Teaching in Other Countries: What Does It Take?

Feb 01, 2002

Q:I would love to travel to other countries, teaching fitness classes as I go. I’ve heard of so many instructors who have done this that I know it is possible. But I’m not sure where to begin. What does it entail besides having experience, strong teaching skills and a good fitness knowledge base? I would be grateful for any advice you can offer!

Lawrence Biscontini, MA, Puerto Rico

To be marketable internationally, you should be currently certified and be a provider for as many international organizations as possible (e.g., AFAA, ACSM, ACE, SCW-EDU, AEA, etc.). Begin by contacting these organizations for possible contacts in other countries who have expressed repeated interest in importing fitness personalities to conduct training. Be aware that the more versatile you are, the better chance you have.

Use reputable Web sites, like www.IDEAfit.com, to search for international fitness facilities. Other great places to start are Web sites for the leading hotels in foreign countries that have a strong fitness clientele—sites like Hilton.com and Hyatt.com.

Develop an electronic press kit that can be e-mailed. Send this information to different club directors in the countries of your interest. Then follow up with a cover letter “selling” your workshops and master classes. State your goal to guest teach for a specific period, and describe what you can provide in terms of cutting-edge trends and education, for both instructors and members. Be prepared to back up all your programs with current, published research, as this further justifies importing someone from far away instead of merely hiring someone in the same town solely for choreography.

Always look to your own tax lawyers to provide realistic information about international laws that govern working legally in the countries of your choice. A professional and prudent instructor travels and teaches in accordance with all governing local and country laws.

Pam Cosmi, MA, USA

Many gyms are open to guest teachers. The challenge lies in establishing contact with these gyms. To my knowledge, no network exists that matches guest instructors with gyms on a global scale. Most instructors who have successfully landed an international position have done so by knowing another instructor/ presenter who has traveled and could make a recommendation for them. Most of these people seem to be concentrated in the world’s “fitness belts,” which in the United States would mean New York, Southern California and perhaps Miami.

If you are from a small town like Royal Oak, Michigan (my birthplace), and you have aspirations to travel and teach, it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible, either. Start by going to international conferences and taking classes from foreign presenters. You will get a good idea of what is going on in their countries and what may be expected of you. After the classes, approach the presenters and ask for a card. This will allow you to establish relationships first—the key to making any headway. Don’t pounce on anyone. Be considerate.

Make plans to travel to the country of your choice and prepare to take some classes. This may seem like a very expensive approach, but it has been the one many of us have had to take. (Keep in mind that international teaching is not a moneymaker in the beginning—and it becomes moderate at best after that.) Visit as many gyms as possible and talk to the staff. Once they see you, they’ll probably take you more seriously. E-mailing and faxing beforehand may not produce much of a response.

Once you have taken several classes at a gym that appeals to you, honestly ask yourself if you would feel comfortable teaching to these participants. If so, try to speak to the gym owner about opportunities there. When discussing your qualifications, remember to stress your level of education. In larger cities in Western Europe, the education standard is quite high. Do not make the mistake of underestimating what people will expect of you.

If it’s your first time teaching internationally, don’t expect a master class fee. Depending on the country, instructors may make as little as $2 an hour or up to $60 an hour. It’s based on the cost of living. Let the gym owners decide the fee.

If you can’t negotiate an agreement with a gym owner, contact instructors or presenters in the country you’re visiting and ask if they would be interested in consulting with you for a fee. Take a business card and set up some time via the phone or arrange a visit. Be ready with a tape of your class. Ask them to review your skills and give you honest feedback for improvement.

What are international gyms looking for? Be prepared to emphasize your powerful building skills, great posture, strong presence, professional appearance and respect for “their” way of teaching. An instructor who smiles, is energetic and fun and has the gift of motivation will appeal to exercisers anywhere in the world.

Understanding the culture of the country is also very important. Here are some hard-and-fast rules:

  • Mediterranean and Latin American countries negotiate; many others do not. If you say no to an opportunity, don’t expect another offer.

  • Punctuality and honesty are important, especially in Northern Europe. No-shows are not tolerated.

  • Teaching methodologies (specifically choreography building and breakdown) are extremely advanced in Western Europe, Australia and much of Latin America—much more so than in the U.S. These regions are ahead of us, so be prepared to learn from them.

  • Training intensity is valued in the U.S., Brazil and the East, but many other countries are more fixed on moderate training. If you try to impress participants by kicking their tails, people may walk out.

  • Although most exercisers around the world understand English cues, use cue signs and don’t talk too much. While Americans prefer verbal cuing, participants in other countries may consider it nagging.

  • In Western Europe, there are more job opportunities for male fitness professionals, so, ladies, don’t be surprised if you have to work a little harder.

  • For anyone planning to study a language, it is possible to study and teach at the same time. In fact, many people will be open to your attempts if they know you are there learning their language.

Ananda Nel, South Africa

Yes, instructors from abroad can teach in South Africa at any gym or health club. And once here, they may be asked to present at a fitness convention or continuing education event— provided they have the required qualifications. Here are some guidelines for instructors wanting to teach in South Africa.

First, be prepared to be flexible with your fee expectations. For example, the organization I am affiliated with, the International Institute for Sport Science and Fitness Training: South Africa (IIFT), typically pays $25 for a lecturer who presents at our conventions and offers CECs.

In general, foreign instructors will have a greater chance for success in our country if the following are true:

  • They already have international standing or experience.

  • The professional fees they charge are reasonable.

  • They have handouts for their workshops or lectures.

  • The CECs they award are internationally acceptable and approved by IIFT.

  • They are able to use English as the instructing medium.

The two main gyms in South Africa are American Health and Fitness and Virgin Active. Our country certainly has many other smaller or independent gyms, health clubs, spas and institutions. But try the bigger facilities first. Good luck!

IDEA Fitness Edge, Volume 2003, Issue 1

© 2002 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.