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Is ESL work a good gateway to humanitarian work?

October 12, 2015

Q. Hi Nick,

Do you think that working overseas as an ESL teacher has any potential as a gateway to humanitarian work? I know that many people take assignments in populous cities and well-developed countries due to more attractive pay, but I am interested in less populous destinations that are faced with greater challenges. I am a registered nurse, but to be entirely honest, I loathe the medical profession, and I don’t think using something I detest as a potential in for a new career is a very good way to start things off. However, do you think it possible that my knowledge could have applications in the humanitarian world outside of primary care provision?

I would like to make it clear that I am not specifically interested in starting a career in relief and development, which appears to be your area of expertise, so I apologize if my question falls outside the scope of your experience. I think that a non-profit or NGO organization with any humanitarian agenda would be a satisfactory starting point for me, and I am especially concerned about social and economic justice and challenges facing women and children. Do you think any of the above could be useful toward this end?

I appreciate any input you may have! Thank you for maintaining this informative site!


A. Hi Diana,

Glad you liked he site – by the way – buying (or rating and reviewing) my ebook on Amazon
is a great way to support this blog! First off – it’s a real shame that you are not interested in medical work, since experienced nurses are in demand for humanitarian postings. But, the heart wants what it wants I suppose – the only thing that I would say is that once you have some field experience under your belt it’s not that hard to switch streams into general project management. You might want to think about whether you could tolerate working as a nurse for a year or so to kick-start your career.

If not, then frankly, I don’t think that working as an ESL teacher is a good way to get experience. In general this is looked on by humanitarian agencies as being a little too mainstream for their tastes, and rarely gives them the comfort that you can navigate the kinds of challenges that you will confront in aid work contexts.

Sorry to be a downer!

Best of luck, Nick


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