Making the Most of a Volunteer Teaching Experience
Teaching abroad offers many opportunities, from learning a language to deciding on the correct career path.
The teaching abroad experience has many benefits. It makes stronger candidates for future employment, whether or not it is related to teaching. Teaching shows management and planning skills, which can easily transition into any employment position.
Teaching in another culture makes you think outside the box, strengthens your interpersonal skills, and increases your perceptions. Job applicants who have worked in another country demonstrate flexibility and the ability to adapt.
Many employers prefer people who have worked abroad, particularly such as El Salvador since they will generally know another language, and also have increased tolerance towards others and a better understanding of global issues. It is the perfect opportunity for a recent college graduate, paper helper, or those embarking on a different career path – you can experience teaching without having to invest large chunks of money and time, which can help you better understand your career path or future educational needs.
Unexpected aspects of teaching abroad
One of the most unexpected aspects of teaching in El Salvador is the quality of relationships you will develop with your students. It often surprises first-time volunteers at how quickly they make lasting friendships. Teaching is also a job where you can see the difference you are making in someone’s life, which can be very rewarding, both professionally and personally.
What to look for in a volunteer position
Never accept a position without the proper visa. An organization that does not require a visa is probably doing something wrong from a legal standpoint. Should there arise a problem with your pay or contract, you may not have any rights if caught working without the correct visa. Ask the institution how much of the visa process it helps with. The more help there is, the better, especially if you do not speak the language. Some organizations not only help with visa work but also assist volunteers with insurance paperwork and other daily living chores such as finding housing.
Find an organization that offers quality teaching support, especially if this is your first teaching assignment. This can come in the form of a Teacher Resource Center or library, opportunities for professional development (such as workshops and seminars), and a teacher’s lounge where teachers can meet, share ideas and plan lessons together.
Ask for the institution’s mission and vision statement. Review them and assure that they match your expectations. If there are none, it may be a warning sign that the environment is not very supportive or organized.
Look for an institution that shows it values its employees. Institutions should offer orientation for new teachers that covers both cultural and administrative questions volunteer teachers might have.
Give preference to organizations that provide free language classes for their volunteer teachers. Knowing the native language of the country will give you an extreme advantage when looking for housing or negotiating prices, and will also provide a more pleasant experience.
Advice for prospective volunteer teachers
Make connections with the students
Trust and comfort are inherent aspects of the English language classroom, so take advantage of that. The more people you know in the country, the better you will understand the culture.
Sign on to the program to stay at least one year
Although some programs will offer 4-6-week positions, a minimum of a year is best for traveling within the country, strengthening your relationships with locals, learning the language, meeting colleagues, and networking.
Use your experience to network with others
You can do that by volunteering at public schools or offering free services outside of your normal duties. It can help you master the language and provide services as an essay writer for students. Jump at opportunities to help with audio recordings of books or proofreading/translating for government organizations. Just be sure to set limits on your time so that you do not feel taken advantage of.
Read about the city/country that you will be in
Volunteers to El Salvador, for instance, often make the mistake of not researching the weather. It is often quite warm. Cultural conditions will also play a part in the type of clothing you should bring.
Formality increases in El Salvador the further in from the coast you go. While shorts and t-shirts may be appropriate for some jobs in a coastal city, teachers in Matepan are expected to be much more formal, with men likely to wear ties and women’s dress pants.
Talk to others who have lived in the country, read about the cultural expectations, and have an understanding of how your culture is viewed – both in terms of the negative and positive aspects.
Be aware of thieves
As a resident, you will quickly begin to feel more at home, but this does not mean you should let your guard down in terms of personal safety. Continue to take precautions, regardless of how long you have lived in your new home. To thieves and pickpockets, you will still look like a foreigner, thus increasing your chances of being robbed.