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Why and How to Get ESL Teaching Jobs Abroad as an Older Woman

Donna making friends with kids during teaching and travel in Nicaragua.
Donna making friends with kids during teaching and travel in Nicaragua.

Teaching Traveling: Welcome to world traveler, teacher, and author, Donna Morang, who is here to prove that you can (and should!) travel at any age!

Take it away, Donna.

Donna: My background is a little bizarre due to my age: sixty-eight. I have had several professions and business adventures. Born and raised on a ranch in Montana, I was sort of a Tom-boy so many of my occupations were a little weird for a woman, but I loved them all.

I began a career as a hair-stylist, became a farmer/rancher, house painter, boat painter, carpenter, sheet-rocker, potter, glass artist, and then the owner/artist of a couple of art galleries.

I also bought a one-hundred-year old house and restored it. Drawing on my past skills I was able to do the work myself.

When my old house was restored and my art gallery was finally making a profit, my daughter sent me a magazine aptly named Transition Abroad. I took one look at it and knew I had found my life calling. This magazine changed my life.

It was filled with advertisements for ESL schools, and articles of teaching abroad. I immediately applied to an ESL school in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and was accepted. I closed my art gallery, rented my house, and left for Mexico, all done in six weeks.

Donna, happily fishing in Thailand.
Donna, happily fishing in Thailand.

This was in 2000, and I celebrated my fifty-seventh birthday the first week of class. I was definitely older than all the other students; in fact, I was older than all the teachers. I’m quite sure those students questioned what I was doing there, and I had a few doubts myself.

The second week of class, we were to use our newly learned teaching skills on real-live Mexican students. This group of fifty students was to choose their teacher. I was sure no one would want the older-lady instead of all the cute young girls, but shocking to me, many of these students chose me.

Later, when I knew my students better they told me, “You were older, so we knew you would be the best.”

I have found that in many countries, they highly honor older people, so this was never a problem or a concern after that one insecure feeling.

TT: Wonderful! What did you do after you earned your certification in teaching ESL?

D: As soon as graduation was completed, I caught a bus to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, simply because it sounded like a very cool place. There were only two ESL schools there, and I was lucky enough to secure a four-hour-a-day teaching job with one of them.

With ladies at the bustling market of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
With ladies at the bustling market of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

At that time, I been teaching for a month when the owner of the school asked me to open another school. I’m not sure who was crazier, him or me, but I did it… and what a lesson it was! I’m sure I learned more than the students. This school was in a pueblo, where I was the only non-Mexican in town, and yet after only one week, the entire town felt like my enlarged family.

TT: You started a language school in Mexico?! Wow! What did you do next, and what’s your secret to getting ESL teaching jobs?

D: Since those first crazy months in Mexico, I have continued to jump from country to country, and have usually been lucky finding wonderful teaching experiences. I have spent time researching teaching jobs on the inter-net and applying, with very little success. I think this may have been due to my age.

Triumphantly holding a lobster in Thailand.
Triumphantly holding a massive lobster in Thailand.

However, I have had great success just showing-up in a country with my resume in hand, going to various schools that the local people recommended, making an appointment, and successfully landing a job.

This in-hand resume has been successful in several Mexico schools, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Colombia. I did interview in Seattle, Washington for a job in Vietnam, and spent several years there, and loved every moment of this amazing experience.

TT: That is excellent advice to apply for these jobs in person. I’ve seen it work over and over, though many people don’t think it will! Tell us more about your job in Vietnam.

D: My students from Vietnam were young men working for Vietnam Airlines. They all needed to pass the SLEP exam to enter an aviation program in Seattle. With great success, we sent over one-hundred students to Seattle.

I have to say this was one of the best highlights of my teaching career. To see these boys, many who had never meet an English speaking person, become confident and well spoken young men able to pass the SLEP, was to me like receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

These young men became my family away from home, and today many of them still keep in contact with me.

TT: Excellent advice. Many people don’t realize how many jobs there are teaching English to airline employees. So, how has teaching and traveling changed you?

Donna saw this giant Buddha in Thailand. Where will YOU go?
Donna saw this giant Buddha in Thailand. Where will YOU go?

D: I know that teaching and traveling in other countries has changed the way I perceive everything.

I have never traveled to a country I didn’t grow to love and respect. I believe that each of us can change the views of the world.

We can befriend a culture that has no reason to welcome us with open arms, and come away with mutual respect and love.

Teaching ESL, you can change the world, one word at a time.

I feel so strongly about the benefits of traveling and teaching that I wrote a book about my experiences. Big Backpack—Little World can be found on Amazon.

I think this book will give any teacher or a person looking for a new direction in life, a valid look at what can happen.

This and more is possible for you, and if a woman at my age can do it and have that much fun, what are YOU waiting for?

TT: Thanks so much for this inspirational interview, Donna! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for Donna?


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Tuesday 15th of January 2019

Hello all! I feel I am esteemed company here. I am humbly asking for any advice you can offer to me. I am an experienced teacher (music education) since 1990, through my own private music studio and then beginning in 2007 in private and public schools as a certified teacher. After surviving brain cancer in 2017, I embarked on a new journey to teach English to refugees in a Resettlement Program- as a volunteer. This led me to ask around to local public school districts and I was able to substitute for them in their ESL programs for adults. I have since completed the Trinity certTTESOL and it was a life changing experience. I was hooked. More recently I have been sending out resumes to Asian and Latin American countries. I am getting very few bites, to the point that I’m wondering if it may not be possible for me. I’m so disheartened and discouraged. I bring so much creativity, passion, devotion to students which I’ve proven time and again in my experience teaching students of all ages. I am not in a position to fly all over the world to each country and figure out where to go with my boots on the ground. Please offer me insight. What am I doing wrong? I am 52 years old but young looking, lots of energy and an attractive face. I’d like to think it’s not all about that. Seems that maybe experience is working against me. Thanks so much for any advice you can share with me. Namaste, Jane

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 15th of January 2019

Jane, thank you for sharing your powerful story! I am hoping that readers can chime in with some advice, but also want to make sure you've seen the following interviews about getting jobs abroad over 50: . It can be done, and learners around the world need you!


Tuesday 29th of May 2018

Hi Donna! Your book arrived today. It's burning a hole in the bedside table. I'm 55, laid off from book publishing career recently, kids grown, parent care organized, and ready for a new path, new place. Finally. I've an honors degree, post-graduate certificate in publishing, and years of management experience, including teaching copy editing and project management in various locations in India. I'd love to go back to Thailand (spent 3 months there in my twenties) but am put off by ageist comments on blogs. Vietnam sounds wonderful. Would you recommend a place I should go to get TEFL certification? Your experience in Mexico sounded attractive (if a little scary!). I was raised and educated in Dublin, Ireland, so have dual citizenship, if that helps.

donna morang

Tuesday 29th of May 2018

Hi Maura, It sounds like you have had a great life and should fit in nicely teaching ESL. I have been gone from Vietnam for quite awhile so I'm not sure I can be of much help, but when I was in HCMC there was a very good TEFL program and also in Hanoi. I think anywhere you receive a certificate you will be good to go. I do not recommend an online course as it may not be accepted by every school. I wish you good luck and a great experience. Oh, about age, it does present a problem for some but I always did a personal interview instead of sending applications that way they knew what they would be getting. You will read about what one of my students thought one the first day--and then later. Age, just think young.

Greg P

Wednesday 29th of November 2017

It is good to read all of the positive comments. After planning a trip of a lifetime (for me) to China in 2014. I decided I needed a change and I decided to teach Chinese abroad to spend more time in China learning about the culture, people, and language. So, at the age of 56, I quit my job as an Educational Technologist with a Master's in Education. Signed up for 120 hour TESL class and away I went.

I did encounter ageism in China because there is lots of pressure on Chinese schools to maintain "Face" so they prefer white, younger teachers. But, I persisted and ended up teaching for several private schools and training centers in Zhuhai, China.

I found the kids to be lovely. The younger ones were so enthusiastic, middle school great, teenagers challenging haha. I was flexible, hard working, never miss any classes due to illness *so important*.

Unfortunately, I believe things are changing recently. More restrictions, changing cultural norms, etc. and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. For example, shifting demands, indicate that younger, american certified teacher receive the best opportunities.

Also, I was unlucky as several schools I chose were dishonest and this presented some problems as they attempted to exploit me.

Discouraged. I decided to return home for 6 months to re-group. While I love China and the people I met. I find it difficult to return because I will be 60 soon. The corruption crackdown, the new visa process (points system), makes working past the mandatory China retirement age of 60 less of a possibility. Schools hiring people 60 and over are technically breaking the rules.

Now, I feel that my enthusiasm is returning. I am inspired to write more about my experiences there and share with others what I've learned. Also, I think I'd like to explore other cultures and countries. I am hopeful after learning about others success in Vietnam or possibly Latin America.

Finally, I may reach out to the school where I earned my TESL certificate and ask for recommendations.

I think many of us are kindred spirits here, open to life, adventure, growth, etc.. I am not ready for retirement. I feel like I have a second career of 30 years ahead of me and I want to make it matter!!

Leeza Silverman

Saturday 26th of August 2017

Age discrimination is a huge issue. I was forced into early retirement from my career. I am now loving travelling and teaching English. But age is still a huge issue. The first question you get asked is your age and they want a copy of your passport so they can also age discriminate. So whilst I am not ageist and not interested in such conversations as I believe I should be judged on my ability age is constantly thrown in my face. Asia is hugely ageist. The misconception being they value age. Not true 1. they look at your face not your CV and skills I'm frequently told I'm beautiful. Kind of insulting considering the swathe of degrees I hold 2. they age discriminate and over 40 its difficult to get a fair go. Truth. Have been living and working in China 3 years and know most of South East Asia. Korea and Japan even more ageist.


Saturday 26th of August 2017

Leeza, do you have any experience with Vietnam? based on Donna's comments it sounds quite open to older teachers compared to other Asian countries.


Saturday 26th of August 2017

Thank you for sharing your experiences and insight, Leeza. Sending good vibes, and wishes for respect and honor!


Friday 10th of March 2017

Hi Donna

I started teaching English in Turkey at the age of 52 years old. I stayed there for 6 years and am now in Spain. In Turkey age is respected and even now I can easily get a job there but the current political climate makes it not a choice place to be. Here in Spain I have realised that they do prefer the young teachers and it is getting harder to find work. I'm almost 60 now and know that my chances here in Spain are getting slimmer. But reading your story I might look at Central and South America. At least I have a bit of Spanish now. Great interview Donna and I wish you all the best.


Sunday 12th of March 2017

Matilda, are you British? Just curious as to how you got into Spain...

They've always preferred young teachers, but these days they might also be making an extra effort on their behalf. Unemployment is hitting the young there, it seems, more than older folks.

Wishing you well either there or in Latin America. :-)

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