Teaching English abroad offers an adventure like no other. One that will challenge, inspire, surprise, and quite likely change you as a person.
But starting a new job in a country potentially thousands of miles away from your friends and family can also be overwhelming! Culture shock, homesickness, language barriers and loneliness are all very real things TEFL teachers deal with when they first move abroad. The best way of overcoming these feelings is to throw yourself into the experience, so with that said here are our top five tips for getting the most out of your TEFL adventure!
Step out of the expat bubble
Some people move abroad and find themselves stuck in the expat bubble; they only socialise with other foreigners, eat food they’re familiar with, and close themselves off from opportunities to integrate.
It’s easy to find yourself gravitating towards some home comforts when you’re living abroad. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you want to make sure that you’re not just trying to replicate the same life that you were leading back home. Doing this can actually increase homesickness because you’re spending all your time reaching for what you had instead of creating new experiences and meeting new people. The best treatment for homesickness is to keep busy and step out of that bubble. Become more of a yes person – yes to invitations, to new experiences, and new opportunities!
Learn the language
Teaching English abroad offers the best opportunity you’ll ever have to pick up a new language. While you don’t need to speak another language to TEFL, learning the local lingo will help you to get about in day-to-day life as well as to integrate.
Some employers will include free language lessons in your contract, or you may decide to sign up for a course yourself. And you’ll find no shortage of people willing to participate in a language exchange, where they help you learn their language in exchange for you helping them learn English. This can also be a great way of meeting people and forging friendships!
If learning a new language is one of your main reasons for wanting to teach abroad, then you might want to consider where in the country you teach. Generally, people are more likely to speak some level of English in major cities, but if you’re looking for a really immersive experience consider jobs in smaller towns and more rural areas. If you’re living somewhere where few people speak English then it will really push you to pick up the language.
Reach out to other TEFL teachers
Connecting with other TEFL teachers is a great way to make new friends and share ideas, as well as providing a support network. Unless you’re working in a rural location there’s bound to be a number of other TEFL teachers in the area, whether they’re working in the same school as you or elsewhere. Search for “TEFL” + the name of the city/area you’re in on Facebook to find groups for teachers.
Having someone to turn to who’s been in your shoes can really help new TEFL teachers to settle in. It’s also very common for teachers to secure new positions through word of mouth – the more teachers you know, the more likely this is!
Document your adventure
Teaching abroad is an adventure you’ll want to remember as much of as possible, so make sure you document it! This could be through photos, video, or a blog, and you can get as creative as you like. Not only is it a great thing for you to be able to look back on, but it’s a way to keep your friends and family back home up-to-date with what you’re doing. And, you never know, you might find a bigger audience!
There’s nothing more we love here at TEFL Org HQ than seeing the incredible adventures our course graduates embark on. Check out Frances’ amazing photographs over on Instagram, follow David’s YouTube for inspiring travel vlogs and lots of digital nomad tips, and read Alice’s account of her travels on her blog.
Explore your surroundings
As a TEFL teacher abroad you have an exciting new world literally on your doorstep to get out into and explore!
When TEFL Org graduate Joel was teaching English in China he travelled extensively – within just six months he’d visited Beijing, Xi’an, Harbin, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin and Wuhan. If you’re teaching in Southeast Asia you’ll find that it’s easy (and cheap!) to hop on a flight and experience a different country for a weekend. And in Europe it’s very affordable to take a flight or train to another country for short trips.
But you don’t have to travel far for an adventure. Get to know your local area; spend time walking around, try cafes and restaurants nearby, be a tourist where you live!
We’ll leave you with Joel’s wise and honest words about his experience teaching abroad:
I could go on and on about all the experiences I have had in China. However, the true beauty of this alluring country is that no single adventure is the same. I can guarantee that every venture will be special. Not everything has been a positive experience. To be dishonest and say otherwise would be to tear down the very core and importance of teaching abroad – to adapt, flourish and appreciate a new culture.
Are you up for the adventure? Download our FREE Guide to the World and discover 70+ exciting destinations worldwide.