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7 Fears You Will Confront While Teaching English Abroad
Written by: Karee Clarke
Last Updated: February 17, 2021
Few things in life are as terrifying as the thought of uprooting your life, moving to a foreign country, and changing careers to work half-way around the world. Clowns, maybe… but that’s about it, right?
Look, if you find the prospect of teaching English abroad a tad scary or challenging, you’re not alone! It's natural. Here are 7 fears that you'll confront (and conquer) while teaching English abroad.
1. What if I don't know all the answers?
Whether you're moving out-of-state to go to college, becoming a parent for the first time, or heading to South Korea to teach English, life is a never ending sequence of taking on the unknown. The fear of being a horrible teacher, not knowing how to answer a student’s question, or making a mistake is one that plagues the hearts of many. And it’s totally understandable – especially if you’ve never taught a class before; or if you occasionally have to Google "effect" v. "affect" (happens to the best of us.)
What helps is the reminder that you’re not perfect, and no one but your future in-laws will ever expect you to be. And, one of the great aspects of teaching English abroad is that it provides a fantastic opportunity for you to stretch your comfort zone and learn how to adapt to a new environment.
The reality is that you’ll be faced with a challenging question, you’ll say, “great question!” From there, you'll either take the time to look for the answer with the class; or you’ll let them know you’ll have the answer the next time you meet. If you make a mistake, you’ll acknowledge it and correct it. Your students will move on and you'll have proven your integrity. You’ll realize that although you may not have all of the answers, you know where and how to find them. A key to being a great teacher is knowing that you’re also a student, so be willing to learn alongside your EFL students!
2. What if I don’t like my school?
The fear of moving abroad and being stuck in a contract that no longer serves your needs seems to be in the back of everyone’s minds. No one wants to feel like they’re stuck in a bad relationship, especially so far away from home. Good news – you have options! Just like in any relationship, do what you can to work things out, but if you’re not happy, and issues can’t be resolved, you can leave! Whether you move to another school immediately, or stick it out until the end of your contract may be determined by the type of visa you’re on and the country you’re in, but you’ll definitely have options.
Teaching jobs abroad are not the military or prison - you won't be arrested for leaving. People need and want to leave their jobs all the time for any number of reasons: family emergencies, personality conflicts in the workplace, better opportunities arise, etc. To learn more, Can I Break My Teaching Abroad Contract Early?
3. What is that?!?!? (pointing to plate)
Oh, the adventures that await you in the form of food! The degree of fear you experience here may be based on where you’re going and what your palate is used to; but unless you’re Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain, new and unfamiliar foods can incite apprehension at the very least. For some, this will be a daily challenge; while others will look forward to the adventure. In any case, bon apetit!
4. What if I get lost?
This one is for the directionally challenged like myself, and those who plan to teach in a country without being able to speak its language. The truth is, you’ll probably get lost at least once, and if you’re like me, it'll be more like once a week. While being lost can certainly be scary, and at times inconvenient, you’ll eventually find your way. You’ll realize that you can discover so much from being lost. Maybe you’ll stumble upon a waterfall or a cool little market. If nothing else, you’ll experience a little adventure discovering a new way to get home.
5. What if I don’t make any friends?
Many of us have had the same friends our entire lives and it’s scary to think about having to start all over and build a social circle from scratch. But you’re brave, so you’ll do it anyway. The amazing thing about traveling, specifically in this industry, is that you’ll meet people just like you – who’ve moved overseas, and who are eager to connect with fellow travelers. Not only will you conquer your fear of being alone by meeting other travelers and teachers, you’ll also make lifetime connections with members of the local community. These new friendships will be some of the richest in your life. The opportunity for real cultural awareness and exchange is on the other side of this fear.
Be sure to join the ITA Alumni country-specific Facebook groups to begin this process now!
6. What if I miss out on what’s going on back home?
FOMO is real! Yes, you’ll miss your best friend’s birthday party; and you may even miss the birth of your uncle’s neighbor’s sister’s first child. And you know what? They won’t hate you for it. And you won’t regret it. Trust me.
To learn more about staying in touch with the folks back home, check out: How to Maintain Your Relationships at Home While Teaching English Abroad
7. What if I totally love teaching English abroad, and never want to go back home?
A few of us certainly know this feeling! This fear is most often expressed by the loved ones you’ll leave behind, and confronting it usually means convincing them that you’ll be back – or that they can at least come to visit you.
Facing our fears gives us a chance to push past our comfort zones and grow in ways we’ve never imagined. Teaching English abroad allows us to do just that. You are among the brave who have accepted the challenge. Enjoy the ride!
Posted In: Tips for Traveling & Living Abroad
Hailing from Toronto with roots in Jamaica, Karee has lived, worked & studied extensively throughout Latin America from Paraguay & Brazil to the Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico where she taught English to business professionals. Holding degrees in BBA & International Relations from Kent State University, she currently works in the Student Affairs Department at International TEFL Academy, where she has helped hundreds of ITA graduates navigate international job markets and gain employment teaching English abroad.
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