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Important Life lessons you will learn from Teaching Overseas

By Alice Baines Hamblin
In Volunteering Advice
May 22nd, 2014



1.    Not every child enjoys the same access to education.

Back in 1959 United Nations members signed the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, a document which asserted humanity’s belief in education as one of the basic human rights of every child. As part of that charter member states agreed that

“The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society…the child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.”

Sadly, the experience of teaching overseas makes painfully clear that standards and access to education are not uniform the world over. In the developing world one in four children is unable to read and even where children are eligible to a free state education (where ‘free’ attendance often requires the purchase of school uniforms and materials out of reach for many poor families) the quality of education can be very poor with huge class sizes, understaffing and no provision of basic stationary or text books.

But whilst some government systems are failing and education budgets drained by endemic corruption, there are organisations and impassioned individuals who are making a difference. A great example of this is the Danish initiative ‘Borneo Child Aid’. Concerned that Borneo’s government was making no provision to educate the children of immigrant workers, who flock to the country’s palm oil plantations and are denied legal status. Borneo Child Aid provides education for more that 12,00 children in 130 learning centres in Sabah. It is possible to support the efforts of organisations like this teaching overseas through a gap year organisation.

2.    Every child loves ‘Duck Duck Goose’

From my personal experience it seems that every child under the age of ten, regardless of race or gender goes absolutely bonkers for a game of Duck Duck Goose. Those unfamiliar with this game may be unaware of it’s simple but undeniable charms requiring no props, costumes or (come to think of it!) much forward planning.

If ever find yourself teaching overseas and in need of an icebreaker game to engage and endear yourself to a class of children then I highly recommend you whip out the Duck Duck Goose. Instructions on how to play can be found here.

3.    All children can be naughty!

It is a commonly (and wrongly) held belief that it is only the children of our own nation that act up in class, talk over their teacher or doodle at the back of the lesson and that somewhere out there (probably in Africa) children are all so desperately appreciative of education that they sit in neat rows, obeying teacher and diligently going about their school work without a hint of disrespect.

Well, word up! Children are children no matter where they live in the world. I have had a few experiences of teaching overseas and can tell you that controlling noise levels in class, raucous laughter and even just holding the children’s attention for more than a few minutes was a challenge. But it was a challenge I relished and proved the importance of planning lessons ahead – and dangers of ‘winging it’. With adequate prior preparation and a few activities up your sleeve to get a lesson back on track it’s was ok to occasionally stray from the path of obedience without getting totally off track.

4.    Teaching is a well-respected and well-paid profession anywhere in the word.

Whilst teachers in the West would freely admit their profession isn’t the best paid, most wouldn’t feel compelled to take a second or even third job to supplement their income.
In many developing world countries, Tanzania being a prime example  public school teachers are vastly underpaid and often find their salaries arrive late or not at all, thanks to mismanagement by the  government. Often times they look for other means of income, not attending classes for several days and thus the children left unsupervised, which seriously impacts the quality of education they deliver.

For this reason, volunteer teachers are a huge support in understaffed schools where they can give relief to full time, local teachers freeing up their time for lesson planning or managerial commitments, or take small groups of students for one on one classes to help with overcrowding. Volunteer as a teacher overseas with a reputable organisation and you will not be taking work away from local teachers but assisting them and helping children to achieve their full potential.

5.    When language fails Art takes over!

One of the major challenges when volunteering as a teacher overseas is overcoming the language barrier. In these cases, physical activity such as sports or creative play or expressive arts can be a real life-saver. Add to the mix the fact that the national curriculum tends not to prioritise (or in some cases even recognise!) art or sports as subjects and these area become all the more important for visiting educators, such as volunteer teachers to bring to the school environment.
A great example of the power of art in education can be found in Cambodia where an NGO called Let Us Create has provides outreach, education and art therapy to an underprivileged community of families in Sihanoukville. Let Us Create is dedicated to providing a nurturing and creative environment whilst improving the lives and wellbeing of local vulnerable communities that do not have proper access to education, healthcare, nutrition, hygiene, shelter, and safety, through creative programs. Many of the children in attendance do not go to mainstream school and certainly do not have a creative outlet to express the many hardships or struggles they face. Through the sale of the students art work the organization is able to funnel the funds back into the creative programs to continue providing quality training, education and social support.
To volunteer with LUC visit The Leap.

6.    Not every child is a Tom, Dick or Harry

One of the most surprising and entertaining revelations of teaching overseas was, for me at least, hearing some of the great names parent in other cultures selected for their children. Over the course of my volunteer travels I have encountered a charming little boy in Cambodia named King Kong (no likeness thankfully) and cheeky little chappy in South Africa named Smirnoff (often flanked by his great freinds ‘God Bless’ and ‘Boy Boy’) and with a Kichwa family in the Ecuadorian Andes whose eldest son was named Tupac.

Needless to say, this inspiration for creative naming is something I feel we should all embrace and I now fully intend to name my first born Batman. You heard it here first!

7.    Practically anybody can make a difference by teaching English

With approximately 1 billion people learning English worldwide, the demand for native English-speaking teachers is insatiable and virtually any native or fluent English speaker will find demand for their English teaching skills abroad. Remember this:
•    A background in education or professional teaching experience is not required to teach English abroad. This is particularly true if you are volunteering your time, unpaid.
•    You do not need to speak a foreign language to teach English abroad.
•    Prior international travel experience is not a prerequisite to teach English abroad.
•    A college degree is not required to teach English abroad. In fact, even those without a college degree can realistically expect to gain employment teaching English abroad in up to 50 countries around the world and volunteer in even more; from Tanzania and Ecuador to Costa Rica, Kenya and Borneo.

Find great volunteer opportunities for teaching overseas here.



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