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Before I begin, a huge thanks to Rodrigo for featuring me here! I love everything about this site, from the About Me page to easy-to-navigate categories—really, you could plan a whole trip just by going step-by-step through the articles on here! I’m excited to add to this wonderful resource.
Teaching abroad is a wonderful way to expand your comfort zone, experience a new culture and get some great teaching experience. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your teaching style, and there will be some special moments that you couldn’t have anywhere else. And as much fun as it’s all been, every single day has been a learning experience for me. From the frustrations to the joys, there’s plenty to love. Here are seven things that I’ve learned during my time here:
- The teacher is sometimes the student.
I’ll often write a curriculum plan with set goals in mind—the students need to learn this, this and this in order to pass on to the next level. However, I also am prepared to recognize the moments where my goals need to be set aside because the learning needs of the students do not quite match what I’ve planned for. Whether it’s because the students’ learning level was incorrectly assessed (they’re ahead of or behind where I expected them to be) or because the curriculum changes mid-year (which is definitely something that can happen, unfortunately!), I need to be ready to think on my feet and put together the best class possible to fit the needs of my students.
- That my job is not to give answers but to start a conversation that my students can continue on their own time.
Of course, if a student has a question, it’s my job to answer it, but a good teacher is someone whose lessons are not contained in the classroom. I used to expect that students would naturally see why they should learn English—you know, because it’s very much a lingua franca, or because they want to be able to understand Hollywood movies and pop songs, or something like that. But if students don’t see the real-world applications of learning English in the way that you teach your lessons, a lot of times they’ll get disenchanted and bored. Some schools allow for more flexibility in lesson-planning, but even if there’s a set curriculum you have to follow, see if you can’t try to come up with ways of sharing that information that are relevant and interesting to your students.
- People tend to view me as brave and/or lucky.
I don’t want to belittle what I’ve done, but I don’t really view it as something particularly special, and it’s definitely not impossible! There are so many ways to easily keep in touch these days. I don’t have to wait months in between letters from my family; instead, I can Skype them on a weekly basis if I want to. And it’s so easy to find jobs, either by looking around online or by other means. It’s honestly not so different from any other new job in a lot of ways. You show up, learn the system and hopefully deliver a lot of good work. And then on the side, you get to eat a lot of great food, make some new friends, which is also pretty easy. Hang out with your coworkers or look for meet up groups on Facebook or other sites, and experience as much as you can.
- There will be frustrating moments.
I never thought teaching abroad would be easy, but because I had travelled a lot in the past, I think I underestimated exactly how challenging some days could be. Imagine being handed a form to fill out in a language that you can’t even sound out, let alone read—and that’s the least of your worries. Coworkers have accidentally forgotten to give me important information from meetings that were held in a language I have only a rudimentary grasp on, I’ve gotten lost more times than I can count, students have been late to classes (mainly because other appointments have run over their allotted time) and many other stumbling blocks have stood in my way. That said, one of the biggest takeaways from this job is that I’ve learned to be a more patient, relaxed and forgiving person, and that to me has definitely been worth it.
- Not every moment has to be geared toward personal and professional development.
I think when I first started teaching abroad, I had this thought that every moment was going to be spent becoming a better teacher or exploring China, with nothing in between. But that’s not really a realistic way to live. You’d exhaust yourself in a couple weeks. Some nights, I like to just stay in and watch Netflix. The only difference from back home is that I need to use a VPN to stream from my account since Netflix geo-blocks streaming from locations abroad. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time here or that I’d be better off back home. I’ve already seen, learned and experienced more teaching abroad than I ever would have on that two-week vacation to China.
- Sometimes, things will get lost in translation.
Teaching ESL has been hilarious, and I love to keep a record of all the funny interactions I’ve had or signs that I’ve seen. There was that time when I asked a student what her occupation was and received the response, “Cucumber.” Or the time another student told me that the opposite of “turn the light on” was “turn the dark on!” Or that place called Destroy Hair Salon. You never know what your students are going to say next or what connections they’re going to make in their heads, and that makes every day a surprise.
- You can’t beat those smiles.
Honestly, I love teaching—more than I ever could have expected I would. There’s nothing more satisfying than that moment when your student goes, “Aahhhhhh, teacher, I get it!” They may not all pass all of their exams with flying colors, and some days they might be downright obnoxious, but there’s nothing better than seeing your students enjoying themselves while learning English.
Do you teach abroad? We invite you to share some of your experiences and advice below!
This article was written by fellow travel blogger Jess Signet. She is a full-time traveler and digital nomad who loves to write, read, and ride zip lines . You can follow her adventures on her blog https://www.tripelio.com.
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