Is It Safe To Teach Abroad As A Single Woman?

Teaching abroad is a daunting and scary undertaking for anyone.  But being a woman traveling alone can make you feel especially vulnerable.  I certainly had my own fears and reservations before I moved overseas.  A foreign country felt like a whole world of unknown. 

Kelly Scooter-GirlI didn’t know anyone, and spoke very little of the local language—that’s a scary thing to jump into. As it turned out, though, those reservations were completely unfounded.  I quickly came to feel as safe and welcomed while I was teaching abroad as I ever felt in my home country.

Foreign doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous.  Most ESL jobs that you’re going to find are in very politically stable areas, with a culture that is welcoming to foreigners.  If a country or city were dangerous, it wouldn’t have a thriving ESL market.

The best way to get some insight into what it’s like teaching abroad as a single woman is to talk to someone who has done it, ideally in the country you are planning on traveling to.  They can give you some insights into what it’s like to spend time there, and put your mind at ease. And if you can’t find someone who knows the country well, check out the US Department of State’s safety and security recommendations, or look up the crime statistics.  Chances are you’re going to find that the foreign city that you are thinking of moving to is a lot safer than many places in your own country.

(Check out some of the Reach To Teach teacher blogs to get a feel for what other teachers thought.)

Remember that no matter what language they speak or what country they are from, people are just people wherever you go.  The vast majority of the people you meet will be friendly, good-hearted souls who are happy to help you out and welcome you to their country.  That doesn’t mean you should just jump in without any planning or research, though.  A huge part of staying safe abroad is being smart and knowing what is and is not appropriate in the local culture.

Know the culture of the country where you are planning to teach.  How do women typically dress?  What sort of attitudes do men have toward women in that culture? While you don’t have to change who you are in order to fit in, a big part of staying safe abroad is knowing what is normal and acceptable in the local culture and not doing anything to draw negative attention to yourself as an outsider.  If local women typically wear garments covering most of their skin, then going out in a tank top and shorts is asking for trouble.

Make sure you have a sense of what different body language indicates in the culture too.  Making eye contact and smiling at a guy may be perfectly benign in your home country, but in some cultures, it sends a different message.

And most importantly, use your common sense.  Avoid walking alone at night, know which parts of the city or country to stay away from, and be smart about who and what you get involved with.

So, is it safe to teach abroad as a single woman?  The short answer is: Yes.  Of course there is an element of risk in anything that you do, and dangerous situations can occur anywhere.  But teaching abroad isn’t inherently any more dangerous than anything else you might do.  If you’re smart about it, and use common sense, you’ll quickly find yourself settling in and wondering what you were so worried about. 

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