Culturally Responsive Teaching: Tips for Teaching Abroad

Teaching abroad is really exciting – you get wrapped up in what to pack, update your passport, and start drafting up your travel bucket list. With all of your to-dos it may be easy to forget what you are really heading abroad for – to teach! Of course you know that culture and life will be different abroad than at home, but have you really processed that? Have you done your research about the cultural norms in your new city? Informing yourself before you depart will not make you just a good teacher, but a culturally responsive teacher.


Researching the culture is crucial before stepping into the classroom on day one:

  • Can you wear shoes inside?
  • Do you shake hands or bow to greet your colleagues?
  • Are students encouraged to listen quietly or engage in conversations?
  • What’s the proper attire?
  • Are there political boundaries you should try to deviate from?

A North American or Western upbringing has given you different cultural norms than those who have grown up in other parts of the world. It’s time to adapt so that you can be a culturally responsive teacher.

Here’s an example of my rookie mistake. When I taught abroad in South Korea I wrote my name in red on the board when introducing myself. “No big deal,” I thought. Well, that was wrong. I immediately learned from a few eight year olds to never write anyone’s name in red, because it’s really bad luck. Oops! I learned quickly that I needed to do a bit more research on where I was living to be a more culturally sensitive teacher.


For those of you who have taught in the States or a Western country, you’ll need to erase your classroom preconceptions and adapt your teaching methods if you’re heading for the Middle East or Asia. Put yourself in the students’ shoes. What do the students, kiddos or adults, want to talk about? What do they find fascinating about their own pop culture, history, food, national heroes, sports, or important holidays? Be sensitive to what may be inappropriate and stay away from hot button issues that may get you in trouble. Do you really think they would care about American political rants (no thanks) or the religion that you grew up in? Probably not. Do they want to share with you their favorite sports or pop stars? Maybe!

Not only can your students help you brainstorm key topics for lesson plans, but they can be your best teachers on learning about their culture.


Ask students what they like. Monitor their classroom behavior to see how they learn and respond while in class.

You can:

  • Post a calendar with national holidays throughout the academic year.
  • Have a cooking class with food the students like (or add in food from around the world).
  • Have students plan a festival with their favorite bands.
  • Have students create an itinerary of their dream vacation.
  • Pair up older students to do mock interviews for a job they want.
  • And lots more. Just keep it all very student centered and you’ll be on the road to success.

Add in games, music, acting, writing, speaking, singing, dancing, and even some friendly competitions to keep the classroom fun and engaging.


It’s important to be a culturally responsive teacher because it will not only enhance the ability for your students to truly learn in a setting that is appropriate for them, but it will also make you a more respectable teacher. Win-win for everyone! Students may not retain English if all of your lessons are relevant to the culture that you have been brought up with. Yes, they may inquire about your favorite holidays or assume you just gobble McDonald’s all day while listening to Taylor Swift on repeat. But keep a balance of offering both your interests while asking about theirs.

Whether you’re fresh out of college or are a seasoned classroom teacher, it’s going to take some preparation to be a culturally responsive teacher. Students will be expecting to learn from you, but keep in mind you’ll be learning a lot too! As a culturally responsive teacher you’ll build a great classroom environment and be able to engage learners in a way that is completely unique for them and have a much more rewarding experience overseas.


Written by Lauren Kubik

Useful Resources for Teaching Abroad

We want you to succeed. We want you to have the experience of a lifetime, teaching in places around the world! To help you along your journey, we have curated some helpful resources below:

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