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Differences Between Studying Abroad and Teaching Abroad


Studying abroad for most people is one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling experiences of their lives. Meeting people from all walks of life and countries you’ve never heard of, exploring new places constantly and generally living life to the fullest! Because of the excitement studying abroad can bring, many people don’t want the experience to be over… and so they carry on in the form of teaching! Teaching abroad, for many, is a wonderful way to add extra time abroad to their lives after a period of studying abroad. While teaching abroad is also a very enriching experience and there are some similarities, there are also many differences that you may experience.

Read the interviews below to find out what people think about the two!

“It Feels Very Fulfilling to Watch the Students Learn and Progress” – by Bobby.R.

Name: Bobby Ring
Age: 22
Where are you from? Portlaoise, Ireland
Current profession? English teacher
Where did you study abroad? La Universidad de Salamanca, Salamanca, Castilla y León, Spain
Where have you taught abroad? Salamanca part-time in a school during study abroad and currently in Madrid

What is your favourite thing about teaching abroad?
The ease of the position. It’s a blessing as it doesn’t require too much training if you are an English native. After two weeks of training with an English teaching company, I had the job and felt prepared. It also feels very fulfilling to watch the students learn and progress.

What was your favourite thing about studying abroad?
Exposure to different people from different countries and cultures. Going out for a meal or to a party where there could be over a dozen nationalities all mixing, speaking about where they are from and how we are all alike and different was fascinating to me. Also, being able to practice Spanish, and having independence.

Bobby Ring with his friends
My friends and I (second from the right) enjoying lunch in the sun in Salamanca after arriving!

What are the main differences you noticed between each experience?
Studying abroad, I didn’t feel like I was ‘out on my own’. It is typical in Ireland that if you cannot pay for university, you can receive a grant from the government, or in my case, your family helps you. I received money to live on so I was still dependant. Now, teaching, I am supporting myself, and also supporting myself abroad which makes me feel even more independent.

Which one did you prefer and why?
I think both had their worries and negatives at an equal par. Now, I may worry about money, rent, work but the stress of exams and classes was equal to this. Likewise, they both had/have their upsides too and are very thrilling experiences.

Would you repeat either of them? If so, which one and why?
I would repeat both. I plan on returning to college eventually to pursue a masters and having the option to do a semester abroad would be fantastic. Also, I would repeat teaching abroad again as living away from home is great as it’s an opportunity to travel and explore the world.

If you could give advice to someone making a transition between studying to teaching abroad, what would it be?
Save, a lot. Put a lot of time into finding the right apartment or house for you. Going to the school is a different lifestyle than studying and you want to be somewhere comfortable. The language barrier can be difficult but don’t let it put you off.

” Be Spontaneous and Not Just Focus on the School.” – by Sarah.C.

Name: Sarah Coughlan
Age: 23
Where are you from? Ireland
Current profession? English Teacher in Madrid, Spain
Where did you study abroad? Tarragona, Spain
Where have you taught abroad? Madrid, Spain

Sarah Coughlan in the school
The Language Assistants I met when I was teaching, that became my best friends

What is your favourite thing about teaching abroad?

Getting the opportunity to do something I love in a city I adore.

What was your favourite thing about studying abroad?
Feeling carefree while living in Spain and getting the opportunity to go on adventures during the weekends.

What are the main differences you noticed between each experience?
There is a lot more responsibility when you’re teaching abroad, as you can miss a class when you’re studying but you can’t miss one when you’re the one teaching it. You realise that your actions not only have consequences for you, but also for those who are depending on you, such as the students and colleagues. That’s a big change from studying, where you are only responsible for your own schedule.

Which one did you prefer and why?
I preferred my experience studying abroad, as it felt like a really long holiday and there was never anything to worry about. While I love teaching abroad, there is a lot more responsibility.

Would you repeat either of them? If so, which one and why?
I would repeat the studying abroad, but I feel like it’s just something you can do once in your life because it wouldn’t be the same again. And I am repeating my teaching abroad as this is my second year living in Madrid.

If you could give advice to someone making a transition between studying to teaching abroad, what would it be?
Go into the experience with the mindset that it isn’t going to be the same as your time studying abroad. When people study abroad it’s most often their first time living abroad and for some, it’s even their first time living away from home, so the experience is something that they never expected and it turns out to be one of the best experiences of their lives. People go into teaching abroad with high expectations, so it’s best to go into it with none or very little. It doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be any less amazing, but you sometimes have to remind yourself to go explore the city you’re living in and go on adventures and be spontaneous, and not just focus on the school.

“Remember that They are Placing their Trust in You to be a Proactive and Engaging Teacher” – by Shauna. S.

Name: Shauna Supple
Age: 23
Where are you from? Dublin
Current profession? Digital Marketing Assistant
Where did you study abroad? Cadiz, Spain
Where have you taught abroad? Madrid, Spain

What was your favourite thing about teaching abroad?
How different every day is! It is very easy to be creative in this kind of environment.

What was your favourite thing about studying abroad?
The lifestyle, meeting new people from all walks of life, participating in classes and projects with Spanish people and really gaining a sense of independence. Another great thing was experiencing a new culture and really having to get out of my comfort zone to be able to do well in College.

Landscape in Cadiz
My daily view during my time studying in Cadiz.

What are the main differences you noticed between each experience?
With studying you have more support. You are getting to see the same people every day and really connect and build relationships. Whilst teaching, I did not have this same experience as I taught 16 different classes a week. I never saw the same students twice and I never got an opportunity to connect and build relationships. I think this was vital to create self-motivation and it was a very important area that was not fulfilled in the same way as it was when I was studying abroad.

Which one did you prefer and why?
I preferred studying because I lived my life very freely. I didn’t have the responsibility of having to add to the education and future of young people, I was only responsible for myself. I had more opportunities to meet more people from all walks of life, opposite to teaching, where it was a small classroom of only Spanish people, all from the same area, and similar walks of life.

Would you repeat either of them? If so, which one and why?
I would study abroad again. It is a really, great and fun experience. You really get to learn a lot about the language as in lectures you can fully immerse yourself. When I taught, I had to speak in English the entire time and my level of Spanish began to drop.

If you could give advice to someone making a transition between studying to teaching abroad, what would it be?
Never compare your experience studying to your experience teaching. They will be completely different. You need to remember that teaching means that you are not only responsible for yourself, but also a number of students because you will add to their education and to their futures. If you have a passion for teaching, it is ideal. I don’t recommend doing it if it is just your chance to move abroad. Remember that parents or students are placing their trust in you to be a proactive and engaging teacher. Take the experiences from studying abroad, developing your skills in the new language and try to apply them wherever you can once you start teaching.

“Teaching is More Hands-on and a Lot More Emotionally Demanding”- by Jessica

Name: Jessica
Age: 27
Where are you from? Johannesburg, South Africa

Teaching abroad
Me with one of the materials I made for my teaching, a ‘weather wheel’.

Current profession? Auxiliary English Teacher
Where did you study abroad? Madrid, Spain
Where have you taught abroad? Madrid, Spain

What is your favourite thing about teaching abroad?

Meeting new people with different views and perspectives and seeing the children progress throughout the year.

What was your favourite thing about studying abroad?

Teaching students from other countries and getting to know so many different people.

What are the main differences you noticed between each experience?
Teaching is more hands-on and a lot more emotionally demanding, whilst studying is interesting and educational. It seems a lot more care-free as teaching if you want to do it well, takes a lot of your energy!

Which one did you prefer and why?
Studying, because I love learning new things and getting ideas for my actual classes. It keeps me inspired and motivated.

Would you repeat either of them? If so, which one and why? I wouldn’t repeat either.

If you could give advice to someone making a transition between studying to teaching abroad, what would it be?
Prepare as many lesson plans as possible beforehand and then you can pick and choose what lesson you would like to do on the day!

“Nothing is More Exciting than Seeing their Growth During the Year” – by Leslie

Name: Leslie
Age: 23
Where are you from? California, the golden state
Current profession? Student
Where did you study abroad? Maastricht, The Netherlands. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Where have you taught abroad? Pamplona, Spain

What was your favourite thing about teaching abroad?
My favourite thing about teaching abroad was spending time with the children and seeing them learn English. I think nothing is more exciting than seeing their growth during the year, or seeing their little eyes light up once they finally understand something. Another huge plus is that you can travel guilt free, because it is your money and your free time. You are not supposed to be studying for that midterm instead of flying to Venice.

Leslie in Bilbao
These pictures were taken on the same spot in front of the Guggenheim Bilbao 3 year apart. One was taken while I was studying abroad in The Netherlands, and the other was taken while I was teaching in Pamplona. Besides the puppy flourishing, I also flourished. Both pictures are very special to me, and both days have been very important in my life

What was your favourite thing about studying abroad?
My favourite thing about studying abroad was absolutely everything. You basically live off adrenaline and excitement, because there is no way that your body is functioning properly with so little sleep and lack of nutrients. You are on a super tight budget, but you manage to travel every weekend and somehow get your homework in on the side. The people you meet will become family, because nothing will bond you to someone like being lost in a foreign city. You eat with them, you travel with them, you sleep at airports with them, you fight, and you hug it off the next day. You will do so much with these humans that they will become such a crucial part of your life, it will be devastating leaving them and you won’t be able to remember how you ever lived your life without them in the first place. My study abroad friends had the biggest effect on my life, because they helped me see the world, and they helped me create my own world view. Their views, and our experiences together changed me so much that those people will always be family. When I returned home, I didn’t know how to live without them anymore and only they understood what was happening. I think the bonds with these people are truly so special and beautiful that they are hard to describe.

I never really know how to explain in words how I feel about my study abroad friends, but here are the quotes that I always think are a good representation of studying abroad:

“Exchange is not a year in a life; it’s a Life in a year” — this one says it all.

What are the main differences you noticed between each experience?
I think all the differences have to do with you and with the new stage of life that you are in. When you teach you have more responsibilities, and travel is a little bit more difficult. It is for sure more difficult to make friends, because going to school and living with students makes friendship making a very easy and fast process. However, teaching as opposed to studying abroad makes you feel like a part of the city. Often when I was on exchange, I felt like I was in the university bubble and when you teach in a city, you become part of it. Lastly, earning money giveS you a different power of traveling guilt free, and maybe even doing some stuff that you cannot afford as a student.

Which one did you prefer and why?
I without a doubt preferred studying abroad. For most people, it is the first time that you are out in the world on your own. It really opens you up to the world, it changes your mind, and it allows you to bond with people in a very special level. Once you had that experience, I think you will never grow as much ever again in your life. At least in the sense of creating ideals and forming who you are as a person. For that reason, I would go with study abroad because it is a combination of things that make it the best experience ever.

Would you repeat either of them? If so, which one and why?
If repeat means going back in time and doing it all over again, then I would repeat both. If I can only pick one, then I would repeat study abroad! On the contrary, if repeat means doing it again in my life, then I would rather repeat teaching abroad, because it gives you a better opportunity to be a part of the country.

If you could give advice to someone making a transition between studying to teaching abroad, what would it be?
I would really advice you to take it as a brand-new experience. To not compare it to the previous one, and to not try to recreate it because you won’t be able to. If you have decided to teach abroad after studying abroad, it is probably because you had a really great experience. This means that you will try to compare it, and will have huge expectations of what it should be like. Take it as a new experience and give yourself a break. I spent a lot of time while I was teaching abroad giving myself a hard time because I wasn’t making the same type of relationships or experiencing the same things as when I studied abroad. I only caused myself unnecessary stress, and it would have been better if I’d gone in with no expectations. Also enjoy both, because you are in a very privileged position to get to do two wonderful things in one lifetime!

Rebecca in class
Me and some of my lovely students!

Draw paper

So, as you can see, one of the main differences between studying abroad and teaching abroad that most people find revolve around their time management, their sense of responsibility and their relationships. BUT every person is just as in love with both experiences for different reasons.

I know I am certainly in love with teaching abroad! (especially when your students show this much love back).

By Rebecca M., 2018/19

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11 Responses

  1. Aww this is a great article! I didn’t get the chance to study abroad while I was in college but I definitely feel like my time here has been like a vacation. While there are more responsibilities, it’s definitely nothing compared to a full-time job back home. It’s really great because you can travel and explore Spain due to it’s small size and how close everything is! For example, I decided to spontaneously visit Alicante about two days before I actually went and it was so fun! I also agree that teaching can be very emotionally draining. I love teaching and it’s so much fun but I’m always really tired by the end of the day!

  2. I had so much fun and learnt so much about how unique each experience is doing these interviews! But the thing that has stuck in my mind the most is how everyone said not to compare the two – not having too many expectations and being open is so important for getting the most out of any experience.

  3. Such a neat article – it was great to get so many perspectives from various teachers from around the world! Studying and teaching abroad are definitely drastically different experiences. Having had both, I can say that teaching does feel more like you’re grounded in your area and creates a sense of community, whereas studying abroad was more of an opportunity to travel and sight-see. Thanks for sharing Rebecca!

  4. My study abroad experience is widely different from my experience teaching here. I feel like I am more immersed in the culture. I loved studying abroad and traveling and meeting people, but teaching abroad and living with a host family in the process has gotten me to truly experience the everyday Spanish life, learning teacher struggles, different politics first-hand, understanding how perspectives differ – I could go on. While both were certainly formative for me, I think I prefer teaching abroad over studying abroad.

  5. I studied abroad in Sevilla and now I work in northern Spain and the differences are huge!! Partly because now I’m working and also because of the regional differences.

  6. It was really interesting to read all of your different perspectives. I never got the opportunity to study abroad while in university so I liked reading about how each of your experiences compared to teaching abroad, which I’m doing now. I’m glad I’m getting the experience to live abroad after college, it’s different in certain ways but absolutely amazing just the same!

  7. Wow, having studied abroad for a semester and now teaching English, I can say it is a completely different experience. In both cases, I have formed some of the most amazing relationships, as different as they may be. Wouldn’t trade the experience of working with students!

  8. Awesome tips! I have never done study abroad before when in university, however I can say that I imagine the experiences are very different! Teaching abroad seems that it is an experience that prepares you more for your working career, especially if you are considering teaching. I have had the chance to also travel more due to the longer time period of the placement. It has also prepared me more for my future career, placing me in a 9-5 role and gaining skills vital to teaching.

  9. This is a great article! I also studied abroad for a year in Spain and for the summer in Brazil before teaching and for me the biggest difference was my host family experience. Having a host family through Meddeas requires far more responsibility and work than living with a host family to learn about the language and culture on a study abroad trip. While I would repeat both experiences again (and I will be returning to teach with Meddeas next year) I advise assistants interested in host families because of their experiences with study abroad host families to look into it because they are quite different experiences.

  10. I studied abroad in Chile a few years before moving to Spain, and it was definitely a completely different experience. Despite also being a different country, there were different things demanded of me at different times. Although I would gladly repeat both experiences right now. Your world view changes so much from time abroad

  11. Although I haven’t studied abroad myself, I think that both options would be amazing – the whole thing is being able to have the opportunity to live and really immerse yourself in another country! The best part of the meddeas program is that essentially I am working AND studying abroad and getting the best of both worlds! But to be honest, even if I wasn’t studying through meddeas, the whole experience feels like sort of studying anyway, as you are CONSTANTLY learning new things about teaching, people, culture, language, the location you live, it’s just the most incredible thing ever!

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