Teacher Abroad: Sara in Singapore


Sara was already a qualified and experienced teacher before she decided to pack up her life back home and move to Singapore. Read on to find out how you can too! 

KD: Sara, tell us a bit about yourself. 

I moved abroad about four years ago, with the intention of only staying for one year! I'm originally from New Jersey, in the U.S., and spent the first five years of my career teaching high school English in northern New Jersey. After my third year, I got tenure (a dream!) but I started to question if I wanted to live in NJ for the rest of my life, did I want to teach until retirement, etc. I went through a quarter-life crisis!

I had always loved reading about Asia and so one snowy night, I thought that maybe I would move to South Korea. That thought made my stomach drop and though I felt a bit afraid, I figured that it was better to try and fail rather than regret not trying. Though South Korea didn't work out (more on that later), in July of 2014, I moved to Singapore to teach reading to students aged two to 11.

I did that for one year then transitioned into a research position at a think tank based in Singapore. I took on an array of projects-- including editing their publication--and learned so much. I spent almost three years there, and just recently relocated to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 

KD: That sounds like an interesting position. How is it that you ended up teaching in Singapore? 

SM: From that first snowy night where I thought about moving abroad to actually boarding the plane took almost two years. I am a slow planner and it was important to me that I did things 'right', which included asking for a leave of absence from my NJ teaching job. I also worked with a recruiter from Reach to Teach where we explored the different opportunities for teachers who want to work abroad. I originally looked at applying for the JET program in Japan but heard that it was dwindling, so I applied to (and was rejected from) the EPIK program in South Korea. It was a strange experience-- because I had taught for five consecutive years at a public school and because I was a certified teacher, I was deemed too qualified for the EPIK program. I was heartbroken at the time, but now I am so happy that things worked out as they did.

After EPIK, I was planning to go to Hong Kong but at the last minute, I accepted a position in Singapore. The only reason I chose Singapore over Hong Kong was that I had had two friends who had lived and worked in Singapore, and they both loved their experience. 

KD: Wow! I'm so glad everything worked out. What did you love most about teaching and living in Singapore? 

SM: I was really surprised and happy to find that I enjoyed teaching students who were 2-11. In the US, I taught high school so my students were ages 14-18. I also felt lucky that I had lots of practice with classroom management so teaching two to 11-year-olds was much easier than I anticipated. My students in Singapore were also insanely curious and very genuine-- they learned a lot and we had a lot of fun. 

KD: What was the most challenging aspect of teaching in this part of the world? 

SM: My experience wasn't challenging-- sometimes I worried about all of the stress my students felt (Singapore's school system is extremely competitive), but overall I made the time they spent in my classroom as informative and fun as possible. That was how I tried to balance this - through engaging them and ensuring that they enjoyed our class. 

KD: What advice would you give to someone wanting to teach in Singapore? 

SM: There are plenty of tuition centers in Singapore and lots of jobs. I would work with a recruiter, find people who work for those companies, and ask them what their experience is like. I would also recommend trying to let the process take its course - don't try to force an opportunity and location. As I said, I was so disappointed when I didn't get a position in South Korea, but it worked out. I loved living in Singapore and wouldn't trade my experience for anything. 

KD: Thanks for all of your insight into teaching in Singapore! 


You can see more of Sara's travels on Instagram and Twitter. Do you have any questions for this teacher abroad? Do you dream of teaching and living in Singapore? Leave a comment below. 

Teacher Abroad: Vicky in Cambodia


This week on the teachers abroad series I'm pleased to introduce not only a former BCF teacher in Bhutan, but an educator with a world of experience. Vicky is currently living just over the border in Cambodia where she volunteers teaching at a village school and monastery. Can I just say: goals! I have a bit of an obsession with rural areas so Vicky's work in Cambodia is extra appealing. Vicky does super interesting "photo a day" collections on her blog so you can see more about her life here. Read on to find out more about her experiences. 

KD: Tell us about yourself - who you are, where you are currently living and teaching, and about your teaching experience

VC: I’m Vicky Chartres and I am a passionate teacher with almost forty years of experience in seven different countries. Due to the exceptional and inspiring teachers and the terrible but memorable teachers I was exposed to in the public education system in Australia, I knew I wanted to be a teacher from about the age of 15. I had the good fortune to qualify in the first batch of secondary school trained drama teachers in the exact year that drama was introduced to the curriculum in South Australia. As a young, dedicated and passionate new teacher in a rural location with limited resources and funding, I was immediately able to see how drama had wide appeal and tapped into the hidden talents of those generally disenfranchised in the system. I had the freedom to write the curriculum best suited to my students and delighted in doing so and contributing to the national curriculum writing process as well. Within a short space of time I found myself in one of the most difficult and violent schools in the state, having specifically requested a transfer there. Experiencing a small measure of success and a great deal of satisfaction teaching some of the most disadvantaged urban students in Australia, I though I would never do anything else. I acknowledge that the student cohort was troubled with many socio-economic issues; racism was rampant, teenage pregnancy rife and delinquency the norm. It often felt more like crowd control than teaching but I had found my niche and believed I was making a difference. I thought that I would remain in similar schools for the rest of my career. Little did I know that I would be drawn to China, Japan, Thailand, Tanzania, and Bhutan with jobs and volunteer positions in the public and private sector and in conversation schools, early education, middle schools, high schools, international schools, universities and teachers colleges, and finally here to Cambodia where my partner and I currently reside in pre-retirement still volunteering in a local village school and at a monastery teaching monks a couple of days a week each.

KD: What made you decide to teach abroad?

VC: The illness of both my parents within a very short time and the need to assist my siblings to support and care for them, as well as holding down a fulltime demanding job, led me to make the decision to take a year long break and travel the world, when it was obvious that they would both survive. Eight years into my career in 1986 I headed off to backpack the world, starting in China and soon discovered there were literally masses of students who actually wanted to learn and were motivated and enthusiastic about the English language. In China these students pursued you in the street pleading to be able to practice their English with you, shanghaied you in bus and train stations and aboard, met in public parks and on bridges and streets for “English Corner” and struck up a conversation the moment an opportunity presented itself. I had a Teaching Diploma and a Bachelor of Education with drama as a major and English and Geography as minor subjects and was a registered teacher. Twelve months and 20 countries later, I returned to Australia and started searching for teaching appointments in China. AFS (American Field Service) found me a placement in Taiyuan in Shanxi Province- the coal capital. Then the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred and AFS withdrew their support. My partner and I decided that we had already made contact with the university, in which we would teach so we would brave it alone. It was the best decision of our lives. Taiyuan was a terrible place to visit but a wonderful place to live and working with motivated adult students who had already been teaching several years and were returning to university to complete their degrees, but had never had access to a native English speaker as a teacher, was a privilege and a challenge. I discovered that unlike travelling, living and working in a community for a prolonged period of time, gives you focused and specific insights into the culture and an understanding of the history and context, that passing through cannot.

KD: What’s it like living in your current country?

VC: Living in Cambodia was a conscious decision we made. On a number of different occasions in the past 10 years we have spent several months travelling in South East Asia, searching for somewhere we might make a life for ourselves after we chose not to work fulltime. Cambodia came up with the goods in terms of the friendliness of the people, the hot unending summer weather and beach areas, the affordability of accommodation and goods, the desire to learn and the dire need for English language skills and lets face it, a visa to match our purpose. We love it. It is exactly what we imagined when we took this bold step into the completely unknown six months ago. It certainly helps not working full time! We commit two full days in the Kep Gardens Association NGO, which is a village school with volunteering options. http://kepgardens.com/_ In addition we have started our own project teaching young monks in a monastery near where we live in Kep. This opportunity literally fell into our laps when we put the word out that we wanted to use our considerable experience and knowledge of teaching English as a foreign language and not remain idle whilst not needing a salaried position. The need is great and initiative is all it took to make it happen. Ironically it is unlike any other teaching we have ever done since the monks knew absolutely no English. In fact some had never held a pencil before and none can read or write in Khmer. We also know no Khmer to speak of so we are starting from scratch with no shared language and for me teaching the alphabet, basics phonics and letter writing for the very first time. It seems you can teach an old dog new tricks! It’s hot and since we only ride bicycles not motorcycles, due to our environmental footprint concerns, the biggest challenge is often getting to the school and monastery in the midday heat.

VC: What do you love most about teaching where you are?

KD: The students are what I have always loved about teaching. Despite many opportunities to become an administrator and even some brief periods as one, I always knew classroom teaching was my forte. For me it has always been about making a connection with individual students and valuing their differences and strengths. Building relationships that allow students to value themselves and the learning process and are not result driven, is of the utmost importance. With the little monks who bring us the greatest joy as well as posing the greatest challenges, it is about providing them with literacy skills that they would otherwise have no access to. They have lives that are so very different from most children but seeing them light up, smile, giggle and behave like the little boys they really are brings me tremendous joy. In a nutshell I love the satisfaction of doing what I love doing and continuing to feel I am making a difference in the lives of young students. 

KD: What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in this country?

VC: Not having an actual salaried position, I do not feel qualified to respond to this question. The thing which surprises me about Cambodian students is that although they have extensive exposure to English in the public system they seem to have very limited skills. I am assuming that the reason is that most English teachers are not native speakers and therefore rarely speak English in the classroom. As in both China and Japan the national teachers prefer to explain in their native language and assess mostly via multiple choice answers, which are easy to grade. Students have little confidence about writing or speaking independently and teachers have no confidence or motivation when it comes to grading papers or assessing speaking skills. As a Chinese teacher in Australia with native speakers in my classes, I can certainly relate to how intimidating teaching speaking and writing in that situation can be. As a high school English teacher I can vouch for the terrible work burden of correcting and grading writing.  In Bhutan with classes in excess of forty students I can remember the hours of work and overwhelming stress of marking 130 plus essays at year XI standard during term time and how the examination system discouraged so many students. However without students committing to writing and teachers diligently correcting, fluency is unobtainable; especially in a digital age where so much of the English foreign students are exposed to and required to produce, is in the written form.

KD: What advice do you have for others wanting to teach and travel abroad?

VC: Just do it. The hardest thing is packing up and leaving. Once you are abroad it has a life of its own. You will gravitate from one position to another. Each experience will lead to better decisions and positions better suited to your personal preference. We left Australia for a one-year contract in China in 1989 and spent a total of five years in China and eight in Japan before returning to Australia to work again. The only condition of returning was the promise to each other that this would not be forever. Seven years later we took off again for less than ideal jobs in Thailand but that was the starting point for another long haul, which took us through Tanzania and eventually to Bhutan for a total for five years in both the government and private school sectors. Not all of those jobs have been wonderful but all have been rewarding and the journey is not over yet. We are still in contact with students we taught in Taiyuan almost thirty years ago and at least one of them has a PhD in applied Linguistics!  As a teacher you start a journey with every student and seeing where it takes them is more than enough reward.

KD: How can I teach where you are?

VC: For most young teachers in Cambodia it seems the international schools are the main employers. There are numerous options in Phnom Penh with positions in kindergartens all the way through to universities. Other larger cities also have international schools but do your research. Make sure you can get a living wage and assistance to find accommodation. Ensure you know the contract length and if any conditions apply. If you are interested in a specific field or want to attend the recruitment fairs these better paying institutions engage in, then perhaps a placement agency like Search Associates will serve you well. There are fees but often not payable until you have found a position. If you are financially independent then make your own choices and apply some initiative. There is a lively expat scene in Cambodia and NGO and volunteering options abound. As a tourist I would strongly advise against becoming involved with organisations wanting volunteers in orphanages but there are good volunteering options that will give you a taste of what it would be like to live and work here before leaping into the great unknown. Be aware that voluntourism is alive and well and if you are going to pay for a hands-on experience read the reviews of those who have come before you. 


Teacher Abroad: Richelle in China


Once again I can hardly contain my excitement because I get to share yet another inspiring blogger, traveler and teacher! Richelle is practically an expert on teaching in China and has the most amazing resources available to anyone interested in teaching there. China had never really appealed to me personally before, but after interviewing Richelle and doing some exploring on her blog it definitely has made the list for my future travel and teaching plans. 

KD: Tell us about yourself - who you are, where you are currently living and teaching, and about your teaching experience.

RG: My name is Richelle and I'm a travel blogger at Adventures Around Asia. I'm originally from Seattle, but I spent the last five years living and working in China. Straight after I graduated college I moved to China to teach English at a high school in the middle of nowhere "Factoryville". I then went on to get my Master's at the University of Nottingham in China while teaching part-time. After that I moved up to Beijing to work as a college counselor, helping Chinese students apply to American universities. After over two years of working as a college counselor, I finally left my position to take my travel blog full-time, although I still work part-time online as a college counselor for Chinese students. 

KD: What made you decide to teach abroad? 

RG: In my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Beijing and Xi'an and loved every minute of it. I knew I wanted to go back to China and enjoy being an expat without having to complete mountains of Chinese homework every day. When graduation approached I realized I had nothing holding me back: no job, boyfriend, apartment, or furniture. It was the perfect time to hop on a plane and move to China. While many of my friends were struggling to pay rent, or living at home looking for jobs, I had my own apartment, was paying all of my own bills, and had enough money leftover to travel around China, Taiwan and Vietnam! 

KD: What’s it like living in your current country?

RG: China definitely isn't the easiest place to live, but it's always an adventure. There are the downsides like internet censorship (which you can fix by downloading a VPN), the pollution, traffic, and noise, but there are also many positives. Firstly, my job as a college counselor was a great opportunity, and I made a US salary while living in China. I loved being able to travel, try new things, and meet new people every day. The food in China is incredible, and I'm in love with spicy Sichuan cuisine. I also love being able to have nice meals delivered to my house for pennies, running across the street to buy dirt-cheap fresh fruit and vegetables, and exploring Beijing's craft beer scene. 

KD: What do you love most about teaching where you are?

RG: I love that teaching in China is a prestigious career. As a college counselor, my salary was much higher than that of my friends and roommates working in media and architecture. I had a great salary, a hefty housing stipend, tons of vacation time, and a forgiving schedule. I definitely wouldn't have felt the same way as a college counselor back home in the US. 

KD: What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in this country? 

RG: Expectations of the students and parents. There are many cultural differences when it comes to teaching in the US versus China, and sometimes this causes issues. As a college counselor, I had students and parents prioritizing college ranking over universities that best suited them. I counseled students that just wanted to major in architecture or engineering simply because their parents told them to. It's pretty hard to help a student write an essay about why they want to go to Cornell when they don't even know anything about the school or why they're applying besides "It's the easiest Ivy for Chinese students to get into." 

KD:What advice do you have for others wanting to teach and travel abroad?

RG: Go now! So many people put off their dreams of teaching abroad and they never happen. There is no perfect time to teach abroad, so if you wait until you're ready, you'll never actually go. For many countries, especially China, you also need to get started early. Certain things like background checks and degree authentification can take months, so start studying for your TEFL and completing the visa steps sooner rather than later. 

KD: How can I teach where you are? 

RG: Great question! If you're interested in working as a college counselor in China, here is some more information about what kind of qualifications you'll need to have. If you think you're a great fit you can contact me, and I'll send your resume to the HR department of my company. 

If you want to teach abroad in China, I also have a ton of resources for you. Firstly, you can check out my new website, Chalkboards & Chopsticks, which focuses solely on teaching abroad in China. Here you can find a Jobs Board where I list a ton of awesome positions I've found through my connections in China. 

I also highly suggest signing up for my Free Teach Abroad Mini-Course, where I'll walk you through the process of teaching abroad in China step-by-step!

More about the Author: Richelle is a travel blogger and serial expat who has spent the last five years living in China! She exclusively writes about Asia off the beaten path, exploring places, activities, and cultures most people miss. For more stories and misadventures, be sure to check out her blog Adventures Around Asia.

You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!

Thank you for your inspirational insights, Richelle. If you currently teaching abroad or have previously worked in international education please contact me - sharing and learning about teachers experiences globally is a big love of mine. 


Teacher Abroad: Kelsey in Vietnam


I am so excited to begin this teachers abroad series again, and to start off with such an inspiration individual. Kelsey from Miles of Smiles was one of the first people I found on Instagram when deciding if I was going to take my job in Vietnam. She takes absolutely amazing photographs, has an informative travel blog, and I was so happy when I found out she's a teacher here too! Kelsey lives in Hanoi which is a fair distance from where I am based in central Vietnam so hopefully her answers can give you some more insight into what its like to teach and live in one of the more popular choices for teaching in Vietnam. 

KD: Tell us about yourself - who you are, where you are currently living and teaching, and about your teaching experience.

KM: Hi there! My name is Kelsey and I am from the good ol' US of A. I am currently living and teaching in Hanoi, Vietnam but prior to this I was living/teaching in Thailand. Overall I have been abroad for almost three years (!!) In Thailand I worked at two schools - one was a primary and another a high school, and now I am at a language center, which holds lessons in the evenings and on the weekends. 

KD: What made you decide to teach abroad?

KM: As the end of University approached I realized that traveling overseas and seeing more of the world was something that heavily interested me! I put it off because of self doubt and fears but shortly after returning home after graduation I was blown over by the news of my parents divorce. This, then acted as the messy catalyst that pushed me out the door! Was I running... yes, did it turn out to be exactly what I needed? Also yes.

KD: What’s it like living in your current country?

KM: Vietnam is such a beautiful place. It is a country rich with history and traditions but also is vastly misunderstood. They have really only been 'not at war' for the past 50 - ish years? This has led to such a wonderful boom of contemporary Vietnamese culture and true modernization. This old meets new juxtaposition is everywhere and it is truly interesting. There is such a beauty in the old but also in the new. Its difficult to describe.

KD: What do you love most about teaching where you are?

KM: I absolutely am obsessed with Hanoi! It is such an awesome place to live! It has a quaint old town, amazing coffee shop culture and also all the conveniences of a large city! It's awesome!!!

KD: What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in this country? 

KM: Hmm, most challenging thing about teaching in Vietnam? I am hard pressed to find anything super challenging about living here. The traffic in Hanoi is sometimes THE WORST but that is really all I can think of!

KD: What advice do you have for others wanting to teach and travel abroad?

KM: My advice to others wanting to teach and travel would be to absolutely just do it! If you are even remotely thinking that you may like it, you should definitely try it, there is a lesson in everything. Even if you travel and you realize ya know what, maybe this isn't for me. I promise you, you will learn so much about yourself that it will be a valuable experience no matter what!! 

KD: How can I teach where you are? 

KM: If you are interested in teaching in Vietnam the best option would be to get a CELTA or TESOL degree and then apply online to different teaching companies! 

Thank you again, Kelsey, for all of your insights to teaching and living in Hanoi, Vietnam. If you were even half as impressed as I was by the three photos taken by Kelsey on this post, you should definitely check out the rest of her work here: 

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest

If you are currently teaching abroad or have previously taught overseas, please get in touch. I would absolutely love to hear about your experiences far and wide. 


Teacher Abroad: Bhutan

Reese is a fellow BCF teacher abroad like me in Bhutan! I'm so excited to share someone else's experience of teaching in Bhutan in this Teachers Abroad Series because everyones feelings and experiences are so, so different. So many people have contacted me asking about what its like to teach in Bhutan, but the truth is if you want to come here you have no idea where you'll be placed and my experience will not be the same as yours. I'm hoping that this post will give your more insight into what its like teaching in Bhutan in the broader sense.

Reese blogs over at Chillies and Dragons, and I absolutely love his writing style! It really inspires me to be a better writer when I read his pieces. He has recently taught in South Africa (yay!), South Korea, the US and Senegal so he has a lot of experience in teaching abroad and I hope to one day follow in his footsteps and teach all over the world! Happy Reading ...

1. Tell us about yourself - who you are, how old you are, where are you from, where are you currently living, your teaching experience and what are you currently teaching?

Hello and thanks Megan for giving me a stage unto which I can share my passion! My name is Reese Ishmael. I am 28 years young and hail from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, where shades of emerald and grey dominate the earth and sky. I have been a teacher since 2009, working in both public and private settings in 5 countries spanning North America, Africa, and Asia. I currently reside in the city of Mongar, situated just east of central Bhutan.

Here in Mongar I work as a Math and English subject teacher for grades 3 and 6 at Mongar Lower Secondary School (MLSS). The school sits at the edge of a cliff overlooking subtropical mountains and valleys clad in verdant jungle. MLSS is spread out over various terraced levels of grass-covered terrain and is equipped with various sports, IT, and Special Educational Needs (SEN) facilities in addition to classrooms and offices.  This year there are currently 791 attending students spanning Pre-primary (Kindergarten) to Class 8 (8th Grade) with roughly 42 faculty and a handful of additional staff. 

2. What made you decide to teach abroad?

When I was 12 I moved to Brazil with my family because of my father’s work in clean-air projects. Thusly, I attended the American School of Rio de Janeiro for 3 years, where I fell in love with the small class sizes, enthusiastic faculty, lush scenery, and field trips—not to mention the food, festivities, and beaches that my nearby surroundings provided. I was bit by the travel bug. As I matured and decided upon teaching I realized I didn’t need to sacrifice my love of adventure for my career choice; I have been doing everything in my power since to insert myself into the international circuit. 

Teaching internationally is an incredibly niched career choice—most people I talk to assume this is just a temporary venture, but there are thousands of teachers all over the world who have committed themselves to expatriation and I am among their ranks. I chose it specifically because it merges a variety of personal interests—language, culture, ongoing learning about myself and the world around me, adventure, teaching, and experience. 

I am very fortunate to be able to choose such a lifestyle, but I went into teaching because of its versatility. It is one of the oldest professions known to humankind, and teachers are needed in all corners of the globe. Due to globalization schools around the world look for qualified teachers to come work for them—particularly those with a strong English background due to its ubiquity in international business and exchange. The potential of being able to teach anywhere in the world provides an element of adventure and forces me to continue learning as I face linguistic, cultural, and systemic differences in foreign educational settings. 

3. What’s it like living in your current country?

Bhutan is in many ways the land that time forgot. Never conquered by a foreign power and kept rather hidden in the shadows of neighboring powerhouses China and India, Bhutan has been allowed to develop culturally and developmentally on its own terms. Today’s Bhutan more closely resembles its 17th century iteration than the bustling metropolises of the modern west. Although you will see people drinking Coke and wearing jeans as they sit in chairs and ogle over the TV this is a relatively new fad, and you are just as likely to come across men and women wearing their national dress, cross-legged on the grass drinking butter tea as their cattle graze nearby. Its culture is still central to their identity, which makes it unique. And boy, is it beautiful.

Bhutan’s beauty is difficult to describe and near impossible to capture by pictures alone. Its sharply peaked and valleyed landscape creates an unbelievable sense of smallness—an odd sentiment considering its rank as the 137th largest country in the world. The winding roads that hug its mountains weave a complex tale of geological and biological diversity and there is no shortage of wildlife. In short, it is a natural haven from the destructive path of the industrial revolution, kept intact by its hermitage. 

As I mentioned previously, I live in the city of Mongar, home to just over 3,000 people. By Bhutanese standards, this is a big city. Mongar is spread across a mountain ridge overlooking nearby valleys and the Gangala river. My experience here differs somewhat from my colleagues participating in Bhutan Canada Foundation’s Teach in Bhutan program because of my town’s size and central location. I have access to luxuries such as a bakery, a 3-story vegetable and meat market, and a major hospital which doubles as the largest building in all of eastern Bhutan. Amenities such as water, electricity, and internet are more readily available, though it is still very much an undeveloped area by western definition. 

My life here is rather simple, just as I imagined it would be. The community is close and kind, eager to help and compassionate in every sense of the word. People here don’t sweat the small stuff and speak their minds freely. Time works on a completely different scale, too—affectionately referred to by locals as BST (Bhutan Stretchable Time). I spend my free hours writing or taking hikes, eating with friends, or participating in social gatherings. I like to walk into town from time to time to pick up vegetables from the market or just meander and people watch. On the odd holiday I will catch a ride with someone to see neighboring provinces, fulfilling my need for adventure. It certainly took some time to adapt to things, but now that I am familiar with it all, I have really come to appreciate it.

4. What do you love most about teaching where you are?

Of course my answer would be the students. One particular thing I love about them is their resiliency. They endure many extremes and as a result are rather tough. Students play in the rain and mud as if no water were falling at all and stay at school hours after the last bell has rung. They give speeches in front of hundreds of students and let the stress roll off them as soon as they are finished; they approach competitions with equal grace, regardless of the outcome. They never make a fuss of having to stay for extra programs or for being given a lot of homework, never mind having to attend school 6 days a week. And best of all, they volunteer for responsibilities just because they want to help. These kids are tough and understand their duties and it is truly admirable.

5. What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in your current country?

One challenging aspect I currently face in my school is successful English language intervention, as most students here are deficient in areas such as phonological awareness and phonics. I admit this is not one of the biggest problems facing Bhutan’s schools, but I find it worthy of mention nevertheless. Until fairly recently education in Bhutan relied on teacher-centered classrooms, equating to lessons dependent on rote memorization. Although professional development workshops tout student-centered learning, students are seldom engaged in activities that foster problem-solving, decoding, and creative response. I recently judged a spelling competition for grades 2 and 3. Half of grade 2 failed to spell the word ‘bad’ yet didn’t stutter once when the world ‘unforgettable’ appeared. The elephant in the room was that these students are being taught how to spell by memory, which means they have a limited understanding of 2 major foundations of literacy: phonological awareness and phonics, which inevitably hinders literacy. I have since brought this up to the principal and held a workshop on simple ways to integrate these skills into everyday learning, but the battle is ever uphill as teachers are not very comfortable teaching something they are not too familiar with themselves. I am hoping, though, that if I am to leave any legacy behind, that this will be it. If I’m successful in doing so, I am confident that reading culture in Bhutan’s youth will improve—at least here in Mongar, anyway.

6. What advice do you have for others wanting to teach and travel abroad?

I find it prudent to mention that travelling, living, and teaching abroad are all different experiences that yield different rewards. If you are interested in travelling abroad, start saving now. Put away a percentage of your earnings or pocket those tips in a piggybank—anything to help fund your travel. Often times flying is the most expensive part. If you have the determination though, you can make it work. I have two close friends who traveled across East and Southeast Asia for three months and funded the expedition simply by serving at local restaurants earning close to minimum wage for a year. You can also look into alternatives that can cut down your expenditures like WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) or volunteer through government and NGO programs, which have the pleasant side effect of helping the world as well!

If you wish to live abroad, there are many professions conducive to travel. Many jobs in biology, zoology, and geology tend to place individuals overseas. Work in construction, engineering, IT, and mining also tend to lean toward international work. Social work and aid will get you to even remote corners of the planet. In my years outside the US I have met countless medical professionals, diplomats, aid workers, and Peace Corps volunteers who share my love of international life. 

As for teaching abroad, there are several options, but those depend on your level of expertise. Those with little to no experience (who have a bachelor’s degree) can easily find well-paying jobs in the Saudi Arabia, China, Korea, and others. Check out eslcafe.com for listings and advice, as it is a great place to start looking. Getting a TEFL certification is a simple way to increase your viability. Those with a teaching license have even more options, but will find working in South America, Oceania, and Europe rather difficult. Teachers with a degree/license and two or more years of experience will have the most options. Check out Search Associates, International School Services, and comparable recruiting companies for information on international job fairs and recruitment possibilities. Be aware that many of these organizations will ask for a member fee in order to grant access to job listings, but if you are serious about getting placed, these are your best bets.

To all those interested I wish you the best of luck. You will have to get your hands dirty to find what you’re hoping for, but I assure you there is nothing more satisfying than making your dreams into reality. The world is yours to explore. Go out and see what it has to offer!

Thanks so much for your in depth response, Reese! I can totally relate to the children's lack of phonological awareness and its really been such a challenge for me to "unteach" what they have already learned. I'm still struggling with it after 5 months of teaching here and I'm sure many other foreign teachers have similar problems in other countries. Thanks for being such an inspiration!

Teacher Abroad: Hong Kong

I'm so excited about this weeks Teacher Abroad post that features Melissa, who teaches the cutest little munchkins in Hong Kong, China. I really respect her for teaching such a young age (2-3 year olds) - I studied to teach Grades K-3 and had to do my practical in a kindergarten class where I nearly went insane! I love the younger children but anything below Grade 1 is too busy for me. It takes a special kind of person to work with so many little people at once. Check out Melissa's Instagram account to see more of her life in Hong Kong. 


1. Tell us about yourself - who you are, how old you are, where are you from, where are you currently living, your teaching experience and what are you currently teaching?

Hello, my name is Melissa Teixeira. I am 24 years old and from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Currently, I am teaching in Hong Kong, China, as a pre nursery teacher for ages 2-3 years. This is my first official year as a teacher but I have worked with children of very diverse backgrounds for eight years. I am a graduate of the Early Childhood Education program at Ryerson University. Its a great program if you do the combined collage and university stream. 

2. What made you decide to teach abroad?

I have always wanted to teach abroad since I first heard about it in college. It seemed liked an amazing experience to be away for a year and immerse yourself into a different culture. In my final year of university I did not know what I wanted to do, whether to go onto teachers college or to stick with my degree. That is when I began to look online for teaching positions in other countries. It was extremely hard at first because I was unsure of how the process was done but once I had gotten into the flow of things it became. I chose to teach abroad and not work in Canada simply for the experience and the opportunity to travel. 

3. What’s it like living in your current country?

Hong Kong is one insane city. Crowds, busy city streets and a lot of asians in areas at all times. I have to say moving from a city to another bigger crowded city is quite challenging as social norms are so different. Despite it being a very busy city, it is an exceptionally safe and very well run. The transportation in Hong Kong is flawless, streets are clean and safety is their number one priority. English is very well spoken here in Hong Kong and quite popular amongst most locals. The older people do not know much but they are always trying. Hong Kong is the city of parties, eating out, drinking and having a good time. Most people do not cook in HK and generally eat out most nights. If you are a foodie, this is the city for you. There is such an amazing fusion of all different types of cuisines in Hong Kong. 

4. What do you love most about teaching where you are?

The kids. These little children are the best part about my job. One of the main reasons why I enjoy teaching abroad is they value education much more then they do in Canada, which I respect. Education should be valued and sometimes North America forgets that it is not always offered in other countries. I also love being able to learn another language, the children really enjoy it when I sit in on their Mandarin lessons and try to learn the words with them.

5. What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in your current country?

Firstly, the expectations held on children are very high. Hong Kong has exceedingly high expectations on their children. Children must always have an interview to get into different levels of education and this begins at the young age of 2. Parents will eagerly apply to many primary schools in hope's their child will get into a good one, to secure their child's positions into other schools. This is an extremely stressful process on the children, parents and teachers. Children are consistently enrolled in extra curricular programs such as dance, another language, sports or art.

Secondly, working hours can be quite intense in HK. Many people work way past their required scheduled time and as a teacher this is quite often. This is not my favorite part of the job but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

6. What advice do you have for others wanting to teach and travel abroad?

Read as much as you can about the country and the learning expectations for children. This will really help you determine if the country is for you. Also, be prepared to live away from home, friends and family for real. Meet some great friends here who can help you deal with home sickness, which is very hard to deal with on your own. Do your research to see how much teachers are being paid and determine whether the country values education or not. When looking into schools know that private schools generally pay more but expect a lot from teachers. Government schools pay less but there are lower expectations on the teachers.

7. How can I teach where you are?

I went through an online website for the job posting. But, you can also apply directly to many school websites here in Hong Kong. I work for Learning Habitat Kindergarten which has four campuses and a fifth one opening up very soon.

Thank you so much for sharing a small part of your life teaching in Hong Kong, Melissa! Hong Kong sounds like an amazing place to live if you're into food and I would definitely visit for that exact reason - I'm craving anything but curry at the moment. My husband is currently away for a month on a photography assignment and I see now how important it is to have friends around you, especially when living abroad. I totally identify with Melissa's advice on making friends to fight homesickness and feel its really important if you want to stay happy in a new place. Thanks again, Melissa! If you are currently teaching abroad and would like to be a part of my Teachers Abroad Series, get in touch - I'd love to hear from you!