3 Common Myths About Teaching Abroad

Photograph by Brett Jordan

World Map by Brett Jordan

Life as an expat has countless perks, and this is why so many people around the world have decided to live and work abroad. I chose the lifestyle of an ESL teacher for many reasons, but one of them was definitely not to work less in order to waste my free time being idle.

Many people back home have assumptions about the life of a teacher abroad, and because I’m sick of family members asking: “so when are ya going to move back to the States and get a real job?”, I’ve compiled this short and sweet list to dispel some common myths about teaching abroad.

3 Common Myths About Teaching Abroad:

Myth #1:

Because ESL teachers abroad work fewer hours and have a less demanding job description, it’s not really work. It’s pretty much the weakest excuse for a job ever.

Truth: Although the workload is less, the work in itself is still demanding. One doesn’t have to be a slave to a 40-hour a week job to earn the title of “hard worker”. Let’s be honest, many people sitting at an 8 to 5 desk job spend loads of time faffing around. When I’m in the classroom, my attention is 100% on the kids, and it can be draining.

Myth #2:

All ESL teachers abroad are slackers and spend all their money in bars.

Truth: The cost of living is significantly less, so teachers abroad have more money to spend on fun things or save in the bank; the choice is really up to the individual. Either way, it is unfair to lump all of us into one category.

Myth #3:

Teaching ESL abroad is only for young adults who want to party and travel the world.

Truth: Teaching ESL abroad is open to all age groups, and many people choose this profession for reasons other than the freedom to party and travel the world.

Given the facts about teaching abroad, you can see that ESL teachers have a lot of free time on their hands. I only teach 21 hours a week, and in my free time I practice and teach yoga, attempt to write, and am taking a one year nutrition course in order to become a Certified Health Coach. I stay pretty busy, and am able to save lots of money as I rarely frequent the bars.  One of the reasons I moved to Taiwan in the first place was for this kind of lifestyle; to have a rewarding job that pays well (but is not the center of my universe) in order to pursue my goals and save money at the same time.

So when am I moving back to the States to get a real job? Well, not anytime soon, because I already have one.

Are you a teacher abroad, or have you ever taught abroad? What are some myths that you often hear? A penny for your thoughts!


  1. Oh yes teaching kids can be draining!! Good article 🙂

  2. Nice post! Did you go through some kind of company or organization online to get your first job teaching abroad?

  3. Great post! I’ve been teaching abroad for ten years now. The money where I am is actually not that good but I like my students and you’re right, there is more downtime than in a traditional nine-to-five job. That being said, I’m seriously thinking of going back home. It’s been a great adventure, but I really miss my home. 🙂

  4. Amen, sister! I wish there weren’t so many societal ‘rules’ in America, but even when you do return (even just for a visit), people will ask an even more annoying question: “So did you get traveling out of your system yet?” Psh. Never.

  5. thanks very much! You’re right, it is a transition. I’ve been here so long it’s going to be a bit scary going back home, but I’m also excited about it. Take care!

  6. I really dislike this view that we’re not working real jobs. Like really, it takes a lot patience, confidence, and creativity to get up in front of a classroom and teach your language to non-native speakers. Recently, I had a discussion with a very good friend of mine back home and in that conversation, I realized for the first time that she thought I was just here to travel. She was wondering why I wasn’t interested in returning to the U.S. given some recent circumstances and I explained that I enjoy living overseas, in fact, I’ve a higher quality of life here. I also explain that there’s just so much I want to experience. She said, but you can always travel to other countries in the future. That’s when I realized, she didn’t get how much I enjoy my job and life here. Then, I explained that I’m not here on a working holiday, I work a real job teaching several hundred high school students a week and that is not an easy task. Of course, I’ve a lot of downtime and vacation time, but I work hard, very hard. One of the major differences is that now I actually have a work life-balance, enjoy a good salary, and more benefits than I had (actually lacked) when I worked back in the States.

  7. I agree with the first one, when I first started teaching in Taiwan it was really hard, and I was expecting it to be easy! I’m teaching in Singapore and it’s a lot easier, but still as much work as most normal jobs.

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