English teacher Tia Harrington's favorite book might be her passport. She's used it to teach in three continents during the past two years, working in schools from the Czech Republic to Colombia. Ms. Harrington is part of a new generation of Americans traveling and teaching the world over. America's position in the postwar era has long made English a popular option overseas. But in a world that increasingly embraces open trade and communicates on the English-based Internet, English has become the lingua franca.
According to Jeff Mohammed, author of "Teaching English Overseas," economic globalization has turned English instruction into a booming industry.
"With more and more countries entering the global economy, English has become the international language of business and science and technology," he says. "When Arabs sell oil to the Japanese, the deals are carried out in English.
"And many countries are hiring thousands of people like Harrington to grease the wheels of such transactions.
These teachers work for public and private schools and private companies that offer language instruction. Those with a master's degree or English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher certificate get the best-paying jobs, but most people can find work if they are native English speakers and eager to teach through conversation.
Harrington's story is typical. She didn't have any teaching experience, but after five years of acting and waiting tables in New York, she was ready for a change. "I stumbled across an ad in a travel book about English instruction," she says. "I liked the idea of being able to support myself and see the world at the same time.
"But after leaving the US, Harrington followed an unconventional path. English teaching brought her to China and Eastern Europe, places nearly bereft of English-instruction schools just a decade ago.
Indeed, Mohammed says in 1989, there were about 200 such jobs in all of Eastern Europe. Now there are probably 10 times that number in Prague alone, he says. The same is true in South Korea.
The Internet generates more jobs
The hypergrowth of global English instruction has been driven by the Internet, which unites farflung applicants and companies instantly and at a low cost.
"Dave's ESL Cafe," a Web site maintained by Dave Sperling, an ESL instructor at California State University, Northridge, is a clearinghouse of information. Schools post about 300 open positions on it each month. And teachers swap ideas, such as which schools in Venezuela have good reputations, and how to find an apartment in Thailand.
"Before I was using the Internet, I was offered a job teaching in Saudi Arabia, and I had a heck of a time getting information about it," says Mr. Sperling. "I spent a fortune on phone bills asking them what it's like. The [Web] lets you find out so much.
"But the Internet has not only made English instruction easier. It's actually generated more jobs, some in unlikely places like Italy and France. Stephen Murrell, managing director of The Training Company, an English instruction school in Genoa, Italy, points to the Web to explain Italians' new interest in learning English. "The Internet is changing everything.... All computer terms and information on the Internet are in English, so businesses here are paying a lot to teach their employees.
But employee beware
The wealth of opportunities is a boon to most applicants, but many veteran teachers still have horror stories to tell about their experiences. Emily Cabaniss signed a contract with a college in South Korea to teach English. But she says the school didn't honor it once she arrived and made her work an additional 30 hours per week.
"I don't think I was respected on any level at my school although I was told time and again that I was the 'visiting professor,' " she says. "I feel mostly like I was used up and thrown aside like many of the English teachers here.
"Anti-American sentiment is a common concern for educators abroad. Many countries worry that Americans pose a threat to their culture, as teachers can influence students more than most foreign residents.
In countries like China that have ideologies in conflict with those in the US, educators are sometimes regarded suspiciously. While recruiting teachers for China in the 1980s, for example, Mohammed says he was told not to hire "teachers who would try to spread liberal/progressive political ideas."
And when the United States dropped a bomb on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Harrington and her American colleagues, then teaching in China, came under immediate scrutiny. "The local government shut down my school," she says. "After barring us from work for a month and threatening to deport us, we were given temporary visas and sent home.
"Still, the wanderlust common to many in this business likely will continue to draw teachers into different countries. "I'm definitely going ... abroad again," Harrington says. "I'm considering offers in Morocco and Finland and look forward to getting out there and teaching more.
www.eslcafe.com Dave's ESL Cafe focuses on ESL information.
www.english-international.com English International has a wide range of information and advice.
www.teflnetnation.com/index.html This site has good chat groups.
www.handsonenglish.com/40tips.html This site has 40 tips related to teaching ESL.
www.esl.about.com Another comprehensive clearninghouse of information.
www.iagora.com A site with information on countries for international travelers.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society