Tips for Living Abroad in that First Year

After you’ve completed your TEFL course and become qualified to teach English as a foreign language for a living, the temptation is to start jet-setting straight away. You’re full of energy and you can’t wait to soak it all in. The prospect of immersing yourself into the local culture of your new home makes you giddy with excitement. You imagine yourself walking to work in the morning with a spring in your step as you discover something uniquely fascinating every day in this fresh environment. You’ll be desperate to share all of your new experiences and newfound sense of appreciation for life with your friends and family back home.
Then they share with you something you missed back home.

That first pang of homesickness hits you and starts to settle in. And it starts to grow and ebb away at you. Suddenly those unique characteristics of your new home aren’t so interesting or friendly. Work has just thrown up some new challenges that make it not such a fun place to go to. The people you met in those early days have now moved on with their own lives and you’re finding yourself home alone on a Saturday evening in a foreign country.

Culture shock is very much a real thing. The first year of living abroad is always the hardest. There’s a saying among expats that it takes three years to fully feel at home in a country. Whether or not you plan on staying teaching English abroad as a TEFL teacher for a full three years is down to you and your aspirations, but you’ll likely stay at least a year.

Here are 8 top tips for you to overcome those first-year struggles while living abroad.

1. Find where the expat hangouts are

It’s good to go places where either new expats or long-term resident expats frequent. You will automatically feel a sense of comfort knowing that there are people around who on some level either know how you’re feeling or have felt that way before. They’ll be able to relate to you and will have similar Western tastes and point of views. They’ll also be able to offer you advice on how to make the most of your new home when living abroad.

2. Become friendly with your work colleagues

These are the people who you will be seeing the most, along with your students. So it’s a good idea to get to know your colleagues outside of working hours. Your local colleagues will want to help you settle into their country and will show you all of their local secrets that the common tourists would never know. They’ll give you the lowdown of the area and by bestowing this knowledge on you, you will feel more in the loop and settled.

3. Develop a routine

So, you’ve hung out with your fellow expats and got the inside knowledge from your local colleagues. It’s time to go out and take all of their advice and learn more about your area. Find the markets that you want to buy your weekly groceries from, learn where the best deals are, discover your favourite deals and decide which café speaks to you the most for your morning coffee. Make a routine around your area that speaks to you personally.

4. Get out of the apartment

There’s little reason to give up anything that you used to do as a regular hobby back home when you’re living abroad. If you used to attend yoga classes, go to the gym, swim or any other type of activity, you should still be able to continue it wherever you are. If those types of activities aren’t your thing, maybe you could use this opportunity to take up a new hobby. Make sure that you do something, anything, rather than sitting in your room mindlessly waiting for days to roll into the next.

5. Join community pages

Don’t rely solely on the people you meet at work or at your regular haunts to tell you what you need to know about your community. Join the Facebook Community Pages or the massive group chats. Lots of long-term resident expats often post relevant happenings and important information within these community platforms. You’ll get to know what events are coming up and the different deals that are currently happening in and around your area. Having access to this source of information will make you feel more connected and aware of your surroundings.

6. Treat yourself

You deserve to be pampered. You deserve to smile and to feel good about yourself. Living abroad and teaching English can be a tough gig. It’s important to make sure you give yourself the self-care you need during those hard days. This can be something as relaxing as getting yourself a massage, which is popular and cheap in a lot of South East Asia countries. Or it could be to catch a movie at the cinema, or something simple like having an ice cream. Whatever it is that lifts your spirits, do it little and often.

7. Stay connected

stay connected when living abroad

That first year living abroad teaching English can be really tough. There may come a time when the loneliness and disconnection from those you left behind weigh heavily on you. It’s only natural when you’re living in a different time zone and the messages from home become more infrequent. You may even try to avoid all communication if you’re feeling low and alone. Try not to do that. Even though those back home are thousands of miles away, they still care for you very much. They are your support group through any tough times.

8. Take a moment

Do what makes you happy. Many expats expend a lot of energy into keeping those back home in the loop of your new life. You end up stretching yourself thin and feeling pressured to do this and that. Take a moment to realise you’re doing what many dream of doing and enjoy this time in your life.

For more advice or support on living abroad for the first year – and beyond, contact the team today.

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In general, you don’t need a degree to teach English abroad or online. Our certification stands alone and you can get employment without pairing it with a degree. However, some TEFL employers do prefer their teachers to have a degree. More importantly, for some countries, it’s a visa requirement. This means you can’t obtain a work permit without a bachelor’s degree or higher. Some of these countries include China, Japan, UAE and Vietnam. 

Our advice is if you have your sights set on a certain country, look into the visa requirements first before putting time and effort into finding a job there. This will save you time and disappointment. If it’s a school preferability, and not a visa requirement, there’s sometimes some leeway. 

You do not need any prior teaching degrees or experience to teach abroad. Once you have your TEFL certificate, you can secure work as a TEFL teacher. A BA in Education would enhance your CV, but it’s not a necessity. Completing a TEFL course that includes teaching practice, like our Hybrid TEFL Courses, will also help your CV.

If you want to experience different cultures and see the world, teaching English abroad is for you. Not only will you get to explore new places, you’ll also meet new people and get the chance to make a difference to the lives of language learners. A TEFL certification lasts a lifetime. So, you can dip in and out of teaching abroad whenever you feel like it. 

It is not necessary to speak any other languages. You’ll be able to find a job and work comfortably without knowing the language spoken in your chosen country. Of course, it is always an advantage, even if it’s just the basics. We recommend learning a few phrases before you move abroad like hi, thank you, goodbye and sorry.

You’re never too old to gain new qualifications! Some TEFL employers do have age restrictions, but there are ample opportunities for more mature teachers. There are also the options to teach English from home as a private tutor or online tutor.

We recommend one of our Hybrid TEFL Courses if you would like to teach English in Europe. These hybrid courses give you the best of both worlds. You’ll get the training and certification you need, as well as teaching practice through the 10 Hour Virtual TEFL Course. 

The accredited courses are the quickest way to get TEFL certified, and are accepted by schools and institutes worldwide. Choose from a 120, 180 or 240 hour accredited TEFL course depending on the level of training you require. 

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