How Does Teaching Overseas Compare to Teaching in America?

To explore what teaching is like in other countries, I spoke to two people who spent some time teaching overseas. First was a woman named Meredith, a recent Ph. D graduate, who taught SAT, TOEFL, business, and English classes while studying Chinese in Beijing through Columbia University. She taught first and second grade, high school, as well as graduate and undergraduate students. The second is our old friend Jonathan of HSTRY who taught English in Jordan, Peru, and extensively in Belgium. He taught at both elementary school students and adult learners. Read on to learn more about their international teaching experiences.

Teacher pay

In Belgium teachers can make between $2,200 and $3,000 a month (1600 to 2200 euros) depending on experience and grade level. In China, foreign teachers were paid much better than native teachers.

Respect for teachers

When asked how much the communities respected their teachers on a 1-to-5 scale (5 being the most respected), Jonathan said 2. “Teachers in Belgium aren’t that respected compared to other countries I’ve been in.” he said. “They’re seen as people who are always on holiday.” Meredith answered 5. “The Chinese people have so much respect for foreigners who are living in China and teaching English,” she explained. “They really feel that learning English is crucial to China’s success so they really respect the English teachers.” Teachers native to China enjoyed the same respect of the community, except their pay was much lower.

Teaching requirements

To teach English in China, Meredith felt that her interview was more of a formality than anything else. She attributes this to  China’s desperation for English-speaking teachers. For Jonathan, the CELTA teaching certificate he obtained in Ireland was not enough to teach secondary education in Belgium. To teach at a secondary level, Belgium teachers are required to have five years of university study plus a special teaching certificate.

Differences in education overseas

To Jonathan, the most striking difference between US education and Belgium education was the emphasis on testing. In Belgium, students are only given two exams in each subject every year—like our semester finals. Not passing the exam doesn’t mean you fail, as students can “can catch up by having good grades throughout the year.” At the end of high school, all students who wish to go to college gain acceptance. “In the US, testing like the SATs have left me with an impression that you absolutely have to pass them,” said Jonathan, “otherwise you are a failure. It’s an ‘all or nothing approach’.”

For Meredith, the entire Chinese education system was much different than ours. “The bottom line,” she explained, “the Chinese students are not taught to think. They are taught to listen to the teacher, memorize the information, and spit it out on a test. The students can’t ask questions and they can’t give opinions.” For her, it was much harder than teaching in the US because the students were only interested in the right answer. “The students are so afraid of being wrong that the classroom is just them staring at the teacher”

Would you teach again?

“Only from time to time.” said the HSTRY editor. “I prefer what I’m doing now!”

“The only reason that I would do it again would be if I don’t find a job here in America soon,” said Meredith. “The money I could make in China is too good.”

Teachers, what do you think? Would you ever teach overseas? Why or why not? International teachers, did we get it right? Did you teach in another country and have something to add? Email me at! 

For more stories from our Teacher Appreciation Month, click here.

One thought on “How Does Teaching Overseas Compare to Teaching in America?

  1. Pingback: Students I don’t want to teach | Thinking Languages!

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