“What’s it like to teach abroad?” “I want to teach so that I can travel.” “Is teaching abroad right for me” “Wow, how do I even get started doing that?” “You’re doing what? You’re so brave for moving to a new country on your own” “How do you live somewhere that you don’t know the language?” “Do I have to have a teaching degree?” “I don’t really even like kids, or teaching, or teaching kids, can I still do this?” I had the same questions – and more – before I left last year and I’ve been asked quite a few along the way as well. It’s been a full 8 months now and while I haven’t loved every single day, I do love my life, and I think it’s time I answered some of these.
If you’re going to teach abroad, be prepared to change. If you’re not, teaching abroad or living abroad is not for you. This week I realized I don’t get angry about each and every little thing like I used to. At home if someone cut me off while driving, I was mad for the rest of the day. Now, if one of my kids are bad or a whole class is bad, I forget about it by the time the next class starts. I’ve learned to go with the flow both at work and in general. While I always have a lesson plan for each class, I look at my students’ mood before we get started and evaluate whether or not it’s really going to work. Sometimes I tweak the lesson just a bit as we are going and sometimes I scrap it until another time when they’ve got more energy and do something different entirely. When I got on two wrong trains in a row last week with a dead phone, I sort of just shrugged and told myself that was stupid. It was inconvenient but really not a big deal anyway. I have so much more patience now. Not being able to talk with a first grader who can’t understand what I want them to do helped me with more patience. As well as creativity. If my kids don’t understand what I’m saying, I’ve got to come up with a way to show them. If “Clean up please” doesn’t result in packing up of pencil cases and putting papers away, I have to mime the action or find words that are in their vocabulary. At the grocery store (or anywhere else) it’s entirely my problem and up to me to understand. I’ve still got to be the miming what I want because the other people aren’t too concerned if I don’t get my problems fixed.
I won’t say I love every single child that crosses my path while I’m out in the world now but I love my students. They make me laugh, they annoy me somedays, they give me a different perspective, they challenge me with finding something interesting for them to do that makes them want to come to class – not that they get a choice. They are really great kids and every day they blow me away with things they come up with and how much English they know. I finally counted and I have a little under 300 kids and I think I know about 200 names. It’s not perfect but one of them literally jumped for joy the first time I remembered hers outside of the classroom (it’s so much easier in the classroom because of all the context clues) and another is pleased I finally am pronouncing her name right – most Hungarians are NOemi and she is NAomi. It took a while to break the habit for her. For me, the 1-4 graders are great because they are excited about (nearly) everything I could bring them. Coloring? great. Singing? great. Learning new words? great. Playing with the yellow ball I bring to class? great. The older kids are more challenging, especially older kids who are not fluent. It’s really hard to bring something interesting for them that they can also feel confident in and really do well. I have this issue with a couple classes from the upper levels and these are by far my hardest classes to plan for. Around 5th and 6th grade is extra challenging because they aren’t excited about everything but they haven’t learned to be as nice about it like 7th and 8th grades. sometimes I get “Scarlett, this is boring we don’t want to do this, why are we doing this, let’s do something else” so those days are always a bit tough. I can always tell when the 7th and 8th aren’t so impressed, but at least they don’t tell me they’re bored.
I want to teach so I can see the world. So far, I’ve been to 18 new countries since August. So yeah, I get it. But that’s not every day. The bulk I’ve my time here is spent in the classroom or alone in my flat. I’m the type of person who needs to do well at work to feel satisfied. I don’t need praise or congratulations or anything like this, I need the satisfaction of a job well done or I can’t feel okay with myself. I just give a shit, I care if my students learn something, I care if I influence them to like or not like English, I care if they like or hate coming to English classes because of me, I care what my students and coworkers think of Americans because of their experience of me. From my perspective, some of the other CETP teachers can’t truthfully say those things. My point here is, teachers influence lives and kids can tell whether or not someone likes or values them. It’s not fair to kids to have to be taught by someone who doesn’t care just so that someone can see the world. So it’s okay to be motivated by travel, but don’t forget that there’s a bigger picture.
How can I teach abroad? If you’re someone who didn’t go to school to be a teacher, it’s pretty simple. Sign up for a TEFL to take either online or in person. Online you can work at your own pace and finish it as quick or slow as you’d like. In person they generally run about 6 weeks I believe and tend to be more pricey that way, but it I did my certification over again, I’d do it in person. In person is typically in a different country and it’s hands on with students which I see being a huge advantage over how my online one went. After that, probably the company will have resources to help find a job, but otherwise head over to Dave’s ESL Cafe or any number of other website and you’ll quickly have more jobs in front of you than you could ever work at in one lifetime. After that it’s a matter of applying and deciding what’s the best location and option for you. My TEFL is the only teaching certificate I have. Most country’s require some combination of a certificate and or a Bachelor’s degree. Every teaching job is so entirely different, even just mine compared to others in Hungary. Language schools, private lessons, primary school, secondary school, just a conversation teacher, a full grammar teacher, the list goes on. It’s a good idea to know what exactly the job description is before signing on.
How do I live somewhere I don’t speak the language? I mean, it’s hard. Like, really hard. But at the same time it’s not at all. I have become so at peace with not knowing what’s going own around me. It’s actually annoying when I have a bunch of English speakers around me somewhere and I can understand everything. At the grocery store, now I know enough to have that simple interaction in Hungarian. The total shows up on the screen so I don’t have to understand what number someone is saying to me. To talk to my kids, well the idea is that they’re learning English and so I don’t have to know the Hungarian commands or questions. Full immersion is great and usually they already know how to say “can I use the toilet”, which is the most important question, before they come to me. There’s always one kid in the class that knows how to ask the important things (there’s often a kid with an English parent) or they mime what they need (a hand on the nose means tissue). Life has been so much easier since I’ve learned things like “quiet please” and other quick commands like this because when the kids are loud they aren’t listening for English. The hardest part is when a train is delayed at my train station because unlike in Budapest, there is no board to say what’s going on and if it’s coming five minutes later or 30 minutes later. And all the announcements about this are only in Hungarian. If I need something while I’m out and about, usually the person I’m talking to knows just enough English or I know just enough Hungarian to make it happen. If not, there’s normally someone nearby who speaks enough English to translate. It comes down to that it just works. I put enough effort or the other party puts enough effort to understand. I’ve found myself doing crazy miming actions in public to get my question understood and I’ve also walked away from a conversation with no better understanding of what platform my train is coming in on. There are some times where I just throw my hands up and walk away muttering under my breath looking like a crazy person because the person I was trying to get information from just wasn’t helpful at all. Life goes on, I got where I needed to go eventually anyway.
You’re so brave. I guess looking back now it was a brave or maybe crazy thing to do to move to a country I’d never been to, where a language I’d never heard was spoken, to do something I’d never done. But for me, it was just such an “of course” move that I didn’t question it. This is what I want to be doing. I am living abroad, I’m meeting new people, I’m having some of the best days of my life. For almost a year before I left, I was looking every day someway to live in another country so when the opportunity came, of course I took it. The only thinking I did about it was “do I take this job in Hungary or wait to hear back from Guatemala.” Obviously, I didn’t wait to hear from Guatemala. I used to say the same things about other people, that they were so brave for moving to America or wherever else alone and not knowing the language. I don’t know why I don’t feel it’s brave for me, but I’m just so happy to living my dream I don’t care if it is or isn’t. I just know I’ve been doing what I feel like is right for me.
The most useful thing I’ve learned through experience here is lowering expectations. Seriously, I’ve stopped expecting big things or trying to imagine what something is going to be like. Do you know what brings a lot of disappointment? preconceived notions about a way a thing should be. Do you know what makes a lot of things okay? Having no want for it to be a certain way. This is true in my daily life, my weekend trips, the train, the bus, everything. I have stopped expecting public transport to run on time. Train is late? okay well I didn’t expect it to be on time so not a big deal. This sandwich isn’t that good? Okay well I didn’t expect it to be amazing. My kids were loud and a bit bad today? Okay I didn’t expect them to be angels. My avocado I just bought ten minutes ago is rotten? well no guacamole for me today. To have no huge expectations is to never have something ruined. That’s not saying I don’t hope for things. Of course I hope Paris will be nice, of course I hope that I can have a good class today. But to allow for things to go not exactly to plan or detail keeps me from being frustrated at every bump in the road. A lot lately I’ve been thinking to myself disappointed but not surprised because I realize I was having some type of expectation about this thing. yeah of course I want things to go well, but when they’re not I realize if I had thought about it for two seconds I could’ve guessed that whatever thing went wrong might have happened. Yesterday I bought potato salad at the store. I opened it while I was waiting for the train to have it as dinner and realized it was indeed not potato salad but hot dogs covered in mayo masquerading as what could have been potato salad. For some reason I was in the mood for potato salad, which I don’t even like, and yeah the hot dog salad was pretty strange but it was a perfect example of disappointed but not surprised. This does not mean I just passively let life pass me by and just accept everything I’m handed in a pathetic learned helplessness kind of way. This is like a yeah okay something annoyed happened or this tourist attraction wasn’t so interesting but it doesn’t ruin my trip or my day and I can find joy in a something I just happened upon.
And the last one that isn’t actually a question is the ever present the only good American is one who travels or something to that affect. You’d think I’m obviously not getting this type of comment from other Americans. Wrong. I’m getting it from all types of people in all types of countries. Can Americans be rude, obnoxious, etc? Yes. Has our country got some problems to work out? Yes, where doesn’t? Can every other citizen of every other country be all of those fill in the blank adjectives people love to say Americans are also? Absolutely. I know plenty of great Americans who prefer to stay stateside. I know plenty of horrible Americans who travel as much as I do. I know plenty of citizens from other countries who travel often and are the last people I would ever want to go to drinks with. I know plenty of kind and compassionate people from other countries who don’t care to see or don’t have the funds to see something else. This is a disgusting comment and I hate that I’m supposed to take it as a compliment, that the giver thinks they’ve given me a great honor by christening me a “tolerable American to be around” like I’ve somehow escaped the poisoning of our culture. I tend to excuse myself from that person’s presence quite quickly after this one as I no longer care to hear their opinions. I especially love when I get this statement from those who have never been to America. People… how do you even know you don’t like the ones who don’t travel if you’ve never met them????
I hope this answered some of the most popular questions I’ve gotten since I’ve moved here and even when I was getting ready to move. Got some more? I’d be happy to answer those too. Please leave a comment and tell me what you’re wondering (:
We’ve skipped spring and went straight to summer in this part of the world. Today was about 30C/85F and going straight from winter to this has been an adjustment but at least we get nice views to go with!