Teaching English Abroad: Making Friends in a New Country
One the great fears that any of us must face when moving to a new community, let alone a new country, is “Will I be able to make friends and how will I meet people that I can socialize with and relate to?” Certainly this is a challenge that anybody who goes abroad to teach English must confront, but the good news is that moving to a new country to teach English offers the opportunity of a lifetime to make new friends and associate with fascinating people that you never would have had the good fortune of meeting otherwise.
Not only will you be welcomed by the local population with open arms, but you will also meet, live and work with a diverse assortment of people from throughout the English-speaking world as well as people from numerous other countries. Chances are that you will form life-long friendships with students and colleagues, and in fact, it is not unknown for English teachers to even meet the man or woman of their dreams and embark on the romance of a lifetime while living abroad.
Points & Pointers for Making Friends while Living Abroad
- There are up to 200,000 English teachers living abroad every year! In all likelihood you will be working with other English speakers, many of whom have a background similar to yours. Major cities around the world, where most English teaching jobs are located, are typically home to 50-150 private language schools, each employing between 10-50 English teachers. This means that 2,000-5,000 native and fluent English teachers are working at any given time in large teaching markets throughout Europe and Latin America, like Madrid, Milan and Buenos Aires. These numbers are dwarfed in Asian cities like Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul, which are each home to 10,000 – 20,000 foreign English language instructors.
These teachers will typically be native English speakers, who like yourself are going abroad to have a great adventure and gain enriching professional experience; many have never been abroad before, while others will be seasoned international travelers. They will provide a great social network and will be a great resource for helping adjust to your new home. When you first arrive, old hands will be more than willing to show you the ropes, and more than often than not, you will also be working with rookies like yourself and you will go through the experience together. Later, after you’ve settled in, you will probably help newer teachers learn the ways of whatever location it is that you are living and teaching in.
- There are thousands of other westerners “Ex-Pats” living abroad in every city worldwide working for major multinational corporations. It’s good to make friends apart form other English teachers so that you can broaden your social circle and expose yourself to other perspectives on living in your new home. ("Ex-Pat" is the term for Expatriate, a citizen of another country living abroad).
- Most English teachers living abroad live with other teachers. Whether it be in Asia, Latin America or Europe, it is very common for English teachers to live together in a shared apartment. This not only enables teachers to cut down on living costs, but it will allow you to live in an environment where you have peers to socialize and relate to.
If you teach in countries like Korea, China, and the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf region, where many schools will provide housing to teachers, chances are high that other English teachers (and perhaps other expatriates) will be living in the same building or complex, so you will have English-speaking friends or colleagues living within close proximity.
- Learn as much as you can of the language and culture and don’t be afraid to socialize with the locals. This may seem obvious, but you will surprised to learn that in many cities where English teachers live and work, the expatriate community is so vast that it can be easy to fall into the habit of only associating with other English-speaking foreigners. This is understandable given the natural fear one might have of overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers and being placed into a situation where you might feel socially awkward or unsure of local etiquette and custom.
The best thing you can do is to learn as much as you can about the local culture, including the local language, and don’t be shy about meeting and associating with local citizens. Check out resources like the Culture Shock! book series, which includes country-specific guides to overcoming culture shock in countries around the globe; consult with people familiar with the local culture and customs; and just dive in. You will find that people in the country where you move to teach will be genuinely hospitable and interested in you and background. The best way for you to learn about each other and form friendships, while bridging cultural barriers is to get together for meals, coffee and other social gatherings. In the vast majority of cases, there is nothing to be afraid of and you will be rewarded with friendships and memories that will enrich you for the rest of your life.
- Meet local residents and expatriates by participating in local sports and recreational activities that suit your interests. In most cities around the world, the expatriate community is large enough to support a diverse assortment of social clubs, sports leagues, charity associations and religious organizations. If you enjoy acting, singing, playing darts or softball, chances are, whether you live in Berlin, Dubai or Mexico City, that you can find an organized group of like-minded folks where you can meet others while pursuing your passions and pastimes. If you are a runner, for example, check to see if there is a local chapter of the Hash House Harriers , an international running and social group that holds events and gatherings in hundreds of locations around the world.
Learn more about teaching English abroad or request a brochure to learn about TEFL training courses and a comparison of the most popular countries to teach English.