We avoid risks.
We avoid risks because we want to avoid failure. So we do nothing.
And so we avoid the risk in order to avoid the failure that we are afraid of and then we are permanently floating around in the world of never knowing what could have been or what we could have done.
What kind of life is that?
If you are contemplating going to another country and teaching English then I am here to convince you to do it. I will explain to you how it could make you a better person having lived in another country and lived like a local. I will help you get rid of the fear that might lurk inside you and to force you out of your comfort zone and into that great big world.
There is no danger to doing this. So if you are the kind of person who has any feelings of trepidation I can assure you there is nothing to worry about. Going to another country to teach English could not be any easier path for you to take.
You will arrive, and within a matter of a few weeks, all that tension that you once had will disappear.
Travelling and working in another country will make you a better person and more fulfilled.
It will be a thoroughly rewarding experience and one that others can gain from too — your students.
Let’s take a closer look at the very things that may cause you some concern and dismantle them.
Heading into Danger
But first, a story.
I have travelled to other countries with little to no regard for my personal safety. This was anything like teaching in another country. This was a time of youthful ignorance and stupidity.
Many years ago I went to Morocco. It is a beautiful county and one that I would recommend to anyone thinking of going there.
While I was there, I took trains, buses and shared taxis across the desert, along roads going into the mountains and in cramped journeys during the day, stopping only for the occasional bathroom break and maybe a cold coke if I were lucky.
I was in a small little town on the edge of this great canyon. I can remember a group of us sitting in front of our hostel and bats flying around in the night air. The Moroccan guy managing the hostel said that in the morning many trucks would pass through and go to the mountains.
The people on the trucks were going to a festival where Berber tribe people try to find suitable brides for their sons. Effectively it is one of the biggest marriage markets in the whole of Africa.
The next morning we were all awoken by a huge convoy of trucks making their way through the canyon and then up into the mountains. Without thinking too much about what the dangers could be, I asked a driver if I could get a ride and he stopped to let me on the back.
I was the only non-Berber person in all the surrounding trucks. We spent the next two days getting to the mountains.
Halfway up the mountain, the roads had washed away by flooding. I have no idea where the water came from but the road was completely gone.
We had to stay with people that lived nearby. They had no running electricity or water but a family took me in and gave me food and tea. They made a bed for me to sleep on and the following morning I tried to give them money before leaving on the truck again. The man refused, so I left some money under an old radio in the main room of his home.
The truck got to the festival and there were hundreds of tents positioned on any flat surface.
There were also hundreds of goats, camels and other livestock that people had brought to the festival. A Berber woman called out to me and with no answer from me, ushered me into her huge tent. There were fifteen people all inside the tent. She gave me a bedroll and told me I could sleep there.
I spent three days at the festival. There was no electricity, no water.
now and then a goat was slaughtered for food.
By far one of the most memorable and strangest experiences of my life.
Would I do it again today?
The risk of getting lost on the mountain, or being in an accident on the truck, or getting seriously ill hundreds of miles from the nearest hospital.
I was one of the few white people on the whole mountain. I met a Swedish guy there and two French people. The Swedish guy had been going to the festival for many years.
He was still alive and unhurt.
The point is — I didn’t die. And I lived to tell a fantastic story.
And so can you when you get on a plane and teach English in another country.
What are you afraid of?
If you have any doubts gnawing away at your confidence, you have to critically examine what these fears may be. By going through them one by one, you can solve the problem — you will probably find that there is no problem at all and that the fear is all in your mind.
Shall we take a look at what the fears could be?
Fear of the Unknown
Fear of the great wide unknown. Fear of the big wide world and fear of being outside of the safety and comfort of all that we do know.
This is normal but also very much an unfounded fear.
To be honest, how much of the world is unknown today? And when going to another country to teach English chances are you will be in a large city like Bangkok, Shanghai or Seoul, not some small little village cut off from any kind of modern civilisation.
You won’t be on a mountain living in a Bedouin tent with camels and goats roaming around outside. Although that might be pretty cool.
I hate to break it to you but you are not going to a place untouched by modern society. The only person it is unknown to is you — and you can find out pretty much anything you need to know by looking online.
Yes, there will be a learning curve as you find your feet and get to know your way around. But you will become accustomed to all the things you need to know in a very short time.
You are lucky in that you have an immediate resource at hand that can help you with everything you need to know about this new place — your students.
Need to know where to get a sim card? Ask your students.
Want to know where the nearest train station is? Ask your students.
Where to get a spare key cut? I think you get the picture.
Students can be unbelievably helpful for the newbie English teacher in town.
What if I don’t like it?
So what if you don’t? You can leave and go somewhere else.
Chances are what will happen is that you will go to this new place, have two or three days of being totally overwhelmed by everything you see and hear, then adjust to everything. Then you will be madly excited by everything. Then you will have a period of culture shock, you will adjust and life in this new town or city will seem perfectly normal.
But to answer the question — if it really is that bad and you can’t stand the place, you can leave.
But you might love it.
What if the people don’t like me?
And I can assure you, there will be some people in this new place that will not like you.
As much as you might think you are winning every popularity contest in the world, I am afraid that is not true. Just as there are people in your own town that dislike you, there will be people in this new place that may not like you.
But most people will not know you. Most people do not care about you or what you are doing. Your new neighbours might be curious for a day or two, but trust me, they will find out every single thing they need to know about you in the first couple of days. The security guard of the building where you live will ensure that everyone knows everything about you.
Other than that, unless you are going around starting fights with people, no one will know anything about you and they won’t care.
And if you turn up to work on time and do all the things expected of you, then the students and teachers will all think highly of you.
Just be polite, smile a lot and say hello to your new neighbours and everything will be fine.
But I’m not a real teacher…
You mean — you’re an impostor?
How dare you!
I am sure you have heard of Impostor Syndrome. This is the condition that many people have where they believe they do not have the skills to do the job they are trying to do. It is very common.
And for the initial stages of teaching, you are likely to have this. If you don’t have it then there is something wrong with that situation.
But let’s tick off some boxes on how to combat it.
First, are you qualified to do the job?
For most English teaching jobs in another country you will need to have a college degree (although not always necessary) and a TEFL certificate.
You can get a TEFL certificate on Groupon for dirt cheap. This then ensures that you are legal and the school employing you can now process your work visa.
But if you want to do yourself a real favour, I would advise doing a full TEFL course at a reputable training centre where you get to have hands-on experience of teaching a class and understanding classroom management and teaching practices.
Get properly trained and qualified and those impostor doubts will shrink away a great deal.
Then there is the real experience of being in a real class with real students and using your own lesson plans. Nothing beats this experience and I guarantee any feelings you may have had before about your own ability to teach will shrink away.
But I won’t know how to do anything there
No, you won’t. You will be as green as the hills and you will not know your backside from your elbow.
Some people think this is fun. For others, it is terrifying.
Like I said earlier, you have a massive resource of local talent that know how to get a bicycle tyre fixed, where to get the best noodles, how to top up the credit on your phone and the best place for a haircut. Your students.
I have lost count of the number of times I have asked students about all manner of things living in a new town and they were literally tripping over each other to help me.
If you are teaching young kids, then they will not be very helpful for things like banking or buying a train ticket somewhere but your new colleagues — the local teachers — should be able to help you with everything you need.
Within a month you will know how to do mundane chores such as paying the electric bill and the best place to buy milk.
I can’t speak the language
Of course, you can’t. Not unless you’ve been attending night classes in preparation.
Very few people can speak the local language before they arrive.
But many learn after they arrive. And what better place to learn than the local environment?
So you arrive knowing none of the language. You are dependent on your colleagues and students, if they are adults, to help you do day-to-day tasks where you need someone conversant in the local language.
But you could learn the language yourself, maybe attend classes at the local university or hire your own personal tutor and gradually make gains in speaking and making yourself understood.
Then you become more independent.
I know people that can speak fluent Chinese, Thai, Japanese — they can do pretty much anything they need to do and carry out all their own chores with no help. I also know people that have lived in the same country for many years and never got past saying Hello and ordering a beer.
They seem to survive just fine.
Don’t worry about not knowing the language. You can communicate by miming.
Getting into Trouble with the Law
The clear advice on this is — don’t.
Be aware of what the laws are before you go, keep your nose clean and your head down and avoid trouble whenever you can.
Stay on the right side of the law every day and there will be no problem.
Try to stay invisible. It is easy to do and you will avoid any unnecessary attention.
Culture shock is a very real condition. One that you cannot avoid.
The best way of dealing with it is to make sure you have plenty of positive things going on in your life. Join activities to ensure you are not spending too much time alone and don’t rely on going to the bars to escape. That just leads to nowhere.
There are four main stages of culture shock. They are:
The Honeymoon Stage
This is where everything seems exciting and overwhelming. This is a generally positive stage and you feel good about where you are. The food, the people, the customs all seem amaaaaaaazing.
The Frustration Stage
This comes shortly after the honeymoon period and you feel the exact opposite. Now everything starts to grate on your nerves. You feel incapable of doing anything and all the things you loved about the country before are now tiresome and irritating.
The Adjustment Stage
You start to feel more comfortable in this new place and as you learn some of the language you feel less frustrated. You become adjusted to the local customs and ways of doing things.
The Acceptance Stage
It can take just a few months or sometimes years to get to this stage but you feel more accepting of the country and the people and you are at a much happier stage.
Most people get through this unscathed.
I just want to TEFL for two years and see the world
Not a bad idea at all. If this is what you want to do I see no problems with it.
And you can do that with ease. Most teachers in countries in Asia do TEFL for two, maybe three years. They do some travelling and see some local culture, try the local food, the snake wine, whatever.
Others stay longer and become a permanent fixture in the country they are in.
I want to TEFL for life
And nothing wrong with this plan either.
I have met lifers that write curriculum for schools or universities or for ESL publications.
If you are going to make a career out of teaching English then make sure you treat it as a career. Just like you would with any other career.
I guess what I am trying to say is this — there is nothing to worry about.
I think the main fear is of arriving in a new place, a new town or city, and acclimatizing to that place. And you will, very easily. Just keep your wits about you and as you go about your new days in the new place, keep your ears and eyes open and you will quickly learn.
The best advice I can give you is to have an open mind and a positive attitude. If you enter the situation from a position of fear or negativity, then it will be a struggle.
But I genuinely believe you will be fine and things will work out well.
And check out my Ultimate Guide to Teaching English Abroad right here.
And my Ultimate Checklist of What to Take When Teaching Abroad right here.
These provide some more detailed information for you.
And as always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.