In an increasingly global society there is a great demand for U.S. native English speakers to work abroad as language teachers. These positions span the range of ages and skill levels from kindergarteners just getting their initial exposure to a second language to adult learners who are seeking a higher proficiency in business English. Depending on the program and the country’s economy you can often find well-paid work even without being a certified teacher. Many programs only require a college degree, not even one specifically related to English or teaching.
As soon as I graduated from college, I moved to Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) where I taught English to junior high school students for two years. Afterwards I returned to the States to do some writing before heading to Santiago, Chile where I taught for another six months.
Upon returning to the States, I felt a bit of trepidation. Thomas Wolfe coined the phrase “You can never go back home again.” This has certainly felt true to me at times in my life, or more specifically I have felt that the home I returned to was very different than the home I left. Being gone for years at a time meant experiencing reverse culture shock.
I was in Japan during 9/11 and was shocked to come home to find my community inundated with solidarity flags. I had missed out on two years of television and had no context for a lot of common cultural references. Still, despite the challenges and the adjustment period, I found that my time spent abroad and the skills I acquired there opened doors for me.
As a teacher, in addition to running my classes, I designed curriculum, planned lessons, worked with a team of teachers to plan field trips and school events, performed evaluations on my students, and invented games to keep things interesting. Outside of work, simply living abroad proved to be a catalyst itself for learning new languages, how to navigate foreign transit systems and to decipher and adhere to different cultural norms.
Here are a few ideas for returning expats looking for a new career.
Teach at home. Not certified? In some states starved for experienced teachers, you can get a provisional license that will allow you to teach or at least substitute in public schools. There are also “grow your own teacher” programs that subsidize your certification if you agree to teach for five years in that school district. If you have an advanced degree, you might be eligible to teach in private schools without being certified.
Student Adviser. Perhaps you want out of the classroom, but still enjoy working with youth. Become an adviser. Help young people figure out their careers or study abroad plans.
Study Abroad Coordinator/Trip Leader/Host Community Coordinator. Once you have lived in a country for more than a year, you become a de facto expert. Every year more and more students travel abroad. There are lots of positions either taking students abroad or receiving students from other countries and coordinating their host country experiences. These jobs are highly competitive, but they are out there and they offer a wide array of opportunities.
Trainer. While there is a difference between teaching and training, many teachers, after having had the experience of planning and executing classes, are very good at facilitating workshops and trainings.
Motivational Speaker. Good teachers learn how to motivate their students. They figure out what they are passionate about and use it to get their students to relate to the subject. Also teaching provides plenty of practice with public speaking.
Community Liaison. Upon returning from my travels, I felt a special connection to people from the countries I had lived in. To that end, I found myself seeking out gatherings where I could practice Spanish or Japanese. What I found is that there are several large immigrant communities and subsequently many nonprofits, cultural preservation centers, and organizations that could benefit from having someone from the US who could help bridge cultural gaps.
Volunteer Coordinator. Working with volunteers is a skilled balance of clear and diplomatic communication and keeping volunteers engaged, excited, and on task. Depending on the school, many teachers must work with parent or community volunteers to coordinate field trips or other school activities.
Event Planner. Whether planning a 30-minute lesson, a 350 person field trip, or a 3 day conference, event coordination requires an ability to see both the big picture and all of the detailed puzzle pieces that need to come together to make it happen.
Medical/Court Translator. Every teacher I know has been through some form of emergency preparedness class. In some places teachers are required to be certified in first aid and CPR. Luckily I have never had to use CPR, but I have definitely used the first aid kit and had to take youth to the doctor in multiple languages. As it turns out this is also a skill.
Teaching abroad prepared me for a wide variety of careers. Since returning I have found employment doing most of the things listed above. What I have found is not that there is a lack of opportunity, but rather that I have to make some decisions about what I really want to do. Being back in the States has become its own kind of adventure.