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6 Must-Dos Before Teaching Abroad

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A veteran TEFL teacher shares his pre-departure tips.

Shanghai, I speak the word. Rolling it around to see what comes to mind so many impressions blossom: mystery, danger and adventure are but a few. Yet, the leggy practicalities of arranging a move abroad are more immediate impressions right now. And I have committed to doing this.

“Shanghai” translates as “upon-the-sea.” Then it is no surprise the allure of Shanghai’s water towns enticed my interest, charmed my travel sensibilities. With the spell cast my school needed only wave the contract in my face.

I jumped.

This time I jumped with those leggy practicalities in mind. I have worked as an ESL teacher for five years now. My teaching experiences reach far and wide from a forgotten Saudi village to a bustling South Korean satellite city. If you want to talk about a city of contrasts then my experiences are a massive city of contrasts.

However, I encountered many snags along the way. In fact, thanks to those snags, I am sitting here writing this article, highlighting some problems which could ruin your journey before you even get to the airport. Success lies in the planning and I adhere to these vital tips when planning my journeys abroad.

1. Do your research

When looking for work make sure to do your research about the school you’re applying to for a teaching position. A simple Google search will tell you a lot about a school. There are ESL forums to help you identify dodgy companies. Two forums worth checking out are daveseslcafe.com and chinaforeignteachersunion.org/2012/12/china-foreign-teachers-union-posts-esl.html.

If you do find something troubling, do not hesitate in asking your future employer. Reputations change with ownership and you are the one making the sacrifice to leave home.

2. Organize your documentation

Make sure you allow enough time to process your working visa. In some countries, the process may take weeks before they send you the application forms.

Usually, you will have to apply for a working visa in your home country. This could create problems for teachers who are already working abroad. It is vital you look at start dates when applying for positions. Further, communicate your circumstances with your employers or interviewers. They may find a solution for you and it eliminates any confusion.

3. Communicating with HR

After you have landed that job, you will be communicating with the school’s HR personal. It is normal that they may have poor English skills. (I have climbed countless walls in frustration because of language barriers.) Communicate with hyper-concision when relaying information to your school. Trust me, it teaches you empathy and as a teacher gives you a taste of some of the common language difficulties people in that country face.

As an example, imagine you are talking about a medical form to be completed. It is normal to drop the "medical" if you have already referred to it earlier in your email, and to just use "form." Native speakers think nothing of this. But this can confuse someone with low level English. Suddenly you are trying to explain this rather than the actual point. If you want an exchange of clear information, remain linguistically vigilant.

4. Read

Science has yet to prove that reading is bad for you. Read as much as you can about a place. It’s obviously not going to be exactly how you imagined it but it will give you a taste of what’s to come. If you like to travel into the void blind then I suggest you narrow your reading to the likely scams you will encounter in a given country. It prevents long hours of cursing your stupidity when slouched penniless in a bar.

5. Pack

I’m not your mother. Relax. But I have travelled a lot. I am always amused at what people bring with them when moving abroad. I once had a friend who arrived at my doorstep with six suitcases and three carry-on bags. I had to pay the taxi driver to help me carry them up 10 flights of stairs. Remember where you’re going. Is it hot or cold? What sort of plugs do they use in Kazakhstan? Is it two pin or three pin? Will I bring my swimsuit to Saudi Arabia? Try to separate out essentials from everything else.

6. Create a back-up plan

Horror stories abound. By back-up plan I mean enough money to leave the country if things go wrong. Unfortunately, the ESL world is filled with unsavoury characters who cash in on your naivety. This comes with the territory. If you find your boss has lied to you—let’s say the contract has suddenly changed without prior notice—it’s good to have the airfare out. Do not be held to ransom by your own sense of morality. This is what the scam artists depend upon.

The ESL world is unlike most working environments. Challenges exist on so many levels from social to environmental, even to political. Regardless, with travel comes risk and for some teachers the experience can sour because they are not prepared. Planning steers you around common pitfalls. Planning has meditative qualities; it regulates the thought process and relaxes the body, and will help minimizing pre-departure stress.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Allan Gould

Allan Gould lives the life of a disparate English language teacher. Forever on the look out for the unusual, he has travelled in over 40 different countries. Currently he is employed by Guanghua International School in Shanghai. When he is not teaching he is writing and researching recipes for original gin cocktails.

Website: rawsoup.blogpost.com

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