7 Reasons to Attend English Language Teaching Conferences Abroad

International ELT lecturer Tim Thompson, fresh off his return from the TESOL Arabia conference, tells teachers why they should participate in English teaching conferences too. 

Whether you are looking for a new opportunity or hoping to branch out where you are, attending, presenting at, and ultimately organizing international conferences are an excellent opportunity to improve yourself and your career in ELT. In addition to teaching English at a university in Korea, I've spoken at conferences in Korea (KOTESOL), Japan (JALT), Russia (FEELTA), Taiwan (ETA-ROC), and the United Arab Emirates (TESOL Arabia). I strongly suggest that ESL and EFL teachers attend and present at an overseas conference for seven main reasons:

Tim Thompson

Tim Thompson speaking at a recent TESOL Arabia conference in Dubai on the importance of helping students gain practical experience through project work.

1. Networking
One bit of advice that professors should impart to their students is that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Making contacts with publishers, educational materials vendors, department heads, and big-name educators from around the world can open up doors for you. You never know when you might need help finding a contributor to the magazine you have been tasked with editing or finding the right textbook for your department. You might help organize a conference and be asked to recommend a plenary speaker. I spoke with the program chair of the conference and asked for input to help with my duties as the program chair for the KOTESOL International Conference in Seoul this October. People feel more comfortable dealing with people they know and a great place to meet these movers and shakers in our industry face to face is at an international conference.

Thamer, Al-Hassan, Burj,

The tallest building in the world - for now - the Burj Kalifa in Dubai. Photo by Thamer Al-Hassan /CC.

2. Job Hunting
You don’t have to be searching for a job to appreciate the benefits that job centers at international conferences have to offer. Not only will you learn about opportunities in the area, including average salaries, working hours, and benefits; you also learn what types of positions new people to the region qualify for. Many employers in the Middle East value experience in the region and getting your first job there will invariably be more difficult than landing your second one. Apply for jobs whether you want them or not and use any interviews you get to polish your interview skills and learn about what that employer’s expectations are. You might get a job offer you didn’t expect or you might gain a deeper appreciation for the job you already have. In any case, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

3. Professional Development
Some employers might appreciate seeing that you attend international conferences on your CV. After all, you should be learning something while you are there. Even if you only attend a few sessions, it’s possible to talk shop while having a coffee or a drink in the bar. Presenting at a conference also looks good on your CV since you were required to put in a proposal which was selected and you spoke to a group of your colleagues from around the world. You should be learning more about your craft while attending these conferences and this leads me to my next reason.

4. Classroom Ideas and Resources
When there are fifteen or more concurrent sessions at a large, international conference you are virtually guaranteed to find something that will interest you every hour. Not every session will be a winner or will deliver what was promised but presenters will often have a unique point of view and talk about something that you may not have thought of or considered for your classroom. Presentations often feature the latest technology while some teachers favor a back-to-basics approach. Whatever skill you feel might be your weakness, there’s a session for that. You are bound to leave the conference with a few more tools in your toolbox no matter how much teaching experience you have.

Burj Ticket

Tim's ticket up the Burj.

5. Teaching Points
If you teach presentation skills you can use what you observed as a speaker and an audience member as teaching points in your class. “When I was speaking in Dubai, I noticed…” might seem more motivating to your students than “On page 36, the author mentions…” when teaching how to hook an audience. If you have an interview, you can use that experience to add more authentic feedback when you teach job interview skills. Even something as simple as adding an anecdote from your trip to a foreign country can add some spice to the reading passage in your textbook about that country.

6. International Understanding
If you teach students from different parts of the world, it is very helpful to have some first-hand knowledge of their culture. For instance, at TESOL Arabia, I found myself chatting with some female students from a university in the Emirates who had attended my presentation. As the conference was wrapping up and we were saying goodbye I reached out to shake hands. The first student’s arm did not move but her eyes widened noticeably. “Oh, I’m sorry”, I muttered. She quickly replied, “I can’t do that, but I’d like to take a picture with you.” Learning what was ok and what was not in that part of the world was an eye-opening experience.

Students respond positively when you tell them you have been in or near their country of origin. I have taught many students from the Middle East but had never been there before. I now feel like I can understand how they like to study and what motivates them in the classroom after listening to and talking with teachers and students from that region. The more regions I visit, the more students I can reach on a personal level.

Flight Path

Travelling the world one conference at a time. Photo by Tim Thompson.

7. Travel Opportunities
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the opportunity to see the sights. My trip to Dubai was my first time to visit the Middle East, something I never thought I would have the opportunity to do when I was younger. Sessions started at 9am and finished around 6pm but I was still able to visit the tallest building in the world and enjoy Dubai’s beautiful night views. I walked around the old market area and ate an authentic kebab at a small restaurant. I went with some friends to an area of town I had never heard of and sampled food at several ethnic restaurants. It was a wonderful trip in addition to an excellent conference.

Involvement in teaching conferences around the world has many advantages. You might be very attracted to what you see, hear, and experience or you may gain a deeper appreciation for the situation you are currently in. Improve yourself. Improve your career. Attend a conference and see the world.

Check out TESOL International Association's Worldwide Calendar of Events for dates and locations of conferences around the world.

And if you enjoyed this article, you will probably like Tim's previous article: How to Teach Job Interview Skills: An ESL/EFL Lesson Plan

Tim Thompson

Tim Thompson teaches graduate and undergraduate presentation skills courses at KAIST. He served as the national coordinator for KTT (KOTESOL Teacher Trainers) and is the Program Chair for this year’s KOTESOL International Conference. He can be reached at thompson@kaist.ac.kr.
This entry was posted in Blog, Career Advice on by .

About Tim Thompson

Tim Thompson teaches graduate and undergraduate presentation skills courses at KAIST. He served as the national coordinator for KTT (KOTESOL Teacher Trainers) and is the Program Chair for this year’s KOTESOL International Conference. He can be reached at thompson@kaist.ac.kr.

One thought on “7 Reasons to Attend English Language Teaching Conferences Abroad

  1. BenSL

    Great points. I lived in Korea for two years and really got so much out of the conferences I went to (KOTESOL and AsiaTefl).

Comments are closed.