Five Things to Know About Teaching Abroad

By Amy Lauren Smith posted 3 days ago


Are you at a point in your teaching career where you feel like you need a recharge? Could you use a new perspective to improve your teaching? I felt that way a few years ago — and soon found myself across the world teaching middle school health education at the Shanghai American School in China.

After spending several years working in the same Southern California school district that I attended as a child, I felt I needed a change. I decided to move to China to help a friend open a restaurant, not necessarily to teach.

During my time working in the restaurant, I met several teachers from Shanghai American School, which is a nonprofit school with nearly 3,000 students in grades preK-12. When I got the itch to get back into the classroom and thought I would have to move back home to the United States, a full-time health position opened up at the American school for the following school year. I decided to go for it, and have been extremely grateful ever since!

If you are thinking about making the leap to teach abroad, here are five things to know:

1. You Don’t Have to Be an English Teacher to Teach Overseas

Amy_Classroom_2_300h.jpgThe teachers at the American school are credentialed educators teaching subjects such as chemistry, AP history, and yes, physical education and health. The school is designed for children whose parents are working overseas.

The curriculum at international schools may vary, but their main focus is helping students not miss any requirements for college admissions, so the school needs teachers for all of the same subjects taught in U.S. schools.

2. Have a Sense of Adventure

Amy_School_Trip_350w.jpgLiving — and teaching — in a foreign country certainly requires a sense of adventure. You are often far away from home in a place where you might not even speak the language. And, when you apply to teach at international schools, you rarely know where you will end up. If you sign up for a job fair to teach overseas, you might get offers from places you’ve never even considered living. Most major cities around the world have schools set up for expat education, and sometimes the place that seems the most out of your comfort zone ends up being the exact place you need to be.

3. Be Willing to Collaborate

One of the things I instantly fell in love with at the Shanghai American School was the emphasis on collaboration. As a new teacher at my school back home, I often felt like I was all alone trying to create my curriculum from scratch. In an international school, the population is transient and collaboration is the norm, not the exception. If you’re able to adapt and willing to work with anyone, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from new colleagues and administrators coming in. An international teaching job also shines on a resume, demonstrating that you are a highly adaptable, self-sufficient, unafraid of risks, and able to jump hurdles!

4. Your Family and Pets Are Welcome

One of the reasons people hesitate to move overseas is the fear of being away from family and friends. Luckily, teachers in an international school set up close connections and “family ties” in their new environment pretty quickly. Most schools offer free tuition for up to two dependents, so if you have children, they can get a free education at a top-notch school and make friends with kids from all over the world. Pretty nice perks!

 5. Sign up With a Recruiting Agency
When you decide to give international teaching a try, the first step is to sign up with an agency, such as Search Associates. Once you create your profile and pay the registration fee, you can begin your job search online and sign up for a job fair. You can also go directly to the websites of international schools that are in the cities you’re interested in, as they post all of their open positions online.

Recruitment fairs are held all over the world — including in the United States — giving teachers a chance to meet face-to-face with international school administrators. Since open positions are mostly filled by February or March, if your first trip to a job fair isn’t successful, you can keep your job at your current school and give it a try again next year.

Want to learn more? Connect with me here on Exchange or send me an email at

Photo above to the left is of students picking tea during a field trip in rural China. To the right is a photo of Amy with her students at the international school.

1 comment



5 hours ago

I've worked over seas in two different international schools, and while I would say you have done a good job summarizing many of the positive aspects I would add that there is more people should know.

  1. Most international schools are not for profit institutions, but your mostly going to be working with extremely privilege students. My schools always talked about how diverse our populations were, and if you ignore economic diversity they both were. That said, I loved working at both schools and had got a lot of satisfaction working with my students. Just be prepared to have parents who did not like their child's grades to be calling the principal to force you to get you to change them. 
  2. If your considering working in a developing country do your research on air pollution before excepting a job. I worked in two city, one in East Africa and one in Asia. In east Africa my wife and I lead very active life stiles running half marathons, triathlons, kayaking, and lots more. In the city in Asia the air was so bad we both had to completely stoped running out side and were a lot less happy for it.
  3. Do your own research on the countries, city, schools your interested in. The administrators you will meet at a job fair are sometimes desperate to fill positions. I have heard some horrible stories from colleagues about previous International schools completely reneging on promises made at the fairs. One good resource to find out about a potential school from former teachers is
  4. Get out and explore. In some places it can be easy to get trapped in the ex-pat bubble. If you're going to live internationally explore the local culture.