So you’re planning on Teaching English Abroad. What do you bring with you to a country you’ve never been to before?
There’s a lot involved in the decision to teach English abroad, and for some people, that can be a little stressful. The first and most important rule is don’t panic! Recruiting agencies are wonderful for shouldering the majority of the grunt work, but between gathering your documents and wrestling with the nerves of actually following through with this amazing, (but admittedly intimidating,) adventure, your departure date has a way of sneaking up on you perhaps faster then you’re prepared for.
Google is a great tool for helping you narrow down that endless list of what you think you should bring with you, but in the face of what to bring materially, it often goes overlooked the sort of attitude and outlook you should pack as well. Here’s a quick guide to help you make the most of your adventure teaching English abroad:
If you go into this adventure expecting to crash and burn, that’s exactly what you’re going to do. This is an opportunity that as little as ten years ago, most people couldn’t even consider as available to them. You are going to an amazing new place, to eat amazing new food and meet amazing new people. Go into this adventure with an open, cheerful outlook and it will be surprising just how many great experiences turn your way.
You are the face of your country and this industry. Your actions while abroad reflect not only on yourself and where you come from, but on ESL teachers as a whole. You are making a name not only for yourself but for anyone after you who wants in on this opportunity. Remember that you are moving to someone else’s country – you are a guest in someone else’s space – and to treat the people living there with the courtesy and kindness that you would expect of someone visiting your home.
Not everything is going to go the way you planned. As with anything you’ve done before, there’s always a possibility for hiccups, road-blocks, and life in general to disrupt whatever careful preparation you’ve designed for your trip. Roll with these disruptions – take things one step at a time. Remember that you’ve never been here before, there’s going to be MANY instances of things not going the way you expect them to. Just take a deep breath, and remember that you can always consult a co-worker, director, or even someone online about what to do in a situation that has you stumped. Someone has had your problem before – learn from them, and don’t let it get you down.
Think of this as a learning experience for you, as well. There’s so much about this adventure that will be new to you, so there will be plenty of opportunity to pick up a new skill, such as another language, or a new way of doing something. Seoul, South Korea, is pretty good about offering services in English, and you’d be surprised how many young people can speak the language, (much like you, though, they’re shy about what they’ve learned, so they don’t often use it.) You don’t need to speak fluent Korean to get by, but it certainly makes your life easier if you can read their alphabet and sound out words, and people appreciate it a whole lot more if you make even stumbling efforts to order your food in their language.
Adjusting will take time. Once you get over the initial excitement, most people experience a bout of homesickness. It will get better, just give it time and try to submerge yourself in the culture around you, rather than live on the edges of it. Apply this patience to your job, as well. Remember that, in most cases, these are children you are teaching, who have already been in school and outside activities for most of their day. They’re tired, and it’s impressive they can even say “hello” in another language, let alone learn to read, write and speak as fluently as you might want them to. Thankfully, children are sponges. It might seem like they aren’t getting anywhere at first, but by the end of the year, if they can finish that “hello,” with, “my name is…”, they’ve come a long way. Be proud of them.
Once you’ve packed the proper mentality, the rest is easy to acquire. Materially, you’re going to want a few months spending and accommodations money, just in case of any unexpected incidents. You will also want cold medication, because it is both hilariously easy and frustratingly difficult to get cold medication. You can get absolutely anything from the doctor, but you MUST have a prescription, and sometimes it’s a little confusing as to what you’re actually taking. The number one thing people ask teachers going home for vacation to bring back is Nyquil – and trust me, in this line of work, you WILL be getting sick. Bed sheets are also advisable, no matter what anyone says otherwise, at least in Korea. You can find them, but that’s a little difficult when you first arrive, and often your school doesn’t provide you with fitted bed sheets. All you need is the fitted one, so it doesn’t take up much space to pack.
Just remember that all material things can be shipped, purchased, or gone without! The most important thing to bring with you is the proper attitude – relax, have fun, and remember to be a courteous traveler.
Click to read more about teaching English in South Korea.
Written by Ashley Marie Shuttleworth
Ashley is a graduate from Trent University with a degree in English Literature. She spent a year teaching English in South Korea followed by a year Au Pairing in England, and both jobs have provided some of the most rewarding experiences in her life, to date. There are many more adventures planned for her future, (India and Japan are next!) all with the hopes that this worldly knowledge will help to fuel her career as a published author.