Volunteer Teaching Programs Overseas Give New Teachers a Jumpstart

| December 3, 2013

Teacher Kristin Loya volunteered with children at a local Kathmandu orphanage on her 2011 trip to Nepal. Photo courtesy of Kristin Loya

Ever thought about becoming a volunteer teacher overseas? Beyond simply doing a good deed, volunteering as a teacher in foreign countries can be a deeply rewarding experience in your post-graduate degree life. As an educator abroad, you will see and become more immersed in the local life and culture and may in fact also experience some real benefits for yourself, possibilities that include new learning experiences and chances for further study, broadened teaching philosophies, the building of new professional contacts, and the chance to rediscover your original excitement for the profession.

Kristin Loya, a children’s art teacher in Hong Kong, began her career teaching ESL abroad. Having lived overseas for many years in various cities throughout Asia, she has had many worthwhile professional experiences but also appreciates the new values gleaned through volunteering. On a 2011 trip to Nepal, Loya shared her time and teaching skills with local children at a Kathmandu orphanage. As a volunteer, she found the experience broadened her horizons. “I think it impacted my life overall and made me much more grateful for what I have and I appreciate the small things in life more, after being around those kids who have really no earthly possessions or modern comforts as we do in our countries,” she recalled. Reflecting on her daily experiences in the orphanage, Loya went on to explain “they live very hard lives compared to us – no running hot water, scattered electricity, no heat in winter, school is cancelled a lot due to strikes, and they eat two main meals a day – usually the same thing: lentils and rice.” Although the experience was wholly unlike her modern style of living in Hong Kong, volunteering in Nepal has enhanced Loya’s understanding about what life is like from her students’ perspectives. “It’s really taught me to be grateful for everything I have in life. Also to have more empathy for my students, as we don’t know their backgrounds or their home lives.”

Teaching programs offered through BECA or "Bilingual Education for Central America" target students in underserved Central American communities. Photo courtesy of BECA

As educators like Loya often have noted, volunteering overseas not only broadens teachers’ approaches to their craft, but also allows them to learn more about the impact of education in other cultures, including its effects on communities, local attitudes towards the environment, and social justice issues. Many return with new ideas for educational research in addition to an enhanced understanding for how to improve their own teaching styles. Finding the right opportunity involves some legwork but returning volunteers have already given high marks to a number of educational non-profits and public service organizations abroad. To help get you started on your search for the right volunteer teaching experience overseas, check out some of these well-reviewed programs. Happy travels!

Volunteer at Bilingual School in Honduras

BECA, or Bilingual Education for Central America, promotes affordable bilingual education and arranges teacher placements for trained volunteers through three community-based organizations in Honduras. During the summer months, the organization runs a camp that aims to provide students in grades 1-5 with opportunities to become immersed in the English language through art, reading, writing, and physical education programs. Yearlong programs are also available for 2014/15 and provide volunteer teachers with opportunities to gain valuable teaching experience, as well as the chance to become involved in curriculum development, bilingual teaching strategies, school events planning and other areas.

For more information, visit the BECA website at www.becaschools.org or email volunteer@becaschools.org.

Teach English Abroad at Orphanages in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Language Corps helps job seekers obtain their TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Certification and places them in schools in 23 locations throughout Asia, Europe, and Language America. Volunteer Opportunities are available in Southeast Asia at a fee which typically includes certification, housing, volunteer teaching placement, as well as various activities and tours to local sights. Describing their 8-week volunteer program in Cambodia, the organization explains “we offer people the chance to obtain their TESOL Certificate (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), and then arrange volunteer teaching positions at a number of different orphanages that we partner with in Phnom Penh. There is a great need for volunteer teachers in the region, and it’s a very rewarding experience for the vast majority of participants.”

For more about the volunteer program, visit the Language Corps website or call 877-216-3267.

The English Language Fellows program places qualified English teachers in 10-month long fellowships in schools around the world. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, United States Department of State

Become an English Language Fellow Overseas

Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the English Language Fellows program places highly qualified teachers with specialties in ESL instruction within schools, universities and teacher training centers in more than 75 countries. While all fellows work on projects geared to English language teaching, projects focus on a wide variety of content areas, from curriculum and materials development to assessment and evaluation, adult education or teaching English to young learners. These paid 10-month teaching fellowships include a stipend, living allowance, health benefits, and airfare. Fellows also have the opportunity to develop professionally in ways they might not otherwise had they stayed in the US, such as through opportunities to present at TESOL conferences around the world, work on teacher training with high level teachers, and other work projects in partnership with their local ministries of education. The priority application date is December 31, 2013, and applicants are encouraged to submit their materials by that deadline.

More details on the program can be found at www.ELFellowProgram.org.

Gain Experience as a Teacher Trainer or Special Education Teacher

The international development charity VSO places qualified teachers with a minimum of two years’ experience in their field in teaching and administrative volunteer positions for one or two years overseas. Working in more than 17 countries within Asia and Africa, VSO volunteers help local teachers to develop their classroom teaching methodologies and practices, and may even assist local education authorities in areas such as school administration and curriculum development. Although there are no set application deadlines due to the rolling time frames when positions are scheduled to start, it typically takes VSO staff between six and 18 months to secure placements for volunteers. Upcoming opportunities VSO is currently hiring for include Teacher Trainer positions in Ghana which involve working with teachers to develop effective teaching resources and Special Education Teacher positions in Rwanda which involve helping local staff to train, identify and teach children with special needs in the country’s Butare region.

For more information on volunteer positions available with VSO, visit www.vso.org.uk or email enquiry@vso.org.uk.

Resources about Volunteer Teaching Available from Gottesman Library:

ABC’s : a handbook for educational volunteers
Washington : Washington Technical Institute, 1972

Educational volunteerism : a new look
Taranto, Susanne E
Springfield, Ill. : C.C. Thomas, c1984

Leadership and management of volunteer programs : a guide for volunteer administrators
Fisher, James C
San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1993

Training volunteers to improve reading instruction for illiterate adults with learning disabilities
Meindl, Sheila Marie.
1988.