Teaching abroad will teach you more than you could ever teach your students. It was difficult to shortlist the lessons I’ve learned but here’s my plenary post: several months of teaching in Thailand and two years teaching in Italy.

The best part of teaching abroad is the spontaneity and the adventure of it all. Living abroad propels you into the present allowing you to live in the moment. But if you like to look ahead and question what will I take away from this experience? What skills and perspective will I take home? Teaching abroad will teach you more than you could ever teach your students.

It was difficult to shortlist the lessons I’ve learned but here’s my plenary post: several months of teaching in Thailand and two years teaching in Italy.

Teaching makes a difference

Whether you are taking a gap year, paving a teaching career, or just spending a handful of weeks teaching for fun, you will have an impact on your students. For instance, if you are teaching young students, you may be a source of routine and security for them; you can foster a love of languages that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

If you are teaching adults you could be that hour in their day they can set aside their stress or challenge themselves. Or simply someone that will listen and care about their progress. Just think about a teacher that had an impact on your life and how it remains with you today. Even if teaching isn’t your life calling, it will infuse a sense of purpose in you every day.

Teaching is transferable

Not everyone has what it takes to be a good teacher, it takes guts to present in front of a group of students and manage their learning experience. I believe everyone should work as a TEFL teacher at least once in their life, the world would be a better place. Trust me, when you correct a student for saying “persons” and not “people” for the 1,238th  time, you will learn the skills of patience and perseverance. These are sought-after skills in any job you decide to take on after. Your honed teaching skills are transferable, you will not be starting over in your next job. 

You will develop greater empathy especially for immigrants and see them in a new light. You’ll admire their bravery for moving home, adapting to a new culture, and speaking a second language. Most importantly you will learn the skill of adaptation and resilience, you don’t fear change and have learned how to pick yourself up when you’ve been knocked down.

No such thing as normal

Never did I think I would polish off a Thai Khao Pad or an Italian pastry for breakfast. For me, nothing achieves satiety better than an Irish fry up or a hearty bowl of porridge. But you learn to embrace the new normal, and you are all better for it. Just shows there is no universal definition of ‘normal’, it’s always in the eye of the beholder.

One of the greatest things about travelling is the new practices you pick up along the way, whether it’s learning the importance of morning meditation in Thai schools, how to cook the perfect pasta in Italy, or just surrendering to a slower pace of life. We can learn so much from other cultures when we broaden our horizons. You’ll also find people abroad have different aspirations to what you are used to at home. At home, success could be finally getting their mortgage approved on their ideal home. But for those abroad, it may be conquering another corner of the world. You define your version of success.

You can handle more than you think

Adele’s “Go Easy on Me” has become my leitmotif of living abroad. You pray everything will go well and smoothly for you.  But if it did, I wouldn’t have learned much. The “good” teaches you well but the “bad” teaches you better. The whole reason for living abroad is to go beyond your borders, not just physically. Whether that’s learning a new language, meeting new people, teaching in front of a class – chalk it up to experience. Your confidence and capacity for challenges will evolve. When you travel home again, all your past fears will seem like child’s play when you can speak the language effortlessly and don’t need Google Maps surgically attached to your hand.

Yes, you really can live out a suitcase

Having to pack your life into a suitcase or backpack can be one of the most frustrating but therapeutic aspects of travelling. You learn to let go of material things and live without them. The stress of hoarding shampoo bottles or rummaging through twenty tank tops dissipates.  Having less will make you feel lighter in every sense. Living and teaching abroad also comes with the challenge of not always having access to your beloved brands or much variety. But you learn to cut down and save your pennies for experiences that will matter more than those material things. In hindsight, you won’t remember the clothes you packed but the memories you brought back. 

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Home isn’t made of bricks and mortar

When you travel you leave pieces of yourself in many places. You don’t belong somewhere, you belong everywhere you’ve been. You develop ‘foreign comforts’ which you will tirelessly try to recreate at home. Inevitably, you will never be the same again. The places you see, the food you eat, and the people you meet harbour a home in your heart. If you decide to travel solo it can be daunting but you will be surrounded by other ex-pats and naturally bond over your paths of self-discovery. They become your surrogate family. You’ll develop lasting connections to the world. You are no longer a citizen of your country but a citizen of the world!

If you want to become a TEFL teacher, you can enroll in an accredited TEFL course.

Read more > >   Things to consider when you’re thinking about teaching abroad. 

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