Adjusting to Teaching Abroad

Culture is everywhere, even work, and different professions have different cultural climates. A great many expats teach while working and living abroad. Some teach at international schools, and others teach at language learning centers. Teaching abroad is a unique experience that can be simultaneously rewarding and maddening. English-speaking countries are culturally diverse, and this is something that is not well-known everywhere. When thrown together by circumstance, these cultures can collide in the most uncomfortable ways. In particular, what is okay to talk about – and what is not – differs considerably between cultures.

Cultural taboos are often regionally specific. Political correctness and “going along to get along” can be challenging. It can be most challenging in the teacher’s room. How students, administration, politics, and religion are talked about is different around the world. When entering the teaching room for the first time, it is best to observe. Taking things slowly will allow a clearer picture of the norms of a specific teacher’s room to become clear. Sitting back and observing can be hard especially if there is a vociferous jerk in the mix. It can be hard when a fellow instructor has strong opinions about your country of origin to not jump in and explain or defend. It can be hard to not jump into conversations. I advise staying “strong and silent” on heated topics, especially when the conversation is between teachers that have known each other for a while. It will pay off in the end, allowing assessment of who is genuinely likable, or not, without alienating anyone.

The next challenge is dependence on the sponsoring company or school. In many countries with a small English-speaking population, the company or school will arrange bill payment, living facilities, and transportation because these things would be tough to arrange without speaking the local language. Arranged events, such as tours and outings, can become a main source of entertainment. There are ways to self-arrange entertainment, though, such as meeting groups of local expats on Facebook or Meetup, contacting a nearby international center, and searching on Craigslist. Making friends away from work need not be daunting. Having friendships that weren’t formed at work can provide a well-rounded life (and some much-needed privacy). Teaching abroad can be very much like living in a fish bowl, and for some this can lead to feelings of being trapped. Diversifying friendships is a good way to get to know the country more quickly and make the most of teaching abroad.

Posted on 07 Jun 2015 04:26

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