Travelling jobs and back-home careers – my experience with ESL teaching and adult education

A few years back I wrote a post for Vagabondish about Why Travel is Good for Your Resume (you can go ahead and read it … I’ll wait!). I still stand by everything I wrote there 100% and it was that post that prompted a reader named Jasper to write to me with this question:

You say that your experience of teaching adults helped you get some great consulting work when you got back. Can you let me know what it was about the teaching that the employers/companies liked? I taught English to children in India as a volunteer, and I think it helped me to market myself to employers. I would now like another travel adventure, but would be needing to find a job when I return and so any voluntary work must add value to my CV as well as being good and fulfilling. I’m wondering whether teaching adults might be a next step.

A very valid question indeed! I think it’s really sad that many employers (and particularly, I hear, in the United States, and I believe in countries like Japan and South Korea too) are so critical of a resume gap. What is so terrible about taking time out, be it a few months or even a couple of years, to do something new, exciting, challenging and different, especially if the person’s been able to arrange their finances and so on to allow this gap? I really hate that this fear of being less employable stops people from travelling. But to get on to Jasper’s question properly …

What teaching ESL abroad can do for your career skills

I fell into ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching mostly by accident. I had been working in the education area (but not teaching as such) so it wasn’t such a huge stretch, and I’d long had an interest in languages (I’d learnt German from a young age, and dabbled in other languages along the way), but the decision to go to Japan to teach English was mostly just because it was a convenient way to leave Australia and have a decently paid job when I did.

My Japanese students hard at work learning English in Osaka

Fortunately for me though, I loved it, and according to the feedback from my employers and students, I was also pretty good at it. It taught me a lot about English (I finally learnt English grammar properly – good for my writing!) and it taught me a lot about teaching and training adults. I think I was really lucky to have a great trainer myself for my first week in Japan, who had some fun approaches to teaching adults, and that set me up with the right mentality – that if you want people to learn, even adults, they need to be having fun.

My experience in Japan led to three more ESL jobs – teaching Business English in Slovakia and then Germany, and then teaching various ESL courses back in Perth, to students of twenty or so nationalities. I loved each of these positions, and learnt so much about other cultures, and learning styles, and how to command the attention of a group of adults whether they wanted to be sitting in the room or not. It gave me the confidence to speak in front of anyone and to win them over by creating chances to laugh.

And what teaching adults abroad can do for your career back home

Teaching and training is such a huge area. After I finished teaching ESL – I went on maternity leave intending to return part-time, but the school I’d been teaching at closed down suddenly just a couple of weeks after I left, so I took this as a sign! – I thought about how I could combine all the different skills and qualifications I’d picked up over the years, especially while travelling.

I’d started this blog and worked for a few other big blogs as well; and I’d done lots of teaching and training. And I loved both of these. So the next logical step was to put them together and I soon found there wasn’t anybody training people how to blog here in Perth, and put together a course for the community course arm of my old university. This has sold out every time we’ve run it since 2010 and has led to a whole bunch of other opportunities with training adults (mostly in blogging and social media) and public speaking as well. Last year I even got to start teaching a travel writing course (including blogging and more), which is the perfect combination of all my favourite skills!

Back in Australia and my new career as an adult trainer starts … this is my travel writing course

Whatever field your “real job” is in, I think getting the skills to teach or train others can only be a good thing, a skill that should open up new opportunities to you. I totally get that not all employers will appreciate this (and that’s because they haven’t travelled much and don’t get how valuable your experience would be for their company). But hunt around and you can find the people who do appreciate a combination of interesting experiences and mixed skills.

I am insanely glad I didn’t listen to some of my “advisors” a decade or so ago who thought I should stay in my safe career here in Australia and not give it up to go travelling indefinitely. Everything about my life is different and better because of the experiences I had teaching ESL in Japan, Slovakia and Germany, and the work I get to do now is perfect and it’s all because of leaving to go abroad.

So to sum up my advice: just go travelling! The rest of life will sort itself out.


  1. Well, that’s my question answered! Thanks for sharing such an inspiring story – I would urge your readers to seriously consider your advice. Your background goes to show that when choosing a career path or a job it’s a good idea to think imaginatively about the skills and experience you have, and what they could lead to. Fortunately, as ‘portfolio’ careers become more common, employers are less likely to mind any gaps on your resume (what is a ‘gap’, anyway?). I’m following an irregular career path myself, doing part-time freelance work. So if I do get brave enough and go and live overseas for a while there’s no reason why I should be in a worse position when I return. As it happens, clients and others are quite interested in my 2010 India teaching post.

    • Brilliant Jasper – thanks for the thoughtful comment. You’re very right, with “portfolio” careers becoming more common it’s much more acceptable to have a resume that appears to chop and change a bit, and the important part is to draw out the various skills and experience this develops and frame it usefully for a potential employer.

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