Teaching Music Abroad: Adventure, Culture and More

My wife and I are music teachers who have been teaching music abroad for several years. We have taught in a bomb shelter in Uganda; have worked in Caracas (where we also saw street riots); have conducted a concert under frangipani and coconut trees in Sri Lanka; and are currently preparing a concert in a Buddhist temple here in Yangon, where we now work at the International School of Myanmar.

by Thomas J. Stief

Are you seeking a sense of adventure? A yearning to experience different cultures, to meet new people, and to see a different side of nature? Do you have a feeling that there is a whole wide world out there to be discovered?  This kind of mindset, along with a sense of humor, flexibility, and the ability to meet new challenges, is a good starting point if you’re interested in teaching music abroad.

Requirements

International schools will typically require a BA and a US teaching certificate for prospective teachers. Usually, they’ll offer renewable 2-year contracts, housing, health insurance, visa assistance, and a set number of personal/sick leave days.

Getting Hired

Schools often hire through job fairs and ads, and more and more via Skype interviews.

TIE, ISS , SEARCH and CIS (see links in sidebar) are some of the organizations international schools use for recruitment purposes. While prospective teachers may go through one of these, often the application process is independently initiated by the candidate.

Some teachers stay in international education for one contract, some for the remainder of their teaching careers. Some stay in one school, some move through a number of countries and schools.

What to Expect

International faculties tend to be a mix of all age groups and often many different nationalities. Schools will typically have inservice programs that may include activities and workshops related to curriculum, assessment, and day-to-day operations. The culture and customs of the host country are also introduced. Most schools will operate a professional development program throughout the year via professional development days. The teaching language is almost exclusively English. However, English is often the students’ second or third language.

You’ll want to be able to teach many different elements of music, and be able to “sell” and run a whole music program. Also plan to hone your diplomatic and organizational skills. It is very important to be able to think on your feet and to be creative as well as proactive — in your work life and outside of school.

You may find facilities and a program that match your preferences and strengths, but more likely, you will find yourself building, revamping and/or developing a program that will match the needs of the students, school and the community, and that will incorporate your personal strengths.

Getting Acclimated

Living and working in a new host country is both a blessing and a challenge. There are as many different circumstances and challenges as there are international schools! Researching ahead of time, observing and listening without judging, and staying curious and open-minded all will go a long way towards a smooth transition and laying the groundwork for a satisfying experience. Be ready for new customs, foods, religions, climate, and nature — and differences in how music and even teachers are appreciated.

One of the best administrators we have ever worked for asked us during the interview: “And what do you do in your spare time?” More important than you might imagine is to have an “outside life,” especially when you live in a completely different culture, thousands of miles away from home and family. Some musicians join or start a choir or a local/expat group of musicians, or play in a local jazz club. I write music when I get inspired and am not out exploring.


Thomas J. Stief is a musician, composer and educator who, with his wife Barbara, currently lives and works in Yangon, Myanmar. He received his training at the Richard Strauss Conservatory in Munich, Germany and the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS. He and his wife have performed concert tours as soloists and chamber musicians and have worked as music instructors for international schools in many different parts of the world.

Comments

  1. Ben

    I really want to teach Choir in Italy. I am currently getting my undergraduate degree in Music Education with a vocal concentration. I am also getting a minor in Italian. What else should I do to prepare myself teaching abroad? Are there certain things I can do now to put on my resume which would separate me from my competition?
    Thanks!

    • We suggest you contact the organizations listed in the sidebar on this article since they are directly involved in the hiring process. We think they’d be able to give you the most useful answers to your questions.

  2. Fabien

    Will a ABRSM diploma suffice to teach cello or music theory for 1 to grade 5?

    I already have extensive teaching experience in my home country for the listed grade range.

    Thank you

    Fabien

  3. Laura

    Teaching and learning from students. That’s the pleasure that makes the work and planning and preparing very worth it. I would enjoy teaching elementary students in rural settings in Europe , Great Britain , or possibly South Korea. I’m married and have been teaching private piano for 20 years and public school music through guitar, recorder, rhythm , and class piano for 12 years. Yes and choir…..all elementary.

  4. Kristin

    I was pursuing a career in Voice Studies at a Conservatory in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is a 6 year program that at the end gives you a “Profesorado”, or a national qualification to be a music professor. Is this good enough/ valid to teach music abroad?? Also, what about those coming to the United States? I am a citizen but my husband is Argentine and we both want to travel and teach in the world.

    • We suggest you contact the organizations mentioned in this article to see whether your credentials will be useful for the type of positions you’ll be seeking. As for teaching in the US, you’ll need to find out whether your education/training matches the requirements at the institutions where you wish to teach. Note that in the US, at K-12 public schools, field experience and state licensure is required and at most colleges and universities, a doctorate has become fairly standard. If you are interested in teaching in the US on the college level, you may find useful information on the College Music Society website.

  5. David

    I’ve noticed that you’ve listed a Bachelor of Arts degree as requirement to teach music abroad. Will somebody still be eligible to teach abroad with a Bachelor of Music and an American teacher certification?

    • MajoringInMusic

      It is likely that these credentials will work. Check out the websites of the organizations mentioned in this article in the right-hand sidebar and talk with recruiters at these organizations to learn more specifically what they’re looking for in the international music educators they hire.

  6. Dylan

    What is the starting salary, and are you required to have special training of any kind? Or are there any kinds of special tests that you have to take to become a certified music teacher?

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