Taking the Bad with the Good

What if things start going wrong while you are overseas?

As in all careers, sometimes teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) find things going pear-shaped.

You might be in a job you dislike or shoulder-to-shoulder with co-workers you can’t stand. Your new host culture, country or city may make you uncomfortable.

Basically, all the things that might go bad with a job in your home country can go wrong abroad as well. In fact, there are even more things that can go wrong.

Luckily for us teachers, it’s not that hard to get a new job if you need to. However, you should know that some countries have stringent, difficult procedures for changing companies/employers/schools and you may even need to cross the border to another country to do a “visa run” or even seek work in yet another country.

Make a Plan for your Worst Case Scenario

I find it good advice to plan for the best and prepare for the worst. While all of us are at risk of finding ourselves in a bad situation one day, remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Avoid potentially difficult situations before they start by educating yourself about common pitfalls before you start a new job. Reading and following my advice in the “Job Hunt” sections of this blog may be a good place to start.

In the occasion that things do go bad, there are two important things that you may want to have prepared: a return ticket home or to a third country plus enough ready cash to be able to survive for a few months of unemployment while lining up your next job.

Many people will say that this is unnecessary; however I dislike hitting my friends and family up for loans so I give financially conservative advice in this case.

If you have three months’ worth of money available to you, as well as a plane ticket, then you’ll have the time and resources to plan what you’ll do next. You’ll also be better off when you do start your next job and won’t be so desperate for that first paycheck. In an ideal world, it’s best to have six months’ worth of cash. But realistically, most people don’t have that much money to draw out at a moment’s notice.

When Culture is to Blame

Whenever a problem stemming from cultural differences pops up, I try to stay cool and work things out before I take a more drastic step. Almost everyone will find themselves embroiled in some kind of problem relating to cultural gaps when they are first overseas. It’s easy for miscommunication to occur, and culture shock commonly makes things hard for a few months. In fact, I’d say some of my very most hair-pullingly frustrating moments abroad have been because of quite simple cultural/language misunderstandings.

For example, once a university dean I had just paid a compliment to thought I was insulting him! Unfortunately for me (and for our good relationship) my positive comment, when directly translated, had a negative meaning in his language.

Another time I had a supervisor who just couldn’t tell me “no.”  It was culturally impossible for him to say “no,” to something for which I had asked, so he said “yes.” I didn’t realize that, in his culture, I should have picked up on his reluctance rather than his words until much later—when everyone felt uncomfortable.

If you follow the advice on this website, and research your new position well, you will probably be able to avoid nine out of ten bad situations you come across.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Have a rainy day fund. Keep some money aside for that “oh no!” moment and don’t forget to make a Plan B and even a Plan C, as discussed elsewhere on the blog. If you do this then, no matter what your problem, you can take off in search of a better situation if you need to.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you don’t have a nest-egg set aside before you go overseas, make it a goal to set it aside in your first year or two abroad.

Teaching Internships in China