resume, and do some more traveling while you’re young and not pinned down with kids, mortgages, and careers.
But just being able to speak English won’t guarantee you a job. You have to show foreign companies and, more importantly, interviewers why you stand out and deserve to teach in their country.
Here are 5 important steps you need to take as a college student to make yourself more marketable as an English teacher abroad.
1) Join an international club
Almost every college has an international club that is run through the Office of International Programs – the people who organize and run the study abroad program.
International clubs are great because they don’t require a lot of your time and energy, but they’re a lot of fun. There are often cultural field trips, parties, and other events that you can attend where you’ll meet a lot of different people and learn about different parts of the world.
Often your colleges international students will join the international club which is the perfect chance to learn about other countries, other cultures, and to ask questions about possible places to teach English abroad after graduation.
These international students are the ones who put themselves out there to travel the world and learn English so they’re often fascinating people who can easily turn into lifetime friends. Not to mention, connections for future places to stay when you travel in the future.
International clubs are also great conversation bits in future interviews and they’re something you can mention in your resume.
2) Take classes that relate to countries you may want to teach in
I went to a small school of 3,500 people and we still had tons of classes that centered around specific countries like Russia, Japan, or Germany.
If you have some room in your schedule, sign up for a course about one country. The professor will probably be a fanatic about the country and you’ll get to learn the ins and outs of the country. Often students will have traveled to the country as well, and you’ll get to bounce questions off them about daily life in the country, the economy, travel options, culture, etc.
Don’t be picky about which class to choose. Far too often we think we know what we want in our lives, but it’s the unexpected bolts of interest that guide our lives. Take a class about South Korea or Brazil. Who knows what you may learn? You may fall in love with the country and find yourself living there in a couple of years.
If you’re lucky enough to find a country you love and you want to teach there someday, this class can be mentioned in your interview as the “A-HA!” moment that made you apply. Trust me, the interviewers will eat that up.
3) Study abroad/vacation/winter break trip to any country
This is the most important step if you want to really teach abroad.
Traveling to other countries – specifically ones that are much different than your own – will show interviewers that you have the guts to step outside of your culture and the interest to learn about other ways of life.
A couple of weeks ago the question of traveling in your twenties was discussed here on Studenomics. If you want to dramatically improve your chances of teaching abroad, you must travel in your twenties.
Do whatever you can to get abroad while you’re in college. Study abroad programs are great because they give you a chance to live somewhere for an extended period of time and you’ll get to test the waters and see if you could live there for a year or two.
I studied for seven weeks in Japan on a friend’s suggestion, and now I’ve been here for five months teaching English and will probably be here for another two years. It’s funny how things work out that way.
Traveling abroad can also show you if you really love traveling or you’re just romanticizing going to faraway lands. It’s okay to hate it. It’s okay to realize you never want to leave your home country and that foreign foods creep you out. But it’s better to make this decision as a twenty-year old than always wondering “what if” for the rest of your life.
4) Volunteer/work for international organizations
This is another step that makes you incredibly marketable to future foreign companies as an English speaker. If you can locate local international groups or companies in your community and either work part-time, intern, or volunteer you’ll be able to talk about this in a future interview.
For example, my friend who is having a hard time landing a full-time job after graduation is interning at a college’s Office of International Programs and volunteering at his town’s culture center. He approached both organizations and offered his services for free along with some ideas of ways he could help. Both groups said yes, and now he’s getting great international experience doing a variety of tasks.
It doesn’t have to be a thirty hours-a-week job, but it could be a Sunday afternoon volunteer session. Anything that can get you international experience will make you more marketable and make your resume stick out from the rest.
Talk to your school’s Office of International Programs to see if they know of any opportunities in your community. If all else fails, Google it and see what you can find.
5) Take language classes or self-learn
The sign of someone who really loves a country, is when they’ll commit themselves to learning that nation’s language. Just like classes that revolve around countries, if you have some open space in your schedule, sign-up for a language course in a country your interested in and see what it’s like. You may struggle, you may hate it, but if you get through it you’ll be able to show companies how dedicated you are to their culture.
Your language experience will also give you a leg up when you actually live in that country. Even though you’ll be teaching English as a second language, knowing even elementary phrases will help you go a long way.
It’s important to realize that more and more graduates are applying to teach abroad. Don’t bank on the fact that you have a 3.6 GPA and you’re a double-major. If you have no connections to international life, you probably won’t be hired.
The extent of your experience can vary, but don’t let the international opportunities your college provides pass you by.
Get yourself out there, meet some people, learn about other ways of life, and you may just find yourself living in a foreign country teaching English someday.
Austin teaches English in Japan and writes about personal finance for twenty-something.