The Pros and Cons of Teaching Abroad
You’ve decided. Your bag is packed. You’ve kissed your parents, siblings, and especially your dog goodbye. Now you’re ready to board a plane… or are you? I won’t deny teaching abroad has worked out well for me, but I can say that despite my research, I wasn’t ready for everything I’d be dealing with. Before you jump on a flight to your destination, I’ve outlined some pros and cons to teaching abroad that you might want to consider.
Pro: You’re Independent.
Con: You are away from your family.
While teaching abroad is an opportunity that appeals to a wide variety, for many young people, it is their first chance to be independent. Many new adults often choose to move out of their parents’ homes into another place in town, close enough to their families. Then, there are those of us who are more daring and choose to live on the other side of the world. Though that might sound like paradise, it’s not uncommon to feel homesick. When your family is no longer a half hour drive away and you have to rely on yourself for your food, health, and security, it can make you feel pressured, stressed, and overall, just plain isolated. Independence comes at a cost, so be aware of that cost.
Pro: You can reinvent yourself.
Con: People still might not understand you.
When no one knows who you are or anything about your past, it can feel empowering. Because you’re no longer stigmatized by constantly being around people who knew you when you were going through your “emo” phase in middle/high school, you might feel like you can reinvent yourself. In some cases, that’s true. However, you have to understand that every new culture you submit yourself to has different standards and rules of etiquette. What you think might be cool now may not be cool in the culture you’ve entered. Don’t expect to become a new person overnight. People may not understand you or approve of who you’re trying to become. Teaching abroad will take you so far out of your comfort zone that you will change whether you want to or not, and the way you change may not exactly be the way you’d thought, planned, or hoped.
Pro: You’ll have a secure job.
Con: It can be stressful where you work.
When you decide you’re going to seek an educational job abroad, the decision requires a lot of faith. Many things could potentially go wrong. Look at any forum on the topic, and you will see countless stories of teachers not getting paid on time, having to endure terrible housing, having to deal with horrible hours, and dealing with other broken promises. Some schools have even attempted to illegally hold their workers hostage by seizing their passports and thus forcing them into employment–basically kidnapping them for an undisclosed amount of time.
Don’t let that happen to you. Always look up schools you’re considering online. If you see complaints about them, don’t work with them. Some schools are new and provide no information about themselves online. Attempt to stick to established schools so you’re not suckered out of your time and money. Even if you obtain a fully legal job with a reputable school known for doing excellent work, your job may be stressful. Parents can be extremely picky and complain about the smallest details. You may have to work weekends or on special trips. It’s common to be paid a salary but be required to do extra work during breaks or other times.
Pro: You can travel.
Con: You can’t REALLY travel.
So this pro and con really depends on what kind of school you work for. Before leaving Seoul, one of my previous co-workers ended up getting a job at an adult learning education center on Jeju Island. She recently posted pictures from her three week vacation on social media. She had the chance to see Bali and some other countries while on vacation. Of course I was jealous. While the main appeal of teaching abroad is focused on travel, you likely will only have one to maybe two weeks off per year, and those weeks are pre-selected for you by your school. So, if you’re thinking you’ll be able to explore the world just by taking a teaching abroad job, I hate to break it to you, but you’re likely mistaken. It’s more common for teachers finishing their contracts to use their last few weeks in Korea as a time for traveling because there are no teaching obligations to worry about.
Pro: Meaningful work.
Con: No advancement.
Usually teachers are people who care about the welfare of children, have a knack for teaching, want to give back to their communities, or a have combination thereof, which is very admirable. The intrinsic rewards the job provides can be invaluable and humbling. However, many teachers eventually burn out or seek jobs elsewhere, as there is little room for advancement as a foreign TEFL teacher. Once you’re a TEFL teacher at a school, it is usually the position you stay in. If you value a job that gives additional opportunities for growth, it might be best to shop around, or work a few years and seek additional opportunities in other countries.
Deciding you dislike where you’ll be staying or teaching after you have already landed and begun your job is probably not the best thing to do. So, take these tips to heart before you move forward. Got any tips you’d like to share? Leave us your suggestions in the comments box.