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Specialist FAQs

In addition to browsing the frequently asked questions answered in this section, applicants can contact specialist@elprograms.org with questions at any time.

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No. Applicants to the Specialist Program must be U.S. citizens. English Language Programs is a U.S. Department of State funded cultural exchange program designed to improve English teaching capacity around the world and contribute to mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people abroad.

Yes. Applicants with dual citizenship can apply to the Specialist Program as long as the United States is one of their countries of citizenship.

Yes. A conferred graduate level degree in TESOL, applied linguistics, or a related field to English language teaching is required to apply to the Specialist Program. Rare exceptions are made when an applicant demonstrates extensive qualifications in an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) content area.

Specialists have a strong background in ESL/EFL methods and teaching and are leaders in the field of TESOL. Most Specialists also have expertise in a few specific areas within ESL/EFL like English for Specific Purposes (ESP), and  experience living and teaching abroad that includes teacher training. It is common for Specialists to have a PhD or EdD.

There is no age limit for applicants to the Specialist Program. Note that while age will not preclude you from consideration for the program, it may prevent you from being considered for certain projects due to visa or other restrictions in the host country.

The program does not provide any foreign language training or financial subsidies to offset the cost of language training. Language skills beyond English are not required to apply to the program, but they can be helpful for projects in certain regions. You should list any languages spoken, and to what degree, in your application.

Language skills beyond English are not required to apply to the program. While speaking another language can be beneficial in certain regions, it does not increase your chances of placement in a certain country due to knowing the local language. You should list any languages spoken and level of proficiency, in your application.

Applicants to the Specialist Program should provide evidence of qualities such as flexibility, adaptability, resourcefulness, and a high tolerance for ambiguity. Serving as a Specialist involves demanding work, often in challenging and unpredictable situations. Specialists are successful when they can adjust to a different culture and level of material comfort, as well as ever-changing social and political climates. Additionally, project descriptions that are available during the selection process are subject to change and may differ from the needs of the partnering organization once the Specialist begins work.

There is no deadline; Specialist applications are accepted year round.

If you are an applicant that has not been selected to another English Language Programs project in the past, you can apply to more than one program at the same time, but you are encouraged to apply only to the program(s) for which you are qualified.  

If you decide that applying to more than one program is appropriate, simply follow the links to each individual application in the English Language Programs Portal to complete the required information.

Refer to the eligibility overview of the program in which you are interested in applying to determine your eligibility.

The Specialist Program application does not include a space to indicate regional and/or project preferences. Project matches are made when there is a professional fit between your qualifications and the needs of the project. Further, due to the highly competitive pool of candidates, as well as the fast-paced nature of the program, those candidates who are willing to be matched to a project anywhere in the world are much more likely to be matched.

When applying, you can indicate your availability for virtual and/or in-country projects. 

If you have been accepted into the available candidate pool, you are encouraged to update your application semi-annually, with particular emphasis on your availability for in-country, virtual, and/or mixed projects. This better helps the program to match projects to your schedule. However, due to the highly competitive pool of candidates, as well as the fast-paced nature of the program, those candidates who are willing to be matched to any type of project are much more likely to be matched.

The CV is the cornerstone of a Specialist Program application, and should present your career in a way that is easy to read and showcases both the broad scope of your skills (for more general projects) and your specific areas of expertise (for projects that require a high degree of specialized knowledge).

There is no need to condense your CV to just one or two pages. You are encouraged to expand your CV beyond two pages in order to show the full breadth of your expertise. Please include as many details about your work history as possible. This includes, but is not limited to: job duties, presentations, publications, and areas of expertise. The more information you provide the better the program can use that information to match you to potential projects.

The program does not automatically contact the references listed in a Specialist Program application. However, references are required in order to show a dedication and commitment to the field of English language teaching, and the program reserves the right to contact references if questions arise regarding your eligibility or qualifications.

Once an application is submitted to the program, it is reviewed for completeness and eligibility, and to identify evidence of the experience and qualities the program looks for in Specialists. 

Applicants that meet the program’s requirements are placed into the available candidate pool for consideration to be matched to a project.

You will be notified by email when a determination is made regarding eligibility and whether you are placed into the available candidate pool for matching to a project. If you are matched to a potential project, you will be notified by email to assess your interest and availability.

Once the application eligibility review begins, you should allow up to four weeks for it to be conducted. You can also track the status of your application review online, by logging in to the English Language Programs Portal.

Details on each of the phases of the review and selection process (eligibility review, matching, and selection) can be found here.

No. Applications that are moved to the available candidate pool are considered eligible to be matched to a project, but being placed into the available candidate pool does not guarantee a match to or selection for a project.

Details on each of the phases of the review and selection process (eligibility review, matching, and selection), can be found here.

Candidates will remain in the available candidate pool indefinitely unless they choose to withdraw their applications. As such, those in the available candidate pool are strongly encouraged to ensure that their credentials and availability are kept up-to-date in their application. Those with the most up-to-date and detailed credentials are the most likely to be matched to projects, as the number of highly qualified candidates in the pool far exceeds the number of projects that run each year.

There are many candidates in the pool who meet and exceed the minimum eligibility requirements, and many more candidates than there are projects each year. 

Each project requires a specific skillset, so the more you can distinguish yourself by providing detailed information about the breadth and depth of your expertise, the better. You are strongly encouraged to update your CV and current availability in your application as often as needed.

If you decide to withdraw from consideration for a specific project, or, if you are matched to a project but then not selected by the U.S. Embassy for that project, your application will be placed back into the available candidate pool. It is not possible to predict if and when you may be contacted for another project.

No. Specialist projects require that you can commit to the full schedule as presented during the matching process.

Sometimes, a project start date will be flexible, and candidates may discuss schedule modifications with the hosting U.S. Embassy during the interview.

Your application will automatically go back into the available candidate pool after the completion of a project. However, because the Specialist Program strongly encourages the participation of new Specialists, you are only eligible for one project per calendar year. That is 1-1-1: one Specialist – one project – one calendar year. This policy applies to all projects: in-country, virtual, and mixed projects. Multi-phase and multi-country projects count as one project.

If you are selected for a project by a U.S. Embassy, you will receive an acceptance email from the cooperating agency outlining next steps, including how and when to submit the required onboarding materials, when to contact your U.S. Embassy points of contact in the country(ies) of assignment, and when you can expect to receive your Specialist agreement.

Note: Offers for Specialist projects with in-country dates of any length are conditional until you are medically cleared by a U.S. Department of State approved medical reviewer. You must submit a completed health verification form (HVF) by the deadline stipulated in your acceptance materials. Selected candidates who are not medically cleared will be notified, and the offer to participate in the program will be rescinded. To learn more about the HVF and the medical clearance process, click here.

Selected Specialists receive a Specialist agreement, not a contract. The agreement will be sent to you in advance of the start date of your project, but only after all onboarding requirements are completed.

The cooperating agency will keep you updated on travel arrangements, the pre-project orientation, and other program updates. You will also receive information about getting in touch with your points of contact in your country(ies) of assignment, to learn more about visa requirements, your project responsibilities, and to be put in touch with the partnering organization(s).

You can request contact information for your counterparts at your partnering organization(s) from your points of contact at the U.S. Embassy in your country(ies) of assignment, as listed in your acceptance letter.

Yes. The program provides an online pre-project orientation in advance of the project start date. Completing the pre-project orientation is required. You will also be in touch with the U.S. Embassy in your country(ies) of assignment and your partnering organization(s) to discuss project-specific preparations.

The program will not provide you with a list of recommended or required vaccinations. It is your responsibility to discuss vaccinations related to your country(ies) of assignment with your healthcare provider, and determine any vaccinations or tests specifically required by your country(ies) of assignment.

Visa requirements for in-country projects depend on your country(ies) of assignment. If a visa is required, you are responsible for making the visa arrangements prior to departure. U.S. Embassy staff in your country(ies) of assignment will be of assistance, but the responsibility to obtain required visa(s) – or to complete any other entry requirements – lies with you. The cooperating agency will not book your travel to your country(ies) of assignment until the required visa is in-hand.

Lodging arrangements are handled differently for each project, but it is always your partnering organization(s) and/or the U.S. Embassy in your country(ies) of assignment that is responsible for securing your lodging.

You will receive an allowance to pay for lodging costs, the details of which will be outlined in your Specialist agreement.

Your in-country points of contact, either at the U.S. Embassy in your country(ies) of assignment, or at your partnering organizations(s), will help with any questions related to your project duties or your country(ies) of assignment, including visas, lodging, and other in-country logistics.

The cooperating agency will coordinate your travel to and from your country(ies) of assignment. Do not book travel on your own; you will NOT be reimbursed for these costs. 

You will complete a travel form as part of the acceptance process. All tickets will be issued as direct route, economy fares and in accordance with the Fly America Act. You will be sent an e-ticket after the cooperating agency processes your travel schedule.

Before the program will issue international airline tickets to your country(ies) of assignment you must have completed all onboarding requirements, including the medical clearance process, and confirmed whether a visa is required for travel. If a visa is required for travel, you must have the visa in-hand before any tickets will be issued; and, you must have a signed Specialist agreement.

No. The program will not incorporate requests for personal travel into Specialist travel schedules and you must travel on the dates specified by the program.

The program addresses special travel needs and reasonable accommodation travel requests on a case by case basis. The cooperating agency will be in touch with you during the travel booking process to discuss any specific needs.

Due to the short-term and unpredictable nature of Specialist projects, Specialists are not typically accompanied. Specialists must consult with the hosting U.S. Embassy in the country(ies) of assignment to determine if it would be appropriate to travel with any accompanying persons.

If it is determined that it is appropriate for you to travel with accompanying persons, note that it is your sole responsibility to ensure any accompanying persons have the correct visa and proper documentation to enter and exit the country(ies) of assignment. You must also make the U.S. Embassy in the country(ies) of assignment aware of the accompanying persons’ citizenship. In the event of an evacuation, the U.S. Department of State can only help with the evacuation of U.S. citizens. Also, any non-U.S. citizen accompanying persons must keep their passports, U.S. visas, or U.S. residency status current (if applicable). U.S. Embassies are not authorized to issue U.S. visitor visas to non U.S. citizen spouses, domestic partners or relatives who accompany Specialists, even in the event of an emergency, or if you are evacuated.

Specialist agreements are made with one person and do not cover any expenses for accompanying persons including, but not limited to, travel, insurance, visa, medical expenses, lodging, food, or local transportation. If the hosting U.S. Embassy has approved accompanying persons on a project, all expenses and logistics for the Specialist’s accompanying persons are the Specialist’s sole responsibility.

The program is only required to identify lodging suitable for one person.

Specialists receive a generous financial benefits package, and numerous professional benefits.

Financial benefits depend on whether the Specialist project includes in-country activities, virtual activities, or a combination of both; the location of the project; etc. The final benefits package is outlined in the Specialist agreement.

In-country Specialists also receive a supplementary health benefit plan, the Accident and Sickness Program for Exchanges (ASPE).

A complete overview of payments, benefits and allowances can be found here.

The program also provides numerous professional benefits. As a member of the English Language Programs community, Specialists have access to a network of highly-experienced TESOL professionals among the program’s participants and alumni community. Specialists are members of the English Language Programs online Community of Practice, with access to resources, discussions, job listings, and online webinar events, including the annual Specialist Master Class. Program alumni can also apply for Conference Registration Grants.

PAA is provided to supplement and enhance project activities. During in-country activities, examples of PAA uses include facilitating local conferences or workshops; establishing/enhancing resource centers, teacher associations, etc.; and, purchasing educational materials or small equipment and office supplies for the partnering organization(s). For entirely virtual projects, examples may include new subscriptions to video/web conferencing services for the duration of the virtual activity dates, specialized software, or necessary computer peripherals.

PAA is a reimbursable allowance, which means the funds are not provided to Specialists in advance. Specialists submit expense reports to the cooperating agency to receive reimbursement for approved PAA expenses. 

There are very specific policies related to what types of PAA expenses Specialists can incur and how to submit expense reports for reimbursement, which are provided during the pre-project orientation and made available throughout the project for reference.

Payment schedules vary depending on the length of projects, but first payments are made within 30 days of the start of the agreement period.

Yes. All payments from the program that are processed by the cooperating agency will be deposited electronically into a single, United States bank account. You are responsible for making arrangements for accessing your funds while in your country(ies) of assignment, if applicable. The program cannot pay you via wire transfer or check, divide your payments into more than one account, or make payments to foreign bank accounts.

Yes. For taxation purposes, Specialists are considered a supplier or independent contractor. As a Specialist, you will not be employed by the U.S. government or the cooperating agency. As such, you are providing a fee-for-service while on assignment. 

As these fees are taxable, certain payments received from the program through the cooperating agency will be reported both to you and to the IRS on Form 1099-NEC. These fees are called “non-employee compensation” and they are considered taxable income. Taxable income and benefits received from the program through the cooperating agency include:

  • Stipend(s); and
  • One-time costs allowance (if applicable).

You should consult your tax advisor or the IRS for guidance, as the program cannot provide any tax guidance. Filing and paying your taxes are solely your responsibility.

The program does not provide comprehensive health insurance coverage.

In-country Specialists are enrolled in a supplementary health benefit plan, the Accident and Sickness Program for Exchanges (ASPE), for the duration of in-country activity dates, as well as international travel dates. ASPE only provides coverage while a Specialist is in the country(ies) of assignment.

ASPE does not provide comprehensive health insurance coverage and it does not cover personal travel outside of your country(ies) of assignment. You can review information about ASPE coverage in the ASPE Guide.

ASPE is intended only to serve as supplemental coverage. It is strongly recommended, but not required,

that you purchase comprehensive health insurance with international coverage during in-country activities.

ASPE is not provided for virtual-only projects, or during virtual activity dates of mixed projects.

No. The federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program originates at the Department of Education and it stipulates that it covers employment only; because Specialists are not employees, they cannot be considered for the program. 

Note: Peace Corps and AmeriCorps were written into the regulation as specific exceptions; the Department of Education noted it would not reopen the regulation or consider new groups as exceptions to the employment requirement. If the regulation changes, the program will notify all participants.

You are not employed by the U.S. government, the cooperating agency, or any agency or government of the country(ies) of assignment. You are instead considered a grantee and, for tax purposes, a supplier or independent

contractor. You are bound by the terms and conditions of your Specialist agreement and cannot expect any additional compensation or benefits, except what is detailed and explained within your agreement.

Project lengths vary widely and often depend on the type of activity (in-country, virtual, or a combination). In-country projects can last up to three months; virtual projects are implemented each year of varying lengths.

There really is no typical day in the life of a Specialist. Project duties are developed by U.S. Embassies to meet the needs of the partnering organization(s) and the current educational context. Examples of previous Specialist projects include:

  • Developing a national textbook in Uzbekistan with the Ministry of Education;
  • Consulting on the development and validation the Vietnam Standardized Test of English Proficiency;
  • Training teachers in instructional technology and materials development in Venezuela;
  • Developing and publishing teacher training materials for English Access Microscholarship Program teachers in South Africa;
  • Developing a TESOL certificate course in Egypt; and,
  • Developing and facilitating a TESOL methodology course for trainers of teachers in Afghanistan.

Eligible candidates will receive a project description of the assignment they are being considered for during the matching process.

In most cases, yes. However, the performance of any other professional activity which you may be independently contracted to execute must not interfere with or be in conflict with the duties of your Specialist project.

If, however, you will have an overlapping full-time employment contract with or will be employed by another U.S. government agency during the project agreement period, you will be required either to waive stipend portions of your benefits, as specified in your Specialist agreement, or to take an unpaid leave of absence from the other U.S. government agency for the duration of the project agreement period. You will also be asked to  provide confirmation, in writing, indicating which of these two options has been agreed upon and, in the case of the unpaid leave of absence, documentation from the other U.S. government agency confirming the leave.

Unless otherwise specified, you will have at least one rest day per week during in-country activity dates. 

A set leave schedule is not included within virtual activity dates. 

You must ensure you are available to complete the project according to the description and schedule you are provided during the matching process and as outlined in your Specialist agreement.

Yes, Specialists must submit program reports, as applicable to the project and outlined in each agreement, and expense reports to receive reimbursement for approved reimbursable expenses.

The COP is an invitation-only virtual space for all participants and alumni of the English Language Programs to:

  • submit Highlights to share details about unique events or projects you are working on;
  • share resources, ideas, best practices, photos, events, and experiences from around the world;
  • find teaching and teacher training tools;
  • connect with other program participants;
  • participate in professional development opportunities provided by the program;
  • stay up-to-date on the latest events and resources available on the English Language Programs and American English websites;
  • post job announcements and search for job opportunities; and,
  • stay connected and contribute to the program as alumni.

No, but understand that U.S. freedom of speech guarantees may not be applicable in your country(ies) of assignment. Privacy settings, even if you enable them, may not work and your posts may be viewable by the authorities or even citizens of your country(ies) of assignment. Be aware of this when you are posting comments on blogs, websites, or other social media platforms. Be aware of any local sensitivities, and consider the reaction of your students, local colleagues, and authorities who may read your posts. Offensive posts could create tension and ultimately result in the termination of your project.

Also, as these will be your personal views and not those of the U.S. Department of State during the time of your project, you are asked to post the following disclaimer on your personal blog or website for added clarity: “This website is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the English Language Specialist’s own and do not represent the English Language Specialist Program or the U.S. Department of State.”

Yes. A Specialist project is contingent upon your ability to obtain a passport and any necessary visa(s) that your country(ies) of assignment requires, appropriate conditions that exist prior to and during your project in your country(ies) of assignment, and your ability to complete the duties and responsibilities associated with your project.

The U.S. Embassy in your country(ies) of assignment can also direct the cooperating agency to terminate your project at any time during your project agreement period or prior to your departure or start date. Other reasons for termination could include, but are not limited to, engaging in offensive, inappropriate, unethical, or illegal acts; violating program, agreement, or host institution policies; failure to communicate with the U.S. Embassy or the cooperating agency; failure to follow instructions or guidance from the U.S. Embassy; or if you are unable to perform your duties for any reason (medical, political, natural disasters, etc.) or you abandon your duties.

You will receive an official termination letter via email from the program. This letter provides the full terms of your termination, the date on which your Specialist agreement was terminated, and it will outline details on payments you have received, specifying what funds you can keep, and what funds, if any, you are required to return to the program.

No. The program does not incorporate personal travel into flight schedules, and you must travel on the dates specified by the program.

Before you leave for your country(ies) of assignment, you will be asked to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. By enrolling in the program, you will receive important safety information about your country(ies) of assignment and allow the U.S. Embassy to contact you in emergency situations. 

The program will provide you with an overview of who to contact in different emergency situations (i.e. travel, personal, medical), as well as an emergency contact card template. You will be encouraged to program those numbers into the phone you will use during your in-country activity dates, and print a copy to keep this important contact information on you at all times.

When you arrive in-country, you should develop an emergency and communication plan with your contacts at the U.S. Embassy and with your partnering organization(s), and discuss how you will receive additional safety and security information throughout your time in the country(ies) of assignment.

If you won’t be able to continue to perform your project duties, due to a personal emergency or other reason; if you need to take a break; or if you need to leave the project before the end date of your agreement – for any reason – you must contact the U.S. Embassy in your current country of assignment and the cooperating agency right away. A decision will be made as to whether the project can continue or if your agreement will be terminated.

When an evacuation is ordered, the cooperating agency and the U.S. Embassy in your current country of assignment will work with you to ensure your timely departure. There are different kinds of evacuations, depending on the circumstances, which are addressed on a case-by-case basis. 

You may be evacuated to a different city in your current country of assignment. You may even be asked to finish your project in this new city or another location that is safe. You may need to be evacuated to another country entirely, or back to your home base. You might stay there until the evacuation order is lifted, until you are reassigned to another country, or until your Specialist agreement is terminated. 

In most cases, the program will provide you with an economy-class ticket, on the most direct route available out of your current host city or your current country of assignment. Additional benefits and allowances provided to Specialists during evacuation scenarios are handled on a case-by-case basis.

You must inform the U.S. Embassy in your current country of assignment if you seek emergency medical attention for any reason. In the past, some Specialists have experienced unexpected medical conditions (serious illness or injury) requiring medical evacuation to another country for proper treatment. Unless you have your own personal coverage, before you make any medical evacuation plan, or one is made for you, you MUST obtain pre-approval for it to be covered by ASPE. More information on medical evacuations can be found in the ASPE Guide.

Your application will automatically go back into the available candidate pool after the completion of a project. However, because the Specialist Program strongly encourages the participation of new candidates, you are only eligible for one project per calendar year. That is 1-1-1: one Specialist – one project – one calendar year. This policy applies to all projects: in-country, virtual, and mixed projects. Multi-phase and multi-country projects count as one project.

Alumni are valued members of the English Language Programs community. They continue to have access to the online Community of Practice, including a Jobs section, information about Alumni Conference Grants, invitations to Online Community Events, and access to the annual Specialist Master Class, a professional development opportunity offered exclusively to program participants and alumni.

Current Specialists should review the Terms and Conditions of their Specialist agreement and the English Language Specialist Program Policy Handbook for policy guidance. Current Specialists can also reach out to their regional Implementation Coordinator with questions at any time.

Before You Apply

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Specialist Program

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This is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Georgetown University, Center for Intercultural Education and Development.

All decisions related to participant terms (including candidate review, selection, funding, suspension, revocation, and termination) and all criteria related thereto are made and established by the U.S. Department of State.