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A Balancing Act: Teaching English Abroad
Written by: Colleen Contestabile
Last Updated: April 6, 2021
Teaching abroad was always a dream of mine, now, it is my daily reality, and every bit as romantically exciting I imagined it would be.
Since my junior year of college in 2009 I had been talking about teaching English abroad. As an English Literature major with an addiction to travel it was the only sensible option in my mind. However after graduation, I decided to stay in the United States for a year. When that one year turned into two, I started to panic. What if I never leave?
I had been talking about it for so long my family and friends thought that that's all it was, just talk, I was starting to think that too; some far off dream that would never become a reality. The only thing scarier than sending myself off to a foreign country alone was not doing it. I needed to go before it was too late.Truthfully I did very little preliminary research, I knew I wanted to go to Asia, and that I would have a better paying job, and a better chance at getting a job if I got my TEFL certification. I found an ad for the International TEFL Academy, and contacted them immediately. The response I got was fantastic; encouraging, informative and prompt. I was hesitant about an online course, but I was working full time in New York and it fit my personal deadline for when I wanted to be in Asia.
I could do the work on my own time and the online chat sessions with the professor were usually in the evenings and some classes and lectures video recorded and posted online. The course itself was instructive, structured very logically and there were always additional resources provided with the materials for further research. Posting homework on-line was a great way to see your fellow classmates ideas and opinions about teaching. I actually use games from lesson plans some of my classmates made for homework during the course.
The one thing that was a huge pull for me was the 20 hour practicum (student teaching). It forced me to get real hands on experience. I ended up working with adult refugees in my community who were working on gaining their American Citizenship. That in itself was an amazing experience and gave me the chance to apply the things I was learning in class to real life.
The whole process from obtaining the certification to arriving abroad was fairly quick. I finished my course in April of 2013 and was on a plane to Taiwan in August of 2013. I had several chances to leave sooner, but stayed to spend more time with friends and family before leaving. My sister was graduating high school and my cousin just had a baby, and I was madly in love with my boyfriend, the reality of leaving all that behind was starting to sink in.
I was starting to have this strange feeling of guilt, leaving my friends and family behind.
Am I being selfish?
How am I supposed to go abroad and explore the world like I always dreamed of without my family and friends feeling like I abandoned them?
Does that make me a horrible daughter/sister/friend?
Every adult, (I do not count myself as an adult just yet), that I have met has said this is the time to do it when you're young and you don't have a family, but I DO have a family I left behind. I've missed holidays, birthdays, weddings, and baby's fist steps. I wouldn't be human if it didn't make me feel guilty.
My little sister is going through a hard time during her freshman year at college, big sister is supposed to be there to hug her and tell her everything will be okay, not me.
My boyfriend just had major surgery; am I there taking care of him while he recovers? Nope.
The family dog is getting old; am I going to be able to take her for one last walk? Probably not.
I have been abroad about 8 months now and still occasionally find myself fighting these feelings of guilt. Especially now that I love it and I just informed my parents that I will not be coming back to the U.S after this year, and possibly another after that.
So how do I manage my relationships at home while I am on the other side of the world?
Commitment, planning, willing to sacrifice and be flexible. The same ways you would maintain a relationship in person. I've sacrificed late nights of going out to talk to my family, had to set alarms to wake up at absurd hours of the night so I could Skype friends because it was the only time they were free.
However, there is a balance that must be found. I've had to tell friends and family I can't sit here and talk to you all night because I'm getting up early to go hiking in the morning, or I don't have time to talk this week. It takes understanding on both sides to make global relationships work. You can't spend all of your free time talking to your loved ones back home, especially in the beginning because then you will never really be present in your new country, but you can't disregard that part of yourself that shaped you into who you are, your home.
I've met expats who haven't been home in years and rarely talk to their families, and I've met ones whose family has visited quite often and they are closer than ever. A friend of mine who goes to school here in Taiwan hosted his 80 year old grandmother during the Chinese New Year holiday!
I hate the feeling that I know I am giving up so much by being away from loved ones for such a long period of time. However, I think I would hate the feeling of regret even more if I didn't decide to travel and let life lock me down.
I am lucky that my family has been so supportive of my decision to travel. They have done more for me than I could ever ask. My home will always be home, and it will wait for me until I decide I have seen and done enough, if that day ever comes!
Don't ever once think for a second that by wanting to explore the world by teaching abroad you are being selfish. Experiencing it myself I know it is not a valid excuse to not get TEFL certified and go abroad.
Is it a constant struggle to balance home life with my new life here? Yes. Is it worth it? Oh yes.
An International TEFL Academy graduate, Colleen Contestabile is from the small town of Scottsville New York. She graduated with a B.A in English Literature from St. Bonaventure University & previously worked with AmeriCorps and other volunteer teaching programs in the United States before deciding to teach abroad.
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