Given that it’s so easy to make money teaching English abroad, you may be wondering why anybody would decide to volunteer to teach English for free. Believe it or not, there are actually a lot of fantastic reasons for taking a volunteer TEFL position abroad.
Whether you want to make the world a better place or you just want to give your resume a boost in the form of international work experience, volunteering to teach English abroad comes with a ton of great benefits. So let’s take a look at just a few of the reasons you should consider teaching English as a volunteer.
1. You’ll get to know (and even live with) the locals.
Traveling is made a thousand times better if you immerse yourself in the local culture. But the most interaction most people have with the locals when they travel is ordering room service at their hotel!
When you volunteer to teach English abroad, however, you’ll often be staying with a family. That means you are completely immersed in their way of life, from being able to see how traditional meals are made to what are the most discussed topics around the dinner table.
Even if your volunteer position doesn’t include a homestay, you’ll find that your students will be eager to teach you everything they can about their country.
2. You’ll get a chance to learn the local language.
For a lot of ESL teachers, volunteering isn’t only an opportunity to teach English but also a way for them to learn a new language. Hands down the best way to learn a language is by speaking it and hearing it from when you wake up to the minute you go to sleep.
If your volunteer ESL job includes a homestay, you will be surrounded by the local language all the time. So while you’re imparting your knowledge of English on your hosts, they are giving you the opportunity to gain an invaluable new skill in return.
3. You’ll get to explore places you wouldn’t otherwise see.
While it is certainly true that you can make a very good living teaching English overseas, you’ll find that paid ESL positions are limited to only handful of countries (most of which are in East Asia or the Middle East). If you really want to teach anywhere in the world, volunteering will open up a huge range of possibilities.
Have you ever dreamed of seeing the Serengeti in Africa? What about trekking through the Amazon in South America? Or perhaps waking up surrounded by the mighty Himalayas in Nepal? Finding paid ESL teaching positions in all of those places is either difficult or almost impossible, but if you are open to volunteering then you’ll be able to go to all these places (and more!).
Even Europe, which is usually very difficult for North Americans and non-EU citizens to find paid ESL work in because of visa rules becomes a possibility if you are volunteering. Volunteer positions at summer camps in places like Italy and Spain, for example, are especially popular.
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4. You’ll have more free time to explore in the first place.
When you take a paid ESL position in a place like Japan or South Korea, you will be expected to treat it like a job rather than a vacation. After all, the school you work for is a business and you are their employee, so you’d better take your responsibilities seriously! That means you may end up working long hours and only have time to explore your new home-away-from-home in the evenings or on the weekends.
Many volunteer positions require you to put in a much lower time commitment, often less than 20 hours per week. While you still need to take the job seriously, you will often find you have a ton of time to go off and explore whatever country you happen to be in.
5. You’ll improve your teaching skills.
Even if you plan on making TEFL a career or at least doing it as a paid job at some point, volunteering as an English teacher still makes a lot of sense. For one, experience, whether paid or unpaid, is invaluable to becoming a better teacher. Future employers love candidates who already know what it is like to stand in front a classroom and prepare a full lesson plan.
Secondly, many paid TEFL positions have minimum qualifications that you may not yet meet, such as TEFL certification or degree/diploma requirements. A lot of volunteer ESL positions are part of TEFL certification courses, so you’ll get experience and a TEFL certificate at the end of your experience.
Even if your volunteer position doesn’t land you the qualifications you need for a paid job, it will still allow you to test the waters and decide if ESL is something you want to seriously commit to later on.
6. It’s easier to find short-term contracts.
Speaking of commitment, another great benefit of volunteering as an English teacher is that the contracts tend to be a lot more flexible. Paid ESL jobs often (although not always) expect a minimum one-year commitment, especially if your flights are being paid for by the school.
But a year is a huge commitment for most of us, which makes a lot of paid ESL jobs unrealistic. Volunteer teaching jobs overseas can be found for all lengths of time, from a few days to an entire summer.
Read this: How to find a short-term job teaching English abroad
7. You’ll make a tangible difference in peoples’ lives.
Last, but certainly not least, volunteering to teach English overseas is an unbeatable opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the world. English is a skill that billions of people want because they know it can unlock massive economic opportunities for them. Unfortunately, not everybody can afford the luxury of hiring a private tutor or attending expensive classes to help them get the invaluable legup that English provides.
When you help somebody learn English you really are helping them improve their lives in a meaningful way. In most cases, you’ll also be working with local teachers and your knowledge of English will help them improve their own classroom lessons long after you leave.