Adventures in Overseas Teaching: Part 1
Taking on a Short-Term Overseas Teaching Assignment
By Dr. Arron Grow, School of Applied Leadership
I have worked oversees, both Europe and in Asia, for many years. Some years it has been for business, some years it has been while teaching. Regardless of why I’ve traveled, the feeling has always been the same – a sense of adventure. If you are a teacher who wants to experience a new adventure in your life, I highly recommend considering a short-term overseas teaching assignment.
A quick browse through the International section of HigherEdJobs.com will give you an idea of the variety of possibilities there are. For first-timers, I would recommend the shortest assignment of this nature; classes that last only a week or two. This will give you enough exposure to the work to see if you might enjoy it while at the same time being short enough of a time that even if it’s not working out for you, it will be over before you know it.
In this three-part series I will share the experience I had with a recent assignment I accepted to teach a business communication class for City University of Seattle in Beijing, China. At the end of the post, you can watch a video I created after my first day of teaching in Beijing.
As I watched this while preparing this blog, I was struck by how much this comes across as a promotional video encouraging others to seek out a similar adventure. This was not my intent, but I’ll stick with it because this is how I feel; I believe others should give this adventure a try. I see now, however, that I didn’t talk too much about specific details regarding preparing for this type of adventure so I’ll bring up a few of those details here. There are many websites that discuss preparing for an international teaching opportunity. Do your homework, explore these websites to have the best idea of what to ask when considering this path. For my money, when it comes time to consider which opportunity to take advantage of, here are some questions you will definitely want clear information about.
What will transportation and housing be like? How are these expenses being covered?
In my experience and from the experiences I’ve heard from others, if the opportunity you are considering requires you to pay up front for either of these things, find another school to work for. These are major expenses that you should not have to cover up front. Reputable schools with reputable programs will have these things taken care of for you. About local housing: If you’ll be in a hotel, this will be most comfortable. Not uncommonly though, particularly for multi-week assignments, visiting teachers are placed in a school dormitory room. Don’t expect this room to look at all like dorm rooms US students enjoy. Overseas dormitories are usually cement walls, and cement floors. This isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different, so best to know up front. Whenever possible, ask for pictures of the housing to get the best idea of what accommodations will be like.
What will the in-class hours be and when?
For short-term assignments, a 3-credit class is not likely to be (oh let’s face it, will quite probably not be) only three hours of in-class time in a week. Remember you’ll likely be teaching an ‘accelerated’ course – one that is designed to put more content into a shorter amount of time. For this reason, your in-class time is likely to be a certain number of hours each day. Get clarification on precisely what the start and end times are to be each day, and when and how long a lunch break is to be. Most importantly, stick to these schedules. Students may enjoy longer lunches or shorter class days, but administrators who are paying for your expertise to be shared with students a certain number of hours will not see things the same way. Number of hours and when these hours are, are two things you need to know before saying yes. If the course you will be doing is a night class, and you’re not a night person, you might want to rethink taking that assignment.
Is the course content, and delivery schedule prepared or not?
Experienced teachers know this, beginning teachers may not think of it; if you are accepting a teaching opportunity that provides you with nothing but some objectives and a book, you will have a lot of preparation work to do. Best case scenarios (which, unfortunately, are not all that common) are situations where schools provide their visiting teachers with a day by day schedule of what should be taught. Even better would be an hour by hour breakdown of in-class, lectures (with accompanying slide resources) and other scheduled events. Typically, schools provide teachers with something in between these two extremes. Assuming you have expertise in the area will be teaching, you should be able to create whatever plans and accompanying materials you will need for your work. You’ll have to ask yourself, does the amount of preparation needed match the amount that is being offered for the teaching to be done? I won’t be able to answer this for you. This is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.
These questions, and many more need to be asked, and satisfactory answers received before you decide whether or not to accept an overseas teaching assignment. This much I can tell you. If you do choose to go, you will most definitely create for yourself a life-long memory to appreciate and share with others.
City University of Seattle currently sends teachers to China, Mexico, and Vietnam.