When I first decided to teach English abroad, my friends and family thought I was crazy. After all, I was a young woman, about to travel to a new country far from everyone and everything I knew. I was ready, though. I wanted a change from the same-old life that I saw everyone living. I wanted a new adventure. Sure, I was a little scared, but the experience of teaching overseas changed me in ways that I never imagined. I learned a lot of lessons about life while I was living in Thailand and China, and I use those decisions to guide my future choices.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
There’s no doubt that Europe would have been a safe location for my overseas experience. I took French throughout high school and college, so I was fairly comfortable with the language. I also knew that if I was in France, there’d be more people who spoke English and my friends and family would be a lot more excited to come visit.
Instead, I decided to set my sights on Asia. When I made that decision, I was mostly thinking about being able to help more people. I thought the demand for teaching English as a second language was far greater in those regions. On hindsight, though, I can see how that decision really pushed my limits. I went to a country where I didn’t know the language at all – where I couldn’t even read it! I had no choice but to learn a few phrases to be able to survive. It forced me to talk to other people rather than trying to figure things out on my own. I wouldn’t have had those experiences if I had gone with the safer choice.
A Career Shake-Up Is Possible
A lot of my friends had a fairly straight career path. My best friend from high school always knew she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, and that’s what she’s still doing now. Friends from college went into finance or medicine. However, I felt kind of stuck. After college, I started working for a well-known corporation. I knew that I’d have no problem working my way up in that world. But was it what I really wanted?
When I first went to Shanghai, I didn’t even know how to be a teacher. My company put me through a two-week crash course and then threw me to the wild. I survived. I developed my skills and got a lot stronger. Eventually, I became one of the best teachers they had.
I’m not the only person who’s ever felt stuck in their career path. A lot of people don’t think there’s a way out. However, I now know that I can make a complete turnaround. If there’s a new career path that starts to interest me, I know that I have what it takes to jump in and learn how to do it. There are many more paths that seem open to me now.
Say Yes to Invitations
In the age of electronics, it would have been easy for me to teach overseas without truly living overseas. I could have gone to my job, gotten takeout on the way home, then holed up in my apartment chatting with friends from back home on Facebook and using the Internet to watch all of the TV shows I was missing. However, I didn’t want that kind of life. I really did want to experience what it was like living in a different country.
So I started saying yes to a lot more invitations. When the other teachers were going out for dinner and drinks on a Friday night, I went too. Whenever a friend was looking for someone to go with them on a day trip, I was the first to volunteer. I’m not always an outgoing person by nature. In fact, I’m often quite shy when I first meet people. Consistently saying yes to invitations, though, has helped me to develop fantastic friendships. I now carry the philosophy of saying yes with me wherever I go.
People Speaking English as a Second Language Aren’t Stupid
Americans often express disdain for immigrants trying to speak English – their strong accents, their incorrect use of grammar, their simplistic sentences. English comes natural to us, and it’s like we assume that it should come naturally to everyone else as well.
Teaching English as a second language showed me how difficult the language really is. I saw how difficult it can me to read when the letters aren’t always phonetic. There were plenty of grammar points that I had a hard time explaining myself. Some of my students were doctors or teachers – people you’d never think of as “stupid” – and they would struggle to speak English. I also learned how hard it is for me to try to express myself a different language. Now, I never look at someone trying to speak a new language with disrespect. I know that there’s a story behind those words.
I realize that not everyone has the ability or desire to teach overseas, but it was a great experience for me. Throughout the process, I was able to grow as a person. I now feel more confident in my ability to successfully take on whatever I want.
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1 thought on “Life Lessons I Learned While Teaching Overseas.”
When i was 23 i moved to poland (pre-EU entry) to teach english. Best thing i ever did. I made friends, learnt to speak english and travelled extensively. I am not afraid to do things in my own or go to places where i don’t speak the language… yet!