In yesterday’s Friday Five I explained how I knew I wanted to teach internationally. I had the itch to travel, to get out of my comfort zone and see the world. I wanted something new. Maybe you’re considering teaching internationally as well. I sat down to write a quick post about what it is like to live and teach in a different country and I accidentally created a whole blog series… I guess it happens!
This will be the first of many posts explaining the process and a bit more about teaching internationally. I can only speak from personal experience and the experiences others have shared with me. If you have any additional information or ideas to share, please do so in the comments below. I am by no means an expert but I do know a thing or two.
Making A Choice
Deciding to teach abroad is not one that should be made on a whim. When I decided to move abroad I knew several things going into it. I talked to the people I love deeply and considered their opinions. I spoke to those I knew who taught internationally and gathered their experience. I made a lot of pro/con lists and I considered a lot of options. Hopefully this post can help you reflect on your decision to move into the world of international teaching.
Disclaimer: I am going to talk about international teaching not teaching English in a foreign country. I am a certified elementary (actually grades 1-8) teacher. I have a degree in education and hold teaching certification. I do not have my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. I teach all of the core subjects and my school operates similarly to schools in the US. There are many schools internationally where you do not need to hold an education license or degree. There are many schools where you can teach English to children. I won’t be talking about those schools. I have never worked at one. Just wanted to give a heads up before we got into it.
Let’s talk about all the reasons you shouldn’t go. It is essential to be extremely honest with yourself during the consideration process. If you aren’t you could end up in a world of hurt with no close family and friends around you to help you out. I don’t want any of these things to sound harsh but I do want to be honest about teaching and living abroad.
You are running from something.
This is perhaps overall general life advice but you cannot run from yourself. You cannot run from your experiences. You cannot run from your problems. You cannot run from your past. You cannot. Moving to a new country doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a new person. Your life doesn’t become suddenly new. It is the same you, the same past, the same problems in a new country. The teachers I have met who moved to run from something are still running. Their experiences abroad have been difficult. They have had big breakdowns with none of the people who know and love them around. Be careful if you want to move abroad to get away from something.
You are running to something.
This one might sound strange but I have met so many young teachers who moved internationally to find the partner of their dreams. Perhaps moving for love could be a factor but it shouldn’t be the only factor. Also, dating a new country probably won’t go the same way as dating in your home country. Different cultures have different unwritten rules and expectations for dating. In Poland guys never speak to you at bars. They will not approach you. This can be alarming for some people who moved here to find the partner of their dreams. I’ve talked to a lot of teachers and a lot of young women especially list this as a top reason for moving internationally. Do you date a lot in your home country? Do you put yourself out there? How do you handle rejection and dating in your home country? I wouldn’t say this should be a very high priority on your list. Of course, date while teaching internationally but don’t go international just to date. Ya, feel me?
You’re not independent and don’t like to be alone.
Let’s be real. There is a lot of alone time when you teach internationally. You have to be independent and able to stand on your own two feet. You have to be able to land in a new country and set up a life for yourself all by yourself. Despite having friends you sort of are all alone. Can you problem solve all by yourself? Are you ok being alone? I don’t necessarily mean lonely but alone. I think those are two different things.
You have never spent a holiday away from your family or you have never lived far from home.
Ok, hear me out on this one. Holidays are a big deal for many many people. Traditions live around holidays. Ask yourself if you will be ok not being home for Thanksgiving. What about Christmas? Can you handle your birthday all on your own? Is it ok if you can’t make a family member’s funeral? Wedding? It stinks missing out on lots of family time. But I knew I could handle it. I already skipped Thanksgivings and Easters. I already celebrated my birthday far away from home and I survived. Some people need to be close to family. A very good friend of mine in college explained that some people had wings but she had roots. Having roots isn’t a bad thing. But are you going to be really upset Facetiming your family on Thanksgiving? They’re all together hanging out. Eating pumpkin pie and watching parades. You’re alone and can’t even make your own pumpkin pie because you can’t find the ingredients. Is that ok to you? I do still celebrate Thanksgiving with a lot of fellow American teachers but I’ll be honest, it is not the same as hanging out at home. Not at all. Can you build new traditions around the holidays and be ok with leaving old traditions behind?
You are in a serious relationship and your partner isn’t joining you.
I don’t mean that you’re married and your partner is coming with you. I mean that you have a partner that you’re leaving behind and going to try to make it work long distance. How strong are your feelings for this person? Is it hard to go a few days without seeing them? Can your relationship handle this? Do you trust them? This might sound silly but consider your relationship with your pets too. I left behind a family dog whom I love with all of my heart but who is also 15 years old. I can’t tell you how hard I cried hugging him goodbye at Christmas knowing that he might not be around the next time I return to the US. Can the relationships you’re leaving behind handle the distance?
You just suffered some sort of trauma in your life.
This isn’t Under the Tuscan Sun. You aren’t going to hit a rough patch in your life, move abroad, buy a tuscan villa and fall in love with life. That is Hollywood and we live in the real world. Your life isn’t Eat, Pray, Love. Wandering around the world after enduring a trauma is very traumatic. Going back to the alone piece, you won’t have your support system with you. The people who listen and dry your tears won’t be in your timezone. You also won’t have the supports of the doctor’s and therapists you’re familiar with. The people I’ve seen struggle the most teaching internationally are the people who have suffered a trauma and moved abroad to teach.
You have no savings.
It is expensive to move especially if your school reimburses you for all your moving expenses in the first paycheck… or if they don’t reimburse you at all. Even though you can end up saving a lot of money while teaching internationally, the start up costs can be a lot. When I first moved to Poland there were a lot of start-up costs. I was reimbursed for some of them but I did have to put a lot of money into my move. Think: plane tickets, extra luggage, shipping, first month’s rent and security deposit, trips to IKEA, new phone plans, dinner with new friends, etc. The list could really go on and on. Moving is expensive and moving internationally can be even more expensive. Make plans so you don’t end up in a tough situation.
You are set in your ways and perhaps close-minded.
Living internationally is going to shake up your life. Like your whole life. It is going to shake you to your core. This sounds super dramatic and I don’t mean for it to be but… The majority of your beliefs are going to be tested. Can you handle trying to look at things through a new perspective? What happens when your core beliefs are challenged? How do you handle people doing things differently than you’re used to? I once witnessed a serious breakdown because someone felt the McDonald’s cheeseburger in Poland had pepper. I’m not kidding. If you value your McDonald’s a certain way… rethink things. In all seriousness, you need to be able to handle being the outsider and having people not understand your values in the least.
You don’t want to start over.
Sometimes I just crave my classroom with all of my things that I have in storage in the US. Starting over is hard. I worked long and hard and spent so much money to build up an amazing collection of books. Now I have none of them… although, I have spent a ridiculous money on books since I’ve been in Poland. Starting over is hard and it isn’t for everyone.
Now let’s talk about why you should go. Deciding to go was one of the most exciting decisions I’ve made. If these sound like you then start applying!
You’re open to new possibilities.
Teaching internationally totally opens up your world. I have learned so much about myself as a teacher and I have learned so much about education since teaching internationally. Not only have I learned so much about myself as I teacher I have learned so much about myself as a person. I have tried things I never thought I would try. I have made the most amazing friends with people I might not have been friends with in the US. I am open to any experience that comes my way and that is a very important attitude to have. If you’re open to new possibilities and looking at things from a new perspective then international teaching is for you.
You want to travel.
You want to learn and grow as a person.
I am all about personal development. You think I like growing and learning as a teacher? I LOVE growing and learning as a human? I seriously love it! I have learned so much about myself. I know who I am and I know what I stand for more than before. When you’re put in different situations than the ones you’ve always been in you learn a lot about yourself and you grow a lot.
You can handle being on your own.
I’ve always been the kind of person who is ok to to march to the beat of their own drum. I moved far away from home my first year after college. I learned a lot through that experience but I really learned how to stand on my own two feet. Being able to stand on your own is important. I have great friends here who are really like a second family but at the end of the day I am on my own. I like it and I sort of thrive when thrown out into the world all by myself.
You can handle being away from friends, family, and pets.
I’ve missed out on friend’s weddings. I have missed out on the birth of my friend’s children. My dog might not be alive when I come home. That one hurts… a lot. But I knew going into this and I am ok with missing out on some stuff. Moving abroad has made my friendships at home grow stronger. I did lose a lot of friends when we just didn’t put in the time. The friends I have stayed in contact with will be my friends for life.
You’re open to learning (and maybe failing at learning) a new language.
I attempted to learn Polish. I tried so hard and I also failed so hard. I know the basics and I can get by in a shop but I can’t have a full on conversation. Language is a struggle that some people can’t handle. In Poland most people know English and it isn’t too hard to figure things out while shopping or out in the world. Learning a new language isn’t easy but I think it is so so important to familiarize yourself with the language and the culture of your new country. I’ve learned so much about Poland, Polish and Polish culture.
Your family supports the idea.
This is really important. If you go abroad and your family doesn’t support the idea you are going to feel conflicted. It can be hard to make life choices that aren’t supported by your family. You are going to need your family support while living abroad. I constantly lean on my sister for support and advice, similar to how I did at home but in a different sense. If your family supports your choice, go!
Deciding to go is no easy task. Once I knew that I was going to go I decided to keep that choice to myself. I didn’t want to hear other people’s opinions on it. I only told select people in my life about where I was applying and what my plans were. Once I knew I was going to go I didn’t want to be talked out of it by anyone. That worked for me but I know people who tell everyone. Deciding to go is a really exciting time.
Please share your thoughts, ideas and questions in the comments below.
Next we’ll start talking about applying and interviewing.
All of this!! I especially like your ‘disclaimer’ about being a certified teacher. I’ve been an international teacher for 12 years and one of my biggest pet peeves is that people don’t think it is a career- that I’m just playing little conversation games with people!!
Having said that your list is SO spot on! I’ve seen people come and go, love and hate teaching internationally and those that hated it should have read this post first!! Especially the part about being open to new ideas/experiences. And I have to say- this applies mainly to those from the States. You are moving to a new country not to the Disneyfied versión in Epcot! If you are going to have a break down because you can’t find cheap peanut butter (it’s always peanut butter!), don’t go!!
Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it! I hope it is helpful to people looking into the international teaching game.
I completely agree that many Americans have this idealized and unrealistic idea of what life is really like in a different country. I think we just watch too many movies and don’t do a lot of international travel so our expectations can become distorted. I have also witnessed many meltdowns over the taste of peanut butter here. So many!