8 Tips for Volunteer Teaching Abroad


Volunteering as a teacher abroad is a noble thing to do. It could be something you deliberately planned for when organizing the trip or something more spontaneous you thought about as you interacted with locals. It’s a powerful way to leave a lasting impact on a community.

Yet, good intentions are not always enough. History is replete with numerous well-meaning individuals who inadvertently caused a furore in a place they visited. Here are a few tips that can keep you on the right track when volunteering as a teacher abroad.

  • Understand the Culture

Take time to read about the location you’ll be going to and understand the culture. Make the most of the internet. There are hardly any places in the world left that do not have a footprint on the world wide web. This is vital because what you might consider an integral part of pop culture may not be relatable to people in another country. Educational standards too may be different. Do not make assumptions.

  • Use the Right Terminology

Certain words do not have the same meaning across the world. For example, the term American isn’t understood the same way everywhere. In Western Europe, locals will associate the term with a citizen of the United States. In Brazil or Argentina, using the term American to refer to a US citizen can be confusing and, in extreme cases, offensive. In such countries, American has a broader meaning and encompases all residents of North and South America.

  • Be Patient

Do not expect things to move smoothly from the get go. For instance, your accent may be a communication barrier. Depending on how new the subject matter is to your students, it may take longer for them to grasp lessons. Be patient with the students in the understanding that it might take a while before you start to see tangible results.

Losing your temper is a no-no especially when you are a foreigner. It may be seen as contempt and disrespect and will only make it harder for the students to listen to you and focus on learning.

  • Use Visual Examples

Anyone who has traveled to different continents of the world knows how limited words can be as a means of communication. English won’t do much for you if you are surrounded by people who can only speak Chinese. That’s why visual examples can come in handy.

Someone may struggle to understand what you mean when you refer to a car but a picture will clear up any confusion in seconds. Visual aids are a valuable tool of instruction even when you are teaching people who share your culture and language.

  • Customize Curriculum for Relevance

Customization is just as important as visual aids. A subject can feel abstract and distant when locals are unable to relate it to their everyday experiences. It would be futile to use a car as an example when most of your students come from homes where the primary means of travel is the bicycle. Customizing curriculum can be a lot of work but the payoff is worth the effort.

  • Consult with the Experts

If you’ll be volunteering as a teacher abroad, chances are that you’ll be teaching on a subject that you already have a good grasp of. Nevertheless, mastering a subject is one thing while knowing how to transfer that knowledge to someone else is another. In addition, being a volunteer teacher comes with its own nuances.

All this means you need to arm yourself with teaching skills and also liaise with organizations such as Maximo Nivel that understand what volunteering abroad entails.

  • Use Neutral Language

Neutral language is actually a matter of common courtesy and should apply in whatever country or setting you are. It however takes on even greater importance when you are in a different culture where a misstep can be viewed as insulting.

In many Western societies, the term ‘guys’ is understood to mean both male and female friends or acquaintances. Yet, elsewhere, referring to girls or women as guys can be offensive.

  • Avoid Politics and Religion

Politics and religion are the two topics that can separate the best of friends. Stay clear of these two subjects unless of course you are teaching politics or religion. Even then, there are ways you can teach the two without being confrontational, condescending or argumentative.

Keep it truly academic devoting the most time to factual and objective information. Be on the lookout for conversations and questions that may lead debate down the path of angry emotional standoffs.

Volunteering as a teacher abroad can be a deeply rewarding experience. How effective you’ll be will depend on how well you prepare and discharge your role.


About Author

Kelly Lewis is the founder of Go! Girl Guides, the Women's Travel Fest and Damesly. She's an optimist, an adventurer, an author and works to help women travel the world.

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