From chopsticks and sushi in Japan to kimchi and rice in South Korea, I was able to travel around the world while teaching English. My journey started as a volunteer English tutor for a Vietnamese woman who wanted to pass the U.S. citizenship test. She insisted on cooking dinner for me twice a week for the year that I tutored her, which gave me the chance to try a variety of Vietnamese dishes. During those meals and conversations I learned how to use chopsticks and discovered that I was what the Vietnamese call a “goo-yai” (teacher).
(This post is part of an ongoing series of guest blogs sent by individuals who have experienced life abroad as a TESOL/TEFL educator. We would love to share your story. Interested? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!)
In the meantime, I also discovered that I really enjoyed teaching English and wanted to pursue it as a full-time job, overseas. My journey took me to Niigata, Japan, a delightful seaside city where everything was so different from the small Midwestern town where I had grown up. I spent two years teaching English to adults and children, while also learning a great deal about other cultures and languages.
I never took any Japanese lessons while I was there, but I learned some Japanese through friends, language exchanges, and the interactions of everyday life. Surprisingly, I found that I could function in society without a great deal of Japanese. In a way, I found the challenge of trying to function without Japanese interesting.
The biggest challenges created by the language barrier also produced some of my most interesting experiences and memories. Going out to eat in restaurants that didn’t have the plastic food models displayed outside made meals time a source of adventure. My friends and I would try to guess the dishes displayed on the menu from the limited amount of hiragana or katakana that we knew. On one occasion, the chicken salad we thought we had ordered turned out to be chicken sashimi. While I never thought raw chicken sounded very appetizing, it turned out to be quite tasty once we got over our qualms of possible food poisoning.
After time spent teaching in Japan, by career teaching English abroad took me to South Korea, where I fell in love with the food, people, and atmosphere. I lived in the mountains and worked at an English Immersion camp, where my students were not allowed to speak Korean.
I ate every meal with my students and we only ate Korean food in the cafeteria. Since we had an English only policy at the camp, one of the students decided to translate the menu that was written in Korean to English. The English version of the menu was a source of quite a few laughs as some words don’t sound nearly as appetizing once they are translated out of their native language. (Rice gruel anyone?) Nevertheless, we bonded over our meals through our linguistic (mis)adventures.
After three years teaching English overseas and immersing myself in different cultures, I realized I had changed so much as an individual. Experiencing different cultural practices and customs, making new friends from all over the world and finding my passion helped me grow into the person I am today. I discovered a passion for something I truly love. Since my travels, I have attained my Master’s degree in TESL in Puerto Rico, and I am currently teaching at Arizona State University. My love for traveling (as well as sushi and kimchi) has not diminished. I found that taking a risk to travel abroad to follow your passion can open doors for you that you never realize existed.
Picking up your settled life and striking out to take on a new challenge like teaching English abroad might feel intimidating, but it’s also a life changing experience full of adventure and growth! Oxford Seminars is here to help you make the most of your teaching adventures. For more information on becoming TESOL certified, request our free information packet.
By Elizabeth Mosaidis