This blog provides insight about Teaching English abroad. But teaching overseas is ultimately about living in a foreign country, traveling, learning a new language and gaining an alternative perspective of the world. Teaching English is not for everyone, nor is living abroad. If you have little interest in other cultures or desire to acquire new language skills, then you really should stop yourself from pursuing a job abroad. Check out one of my earlier posts on ‘Five Reasons NOT to Teach English abroad’. I often get emails from people solely interested in how much money they can make in a particular country, followed by questions such as, can I buy Western food in a market near my house or do I really have to learn any of the language or is it safe and so on. These are all valid questions and salary should always be a concern, but not the ultimate motivation.
As a person that has taught English in Asia for four years and traveled throughout South America, I would like to share my insight about living and teaching overseas. Ultimately, it’s about being outside of your own country and culture. This holds true whether you are living abroad or backpacking for a few months. I will always be American at heart, but there are just some aspects of being on another continent that I can really only experience outside of my own society. Here are Fifteen Reasons Why I love Living Abroad.
1. Learning the Language
I guess I am sort of nerd, but I enjoy studying and there is nothing I enjoy more on an intellectual level than to acquire new language skills. I taught English in Japan for 4 years and took advantage of my free time to learn Japanese, which is quite a difficult tongue to master if you are from the West. I took every available free Japanese class I could find and enrolled in a couple of evening classes that were reasonably priced. During my time in South America, I studied Spanish at tiny language schools in both Buenos Aries and in Ecuador. You don’t have to reach the level of a native speaker, but at least striving for conversational skills will go a long way. It will open doors in another country and allow for new friendships. The ability to speak in a foreign tongue fluently is truly a liberating feeling.
2. Using that language in real life situations
Learning a language is a tedious process and awkward moments along with frustration are inevitable. On the other hand, I’ll never forget those almost surreal episodes during my first year in Japan, such as when it took me an hour to send a simple package at the post office. If you teach English abroad, your school manager will insist that English is spoken almost everywhere, but in reality this is far from true. Better yet, I remember desolate bus terminals in South America in some sleepy town where not a soul spoke English and only communicated in a thick Argentinian accent. Just purchasing a bus ticket to the next city was an ordeal at times. It is also during these real-life situations when you truly get a chance to practice your language skills and ultimately improve. Rather than getting someone else to do if for you, take every opportunity when abroad to practice. It may seem ridiculous, but getting a subscription filled at a pharmacy or asking for directions in a foreign tongue is much more valuable than classroom time.
3. Interacting with the locals
Whether I’ve been in Thailand, Japan, Argentina or anywhere else, I’ve always enjoyed and found comfort in exchanging world views with the locals. Just as we are curious about them, they are at times even more baffled by our presence in their country. What I’ve learned over the years is that despite differences in culture, religion and politics, people are just people. We all worry, love, fight, hate, care, ponder our existence in this grand universe and experience bad breath in the morning. Ultimately, we are all human and connected in some way to this planet that we call earth. One of the most memorable aspects of living abroad is sharing various perspectives on life.
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4. Hanging out at bars
I love a good bar anywhere. In fact, when I am in America, I am one of those annoying beer snobs that must go to a place with at least a few different IPA beers on tap. But when I’m abroad, it doesn’t matter what kind of beer is being served. You can hand me a can of PBR and I’ll be happy. Whether I’ve been in Ecuador, Chile or Japan, there is something entertaining about drinking a beer in a bar in a foreign country. This is also a great time to do some serious people watching or strike up a conversation with the locals. Overall, going to a bar in a foreign country is astronomically more enjoyable than back home.
5. International Romance
Ok, I understand that we live in this ultra-politically correct world and I’ll probably get some heat for this one , but I ain’t gonna lie. I’ve always enjoyed a good international romance. Whether you are male or female, gay or straight, if you are going to live abroad, then you might as well taste the wine. If not, you just never get the full experience of another culture. I won’t go into full detail, but you can use your imagination on this one. The reality is that if you live abroad for even a year, there is a more than likely chance that you will end up in a relationship with someone from the home team. In some cases, certain individuals end up married with children.
6. The food
I don’t know about you, but the only thing that I love as much as an international romance is the food. When it comes to food, I am not picky and I’ve probably never met a meal that I didn’t agree with. You can put me in any country and I will fully indulge in the local cuisine. When I lived in Japan, I’m pretty confident that I tried just about everything they had to offer. I know that some of you just aren’t as open-minded about food as I am, but I encourage anyone planning to teach English or live abroad to at least give it go. Before judging any of the local dishes, remember that food in the English-speaking world is loaded with chemicals, corn syrup and processed to the point where it can hardly be considered food.
7. Meeting other expats
When I lived both Japan and Argentina, I really appreciated my fellow expat friends. I had buddies from all parts of the globe, including America, Canada, the UK, Africa, Europe and even Australia. I mentioned before that I love learning new languages, but sometimes you just need to hit the town with peeps who speak your own tongue and have a few laughs. I’ve also met plenty of fascinating Westerners who enjoy similar interests, such as traveling, writing and living a lifestyle in opposition to the dullness of suburban life. If you live abroad long enough, you will make some genuine friendships, which makes returning back to your home country even harder.
8. Making local friends
I am not just talking about international romance here, but developing real friendships with members of the local population. Whether I was in Asia or Latin America, I made friends with so many interesting people, some of whom spoke no English at all. Unfortunately, I’ll never see most them again, but the memories and their insights into life will always have a lasting impression in my mind. Thanks to social media, it’s still possible to kind of stay in touch in a superficial way. What I’ve learned is that despite our differences, people around the world are generally kind, friendly and hospitable. I hope they feel the same about us when they come to America.
I’m on the brink of entering my mid-thirties, so I don’t party often these days. But the best partying I’ve done has always been abroad. Japan, Ecuador, Thailand and Argentina are all great places to get your groove on. I think it’s the group mentality in other cultures that makes it so pleasurable. What I always enjoy is going out with a large, but mixed group of Westerners and locals. I feel that people in other countries operate on a different level when it comes to socializing. They are better at pacing themselves, taking care of everyone in the group and maintaining harmony. I’ve also found people in other countries to be more hospitable and generous when it comes to partying. People are less worried about who bought what or how much each person spent and more concerned about seeing that everyone is having a great time. So if you are going to party abroad, pick up on how the locals do it,
As mentioned before, I might just be a giant nerd, but I really enjoy using and evaluating the transportation systems of other countries. When I lived in Japan, I always got a kick out of riding the subway or taking a long train ride on the very efficient JR rail system. Did you know that you can drink beer on the JR trains in Japan? I remember once taking the ‘slow train’ from Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, to Bangkok, which took 24 hours. The train had no windows and seemed to take forever as it crawled through the Thai countryside. But it was quite a social train, as one could drink, smoke, buy food and move around to mingle with the other passengers.
11. Going to the supermarket
This one is definitely lame, but going to the supermarket in another country never really seems to get old. Thanks to globalization, you can pretty much get a fair amount of back home items throughout most of Asia and Latin America. The only difference is that they may be packaged differently or written in the local language. Then there are the local items that you come across for the first time, but have no idea what they are because the labeling is written in Japanese, Spanish or whatever language. During my first three months in Japan, I lived in the countryside where there were hardly any Westerners and I can still remember little children and their moms literally stopping in the middle of the aisle to stare at me.
12. Being homesick
This one doesn’t make sense because no one enjoys experiencing homesickness. It is a terrible feeling and can be quite intense. It feels as if you are being swallowed up by the weight of world and you are completely helpless. However, homesickness goes away after a week or so and once you recover, you become a stronger person. You appreciate life more and rekindle your natural inclination to explore, learn and make new friendships. Some individuals never recover, but these types probably shouldn’t have gone abroad in the first place. You cannot experience blithe without first suffering some form of agony.
13. Not watching TV or the news
In all the time I’ve spent abroad, I think I spent a combined 20 hours watching TV. Instead, I found myself more prone to write, go out, study and be active. Obviously, its easy to do all these things in our home countries, but it’s fantastically easy to shun the outside world when living abroad. You realize that watching CNN, Fox news or keeping up with the latest shows, entertainment is a complete waste of time. If you want to understand how the world functions, don’t waste your time watching CNN and filling your mind with unnecessary fear, but get out into the world and meet the people that populate this beautiful planet.
14. Getting some ‘me’ time
It gets lonely at times when living abroad and there are definitely moments when you deeply miss your family and friends. Sometimes you second-guess your decision to leave your country and yearn for a more secure situation. However, being all alone in the big, vast world also provides an opportunity for you to evaluate your life, the society around you and how you see the world. It’s a chance for you to truly find out who you are as a person and possibly where you are headed. There are some people that kind of get lost living overseas, but you can get misled in your home country as well. At that point, it doesn’t really matter where you are. The most important thing is being comfortable with who you are as a person and having some sort of direction in life.
15. Better understanding of your own culture
This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you really want to discern your own culture, then they need to exist outside of it for a while. I think this is particularly true for Americans since contemporary globalization has been so heavily influenced by the United States for good or bad. When we step outside of our secure borders, we have a tendency to naturally compare it to the new culture, which ultimately allows us to map out the pros and cons of the new culture in which we are learning and our own.
Living abroad can be a great experience for so many reasons and we all have our reasons for doing so. Whether you plan on teaching English to support yourself or you have other means that will allow you to live overseas, you will learn to appreciate the different nuances of expat life. Whether you are a newbie or have experience living abroad, please feel free to leave a comment.