ESL Teaching Is Not Just An Extended Vacation

ESL Teaching | Not Just A Vacation!

*This post was originally written while I was still living and working abroad. 

I have recently received many questions from close and old friends about working as an English teacher abroad. While I have received many of the same questions that I have answered in my posts, specifically about being an ESL teacher and how to get a job teaching ESL, they still have an underlying tone that being an ESL teacher abroad is just an extended vacation. While I do admit, I had initially gotten a job teaching ESL to help me travel, this is still a job and many days can be a grind. I can’t help but emphasize, though, ESL teaching is NOT just an extended vacation. Just because this kind of job does not have many barriers to entry, it is still a job and can be, and will be, very difficult at times.

I don’t want to scare anyone off. I might have personally lightly made this decision, but there is a reason I also made the decision to stay for the second year and coming upon my third, but now at a new school and position. I really do enjoy my life and my role as an English teacher. I enjoy teaching and helping kids accomplish something.

I have to say that the job itself is not the hardest part it is all the extra stuff that comes along with it. I will not go into the problems and issues that happen with teaching, as I feel that many of those are pretty obvious. Dealing with rowdy kids, behavior issues, how to handle a classroom, and how to properly teach different children who learn differently is something that is sorta assumed in almost any kind of educational role.

A few things that may or may not happen to you, but they have happened to many people who have done this kind of position in the past, and they will happen to individuals who do this type of position in the future.

One, don’t expect your local co-workers to always show an interest in you. Many have seen foreigners come and go several times, and you are just the latest flavor. With that said, I have made some great friends with my Korean coworkers and will be attending some of their weddings soon. However, I have heard from friends and some of my Korean colleagues say that sometimes they don’t feel like trying to become good friends with foreigners because they are just going to leave soon anyways. Maybe they had made great friends with foreigners in the past, and they left, so it's just not the same anymore. However, being friendly and trying to be friends with the locals is in your best interest. Your local co-workers can and will either make or break your time abroad. So whether you think they don’t want to be your friend or not, it is still 100% in your best interest to be friendly and cordial at every opportunity.

Second, while most workplaces frown upon speaking about your paychecks, it usually can be assumed that as a native English speaker, you will make more money than your local counterparts, sometimes even if they have been there a long time. You may or may not get resentment for that, but do not be too surprised if it does happen to you. This is obviously a sensitive subject because even if you like your pay or they like their pay as well if they find out you are making more, they might resent you for it. This is just something to be aware of and know that it can be sensitive.

Third, this one might be obvious, but in many places that hire native English speakers, if they could get away with not hiring them, they would. You are simply a foreign face that is required for them to operate and if they could get away with only hiring a local, they would. I know at my school it has happened on more than one occasion that I have had to swap classes with my Korean counterpart because a parent complained, saying they only wanted a foreign teacher for their child. This is not always the case, and I know at my school, my Korean counterparts are amazing, but many parents expect a foreigner. My boss, for the most part, has always been great, and I have never had an issue, but I know people at others schools that have.

Lastly, office politics and behavior. This one can always be difficult even in your home country, but now you are no longer at home, and a new set of rules are in place. You are not a local, don’t speak the local language, and are at an immediate disadvantage. A person has to be careful here as many times it’s the person who can’t defend themselves in the local language that will be in trouble for many things. This has never happened to me, but I have heard many stories and met people personally that this has happened to. You already had to be careful about what you say and do at work back home, but in a new country, you must be extremely cautious. Not only do I have to deal with Koreans (or whatever country you are teaching or planning on teaching in), but I also have to deal with my fellow teachers who, even though they can speak English, are not from the same place as me. Even if we share the same country, we do not share the same part of that country. I have had co-workers from Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, the Philippians, and China. If you think all these people have the same office mindset as you or feel the same things are funny or want to talk about the same things as you, you are very sadly mistaken. People’s humor is very different, and for the reasons above, they might already dislike you. My advice is to wait to make any jokes in the office or speak up too much until you know the people you work with. If you are in a place with many foreigners, you will have to learn to work and get along with people from several backgrounds. Multiple countries speak English natively, and all have their own unique cultures and individuals; not only will you have to learn to work with them but learn the native business culture as well.

I hope this helps people to stay out of trouble and come to a better understanding of becoming an ESL teacher abroad. ESL Teaching is not just an extended vacation; it is so much more. It is one, however that I have come to cherish and greatly enjoy.

Has anyone else run into any specific issues while working and living abroad?

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