English teaching jobs abroad are exciting. One minute you’re newly graduated from college in the midst of completing your TEFL course, and the next you’re in a new and exotic country jumping off waterfalls, riding scooters, and eating scorpions. Most people who spend time at an English teaching job in a foreign country consider it a time of intense learning and personal growth. Being a TEFL teacher requires a tremendous amount of courage, resourcefulness, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone in sometimes incredible amounts. You will undoubtedly learn a lot of practical skills during an English teaching job abroad, like perhaps a bit of a new language, how to dive, ride a motorbike, or cook a strange vegetable. But even more importantly, you will learn deep life lessons that you will carry with you for the rest of your life; something far more valuable than any practical skills you might acquire.
When you are a child in school, you undoubtedly glanced over at the clock every five agonizing minutes just waiting and willing them to go faster. Math was a drag, and all you could do was count down the minutes until you were free for that glorious lunch hour. Meanwhile, the teacher stood at the front of the class rambling on and on about integers and fractions. It was clearly the only enjoyment he got out of life, and there was nothing he loved more than handing out worksheets and quizzes and drilling you with multiplication tables. Little did you know how wrong you were! As exciting as an English teaching job is, it’s still a job. You might like it a lot, but for the most part, it mainly pays the bills. Sure you will have a few lesson plans with exciting activities that are an absolute joy to execute, but for the most part, you’ll be watching the clock just as hard (if not harder) than your students. You’ll notice that some classes go by a lot faster than others, intensive classes where you have a lot of material to cover are always a little nerve wracking but for the most part, you’ll be thinking up a lot of games to fill that last 10 minutes! The last class on friday is always a write off, you’ll just be itching to get out of there to hop on the road for your weekend travels.
An English teaching job abroad is an adventure. And while adventures are (almost) always fun, they’re not always comfortable. During your TEFL adventures, you will be forced to step out of your comfort zone and do things you previously never would have thought yourself capable of doing. From sleeping in places infested with cockroaches, standing on a jam packed bus for six hours, or having to eat something completely alien to your diet, you will have a lot of trials during your English teaching job. At first, the idea of doing all the unsavoury things might shock you, you’ll be nervous and reluctant and perhaps even wishing that you had stayed back and skipped this adventure. But necessity will force you to grit your teeth and bare it, and then something amazing will happen; you’ll realize that it’s not that bad! Sure, some of the more unpleasant things might be a bit uncomfortable at first, but you’ll soon get used to them and realize that this is just daily life in your new home. From nonchalantly picking ants out of your food in Thailand to sleeping on the floor of a stranger’s homestay during a motorcycle trip in Vietnam, your English teaching job will give you many small trials of endurance that will make you realize just how strong you really are.
One of the common occurrences that happen to people who go abroad for English teaching jobs is that of culture shock. You’re suddenly in a completely new and foreign environment where everything is different and nothing works the way that you’re used to. People might seem incredibly rude at first, you might get ripped off constantly and feel like a total outsider (which you are!). This is completely natural and will wear off after a few weeks, however. You’ll start to realize that the people aren’t being rude, but that there’s simply a communication barrier and a lot of the locals are simply a bit nervous at having to interact with a foreigner. You’ll definitely be getting ripped off at first, but eventually you’ll both start to learn the average prices of things in the area and be recognized by the local vendors as an expat and not a tourist. Once the locals realize that you’re a valued member of the community (teachers are highly respected almost everywhere in the world with English teaching jobs), they will do their best to make you feel comfortable and welcome. From extra “gifts” at your favourite restaurants, vendors too excited, “Hello teachers!” from your students that spy you out and about, you’ll be feeling right at home in no time at all. And once you’re a comfortable member of local society, you’ll notice something amazing; people are the same all over the world. You’ll bump into all the same archetypes and personalities you’re used to encountering at home; the grumpy old man, the large bubbly woman, the ragged musician and the “too hot for you” girl. It’ll really make you find the idea of prejudice and hate hilarious considering how alike everyone in the world really is.
This one is more a principle one starts to live by after working an English teaching job abroad than a sage philosophy. Going back to the “being thrust into new and uncomfortable situations” part of being a TEFL teacher, you’re definitely going to be put in some situations that are a little bit out of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll get invited for a weekend getaway with a huge crowd of people you’ve never met, or to a local family dinner with one of your co-teachers, or on a scuba diving trip. You may be a bit nervous to accept these invitations, but you shouldn’t be. One of the things that is going to make or break your English teaching adventure is your willingness to embrace the unfamiliar, or in short, always say yes. No matter what it is (within basic reason of course), or how uncomfortable the thought of it makes you, you should jump at the chance for the new and unfamiliar. Because in the end, that’s what you’re foreign English teaching job is really all about, embracing adventure.
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