5 Mistakes To Avoid While Teaching Abroad

Teaching abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life.  But it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget to step back, take a look at the bigger picture, and make sure that you are getting the most out of your time abroad.

puzzleHere are five pretty common mistakes that you should watch out for while teaching abroad.

Thinking that it’s all about work

You can make pretty good money teaching, and it can be easy to get caught up in the hours you’re working, in finding sub jobs and private tutoring gigs.  A lot of people teach abroad to pay off student loan debts, and the money you make teaching does go a long way toward that goal.

But make time to travel and have fun.  You didn’t move halfway around the world just to go to work and then go home and watch TV.  Explore, go on adventures, learn about the culture, wander the streets, travel, and fully enjoy your time abroad.

Not learning the local language or immersing yourself in the local culture

Sure, we all swear we’re going to become fluent in the local language, never ever eat at a Western restaurant, never so much as set foot inside of a McDonalds, and only hang out with locals to get to know the culture.  The truth is, that’s more difficult than it sounds. When you’re struggling to fit in, feeling out of place, and dealing with culture shock, retreating back to your own culture is natural.

Take comfort in the familiar, but push yourself outside of your comfort zone, too.  Take a language class, travel to a different part of the country, accept an invitation to dinner at a local’s place.  After a while, you’ll find that the things which seemed so foreign at the start become your new normal, and you’ll come away from the experience much richer.

Not saving money

When you’re making a decent wage and the cost of living is super low, it’s easy to get carried away and start living like a king.  In most countries where you teach ESL, you don’t have to work crazy hours to live very comfortably.  In fact, with so much disposable income around, it’s tempting to not worry too much about saving.

But be wary – eventually you will move on to something different, and teaching English abroad often gives you the opportunity to bank a decent sum of money to support you in whatever you are doing next, if you plan well and manage your finances.

Treating teaching like it’s just a job

Yes, it’s where your paychecks come from each month.  And at times it will inevitably feel like a drag, a chore, a slog through an endless stack of grading.  But some of my best moments abroad were in the classroom.  I learned so much about myself while teaching, and learned so many wonderful life lessons from my kids.

Yes, teaching is a job that allows you to live abroad–but if you embrace it and open your heart to the kids, you’ll find that your time in the classroom is some of the most rewarding and memorable times that you spend while you are abroad.

Not staying in touch

This goes for friends and family back home.  For some, the people that you left back home will be a lifeline during rough times abroad.  Most ex-pats will eventually start to feel at home within their new culture, and find a surrogate family overseas.  When this happens, it can be easy to neglect those connections that you still have back home.  Make the effort not to let the geographic distance become an emotional one, as well.

This also goes for the friends and family that you find while you are abroad.  The nature of expat life is that people come and go from each others’ lives often.  We all swear we’ll stay in touch, we’ll come visit someday, we’ll call, email, still be a part of each others lives. How many people actually do, though?

Make the effort to hang onto those friendships and connections that you made while abroad, even if it’s only the occasional Facebook message asking how they’re doing.  It’s worth it.

Keep these things in mind as you go through your time abroad, and you’ll come out of it with a far richer and more rewarding experience.

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