I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is a beautiful and historically-rich city. But I always knew I wanted to get out. As great as the city was, Oklahoma starts to get really small after 20+ years.
I decided in high school that I wanted to teach abroad, but I had never heard of anyone doing this.
So I continued on to college to obtain my degree in Elementary Education. Although the thought never left my mind, I put my desire to teach overseas on the backburner so I could finish university. Towards the end of my college experience, I brought it back and started heavily researching teaching abroad and came up extremely empty-handed.
Even when you Google it now, it will bring up a lot of websites focused on TEFL certifications. While TEFL certifications are a great option for some, I wanted to be able to use my degree and teach in an English speaking school. So I spent the next year of my life hunting down other options and teaching in a Title-I, low-income public school while I did it.
Ultimately, biding my time paid off.
During my constant Google searches, I ended up finding the world of “international schools” and digging in. Some of you new to the scene might be wondering what the difference between an international teacher and a TEFL teacher is.
Requirements to teach abroad
For an international school
An international teacher typically teaches in an English speaking school, just as you would back home. These schools are usually made for students who cannot be immersed into a local school (either because of language or visa restrictions).
Teachers in an international school must be certified and each school may have specific requirements of experience, which usually ranges from 0-5 years.
Another great country to teach at an international school is the UAE. Learn how to teach abroad in Dubai on this article.
As a TEFL teacher
A TEFL teacher goes into a local school where the children learn in their native language and the TEFL teacher is responsible for teaching the students the English language.
TEFL teachers need any bachelor’s degree to obtain their TEFL certification.
If you're more interested in becoming a TEFL teacher abroad, browse a wide range of opportunities on our website here.
Applying to schools abroad
We crafted our resumes and cover letters and sent them along to different schools along with references from our principals. We applied to schools in Germany, Latvia, The Netherlands, Antigua and Barbuda, Grand Cayman, and so many more.
Quality Schools International and International School Search are both great websites for finding job openings at international schools around the world. You can filter your search via location, curriculum and student age.
Although a lot of schools never contacted us, some would ask for interviews while others directly told us no.
Each school is allowed to set their requirements for their teachers, and we’ve noticed that the more competitive the location, the higher the expectations.
One school in Germany refused to hire anyone with less than 5 years of experience, which eliminated me from their options. But schools in Asia or The Middle East are willing to take certified teachers with no experience. As a whole, most schools require at least 2 years of experience, but that can fluctuate depending on the location or school itself.
Perks to teaching abroad
Not sure if you'd rather teach in-person or teach online? Find out now!
One of the perks of teaching abroad is that the school caters to potential candidates being in a different country during the application process.
All of our correspondences happened through email and our interviews were Skype-based. Of course, we had to take into account the time differences, but it was so convenient (and way less scary) than an interview in-person.
We ended up interviewing with two different schools.
Our first interview was with a school in Beijing. We didn’t apply to anywhere in China, but since the international school circuit is pretty small, they caught wind that we were looking for a job and reached out. So we interviewed with the principal and had a really great talk.
At this point in our interviewing process, we had not received any other interviews, so we were weighing out our pros and cons and decided we would take the job in China. The school was going to pay for our transportation, housing, and bills which would have allowed us to live off of one paycheck and put the other into our savings. That would have meant that after a 2-year contract, we would have come home with $80,000 in our savings account.
But right before we were about to sign our contract, a school in Grand Cayman reached out to us and wanted an interview. Because the school is in such a beautiful location, the benefits were not as great. However, we wanted to invest in our quality of life, so we accepted the job in Grand Cayman.
In most cases, you'll find yourself weighing pros and cons. It can be hard to find a school that checks off all your boxes but by knowing your priorities, you can find a school that coincides with them.
Preparing for the move abroad
It was the end of February when we accepted our new job, and our lease finished in May. So we had 3 months to get rid of all of our belongings. We started posting on Facebook Marketplace and having garage sales on weather-appropriate weekends. We ended up selling almost everything.
When May came around and it was time for us to move out, the items we had leftover all fit into my car that we drove to my parents’ house 2 hours away. Like any good human, we have sentimental items that we can’t part with, like art pieces from our artist friends or instruments that we can’t take with us. But we decided to keep all of those in my high school bedroom.
I understand how fortunate I am that my mother didn’t renovate my room into something else. It has stayed eerily the same since I was 18 and now serves as our mini storage unit, although everything we brought fits in the closet.
If you're lucky like I am, I highly recommend storing your sentimental items in your home country, instead of paying to move them abroad. You can always move them abroad if you decide to make the move permanent but no need to pay the additional cost if you only plan to live abroad a year or two.
Calling Grand Cayman home
We couldn’t fly to the island until August 2nd, although we made plans to fly in June and you can read all about our huge mistake with work visas here. So that gave us 2 months of quality time before we left the country.
We spent countless hours in a car trying to go to all the music festivals and concerts we could fit in. I’m talking about multi-state driving for each.
Luckily, our friends wanted to go with us to most of them, so we were able to have some really good time with them, despite our selfish musical needs. In between all the trips, we spent time with our parents, ate really good food, and found some amazing hidden gems in our local area. Eventually, August rolled around and it was time for us to officially leave the country. My parents dropped us off at the airport for a bitterly early 6:00 am departure but I don’t remember being that excited for anything in a long time.
Before accepting this job, I couldn’t even point to Grand Cayman on a map. It would have been just another one of the massive amounts of islands in the Caribbean. But now, this place is my temporary home. It’s a relatively small island (about 75 square miles) and we have enjoyed every bit of it.
We live on the west side of the island, just a stone’s throw away from Seven Mile Beach which was recently ranked one of National Geographic’s top beaches in the world.
Our free time is spent SCUBA diving or freediving with the local wildlife. In the last year, we’ve swam with sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, sharks, stingrays and so many other aquatic creatures that it’s hard to keep track. We’ve learned so much about our environment and ocean conservation while living here. It truly is an incredible place to spend the next couple of years.
Our new school is equally amazing as the island itself.
As I mentioned before, I come from teaching in a Title-I, low-income public school in Oklahoma. My old classroom was completely under-resourced of both learning materials and necessities. There was a leak in my room that caused the ceiling tiles to crumble and break on top of myself and the students. So when we switched to a fully-stocked classroom in our new international school, it felt like Christmas Day! The school is beautiful and it finally feels like we can be good teachers because we have the necessary materials to teach.
I can’t speak for every international school, but ours definitely takes care of us professionally. We have the opportunity to request anything that we truly believe will enhance learning.
Teaching abroad is the best decision I’ve ever made. We have met some amazing new friends, fallen in love with the island culture, and discovered new hobbies that we wouldn’t have had the chance to do in Oklahoma.
My life is drastically different than it was back home but in all of the best ways.
I can’t say how long we will stay in Grand Cayman. We truly love it, but also feel like there is so much more to explore, so I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I started Teachers on a Trip to help others get a job teaching overseas, even if you’re not a certified teacher.
We want to share answers to all of the questions that come along with teaching abroad like how to apply to international schools or TEFL companies, how to write your resume to boost your chances of getting an interview, plus so much more.
If you’re interested in teaching abroad, you can download our free video here. We hope to speak to you soon!