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How Teaching English Abroad Helped Me Figure Out My Career
Written by: International TEFL Academy
Last Updated: January 9, 2020
By: Aimee Lam
Coming back was hard. After teaching abroad for a semester in Ayutthaya, Thailand, I was not only experiencing culture shock but also homesickness for a place that wasn’t home anymore. In fact, I no longer knew what home was. Earlier in the year, I had been taking the online course with International TEFL Academy and making plans to teach abroad. I had been living in New York City and was so done with it. When I got hired to teach in Ayutthaya, I saw it as an opportunity to start over and turn a new leaf. I left my job in book publishing (with high school textbooks) and sublet my Manhattan apartment in the hopes of a fresh start.
During that semester, I had no idea what I was going to do next. My options were to stay, to teach somewhere else, or to come home and figure out my career. The thing is, before teaching, I had been working in textbook publishing, but I was unsure if this was the career for me. It’s all I had ever know, so one of the driving factors to teaching abroad was to try something new. I loved my experience abroad. I loved the friends I made, the community of expats, the freedom to travel, and most of all, my kids. However, towards the end of the term, I felt like I was missing a sense of purpose, and I wanted to get back into a career. I just wasn’t sure what that would be.
My goodbye from Thailand was tearful. I had met so many wonderful people, and leaving my kids felt like I was slamming my heart against the wall. Upon my return home, I slept and slept. Part of it was the jetlag, but another part was that I was bummed. I had left a lot of close people miles and miles away. I was crashing at my parent’s house, and I just didn’t know what I wanted to the foreseeable future.
For the next few months, I job hunted. I applied for all things I could, like including other jobs in Thailand, other teaching jobs, and jobs in media. I talked to a handful of people and went to coffee meetings and informational interviews. After hearing about my experience, these people would tell me to take the time, and that it was indeed a fresh start. I had a whole new skillset that I hadn’t had before, but most of all, I had the opportunity to actually figure out what I wanted. I also had a different mindset, and although at the time I didn’t realize it, being abroad had given me a fresh perspective on my life.
Sometimes when we’re in the midst of our problems, it’s hard to see the bigger picture. Having spent time abroad, I felt like I could pan out, and all of a sudden, the things that had been making me unhappy in New York no longer felt like such a big deal. At the same time, I got a whole sense of appreciation for what I used to have – my family, my friends, my passions.
Teaching was one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. For the first time in a while, I felt intrinsically motivated. And while I wanted something different for a career, I decided I absolutely loved the field of education. After a couple of months of soul searching and applying for jobs everywhere – in and outside of NYC and in other countries – an opening came up at my old company, with my old team.
The job was for a sales representative, which essentially meant I would be selling high school textbooks to teachers. While I had absolutely loved my team while I worked there, there were things about my old job that were frustrating me. However, being away, like I said, gave me a new perspective. I realized that I had a different conception of what this job entailed that was crowded by my own frustrations from my old position. I could single out the fact that I was frustrated with my old job, but not the whole thing, and this position would be a different set of responsibilities. The position would allow me to work in education, which I knew I loved. The sales portion of the job would allow me to talk to teachers, and after having been on their side for the last few months, I had a newfound appreciation for them.
So, I decided to interview. The ironic thing is that I had left to turn a new leaf and ended up in the same place. In NYC, at the same company, with the same team. This time, though, things are different. I decided to come back willingly, knowing the pros and cons of the situation I was getting myself into. I chose to move further from the city because Ayutthaya was a small town, and I liked the charm of a smaller community. Also, I had gained skills. The courage it took to move abroad and start from scratch gave me the confidence to conquer obstacles. Managing my own classroom allowed me to become self-motivated. Working with kids and trying to make friends in a foreign country also boosted my people skills. All of these things help me as I try to achieve my goals, but the biggest thing I gained from my time abroad was perspective. A lot has changed since I taught abroad, and then again, a lot hasn’t. it’s all a matter of how you look at things.
Aimee Lam graduated from New York University with a BA in Comparative Literature. She worked for two years in publishing before packing her bags to teach English in Ayutthaya, Thailand.
Founded in 2010, International TEFL Academy is a world leader in TEFL certification for teaching English abroad & teaching English online. ITA offers accredited TEFL certification classes online & in 25 locations worldwide and has received multiple awards & widespread recognition as one of the best TEFL schools in the world. ITA provides all students and graduates with lifetime job search guidance. ITA has certified more than 25,000 English teachers and our graduates are currently teaching in 80 countries worldwide.
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