Transitioning from junior college or polytechnic to university, or from university life to the workforce, may be challenging. However, there is no “correct” way to do it, and you may have decided to take a gap year before, during or after your university years to explore your interests or step out of your comfort zone.
A popular gap year activity undertaken by many students before they begin their university or professional lives is teaching English abroad, especially if they are native English speakers. From immersing yourself in a foreign culture to meeting people from different backgrounds, there are various reasons why you should take a gap year to teach abroad.
What is a “gap year”?
A gap year is a year-long break between high school, or between university and the start of your working life. That said, students sometimes choose to only take one semester or several months off.
“Paid” versus “volunteer” teaching
There are two types of teaching abroad programs: paid and volunteer teaching. Unsurprisingly, many students opt for the paid teaching option, as they can use this opportunity to earn and save some money to travel around. That said, some paid teaching programs require you to be a certified teacher, so if you are fresh out of high school, you may have difficulty applying for such a program. Also, you may have to invest more hours of your time as a salaried teacher (duh!) as compared to a volunteer one. Hence, paid teaching may divert your attention away from your other personal interests or travel plans.
Alternatively, teaching voluntarily can be equally fruitful, as you can contribute to the education of your foreign students and make a difference in their lives. Often, volunteer teaching programs tend to be shorter than paid ones, lasting for a few weeks to a couple of months. You may also get more vacation time as a volunteer teacher, giving you more leeway to explore your passions.
#1: Travel the world while gaining work experience
Bored with your current student life? Looking to venture into new horizons? Struggling to land a job after graduation? Well, you are not alone, as many students or graduates feel the same way.
Fortunately, there are many non-English speaking countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas where you can teach English and explore, with or without teaching qualifications. If you have a teaching certificate such as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification, the world is your oyster, from countries like Germany to Thailand. However, even if you do not have a teaching certificate, some countries are always on the lookout for English-speaking natives to teach in their classrooms! Take, for instance, Spain and Poland. You can find private language schools (catering to students of all ages) willing to hire native English speakers who do not have, say, a TEFL certification!
Even if you are not majoring in pedagogy and do not intend to teach as a career, your stint abroad would still be valuable work experience. This is because you can hone your leadership, interpersonal, management and communication skills on the job, while making some time to travel around. These transferable skills will help you stand out when you are job-hunting. Some employers may be looking out for job candidates with international work experience or who have stepped out of their comfort zones to learn something new. Also, if you get paid, you can save up for your future or upcoming travel plans!
#2: Cultural immersion
Being a teacher in a country whose culture is starkly different from that of Singapore enables you to experience everyday life from the eyes of locals. You will have many opportunities to experience local communities and experiences that most tourists do not get.
While teaching abroad in Poland, I got to experience various Polish traditions after making new Polish friends. For instance, I was invited to participate in a sumptuous Polish Christmas Eve dinner (known as “wigilia” in Polish) traditionally comprising 12 dishes, sing Polish language Christmas carols as well as attend a Christmas midnight mass (known as “pasterka” in Polish), a practice deeply entrenched in Poland’s religious and cultural traditions! I would not have experienced these valuable traditions as a mere tourist in Poland.
#3: Contribute to the community in meaningful ways
When you teach English overseas, you are doing way more than simply living in another country and travelling around. Instead, you would be becoming an educator and productively contributing to a particular community of people. As many people of all ages abroad hope to learn English to advance economically and professionally, you empower them to fulfill their personal or professional goals!
#4: Meet people from various backgrounds
One benefit of uprooting yourself and heading to another country, or even continent, to teach would be meeting people from all walks of life. If you teach abroad during your gap year, you may meet co-teachers from your destination country or other countries and forge long-lasting friendships with them!
While teaching in a private kindergarten in Warsaw, Poland’s capital, I met and got along well with co-teachers from Pakistan and Nigeria who had been living in Poland for several years. These co-teachers helped me navigate the challenges of teaching English to Polish children, while advising me on other matters relating to housing, cost of living and social life. Also, I learnt about their backgrounds and their motivations leading them to work and live in Poland in the first place.
As you may have gathered from the above post, there are several reasons why you should take a teaching abroad gap year, regardless of your educational or life stage. It is never too late to explore the idea of taking a gap year to teach abroad, even if it is only for several months.
Research on the opportunities available
Once you have decided that teaching abroad during your gap year is for you, the next thing you should do would be to research the available locations, opportunities and costs involved for your teaching experience. If you are already enrolled in a local institution of higher learning in Singapore, you may first want to ask if they already have pre-existing arrangements with foreign institutions. By doing so, you can make an informed decision about where you want to teach and the type of experiences you want to gain.