Teaching English abroad after graduation may open doors

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Photo Credit: Danielle Thomas | Daily Texan Staff

Facing a tough job market and unclear career choices, college graduates may look to teaching English abroad for an opportunity to support themselves and broaden their horizons.

The demand for English teachers around the world has remained strong even as the global economy has contracted recently, said Southwestern University alumna Tanlyn Roelofs, who taught English to high school students in Berlin. Roelof graduated with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She said she moved to Austin and took a job waiting tables because she wasn’t sure what to do next. Roelof said she applied to a number of public service programs and was accepted to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, which operates a teaching program in Berlin. Roelof spoke to UT students last semester at the Sanger Learning and Career Center about her experiences teaching abroad. Roelof said teaching abroad helped her to decide what career she wanted to pursue.

“Even if we’re in a global recession, there are a lot of opportunities to teach English abroad because the ability to speak English is a world skill,” she said.

Robert Vega, a Liberal Arts Career Services staff member, said UT students have discovered the same opportunities. He said students should speak to a career counselor before they go abroad to teach.

“Most people don’t become English teachers for the rest of their lives,” he said. “If they speak to us before they go abroad, we can help them decide how to come back and put their teaching experience on their resume, make it attractive to recruiters and tell that story in an interview.”

Vega speaks from personal experience. He taught English in Japan for three years after graduating from the University of Houston with a bachelor’s in political science and Boston University with a master’s in international relations.

Vega said people with an independent spirit and a taste for adventure are attracted to teaching abroad.

“People that travel abroad are open to adventure,” he said. ”They’re willing to put themselves in an environment where they’re completely on their own, where everything is new and they might not know the native language.”

Teaching English abroad can also provide financial independence, Vega said.

“Unlike studying abroad during college, you can support yourself while you travel,” he said.

Vega said he encourages more students to travel before entering into their lifelong careers.

“Here in America, we are so career and job-oriented,” he said. “Compare that to Europeans and Australians who are used to taking a gap experience. I think that if every American took a gap year, we would be a more well-rounded people. We wouldn’t have fewer bankers; we’d have better bankers.”

Academic advisor Tim Ashlock said teaching English abroad is often a good decision for students that do not have an obvious career path after graduation.

“Unless you studied something career-oriented like engineering, accounting or journalism, you can learn a lot about what you want to do with your life by teaching abroad,” Ashlock said.

French junior Evan Markley said he plans to teach English in France when he graduates. He said living in France while teaching English would be a great way to use his French degree. Markley said he also hopes to network while teaching and to stay in France for graduate school.

“I’d like to stick around in France and go to graduate school there,” he said. “I think it’d be easier to get a work visa if I taught English and then hopefully make some connections.”

Rebecca Rinas, who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a degree in communications and also spoke to UT students last semester alongside Roelof, said she used teaching English to finance her travels in Guatemala, Hungary and Germany.

“After I started traveling I couldn’t stop,” she said. “While in Central America I randomly went into an English school and they hired me. Then I discovered that I actually really enjoyed it and kept doing it.

Rinas said she encourages students like Markley to follow her example.

“Do it,” she said. “Don’t hesitate. It will change your life.”

Printed on Thursday, February 16, 2012 as: Teaching English abroad provides well-rounded experiences