Most EFL teachers don’t want to pursue teaching when we get back to our home country. Teaching English abroad can feel like a wasted few months, resumé-wise. I’ve heard rumours that it's perceived the same as taking a year off to travel—it’s just a temporary “break” from the “real world.”
The truth is we’re learning many skills we wouldn’t have otherwise—but the key is knowing how to market these come job hunting season.
Flexibility and Adaptability
This is definitely the first thing that comes to mind. Let me give you an example; for Christmas last year, we were told we were going to attend a morning assembly. I pictured dancing, carols and maybe a skinny, Thai Santa giving out candy. At 4:15 p.m. on December 24th, my foreign co-workers and I were told that we were going to lead the assembly, and the director had decided she wanted us to put on a play for the kids—props, script, the whole shebang. I was freaking out slightly, but my more seasoned co-worker barely batted an eyelash. By 5 p.m. we had a script and were all assigned props and costumes to make. Albeit, these were not the most beautiful costumes you’ve ever seen, but we were able to put on a show for the kiddos nonetheless.
As globalization continues, cross-cultural communication and sensitivity is sought after in the workplace; having firsthand experience in a foreign work environment can only open your eyes to different cultures.
Schedules here can change hour-by-hour, and what you were told yesterday isn’t necessarily what you’ll be told today. Learning to roll with the punches is necessary for survival in this world; if you sweat the small things, you’re going to get eaten alive. Having this skill will impress your future employers in the western world when you’re surrounded by people who can’t let go of their online calendar. Better to shrug your shoulders, say "mai bpen rai," smile, and get on with your work.
Your biggest issue living in Thailand might become your biggest asset back home. Spending your time around people who don’t share your native tongue requires some creativity; you need to choose your words wisely and concisely to avoid confusion. You must explain your thoughts well, otherwise the students staring at you will never understand the assignment. You also acquire an acute ability for reading body language, because sometimes that’s all you have to go on.
Now, think about applying this in a business setting; in memos you will need to be to-the-point; you may have to persuade a boardroom of suits by explaining the benefits of your product; you might have to tune into your client's body language and tailor your pitch based on that. Regardless, you will have ample experience in communication to draw on.
I would consider this skill a mix of the previous two, but it definitely deserves its own category. My mom once told me that teaching is one of the most tiring jobs because of the vast number of problems you have to solve in a day—it’s a serious cognitive workout! Whether you’re teaching in your home country or abroad, you’re constantly making decisions that help you to become a better problem solver, but if you’re abroad, you have to tackle these issues in another language.
In the classroom, you might encounter a spat between a couple of students; even if you can’t understand why they’re arguing, you need to end it as quickly as possible so you can all get on with your day. You may plan to watch a video in science class when the Internet decides to cut out (this is Thailand, after all). Even away from school, you’ll find yourself in predicaments. To give you a real life example, my tire once blew in the middle of a winding highway. I was about 5km from the nearest town, and didn’t think driving on a flat tire was a good idea. I was able to wave down a motorbike taxi, and after showing him my flat tire he drove my bike to his mechanic friend’s shop, and drove it back to me as good as new. Problems are bound to happen, and it’s important to keep your cool when they do. It can seem daunting at first, but you will learn how to combat these dilemmas on your own and will be a more capable person because of it.
This is a skill that I hope everyone learns from spending time abroad! I think that we, as westerners, have a tendency to push our opinions on others because we sometimes feel we know better. It may require a shift in perspective to realize that you are a guest in this country and should act as one. You will definitely learn a thing or two!
“Thais value harmony over efficiency, which is opposite to the west.” My TESOL instructor gifted me this nugget of information and I continue to see it exemplified each and every day. It’s frustrating sitting in a meeting, for example, where every idea has to be discussed at length, when you’re used to sitting in meetings that are as condensed as possible. Your Thai coworkers aren’t dragging out the meeting to ruin your evening—in fact, they’re doing it because they want to make sure everyone’s opinion is considered and no one gets offended. Things are just done differently here and that’s okay. As globalization continues to progress, this skill is more sought after in the marketplace; having firsthand experience in a foreign workplace can only open your eyes to different cultures. Maybe it’s part of the reason so many young professionals are choosing to move abroad in the first place.
It’s time to realize that teaching abroad is just as valuable as other jobs in preparing us for our career. And if I was answering phones in an office instead of teaching in Thailand, my weekends wouldn’t be filled with as many waterfalls and beaches, would they?Add this article to your reading list