Top 7 Challenges of Teaching English Abroad

Mark, ICALMark Johnson is an international traveler and an expert in the world of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). He works for ICAL TEFL, one of the most recognizable companies in the industry when it comes to learning to teach English, getting your TEFL Certification and preparing to teach overseas.

Today, Mark is going to talk about some of the challenges associated with teaching English overseas. Mark has travelled extensively in SE Asia and loves nowhere more than Malaysia. He even likes the Indian food of Malaysia more than that of India! Mark also loves learning languages and speaks French, Spanish and English.

TEACHING EGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE CAN BE a very rewarding way to travel the world. There’s no shortage of jobs for qualified English teachers in exotic far-flung lands like Thailand, China, South Korea and Chile.

But with the excitement of a new adventure comes some very real challenges. As much as you dream about the positives, it’s important to prepare yourself for the downsides of working abroad. Here are some of the most common ones:

1: Cultural Differences

There’s no getting around the fact that the culture of your new country will being profoundly different than your home country. Not just in the classroom, but in every day society too. Culture shock is normal, and to be expected.

In the classroom, the way you interact with children may be very different to the way you would interact with kids at home. You won’t pick up all the subtleties right away, but by observing the way other teachers interact with the children, you’ll quickly learn.

globe, travel, map

2: Unusual Work Hours

Expect to be teaching at all kinds of unconventional hours. Some schools run sessions from mid-afternoon to late evening, while others have lessons on Saturdays. You might also decide to take on private tutoring, which could see you working early mornings and evenings.

If you absolutely insist on a 9-5, Monday-Friday setup, you’ll need to be targeted with your job search. Always read the contract carefully and make sure it clearly defines your hours.

3: Lack of Support

This can be the most frustrating challenge faced by English teachers. Moving abroad can be quite lonely and there won’t necessarily be a support network in place at your school. It’s likely you’ll be shown to your classroom and left to get on with it.

Some people thrive on this kind of challenge; others may prefer at least a little back-up. If you’re the latter, consider a dedicated teach-abroad program that offers that extra support.

4: Discipline and Manners

Teaching in your native country is hard enough. It gets even more difficult when you add language barriers and social differences.

It may be that discipline is very lax in some schools. Children may turn up late to class, be chatty and cheeky, or downright rude and misbehaved.

Make sure you fully understand the school’s disciplinary policy, especially when it comes to more serious misdemeanours (like cheating or bullying). Lots of patience will also be helpful!

5: Contract Confusion


You may find that contracts are not as legally binding as you’d hope. In fact, it’s quite common for contracts to be broken and teachers to find themselves in uncomfortable situations. Additionally, fighting for your legal rights in a foreign country can be difficult and frustrating.

Prepare yourself for this possibility by doing your research, interviewing only for reputable schools and talking to other foreign teachers in the area. Only sign a contract when you’re 100% happy with the terms, and do ask to clarify anything you’re unsure about.

6: Lack of Resources

It’s not unusual for teachers to arrive at school and be expected to jump straight into teaching. Don’t anticipate any extensive training; this is a feet first adventure!

There may also be a lack of textbooks, stationery supplies and other basic resources available to you. It might be that teachers are expected to buy these out of pocket. This is when it’s time to get creative and the internet will be a big help here. You’ll find forums full of advice, lesson plan ideas and you’ll even be able to download vocabulary flashcards and worksheets.

7: Homesickness

It’s natural to miss your family and friends, and the comforts of home, especially if you’re facing some of the challenges listed above. The key to homesickness is to embrace it.

Call your parents, Skype with your best friend, catch-up with your favourite show or look through some old photos.

Turn it into a positive experience; an opportunity to hunker down for a few hours and take a break from work and sight-seeing and making friends. Just don’t forget to bring some of your favourite snacks from home, they will really help!


This list may seem a bit doom and gloom, but teaching abroad has lots of benefits too. By being aware of – and preparing for – the challenges you might face, you will make the experience a much more enjoyable one.

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