Getting around your new town

Getting from A to B in Your New Home

Moving abroad? Once you’ve settled in your new home overseas, you’re going to need to get around your new town and figure out your commute to work. Chances are, if you’re from the U.S. or Canada, back home you used to drive to work and to do your shopping. But in most places overseas, teachers of English as a Foreign Language will need to look at modes of transportation other than private car.

 What kinds of transportation are available to you will depend a lot on whether you’re moving to an urban or rural area, and whether you’re in a developed or developing nation. Generally speaking, rural areas in developing nations will have the most, um, interesting modes of transport. However, because everyone everywhere needs to get to work somehow, you may be surprised at the ease and efficiency of travel, even in places with spotty infrastructure like Central America or Southeast Asia.

Common misconceptions about transportation options overseas are:

  That it’s crowded

  That it’s unreliable

  That it’s unsafe

  That it’s cheap

While you will definitely find crowded transportation on your travels around the world, you’re most likely to find this to be the case if you have to use rush-hour buses or subways in a major city.

Public transportation is often the only option for the people living in your city—they might not be able to afford a car. So, local governments overseas often recognize the importance of reliable and efficient bus and subway systems, more so than most local governments in the U.S., where officials expect most people to have their own transportation.

Likewise, because local people must use it, there’s pressure for it to be safe, as well. In places where the government-funded options don’t have such a great safety rating, as in some places in China, for example, you’ll probably find private companies that offer similar services, like bus routes, at slightly higher fares.

The price of your transportation is going to depend largely on where you’re living. In Tokyo, for example, it’s quite expensive to get around. But in Lima, Peru, you’ll find yourself spending mere pennies for buses or other transport options. Salaries will also vary, of course.

A Variety of Options

If this is your first time traveling abroad, you may be amazed at the variety of transportation options that are available to you.

In big cities, subway systems, are usually the quickest and most efficient way to get from point A to B within the most densely populated areas of a town. Light rail systems, which often look just like the subway train but are above ground, might extend into the suburbs. A few cities, like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, have skyrails, too—trains that run on tracks elevated above the streets.

In Eastern Europe, Japan and Istanbul, many neighborhoods are served by streetcars (also called trams), which run on rails and keep city buses out of heavy downtown traffic.

In China, Thailand or elsewhere in Southeast Asia, you might find yourself getting to class on the back of a motorcycle taxi. These taxis, often licensed by the local government, have negotiable fares and are perfect for zipping through traffic jams during the morning rush hour. They’re not so good if you’re carrying a heavy backpack or if you’re a woman wearing a skirt, however, and you’ll need a bit practice before either of those scenarios feel comfortable.

Bridges aren’t the only way across bodies of water: taking the ferry or a water taxi might become part of your commute if you live in Bangkok, Hong Kong, parts of China, or Lisbon.

In Asia, three-wheeled carts powered by motorcycles—called tuk tuks in Thailand, and various other names elsewhere—are another way to get around. These are usually run by private drivers, but in some places they run routes, just like a city bus. Other places rely on converted pickup trucks or other hybridized vehicles. These might take some getting used to, but they’re often a lot of fun!

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t be put off by local transportation. Travel like the locals and soon you’ll feel like one!

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Learn transport schedules and buy a transit pass if available. This will help you feel empowered to get out and explore your new home.   

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Technology in the Classroom

Apps and Other Stuff for EFL Teachers

People have been learning languages with just a trusty chalkboard, paper and pencil, for hundreds of years. Using advanced technology in your classroom may not make or break your efficiency as an English teacher, but it might brighten up your lessons and provide breakthrough opportunities for students who have different learning styles.

Music Gets a Class Going

First of all, let’s talk about the benefit of music in the classroom. You can bring in musical instruments and get your students to beat a rhythm while you drill pronunciation—that’s lo-fi. Or, you can bring in a CD player, computer, or hook your MP3 player up to speakers to bring professional musicians right into the classroom. Music not only provides text for listening assignments, but can signal breaks between sections of the lesson, set the mood for conversation practice, and help moderate the energy levels of young learners. (Need them to perk up? Rock and roll in the morning is magic. Too rambunctious? Classical piano soothes and comforts.)

Computers Aren’t Just for Facebook

Next, computers. If your classroom already has a computer or several computers, you might use them to run PowerPoint presentations, show short video clips or scenes from movies, or even run an interactive game with a small group of students. Many foreign teachers choose to bring their personal laptops in to the classroom to show photos. Laptops are good for this because they can be passed around. They’re bad for this, because there’s always the risk of having someone drop it or spill something on it.

App It Up with Tablets

And then, tablets. Tablet computers combine the multimedia potential of audio and video recording and playback with the functionality of a piece of paper. You can take notes, make sketches, and show “handouts” right on the tablet, without wasting a lot of paper. There are tons of educational apps, including beautiful, bright flashcards; dictionaries with pronunciation guides; and, if you’re really stuck on a student’s question, instant translator apps. There are also language-based games on tablets (things like word scrambles) that could provide a nice reward for early-finishing groups while you wait for the slower students to finish their lessons. Some schools are providing teachers with tablets, while some teachers just decide to bring their personal ones into the classroom. Your students may also have their own tablets that they bring to class to use.

Interactive White Boards are Fun and Functional

Finally, interactive white boards. I’ve noticed more and more ESL job ads boasting that they give their teachers interactive whiteboards, like the ones from the brand SmartBoard, which allows you to save any board work written on it and email it to your students later. The danger of these is that the classroom becomes more board- and teacher-focused, but if you’re teaching higher levels, students may appreciate being able to annotate in class any PowerPoints shown for difficult sections of the text, and the brainstorming you do with the class on the board will be useful to them later when they read through the emailed notes.

However, just because great technology is possible to use in the classroom, doesn’t mean that when you come to class it will actually work. You should always test technology before a lesson and have a backup plan in case something is not functioning the day of your lesson. Every experienced teacher has had that sinking feeling when they press “Play” and nothing happens. This is usually followed by a moment of panic as the teacher wildly tries to figure out what they’ll do instead of the listening assignment, DVD clip or multimedia presentation. Save yourself that moment of discomfort by trying everything out beforehand, and embarking on “Plan B” if that doesn’t work. Plenty of teachers have wasted precious class time crawling under desks trying one plug after another. If it doesn’t work when you want it to, let it go and try again another day.

Ted’s Tips #1:  Don’t let the technology become the lesson. It should aid you in presenting your class in a new way, or let students interact with language and each other in an interesting manner. But, don’t let your lesson plan just become: play a video. That will get boring pretty quick.

Ted’s Tips #2:   Have a backup plan in case the technology doesn’t work on the day you want it to.

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Sick Overseas

Tips for Going to the Doctor When You Don’t Know the Language

At first, it’s just a sniffle.

A couple days later, your students pat you on the back as they leave the classroom and whisper, “get some rest, teacher.”

By the end of the week, you’re tired, worn out from coughing, and wondering: What should you do now that you’re ill and overseas?

You should try to get better, of course. And the quickest way to that is usually by seeking help from a medical professional.

My personal experience with doctors overseas is that I have had far better health care almost everywhere than I ever had in the States. This, of course, will depend on whether you are in an urban or rural area and on the type of problem you’re experiencing.

Do Some Research Before You Get Sick

Ideally, before you get sick, you should do some research about medical facilities soon after you move to town.

The first thing to know is if you should be going to a hospital or to a clinic. In some countries, especially in Asia, it’s unusual to make an appointment with a doctor outside of the hospital building. In Europe, by contrast, your doctor may have an office in a residential apartment building. In the United States, we usually go to see a general practitioner first, and then get a referral to a specialist. But in other countries, you may be told to go directly to a specialist. This basic information—as well as the location of the hospital or clinic closest to your apartment—is something you should find out before you get ill, so that you’re prepared when you need to go.

Many teachers worry about their first trip to the doctor abroad because they’re nervous about communicating with the clinic or hospital staff. However, know that most doctors you visit around the world have some English skills. In any culture, doctors are highly educated people, and it’s a fair bet that they’ve devoted several years to acquiring English as well as clinical know-how. In fact, they’ve probably had to learn English just to complete their studies—a lot of international medical research is published in English originally. When I lived in Taiwan, I learned that doctors there had to submit their research in English, and I had a profitable side-job proofreading some of those studies for them.

So, talking to the doctor will probably not be as difficult as you are worried about. However, hospital registration paperwork and filling prescriptions of medicine might require some local lingo. It is a good idea to ask your employer if they have a helper that can go with you on your first visit to the hospital just to help with these things. If you do go solo, here are some things you might need to take with you to the hospital:

•  Your passport

•  Cash (we’ll discuss payment in a moment)

•  A residence card/local ID (if you have one)

•  Your local address and phone number

•  The address and phone number of your employer

•  Boxes/photos of any medicines you’ve taken for this illness in the past. While brand names are different from country to country, doctors may be able to help you find a match.

•  A book (or something to while away time in the waiting room)

•  A dictionary, in case there are some communication problems

If your problem is not an emergency, you might spend 15 or 20 minutes on the Internet making a list of translations for the symptoms you’re experiencing. You can then show this list to the nurse or receptionist and they’ll be able to help you figure out what doctor to go to. Usually, you won’t need the list because the doctor or nurse will understand you in English or through pantomime anyway, but it might help you feel less anxious to go in prepared.

How to Pay

Now, let’s talk about payment. In most instances abroad, I’ve paid cash for doctors’ visits and medication. Even if you’re insured, the transaction may be more smooth if you pay upfront and get receipts and let the insurer pay you back. However, this is also something you ideally should know before you move abroad. Talk to your insurer about it, make notes, and keep the information available for easy reference when you need it. If your employer is paying for your health insurance abroad, don’t assume that it will function the same way as employer-provided health insurance would in your home country. As part of your hiring or orientation process, get acquainted with what the insurance covers and which hospitals or doctors you can see under it.

Whether your health issue is small or large, don’t let a fear of going to the doctor abroad stop you from pursuing treatment. View it as part of the experience of living abroad, and you may be surprised what a great story your hospital visits will make later when you talk to friends or family back home.

Ted’s Tips #1:  In some countries, the doctor-patient consultation is not as private as it might be in your home country. Be ready for assistants, trainee doctors and sometimes other patients to be in the room with you while you explain your problems. If no one else is embarrassed by this, you shouldn’t be either.

Ted’s Tips #2:  In some countries, your doctor may give you the option of being treated by traditional medicine. If you know you would not like to try this, it’s okay to say no and ask for Western medication.

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Start Up Costs

What You Need Financially to Set Up as an English Teacher Abroad

Whether you’re just moving 20 miles or 2,000 miles, when you set up in a new home you’re going to have some start-up costs. The trick to a reduced-stress international move is being prepared for the cost of establishing yourself in your new location.

Keep a Cushion of Cash

If you’ve had the opportunity to visit the city you’ll be moving to, you’ll have some kind of idea of what food, drink, and local transportation will cost you. If you haven’t, see if you can find a message board online that will lay this out for you. Use this information to make a rough estimate of what your daily costs will be. It’s good to have a cushion of about two month’s worth of this, just to be safe.

Then, you need to estimate what your accommodation will cost each month. You may have to pay for a hotel or short term lodging for the first few weeks while you look for permanent accommodation, or your employer might help you find something right away. When you find something permanent, be prepared to pay first and last months’ rent plus a deposit on your apartment. Try to find out from your employer or online forum what an average utility bill will be. In some countries you’ll also need to pay fees for turning on utilities like telephone or Internet service.

Next, you need to think about furnishings and items for your home. It’s usually best to rent a furnished apartment so that you don’t have to worry about large move-in bills (and the stress of finding things and having them delivered to your new apartment) and you won’t have to sell it all or move it at the end of your rental contract. Home appliances don’t cost too much, and your apartment might come with some of them, but you’ll need to budget some money for getting a coffee maker, water filter, dishes, cups, pillows, towels, bed sheets and cleaning supplies, for example.

Does Anyone Want to Give You Gently Used Items?

However, a caveat on appliances and the like. Sometimes its best to ask your employer or new coworkers if they have any used things you could take off their hands. A little bit of patience on the nonessentials might save you some money.  I can’t count the number of times I bought something only to have my employer provide it the next day or next week. You may be able to inherit some things a departing teacher left behind, or provide a good excuse for someone with more roots in the community to upgrade something of his own. A friend of mine got all of her home technology—TV, DVD player, coffee machine, microwave—for free when her boss decided the school break room could use a whole new outfitting.

If all this seems a bit overwhelming, rest assured that it’s really not. It only gets overwhelming if you don’t plan ahead. Once you sit down and make a list of the things on which you know you’ll need to spend more, you can go ahead and budget for them, and then concentrate on enjoying your move.

A final note: some employers will withhold a portion of your salary checks during the probationary period. If this is true for your school, take it into account when you balance what you will be bringing in with what you will need to spend.

Ted’s Tips #1:  Don’t let a tight budget get in the way of following your dreams. If you can plan it, you can do it. Just be realistic and allow a little padding to help out on those “rainy days.”  Probably most people start on not much more than a few weeks worth of cash, but we like to recommend a conservative approach.

Ted’s Tips #2:  Ask employers and coworkers if they’ve got any household items they’d like to get rid of. If you don’t mind taking pre-owned stuff, you’ll save on your start up costs.

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Teaching Under the Table

The Ethics of Private Lessons

At first, they look like any two friends meeting for a coffee. Except, one of them is foreign, and the other is local. They sit close together in the crowded cafe and lean in so as not to miss a word the other is saying. After a while, they consult a book and make notes.

They could be colleagues, working on a project. They could be planning a party for a mutual friend. They could be dating.

And then, when saying farewell, the local slips the foreigner some cash.

Welcome to a private English lesson, happening daily in a Starbucks near you.

Private Lessons Take Place Anywhere

Private English lessons, or tutorials as they are sometimes called, can be fun, lucrative part-time gigs for foreign teachers working abroad. They don’t have to happen in a coffee shop, either—some students ask teachers to go to their homes, or come to the teacher’s apartment. Or, they might meet at a local library, the food court of a shopping mall, a bar, or even in a park. Sometimes several students will group together and ask for a lesson. These lessons’ informal nature makes them a treat for both the student and the instructor, who often end up becoming close friends. And, many an English teacher has been pleased by the extra pocket-money gained from teaching a few hours off the books.

But, that teacher’s main employer may not be so pleased. Especially if the teacher in question has a school-provided visa and accommodation.

It’s an Ethical Decision

The decision to teach private lessons or not is mostly an ethical one. First of all, some employment contracts flat-out prohibit teaching outside lessons. In some countries, to get a teacher’s visa the school has to promise the government that it is responsible for that teacher’s actions. Or, the owner of a training center that provides lessons to a wide demographic may feel that your under-the-table lessons are robbing him of customers. Or, your employer may worry that you’ll be so successful in your endeavors that you’ll open your own school in competition with theirs—it’s happened before.

Secondly, aside from your agreement with the school (and some schools are fine with it; I’ve heard of a boss who told teachers to go ahead and offer private lessons—as long as students from his school got a discount), you’re most likely breaking the law by taking money from someone without paying taxes on it.

It’s Not about How Much You’re Making

Now, you may be making only a nominal amount—“will work for beer” is the motto of many teachers abroad—but, on the other hand, you might be banking more than you make at your regular job. Private students who are pleased with your lessons are likely to recommend you to their friends. Who call up their cousins who want English classes. Who bring in their sister’s coworker… you get the picture. It’s not uncommon for English teachers who are willing to teach off-schedule hours to fill up their evenings and weekends with extra lessons. If this happens to you, it might be a sign that you’re ready to start off on your own, as a freelancer. But that’s a topic for a different post (see the previous post).

The point is, if you’re accepting cash for private lessons you are putting yourself at risk for violating your visa and local tax laws. That’s not to say that you should turn your nose up at the scent of easy money—just that you should make sure you’re informed about the rules and whether you’re breaking them or not. It’s a good idea to talk to your co-workers or to an online forum about whether private classes are ignored by your school and the local authorities or not.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Check the contract you have with your school to see if they frown on teachers giving private lessons. If it’s not mentioned in your contract, ask your coworkers or boss. Sometimes you’ll hear that they just don’t want to know about it; other times you’ll find out it’s a firing offense.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  If you do give private lessons and find yourself in demand, you might look in to the logistics of becoming a freelance English teacher at the end of your existing school contract.

TED’s Tips™ #3:  When working in non-language school settings such as public schools, colleges and universities, it is not uncommon for your school to ask you to teach an individual or even a small group of students or government officials.  You still need to clarify the legality of the situation and make your own decision about whether to proceed or not.  In my personal experience, I never had a problem with these types of lessons.   But that doesn’t mean they are legal.  Know before you go.

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