One highlight of my ESL teaching career was when I taught in the Black Forest of Germany at an English Summer Camp. I taught Local German teenagers who wanted to practise conversational English. Our mandate was to introduce them to North American English since they were being taught British English in the German school system. I was the only Canadian on our team; the others were all from the United States.
A typical day was spent teaching in the mornings and then having workshops, such as cooking, in the afternoons. On Wednesdays, we took the whole day for field trips. For one fieldtrip, we went to this amazing waterpark in Lorrach, Germany. It was huge and the indoor pool flowed right into the outdoor pool with a view of the Alps. There was a totally awesome waterslide that was so long and steep that they actually had a traffic light to tell you when you could go! My six-year-old daughter really wanted to try it, but she couldn’t go alone. I was a little less eager, but certainly didn’t want to miss the opportunity. So up we climbed. It was definitely worth it. The experience was great for group discussion the next day as campers were excited to talk about how their terrified-of-heights teacher was convinced by a six-year-old to climb all the way to the top and then go flying down.
I found teaching overseas enabled me to be far more vulnerable since nobody knew me. There was simply less reason to worry. After all, in two weeks, I would likely never see these students again. It was a very different perspective to approach the class with. To be honest, it was kind of fun and sometimes scary at the same time.
The other great excursion was the End of Camp picnic on the banks of the Rhine River on the German side. Right across from us was France and to our left (as we sat eating) was Switzerland. Yes, this was one awesome teaching gig! I commented to the students around me, “You just can’t do this in my country. Have a picnic lunch and look at three countries at once.” My students, who could eat breakfast at home and zip through at least one or two countries by noon, were quite surprised. That led to a good discussion about the size of Canada compared to Germany.
Perhaps one of the best features about teaching internationally is how easy it is to find things to talk about. Obviously, I highly recommend it! Here are a few tips for you to think about.
6 Tips for teaching overseas
- Start planning at least 8 months before you want to go. Six months is okay, but you’ll need to really keep things moving along.
- Read your contract very carefully. What does it cover, what does it not include. (Flight, accommodation, etc.) Also, if you’re going for longer than just a summer, check out their payment schedule and sick day policy.
- Be sure you know who your contact is in the destination country. If possible, start communicating with them directly by email or phone at least 2 months before you fly. Many organizations also have a North American contact person. My experience is that the communication between those two is not always what it should be. There were one or two key points where the information we were given by the North American representative was not exactly how the destination representative wanted it.
- Be flexible. This is an amazing opportunity for you personally and for your teaching career. But you’re the newcomer. I quickly found out that even though I was very open to whatever came my way during the camp session, I still had unspoken assumptions and expectations about how this was all going to work. It’s important to remember this is a work situation, not a vacation. (in the summer, it can be a lot harder to make that distinction). The reality is your site supervisor is running a workplace.
Above all, Have Fun!
Please share your overseas ESL adventures in the response section below. We’d love to hear about it!
Ramona Brown Monsour has taught LINC, ESL and EWP (English in the Workplace). She currently writes and publishes a digital newsletter App for ESL students called About Canada: Culture, Immigration & Lifestyle. She has also served as newsletter editor for the Waterloo-Wellington chapter of TESL Ontario.