Travel – 5 Things to Know about Teaching English Abroad
Are you thinking about teaching English abroad? That’s great news! Teaching English abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences in an individual’s career. However, there are a few things you should know before you apply.
1. Culture shock is real
When you accept a job to teach abroad, it’s not quite like a traditional job offer to work in your own country. Although travel expenses are covered by many international schools, it’s still quite an emotional and physical test of endurance to move your life to a completely different country and culture.
Don’t underestimate the effects of culture shock when considering teaching abroad. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the cons outweigh the pros, however. Many international teachers will tell you that making the decision to teach abroad was one of the best decisions they’ve ever made in their lives. However, it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into and manage your expectations upfront.
Be sure to read up on cultural differences before you go. If possible, meet with some friends from that country to pick their brains. It’s always a good idea to be prepared.
2. Kids are the same everywhere
Although you’ll be facing a different culture in your work and daily life, the great news is that you’ll still be working with kids. And, guess what? Kids are basically the same the world over. Of course, there are cultural differences, and particular issues for different regions, but overall, kids are kids.
This can be a good and a bad thing, of course. This means that kids want to do well. They want their teacher to like them. They want to get rewarded for positive behavior or academic success. Kids enjoy fun activities. They like to play. They like to dance and sing. They enjoy stickers and prizes. The spirit of a child transcends culture in a lot of ways. So, if you’re able to positively interact with children in your home country, you’ll most likely do just as well abroad.
On the flip side, kids of all cultures will have tantrums sometimes. They will act out. They will get bored if you don’t engage them. Yes, they will pass notes, or try to text during class. You may have to call them out for teasing one another. Again, kids will be kids.
And, of course, there will always be a percentage of students with emotional issues, physical issues, or learning disabilities. In the United States these kids would have an IEP (Individualized Education Program), which is mandated by the government, and basically means that you have to develop some special interventions to help the child succeed. You may notice children with certain issues in your international classroom, but you may not have an IEP for them. If you’re a great teacher, you’ll do your best to develop additional programs or measure to help them success with or without an IEP.
3. Maintaining a work/life balance is challenging
Living abroad is challenging because you’re in a new place. It takes time to figure out how to get to work, manage a bus or subway system, and figure out where to eat and shop. For the first few months you may feel overwhelmed by the stresses of the job, plus the additional stresses of just living.
And, as you may or may not know, “expat” culture in many cities can be quite exciting. If you’re in a major city, you’ll soon learn that there’s an entire “expat” culture, including bars, clubs, and meetups. It may be easy to fall into a “party” mode that could negatively impact your ability to work. So, be mindful of maintaining a good work/life balance. You don’t want to get burnt out!
4. Learning the language is crucial
This isn’t to say that you need to be fluent in the language of your host country, but learning key words and phrases is a must. And, it will definitely win you some brownie points with your students.
Many schools or international employers offer English classes, so you should definitely inquire with your company about free courses. Otherwise, check Meetup or other local Facebook groups to find language learning groups. And, don’t just go to one and give up. Learning a language takes time and effort. Sign up for a weekly class and go every week. Not only will it help you in your life abroad, but it will give you an inside look into what it’s like to be a language learner. This will help you to have real empathy with your students.
5. It’s easy to fall in love with teaching English abroad
As many international teachers will attest, teaching abroad can be addictive. The rush of a new culture, the novelty of new food, the long holidays—-it’s easy to fall in love with teaching English abroad. In fact, many teachers go to a new country every few years. You’ll meet fellow teachers who’ve made the rounds on the international teaching circuit. And, if you’re teaching in IB schools, you’ll absolutely come across some very internationally-savvy individuals. After a year or two in your current position, you may find yourself bombarded with other offers from schools in other cities and countries, and you’ll have to decide if you’re ready for a new adventure.