How teaching English abroad expands cultural awareness and world views

woman tourist in a moving taxi for cultural awareness article

We're more interconnected than ever before. 

Increased migration has given birth to more diverse communities, while improvements in transportation, trade, and communication have all played a part in creating a more global world. 

Multiculturalism has encouraged us to learn more about each other and appreciate our similarities and differences, also helping us understand why we should be aware of cultural differences.  

But, where do ESL instructors fit in here? 

Before the pandemic, traveling overseas to teach English was not just seen as an adventure. 

It was an opportunity to broaden one’s worldview by engaging with people from different cultures on their terms, often in unfamiliar surroundings. 

Traveling beyond our comfort zones can help us become more culturally aware, so we're better able to rationalize another person's beliefs and values in a manner that is without judgment. 

Understanding and empathizing with other cultures can help us solve many of the obstacles we will face together in the 21st Century. 

Teach Away wanted to gain an insight into how some English language centers emphasize cultural awareness as a core part of their business. 

We spoke with key stakeholders from Amity, one of Japan’s leading ESL providers, and Kid Castle, which operates over 800 centers throughout Taiwan and Mainland China. 

We asked them to share their thoughts on why we should be aware of cultural differences and how their schools strive to create a more culturally aware mindset.  

You will gain a better understanding of: 

  1. Why cultural awareness is important to teachers of the English language.
  2. How teaching and studying English helps us engage with other cultures.
  3. How to support cultural awareness in education.
  4. How some companies promote cultural awareness.
  5. At a glance: working with Amity and Kid Castle. 

1. Why cultural awareness is important to teachers of the English language.

Most ESL teachers can probably recall at least one occasion where a cultural misunderstanding in the classroom caused minor embarrassment. 

Usually, it’s quickly forgotten, but sometimes behavior that might be considered inappropriate in some cultures can cause offense and impact the whole classroom dynamic. 

For Sophie Digby, a teacher trainer with Kid Castle, this usually comes back to one word: “communication.” 

"We can control what we say and how we say something, but we cannot control how other people interpret our words," said Digby. 

She believes one way around this is to practice culturally aware teaching techniques. 

 

"Becoming aware of differences between cultures allows for more thought behind communication methods and how they can be translated between different cultures. Awareness of cultural differences shows respect.” - Sophie Digby

 

Here's a helpful post elaborating on how teachers can practice cultural awareness in the classroom

Oliver Buck, a recruitment specialist at Kid Castle, believes that cultural differences can also be used to highlight what we share. 

“When it comes to teaching, there will be more common ground than there will be difference,” said Buck. Adding, “the laughter of children sounds the same in any language.”

For Buck, cultural awareness is essential "because it allows us to treat each other with respect and mindfulness in all of our interactions."

2. How teaching and studying English helps us engage with other cultures.

Unlike simply holidaying overseas, teaching English abroad gives us the time and freedom to immerse ourselves in a different culture properly. 

It’s empowering. 

We can be both teacher and student, imparting knowledge and learning about a way of life that, in some ways, might be very different to what we're used to. 

According to Branda Leary and Shiho Kawano, personnel recruiters at Amity, exposure to different cultures can enrich teachers and language learners. 

 

“As you learn more about the society around you, you have the opportunity to introduce your culture to your students and those around you.” - Branda Leary

 

Teaching abroad gives you the opportunity to reflect on your lived experience and share how your upbringing both contrasts and complements the community you’re now a part of. 

For Leary, exposure to teachers from various backgrounds helps Japanese students develop a far more balanced worldview. 

“Japan is a monoethnic society, so students are amazed when they learn that English speakers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.” 

This helps Japanese students overcome any potential culture shock they might experience when traveling overseas for the first time. 

“As our students age and travel abroad, they are more open and tolerant when interacting with different people,” remarked Leary. 

If you were asked to list all the keywords and phrases connected to teaching English, language would probably appear somewhere near the top. 

It is the reason ESL exists. 

Courtney Visser, Kid Castle’s Social Media Manager, believes that “language forms the foundation of any culture.”

Visser believes that learning another language can help people overcome conflict and develop closer ties. 

“By speaking another person’s language, or trying to, it creates an immediate connection that would have been otherwise lost.”

friends traveling and eating with locals

3. Expert tips on how educators can support cultural awareness in education. 

Sophie Digby has trained teachers for more than five years. 

For Digby, becoming more culturally aware often involves just taking the time to get to know and respect your students as individuals. 

“Learning to correctly pronounce a student’s name shows interest and support," said Digby. 

This is especially important in a classroom context because if you're unable to pronounce a student's name correctly, you're effectively "othering" that student and implying that you see them as different and possibly inferior.

Hesitancy around learning your student’s names can also have long-term consequences for English language learners, who might feel embarrassed and begin to withdraw from the class. 

They may even give up learning English altogether. 

Digby believes that creating a classroom that feels welcoming and inclusive is also crucial because it gives students the confidence “to voice their opinions … and can help them to understand and overcome some of their preconceived notions.” 

This is particularly important within the context of ESL, especially if you're working with students whose experience in public education may well have been monocultural in its delivery.

For Digby, the key to inclusivity is "[using] activities which benefit all students, allowing all students to engage and participate."

Here’s a helpful guide with links to resources on creating inclusive activities for ELL students. 

But what about outside of the classroom? 

How else can education professionals support cultural awareness when living overseas? 

Having an open mind makes all the difference. 

That might sound a little cliched, but being open-minded is really all about detaching yourself from your cultural background, which can be trickier than we sometimes realize. 

Courtney Visser, over at Kid Castle, feels that "placing expectations on something or somewhere, is bound to lead to disappointment and close you off to amazing experiences or interactions with people from a different culture to yours." 

4. How these companies promote cultural awareness in 2021.

For both Amity and Kid Castle, cultural awareness is emphasized across all their schools, encompassing both HR and the learning materials that both centers use in the classroom. 

Leary & Kawano both pointed out that “Amity hires teachers from all over the world, providing an opportunity for [their] students to work with English speakers from different backgrounds.” 

However, the company also recognizes that simply hiring foreign teachers is not enough, and Leary was keen to highlight how Amity employs "foreign staff that work within the corporate office in roles that aid in bridging the cultural gap between Japanese and foreign staff."

This drive toward creating a more inclusive work environment is mirrored by the team at Kid Castle. 

"We're an international company," enthused recruitment specialist Courtenay Dibble. "Our teachers come from different parts of the world and different provinces in China."

But, what about the students who populate both school’s classrooms? 

Amity and Kid Castle both understand the importance of investing in school textbooks that show diverse faces and talk about values and beliefs unique to specific countries. 

"These [differences] are also reflected across the pages in our textbooks," said Leary. "Allowing our students opportunities to learn about different traditions and customs."

It’s a sentiment shared by Dibble, who likes how Kid Castle’s “textbooks are centered on teaching students about the diversity of the world.”

woman tourist in malaysia standing in front of a pagoda

Learn and grow.

Want to learn more about cultural awareness? 

Our TEFL certification course at Manhattan College includes insightful online modules in culturally responsive teaching.

Work with Amity and Kid Castle.

Working with Amity at a glance:

  • Hiring fluent English-speaking licensed teachers & ESL instructors with a bachelor’s degree. 
  • Fully furnished, subsidized apartment and 1-year renewable contract. 
  • First-year salary: 275,000 yen / month ($2,500 USD) 
  • Visa Sponsorship 

Want to work with kids and live in Japan

For more than 25 years, Amity has been a leading provider of English language education throughout Japan. 

The company's focus is firmly on fun, with conversational classes and exciting content, making Amity the perfect choice for energetic ESL instructors. 

The pay's pretty good too: First-year teachers can expect to make 275,000 yen per month ($2,500 USD). And when you factor in the subsidized housing, you'll be able to save money and live a comfortable lifestyle too. 

On top of a strong base salary, you’ll also receive a contract completion bonus, vacation periods, and subsidized health insurance. 

Amity operates over 85 branches across Japan.

Working with Kid Castle at a glance: 

  • Hiring fluent English-speaking ESL instructors with a bachelor’s degree
  • Starting salary between 20,000 – 23,000 RMB per month ($3,000 – $3,500 USD) + housing allowance of 2,000 RMB per month ($309 USD)
  • Flight allowance of 5,000 RMB ($770 USD)
  • 1-year renewable contract

Mainland China and Taiwan are two of the biggest markets for ESL instructors, and with starting salaries on the mainland topping out at $3,500 USD per month, it’s easy to see why. 

At Kid Castle, there are other fantastic perks that come with the job

Not only will you get a very generous housing and flight allowance, but you’ll also receive 2,000 RMB in visa support, a 5,000 RMB contract completion bonus,1-month free accommodation upon arrival, and comprehensive medical insurance. Wow.  

Kid Castle started life on the beautiful island of Taiwan before branching out across Mainland China. The company has more than 35 years of experience in ESL and now operates over 400 centers. 

If you want to teach in China and with young learners, find out how Kid Castle can make that happen. 

Discover more teaching opportunities with Teach Away