[Note: This article was first published on eChinacities.com on April 10, 2018.]
So you’re considering quitting your job and teaching English abroad. Who isn’t? But is it worthwhile, fulfilling, career advancing? While there are countless reasons you should play it safe and stay in your office job and home country, there are also countless ways teaching English abroad will change your life. Here’s just six of them.
The profession itself
Governments, people and corporations around the world have realised the grave importance of adequate education. This may seem a little lofty, but education shapes the future, public policy and public perceptions, and to have a hand in that is humbling.
It’s a bit hackneyed to think that you’re changing the world, but you’re certainly doing it some good. English is obviously a lingua franca, and this basic tool opens doors for students. When you teach, you are genuinely changing lives. You will also change when you see how meaningful your profession has become.
You’ll be learning, too!
If you’re considering a job as a foreign language teacher, you no doubt expect that you’ll be doing most of the teaching. There’s myriad clichés regarding the profession, but the one I like the most is: “the students should be teaching you as much as you teach them”.
As a teacher, you should always be learning, if for no other reason than to practice what you preach. As a teacher in a foreign country, however, learning from your students will help you better assimilate with the environment and culture around you. You’ll have dozen-upon-dozens of students both willing and eager to clue you up on the local way of doing things.
You’ll be in a constant state of self-reflection
When living abroad, figuring out your identity and how you fit in (or don’t) is an all-consuming part of life, especially in an extremely homogeneous society like China’s. Han Chinese make up 95 percent of the population, so (assuming you’re not Han) you’ll be perpetually reminded of the fact that you’re a waiguoren (outsider).
Even if you are indeed a foreign-born Han Chinese, you may still receive a constant bombardment of statements about your other-ness. An American-born Chinese friend of mine was frequently told, “You’re not realllly American,” or “You’re not realllly Chinese”, when actually he is both.
There’s a litany of differences, both minute and great, that you’ll notice when working abroad. Table manners, spatial barriers, volume, physical contact, hair color, what “politeness” really entails, phone usage, the capacity of technology, the role of gender in society, clothing, and so on.
This list is non-exhaustive, but when you’re confronted with issues as trivial or pressing as these every day, you’re bound to change. If you’re hoping to teach English abroad and answer the age-old “Who am I” question, you’ll certainly have plenty to go on.
You’ll go to places you never would otherwise
One of the joys of teaching English in China, in particular, is the extensive and convenient high speed rail network. You can hop on a train for fairly cheap and be somewhere new and exciting in a couple of hours. I dare say this is true for a lot of places where people are sent to teach English. My advice is to seek out the small towns and villages foreigners would never go to otherwise.
I’ve visited gorgeous parts of Guizhou and Hunan that are somewhat hard to get to. If I wasn’t already in China, I would never have gone through the hassle of buying a 1,000 USD flight, sitting for 15 hours on a plane, transferring to a closer airport and getting a train or bus to a hotel just to see a waterfall. Luckily I didn’t have to.
Further, depending on where you teach, either in a public school or a private training centre, you may have a schedule very amenable to travel. If you have the summer off or the lengthy break for a national festival you can really get stuck into the country in which you’re living.
Travelling is an endless redrawing of the proverbial line-in-the-sand of your expectations. What you think is normal will change very quickly. Eating boiled pig brain or standing throughout a four-hour train ride will seem like a normal part of life.
You’ll realize how small the world is
If you’re teaching English in China, you’ll likely have students from all over the country in your classroom. But even if your students are all from the same village, chances are your colleagues will be from all over the world. And despite you and your students being worlds apart in terms of background, you’re sure to find some with familiar interests and mannerisms that will remind you how small the world is.
What once seemed so foreign will all of a sudden seem normal. Even an arbitrary demarcation such as “Asia” will seem tiny as a result of teaching abroad. This shift in perspective will stick with you forever.
You’ll appreciate the power of language
When teaching English abroad, you’ll quickly realise how powerful a tool language can be, either because of the ones you speak or, more likely, the ones you don’t.
Not being able to express yourself in the local language will shape your personality. You may become more introverted because you can’t express yourself, or you may become more outgoing for the very same reason.
Lastly, just like wrinkles on your skin or the graying of your hair, you won’t notice the extent that teaching abroad has changed you until one day you return home and your family playfully teases you.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Have you ever taught abroad??
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