Welcome to The World of ESL

Two months ago, you finally made the decision to try your hand at teaching English overseas. When you decided to take the plunge, you found yourself wading through a plethora of information about working in another country. Many of your friends suggested where you should go based on stories from friends and, of course, just as many friends told you not to go because their friend’s story was a nightmare.

Going through internet posts you found job after job and all the posts looked the same except for names of the places, some of which you could barely pronounce. You responded to a few postings not expecting anything. The next day you received a phone call from someone asking you to meet them at a McDonald’s near by. At the restaurant you were confronted by a stranger who identified themselves as Jin and took your picture with a smart phone.  They said they would contact you in a few days, thanked you and left. You stood there bewildered, staring at the menu wondering if that really just happened, and you’d lost your appetite.

Having forgotten the McDonald's episode and too embarrassed to tell your friends what happened, you were called again a week later by the same person asking if you were still interested in working overseas. Without realizing it, you said yes and after signing the contract, you realized that you still didn’t know the name of the person sending you to a foreign land.

Suddenly you found yourself at the airport facing a woman in a uniform holding up a picture board asking if you had any of these items in your suitcase. Staring at the pictures, you denied being in possession of any drugs, guns, knives, or bombs, at which point you looked at the woman and said “NO”. Regardless, she checked your bag anyway and passed you on dazed and confused.

Exiting the airport you migrated towards a sign with a name on it that remotely resembled yours. Two Asians jumped at you smiling, shook your hands excitedly and spoke in a language that sort of resembled English. Now, standing in front of boisterous 7 year old's, one of them holds a finger up with a five inch string of mucus dangling from it. A minor tremor shoots up your spine, but you shake it off and hand the child a tissue.  Welcome to the world of ESL. 


The above may seem like a far fetched story, and yet for those who have ventured to foreign countries to teach English, it wasn’t that long ago that many of us could relate to it quite easily. Teaching English overseas is not for the faint at heart and for those who are inexperienced at starting fresh in another country, they can expect a few surprises along the way.  However, this does not mean that an adventure into the unknown will always turn into a horror story or midnight run, as we used to say. Nonetheless, there are a few things that people new to the industry should consider before taking the plunge.

1. Where you are going is not the same as home and it never will be. Yes, there may be a McDonald's or Starbucks nearby, but you’ll be surprised to find that even McDonald's serves the host’s country’s tastes. Regardless, don’t expect to walk into a drug store or supermarket and find the same array of products or services.  Do not be overly surprised if your new bathroom doesn’t have a shower curtain because the shower is literally next to the toilet. Learn to adjust to the idea that the gas range is a stove top. Expect the unexpected is probably one of the best rules to follow when moving to a new country.

2. Whenever you take a position overseas, hiccups will occur. They’re inevitable and will happen in many different ways; contract issues, cultural differences, living conditions, co-worker relationships, or getting sick. or injured.  The point is to realize that these things are possible, but they’re not the end of the world. Unless of course you’ve seriously broken the law. In fact, minor hiccups are needed because they help determine what’s acceptable and what’s not. Use them to your advantage in finding out how things work so future misunderstandings can be resolved easier or avoided all together.

3. Get out and about as fast as possible. Get to know your neighborhood. Learn the local markets, shops, eateries and cafes and show a little patronage. Doing this greatly helps you adapt quickly to your new living environment. It will also help you to learn a little bit of the language. Plan weekend jaunts to local attractions or other cities nearby so you don’t feel trapped and you’ll get to know other expats or co-workers outside of work. Further, it will help you discover group activities that you can do outside the bar scene. Don’t confuse this with entertainment as going for drinks or a night of clubbing can be great, you don’t want it to necessarily become the primary activity. 


4. Understand that ESL is transient in nature. Most people who get involved in teaching English overseas do it for a short time. Even those that make a career of don’t necessarily stay in one place for very long.  One of the attractions of teaching English is the freedom to move. This doesn’t mean one can’t make friends teaching English, but don’t be surprised to see them depart for other countries to work. After all, you might find yourself moving to a different location one day so expect change to be natural. 


5. Whether you are teaching kids or adults, private English or public schools, be professional. Show up on time to your job. Be flexible with your employer with regards to contractual obligations. You don’t have to give away the farm, but the ESL industry is not an easy one, especially if you are working for a private or franchise school. Bring your best attitude to the classroom and don’t let minor discrepancies get in the way of your working relationship. If you are in a really bad situation, leave. Remember, ESL is transient and you can always find another job, but it’s not something you want to make a practice of.  Also, employers want to stay in business so they will try to make things work if you perform your responsibilities well. 


All in all, there are numerous things to consider before moving to another country to teach English, but these are definitely at the top of the list. However, making the move to another country is also a little like learning to drive, eventually you just have to climb on the plane and go. The key point of this is expectations. Being reasonable about expectations when going abroad will reduce unnecessary stress and increase the chances of your adventure being a fruitful one.

Published: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 2:10 AM by eslpanda
Viewed 482 times

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