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Is Teaching Abroad For You?

Tina on Jeju Island in South Korea. Beata Fritz


Common challenges that you'll encounter as an EFL teacher.

Ever since I've taken the leap to move halfway across the world to teach, people started reaching out to me. It seems that others not only admire what I'm doing, but they are also inspired to get paid to travel and to travel with purpose. I did the same thing before making my own move. I contacted others who were doing exactly what I wanted to do; teaching English in South Korea. Writing this blog and sharing my journey is my way of paying it forward.

Some of the most common questions I'm asked are "How do I know if this is for me?" and "What will I do after my year abroad?" People worry that they won't gain relevant work experience or obtain a job after their year abroad in their field. They worry that this is a "waste" of a year because it will affect their career goals and life plans. I can tell you one thing; a year aboard may be the most valuable year of your life thus far. You will learn relevant life skills that you can apply at work and throughout your life.

Of course, teaching abroad isn't for everyone. Working overseas is not as glamorous as it seems; behind all the Instagram pictures, there are stories of hardship, struggles, and a constant battle with the mind, illusions and mixed emotions. I think that everyone should travel, but not everyone should teach. When you live overseas, all your problems are magnified 10-fold. The stress intensifies and you deal with a lot in all aspects of your life; work, social, health. Here are some work scenarios to give you a better idea of what you may experience:

Behind all the Instagram pictures, there are stories of hardship and struggle. I think that everyone should travel, but not everyone should teach.

In one class, you're explaining the rules of the game to your students. While most of your students understand you, not all of them do, especially your lower-level students. You look at your co-teacher for help, but she's unaware of what's happening. Instead, she's standing at the back texting on her phone, completely uninvolved with the class. Sometimes, she even disappears from the classroom and you're all on your own.

Can you handle it?

In another class, you're barely doing anything. The co-teacher's English is good, but she speaks so much Korean in class that you don't even know when it's your turn to speak.

Can you handle it?

On Friday, you approach your co-teacher to discuss the lesson for Monday's class. She tells you she hasn't planned anything yet and she doesn’t need any of your help. She will plan it over the weekend and tell you last-minute on Monday. . .except you will be teaching a different lesson for every single one of your classes.

Can you handle it?

You're teaching high school students in the evening and half of them aren't paying attention. Someone has fallen asleep, another is taking selfies, another is applying makeup, a few are chit-chatting. You understand that this is actually normal in a high school classroom, but it feels disrespectful.

Can you handle it?

In Korea, there are many spontaneous events or changes that we like to call the "Korean surprise." You may be told something last-minute, such as cancelled or rescheduled classes. You're constantly thrown off-guard. You might be asked to teach one thing, but suddenly the teacher takes over.

There are clear solutions to the situations above, such as adapting to the situation, thinking on your feet, and always being prepared to teach and manage the class as if you're on your own. Understand that there are cultural differences but also be prepared for confrontations when you feel that the situation is crossing your boundaries.

At the end of the day, you choose your battles. You will find yourself in less than ideal situations at work and while travelling, but you will grow from it all. If you're young, have no dependents, want to travel, make a difference, love to work with children, and want to grow as a person, then this could be for you and there is no better time for you to do it. If you feel called to go, then trust your intuition and trust yourself that you're strong enough to overcome anything.

Ten months in, as I reflect on my journey here, I can confidently say that I am not the same person that I was when I first came and I won't be the same person returning. My perspective on the world—as well as myself—has changed, and I give this experience credit for shaping me into a better person today. It is a year worth investing in, because of the valuable life lessons and self-discovery that I've made along the way.


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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Tina Chow

Tina Chow is an avid traveller, aspiring writer, and visionary change-maker. She is passionate about millennial leadership, self-empowerment, and career development. Currently, she is embarking on her new adventure as an English teacher in South Korea.

Website: instagram.com/tina_adventures

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