Teach English Abroad with Your Significant Other

As college graduation drew near, I became increasingly certain that my next move would be one that would take me abroad. Never having left North America, I felt like it was my only option: The time was ripe to see the world by living in a different country. Coincidentally, my significant other (SO) had highly similar goals, and we both zeroed in on teaching English abroad as the best way to fulfill our dreams. A few months after graduation, I moved home to save as much money as possible, and my significant other did the same.

Our relationship just barely a few months old, we were now in a long-distance situation. Our respective travel plans began to take shape, and we both came to the conclusion that Vietnam was a good fit for each of us. I enrolled in International TEFL Academy’s Online TEFL Course, and began working two jobs. Then came the biggest question, one that many others before us have surely grappled with:

We both want to move abroad, but should we move abroad together?

Should we plan around moving to the same city, or should we resign ourselves to separate paths with the potential to visit each other?

It seemed that we had to choose between committing to a relationship that was still quite fresh, and therefore uncertain, or abandoning a perfectly great, promising thing.

To end the suspense: We did it. We both decided to set our sights on Hanoi, bought one-way plane tickets, scoured the internet for contacts, and set up several in-person interviews for the day after we were to arrive. To anyone faced with the same question, I would urge you to absolutely go for it.

Teach English in Vietnam

However, I cannot guarantee it will work out for you as it did for me. There are several variables to take into consideration, although it can be uncomfortable to be forced to take stock of your relationship, especially if it is decidedly non-committal prior. These points are also helpful to take into consideration if you’re contemplating moving abroad with a friend:

How long have you two known each other?

How long have you been together?

Are you even considering yourselves as “dating”?

If you aren’t comfortable with labels, then it’s probably not a good idea to skip a few steps and show up in a foreign country with them.

Have you been abroad before? Have they? Moving abroad is an unpredictable, trying, beautiful experience that can be wonderful to share, but can also be incredibly meaningful when undertaken alone. Will having your SO there keep you from branching as much as you could, as much as you would have to, if you were abroad solo? How do you and your SO interact with new experiences, with unforeseen challenges, as individuals and together, as a team? I sometimes feel that I would’ve made more friends had I moved abroad utterly alone, but I wouldn’t trade being able to share my day-to-day observations with my best friend.

What are each of your respective short and long-term goals? If moving abroad is a priority for both of you, you’re more likely to succeed. If, for example, you are keen to move abroad, but they want to begin a career or pursue graduate school, that can pose a challenge later on and create discrepancies between the two of you, in terms of expectations, perceptions, and overall enjoyment of your experiences abroad. It’s important to discuss long term goals, however fleeting or serious they are. Not everyone will become a career ESL teacher, and an exit strategy is most certainly a discussion that will come up eventually. It’s constructive to keep each other up to date as future aspirations shift and morph.

If you’re already making the commitment to move to a foreign country together, does that mean it’s time to move in together? A good place to start is, were you living together prior to moving abroad? If not, it makes perfect sense to continue living separately until you are both consciously ready to make that specific step forward in your relationship. If your readiness to cohabitate coincides in a timely manner with your move abroad, then it’s sensible to look for housing together when you transition overseas. My boyfriend and I did not live together prior to moving to Vietnam, and to the incredulity of our friends and family, lived in separate households the entire time we were abroad. It was for the better: I found that between conflicting work and sleep schedules and the ample amount of reflective time I needed, having our own spaces was healthy and productive.

Get TEFL certified and teach English in Vietnam

A final piece of advice: Keep an open heart and do put yourself out there to make friends. However exhausted you are after a day of teaching, making friends is one of the best relationships liveners there is, especially while overseas. Remember all of your dear friends that you’re going to miss a ton when you go abroad? In that cavernous void they leave in your heart, you might find you unconsciously project those various roles onto your SO.

While in Vietnam, I began to take notice that he was filling so many extra roles, working over time to be the friend I gushed to about clothes and grumbled to about bad hair days. He had to be the sensitive friend, the blunt friend, the positive friend, the adventurous friend, and so many more! In the best interests of your relationship, try to round out your social life, little by little. Try to be conscious of all the roles your SO might be filling, and vice versa.

To echo all relationship advice, communicate as much as possible, but do recognize that over-sharing is probable. It’s easy to get bogged down in discouragement or in a rut: Moving abroad can be difficult, and having an additional support system aside from the individual you relocated with is essential to keeping that relationship healthy.

My experience and what I’ve learned is probably neither the exception or the rule, but moving abroad to teach English for a year with my "SO" was the right (and endlessly agonized over in the beginning) choice. It was certainly difficult at times, but being able to share the experience closely with another person in general is a precious bond. It’s wonderful to have someone to speak candidly with about your day-to-day perceptions, who cares about your well-being, and will take the plunge and learn to drive a motorbike first, and then to teach you how.

In the wise words of Bill Murray: “If you have someone that you think is The One, don't just sort of think in your ordinary mind, 'Okay, let's pick a date. Let's plan this and make a party and get married,"' he said. "Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. And if when you come back to JFK, when you land in JFK, and you're still in love with that person, get married at the airport."

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