Living and Teaching Abroad
Living and teaching abroad is glamorous, exciting, and something you have always wanted to do. So where do you start?
Start by researching the country, city, and region you wish to visit. Go online. Investigate the political system. Is the area safe? Is there political unrest? What do the locals think of foreigners? Are foreigners respected and welcomed or are they seen as enemies?
If the area seems safe, next check on local schools, universities, and institutes where you might work. Carefully read their home page. Does the institution look like a good ‘fit’ for you? Do you think you would be comfortable working at this institution? Look for the jobs available tab and hiring procedures. Find out whom to contact and submit your resume.
Income is important. Often the salaries quoted seem extremely low, but with the exchange rate, you may be able to live fairly well. (Part of your salary may be reserved and kept in a U.S. bank account so that you are not flaunting ‘riches’ and as a safeguard for your future.) It is also important to know how you will be paid. Will you be paid in cash or will you be given a work-related bank account? Will this account have a debit card that you can use internationally if you decide to travel?
If you rent an apartment, you may have to purchase your own furniture, stove, microwave, refrigerator, washing machine, water heater, fans, etc. Being prepared for these expenses is the best defence. And be careful with security. Always check window fastenings, skylights, and all outside doors. Change the locks or add an additional one yourself.
Ask what papers you will need to work legally in the country. Some institutions will help you with these papers and others will not. Ask! It’s daunting if you don’t know the language and have no one to help deal with bored civil servants and with the required paperwork.
Investigate the local customs. Does the city seem like a fun place to live or is it a place where there is no night life? Are there beaches or mountains nearby to visit? Are there historic places of interest where you can spend vacations or weekends?
Try to make friends with co-workers at once. They can be of tremendous help when dealing with civil servants, employers, and locals. They can help you get around the city until you feel ready to fly solo.
Many foreigners find the local dishes interesting and are willing to experiment. Others are more sensitive. Ask your co-workers where they shop. Large cosmopolitan areas have shopping malls and supermarket chain stores where you can purchase many of the same foods you would normally eat. However, in some areas, you may have to shop at local farmers’ markets where bargaining is the norm. Expect to pay more than the locals until you get your bearings. Try to go with friends for your first outings.
In countries where the exchange rate is low, manual labour and household services are usually fairly cheap. Items and services such as maids, cooks, and laundry service may be within the budget of teachers. Personal services such as haircuts, shampoos, manicures, pedicures, and massages are extremely reasonable as well. Hand-made clothing and tailoring are typically a fraction of their U.S. cost.
When dealing with a different culture, keep an open mind, try to learn the local culture, and enjoy yourself. Always keep in mind the old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This tip alone will save you a lot of grief.
For those planning to teach English abroad, congratulations! You are moments away from the experience of a lifetime.