transition from teaching ESL abroad

How to Transition From Teaching ESL Abroad to a New Career.

I don’t want to teach ESL forever.

Subject: Transition from teaching ESL abroad to your next stage in life.

I’ve written many times now for the past couple of years on what an amazing experience teaching English as a second language in China and Asia is. The ESL industry is amazing for vacation and holidays, it can be extremely lucrative, and there’s lots of ways for you to grow as a person, and professionally in the role.

The reality is, the majority of ESL teachers, didn’t study to become teachers. For many its a gap year, for some it turns into a few years period in their life, and for a few it can definitely become a meaningful lifetime career. For the majority, they don’t stay teaching forever. And though many love it, they eventually want to transition back to the industries or types of jobs they originally studied for.

I’ve had conversations with teachers that wanted to continue teaching ESL in China or other parts of Asia, but were worried they needed to jump back into their chosen professional paths.

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Next up; transition from teaching ESL abroad.

In this article I am going to talk about the transition from teaching ESL abroad to a new career won’t be painful. I recently was offered a business role more suited to my education at another company in their recruitment department.

My story is for another day, in this particular article we are going to be speaking with someone who has successfully moved from teaching English in China, into a marketing role as a major company – which was her major in university and original chosen career path. Not only was she successful at teaching, she has grown her current company and personal brand exponentially since moving to China and getting this opportunity here.


Without further ado, I would like to introduce you to Rachel from RachelMeetsChina.com


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Tell us about yourself

Hi I’m Rachel, an American expat who has lived in China since 2015. After I graduated from university, I moved to a small city in the Hunan province for two years to teach university students, then taught at a kindergarten in Guangzhou for one year before moving to Beijing.

I love traveling in China and around Asia and share my stories on my blog! I made the transition from teaching ESL abroad to a new job. Currently work in Beijing as the Digital Marketing and Social Media coordinator for an Education/Recruiting company.

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Why did you originally get into teaching ESL?

During my senior year at university I was thinking about what I wanted to do after graduation. I studied abroad in Greece for a semester during school and really enjoyed the experience of living abroad. I wanted to try it again, but in a more in-depth way.

My university had an ESL program and partnership with schools in China, and so I decided to try it for a year. I didn’t study education and had never taught English before, but I had been a camp counselor for several years and loved it, so I thought it would be fun to try.

What did you love about teaching English in China?

Firstly, my students and the people I met. My students were so friendly and welcoming to me! My university students especially helped me adapt to China – they taught me new Chinese words, introduced me to Chinese foods, and explained many traditions.

I loved interacting with my students in the classroom, as well – you learn that things like laughter and joy aren’t restricted by language and culture. My students and I would make up funny games and little inside jokes together sometimes to overcome the language barrier.


While living in China I have made some incredible friends. Both Chinese and foreign, who have enriched my experience here. I also just enjoy the challenge of living in a very different country. I’ve grown more independent, tried many new things, and expanded my global perspective
and mindset.



Teaching English in China allowed me to step into a new world, gain experience teaching, and also travel more than I ever had before.

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Anything you struggle with since moving to China?

When I first moved to China, I lived in a small city for two years. The language barrier was a bit of a problem sometimes, especially when talking to taxi drivers or ordering at restaurants. Luckily, I had lots of older students who could speak English and help me translate! I also found
useful apps to help translate and navigate in China. Learning some basic Chinese also made daily life much easier.

One of the hardest parts of living in China is moving away from friends and family and your comfort zone. You’re away during holidays and big events back home and that can be difficult. But on the flip side, you build a new community of people. You meet so many people from all around the world that become like family and makes it easier to live abroad.

I also moved to China right after I graduated, so I experienced my first years in “adult life” in a foreign country. I negotiated contracts and rented my first apartment in China, and also moved to different cities by myself in China. It’s a bit different than doing all that in the U.S., but it helped me become very independent!

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Tell us about your new role, outside of teaching ESL

I work as the Digital Marketing and Social Media Coordinator for Career China and First Leap in Beijing. Career China is a recruiting company that helps people find a teaching job and transition into life in China. My role includes creating blogs, videos, and other digital content to help people who are interested in moving to China. Such as how to apply, what to pack, basic
Chinese, teaching tips, adapting to Chinese culture, awesome travel destinations, and more.

I didn’t know a lot of this information before I moved to China, so I love being able to help prepare new teachers before they arrive! It’s our goal to show that you can have an awesome and adventurous experience here. And can adapt to life in China, doing a lot of the same things you do back home, like going to the movies, meet new people, hanging out at pubs and
bars, etc.

I also work with current teachers in China and coordinate media partnerships with them – we create videos and blogs to share their stories and experiences in China.

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Do you think you’d be as personally, and professionally successful had you not moved to China?

I’m sure I would have grown professionally in my career field if I had stayed in the US. I had a marketing internship in the states, and had a job offer in that field after I graduated. But I decided not to pursue that route for the chance to move abroad, and moving to China has enriched my life in ways I never imagined.

Living abroad not only challenged me to grow individually but it also expanded my world view. As a teacher in China my leadership skills grew, I learned more about teaching and relating to people of all ages and different background. All those skills I learned from navigating a foreign country and teaching English have helped me both personally and professionally, and I believe they have strengthened my skills as a content creator and story teller. I’ve encountered so many unique people, and living here for 4 years I’ve developed new passions in life.

I think my experiences and opportunities would have been a bit
more limited and not as global if I had stayed in the states. I’ve also made connections with other people from all around the world – other teachers of
course, but also people in the same career field and people with similar hobbies and passions like traveling, bloggers, and digital nomads. We’ve been able to collaborate and share our China experiences in a unique way.

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Any advice for hopeful teachers looking to transition from teaching ESL abroad to other work?

Before I left to teach English some people were worried about how I would find a job in my career field afterwards. But my time spent teaching abroad was extremely valuable and gave me many transferable skills.

Take time while you’re abroad to pursue your passions and also explore new ones. I’ve always loved sharing stories and taking photos, and started a blog while I was abroad; first as a way to document my time in China and share it with friends and family back home, and then later to share actual traveling tips and experiences with people wanting to travel or teach in China.

I also was developing my social media platforms and connecting with other bloggers and travelers. These things helped me get connected with my current position. It made the transition from teaching ESL abroad easier. My experience teaching and traveling in China, as well as my experience with marketing and social media helped me get my current job. I also know other people who work as videographers, writers, recruiters, travel guides and also in international business so there are other opportunities besides teaching English! While teaching jobs are definitely more plentiful and easier to find, if you put in some work and seek out other positions, things will pop up, especially in bigger cities
like Beijing and Shanghai.

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How to survive as an ESL teacher when you aren’t a teacher

Any tips or suggestions for new aspiring teachers looking to come to China?

I know many people I’ve talked to are worried about moving to China because they don’t speak Chinese. They don’t have teaching experience, and are nervous about adapting to a new country. It’s natural to have those worries, but you’ve got to just make the leap and do it! You don’t need
to speak any Chinese and you’ll learn about teaching as you go – it sounds much scarier than it is!

The biggest challenge is taking that step to move here. Once you take the leap you’ll be rewarded with so many experiences you would never have back home. The biggest advice I can give for living in China is to keep an open mind and be willing to try new things – China will surprise you in the most extraordinary ways. It’s not the easiest country to transition to, but
moving to China is one of the best decisions I ever made. You’ll meet some of the most amazing people and travel to places you’ve never thought you’d see (or never even heard of before!)

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The complete guide to teaching ESL abroad in China

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