Am I too old to teach English abroad? Isn’t teaching English overseas for people who just graduated from college? Aren’t people teaching overseas only stalling their real careers? Is someone a loser because they teach English abroad for more than two years? Are they losers because they teach overseas in their mid 30′s, 40′s, 50′s or beyond? Don’t people teach English abroad because they can’t handle a real job back home?
Answers that Fall Flat
These are all real questions and criticisms working adults encounter before becoming ESL instructors in foreign countries. They also have questions about sustainability, working conditions, pay and travel opportunities. Unfortunately, the web is devoid real answers to these questions. Instead, ESL companies promise their certifications will break people away from their mundane existence and enjoin them to a meaningful crusade of changing lives through teaching English.
On the other hand, post-college graduates spew resentment towards older teachers on ESL forums. They claim older teachers can’t succeed in the workforce back home or are in the process of committing career suicide. The naivety and delusions of these post-graduates, concerning their envisioned success and fulfillment in the work force back home, cannot be understated.
Finally, the common western skeptic, like my father, deduces teaching abroad to a poor economy. Oddly enough, job security and employment are not primary reasons for older individuals to teach overseas. While job opportunity and security influences younger teachers, the influence of job security wanes as an individual ages.
The Real Answers
First of all, do not worry about age. You are not alone. Working adults over 30 comprise the larger percentage of those earning TEFL certifications in English speaking countries.
If you are not a post-college graduate and you are considering teaching abroad, ignore the chatter and opinions of others. The decision rests solely with you. There are plenty of older teachers who are happy with their decisions to teach abroad. Those who were not happy returned home upon completing their initial contract. You simply need to ask yourself one question,
“Will I be happier teaching English abroad, or will I be happier to continuing my current path?”
If you are reading this, chances are you are not happy with your current path. Why else would you be considering such a crazy option:) The next question to ask yourself is if teaching abroad is the correct change you should make in your life? This question is complicated, but I think I can help.
The Over 30 and Teaching Abroad Project
Most online articles employ broad generalizations to explain the motivations of thousands of older expats teaching abroad. I reflected upon my own motivations for teaching abroad and concluded they were anything but simple. So, instead of writing why I thought working adults chose to leave their lives behind, I took a different approach. I asked several expats over 30 to write an essay explaining why they decided to teach abroad. In return, I promised to attempt to take portraits of them.
To their surprise, few who took place in this project could summarize their decisions with a few words. Their decisions to teach abroad were complicated and often fueled by an internal desire that was often difficult for them to pinpoint and explain. Most were already successful by some measurement- gainfully employed, master’s degrees, etc. Most also had plans to return to their careers, but a few decided to change careers. Some teachers, like myself, are still unsure about their futures, which I discovered is common at any age.
The motivations and eventual experiences of every expat differ; some people pursue careers teaching English as a second language, others savor the opportunity to live in a foreign country for a few years, while many people need a break from the monotony back home to gain perspective on their lives. Some expats fulfill their desires, but I’ve witnessed many realize they made a mistake and returned home.
Below are photographs and essays by real ESL instructors who teach in Korea and are at least thirty years old. I asked them one question, “Why did you decide to teach abroad?”
My hope is that people considering teaching abroad can find answers, comfort, hope, and reassurance in the thought processes, decisions, and experiences of real people who have gone before them. As this project continues, I will add more people to the list.
If you are considering teaching abroad, I wish you the best in your decision. Remember, whether you decide for or against teaching abroad, you are in good company. You are never too old to follow through with either option.
Meet The Teachers