What is Culture Shock?

Will I Get Culture Shock Overseas?

What Should I do about it?

Yes, you’ll probably get it. But “shock” is a bit of an overstatement.

You can expect to feel euphoric – I finally made it!,

Angry – Why can’t I make things work, like back home!,

Depressed and disappointed – Everything isn’t exactly like I wanted and expected it to be!,

And isolated – I don’t really know anyone here.

That’s okay, these feelings are normal. After all this is a very big time in your life and of course you will have some strong feelings about it!

Natural Reactions

These emotional reactions are all natural responses to the situation you will find yourself in when you are first abroad.

How to deal with it?

Get busy! Personal projects, work, travel, making friends, even volunteering can help you feel better.

But, also take a little time and just recognize the feelings for what they are.

One of the best articles about dealing with Culture Shock is at About.com Culture Shock

When you experience problems abroad, don’t forget that you can have problems with your job, boss, landlord, and friends back home too. Don’t blame it all on your host country.

Know that once you have lived in several countries, the effects of culture shock diminish as you learn to have more realistic expectations, and as you just naturally learn how to deal with it.

Surviving Uncertainty

Part of the issue with culture shock is also the uncertainty of your new situation, how it is going to evolve and your general feelings about it.

Follow the same course of treatment for culture shock. Quit moping around the house and get busy.

Check the chart below for a better understanding of what goes on and your choices:


Ted’s Tips™ #1: It is important to realize that you are responsible for yourself and your feelings. Pay attention to your feelings and take action if you find that your mental health status is not exactly as you would like it to be.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Get busy in your new community. Get involved. It can make a big difference in your adaptation to a new setting.

Quality of Life Teaching English Abroad

What is the Quality of Life of an English Teacher Overseas?

Typically, EFL instructors are paid better than the average wage in a country. You will usually live better than the average wage earner. Not bad, eh?

Yeah, well . . . what level is that? What if the “Average Wage Earner” lives in a tin shack?

Good question! Your quality of life can be modest, but can also be very good. It depends a lot on the country. But, I don’t think I have ever lived poorly. Nor have I heard other teachers from other countries complain.

Even in countries where wages are quite low, teachers tend to live well on the local economy.

What problems exist?

Though it seems like a great idea to get free housing from your employer, it can sometimes a bone of contention. You may find yourself living in what looks like a slum. I know I have. But, very modest housing in many poorer countries doesn’t mean what it means in many developed countries. It is quite unlikely that gangs or crime will be out of control.

In Korea, I had friends who lived in an area, that back home in America, I would be afraid to enter after dark. But, in Korea, no problem. In many countries, crime is not the problem it is “back home”.

In spite of the alarmist and xenophobic press in the West – you will often find many parts of Asia in particular – far safer than most Western cities.

My Personal Experience

While teaching English in Taiwan, Korea (twice), Saudi Arabia and Thailand – my quality of life has always been good. I eat well and live well, and can afford good medical care (typically at a small fraction of the cost back home).

With the exception of Thailand – I have always been able to save significant money every month (minimum US$800/month, up to double or triple that). In all countries, you should expect to be able to live well on the local economy and to be able to vacation in the region.

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Don’t judge a job on wages alone. Find out what that wage buys on the local economy. In some countries you will be able to save as much as half of your wages and that is often MUCH more than you could have saved “back home”.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Asia in particular is a much safer place than most of the “West”. Do ask about local conditions for crime and safety, especially in Latin America.

Get Real and Get Flexible for TEFL

How the “Other” World Operates

Today’s post might seem like more of a rant, but it is meant to help people understand a bit of how the non-Western world operates.

In the course of my TEFL career I have dabbled a bit in a variety of things and one of them is recruitment (Satan!). Well . . . some people consider recruiters satanic. Some are not so good, some are great.

I enjoy recruiting because I am a bit of an evangelist for TEFL careers and of the extra-ordinary lifestyle that teaching English abroad can provide to us relatively normal folks who don’t have doctorates or degrees in rocket science.

One of the problems that I see in people who are interested in working abroad is a rigidity about how things must be and a general lack of flexibility about letting things be different.

My favorite example is of a person who was seeking a job in China, which is where I sometimes place people. He was a well-qualified teacher and had already signed a contract when the school asked him to sign another one. The new one was blank.

Now, I don’t advocate signing blank forms or blank contracts but sometimes to get what you want you have to do what someone else wants. The teacher had a fit and withdrew from the position. The teacher had experience in Japan and in Korea and said he had never had to do such a thing before.

I quite understand his bewilderment and discomfort with the idea, but the signing of blank forms is a common thing in many countries.

In the aftermath, my wife and I sat down and tried to remember all the contracts and forms that we had signed while abroad that were either blank or written in a language that we couldn’t at the time understand and there really were too many to count.

Another example was just yesterday at the post office. I went in pay my annual fee for my post office box and the clerk asked me to sign a blank form that was written in the local language.

Did I balk, have a fit, stomp out, demand a translator or refuse to sign it?

No, it just seemed like a regular form they used and she needed it filled out, but as I couldn’t fill in the blanks, she would do it later. No problem, I signed and in fact, got a nice refund on the security deposit for the PO box! Great surprise.

All I am trying to say here is to be flexible and try to read situations before freaking out and bailing out.

Try to read the person and the situation. Don’t sign a blank form that a stranger offers who pops out of dark alley, of course. But if a human resources clerk at your language school asks you to sign a blank form for immigration – really, it probably is okay.

Much of the world operates on trust far more than the Western world. They don’t tend to have the trust in contracts that we have, they know how easily they can be broken.

People who are always looking for “scams” and other things do tend to find them. That’s just how the world works. Yet, in my 20 years abroad, I’ve not yet signed my future paychecks over to a clerk or signed a confession for something I haven’t done.

But then I haven’t been actively looking for scams and expecting them to appear in my life.

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Take some trust with you into the real world. It is not a bad thing.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Learn to read people and situations and gauge your responses by the situation rather than by a rigid set of YES/NO rules.

Resumes for Teaching English Abroad

Are Resumes and CVs for Teaching English Overseas the same as “Back Home”?

Generally speaking, no.

Get used to the idea that the work scene overseas is very different from the one back home. Employers WILL want to see your photograph. Will ask you about your family. Will ask your age. Will ask if you are married, maybe even why not, if you aren’t.

Okay, not always, but it is not unusual, overseas, for people to ask many questions that would be illegal in many Western countries. In their country they are legal and, in their eyes, legitimate questions.

They Have Their Reasons

Work visas for English Teachers often require that your passport be from a country they deem as being English speaking. Age, is sometimes limited for certain kinds of visas. Men, may not be allowed to teach at a women’s school (Saudi Arabia for example) and on and on.

Get over it

Decide now if these issues really bother you. If they do – you may have some difficulty landing a job – or even surviving in non-Westernized countries.

What to put on your Resume or CV

Traditional resumes are fine, but be sure to put the essential information near the top where your potential employer can see it quickly. Technically, a CV is a much more academically-oriented form and more detailed, but you’ll find the terms resume and CV used somewhat interchangeably overseas. Keep them both to two pages or less, anything more than that is probably not going to get read.

If you are an older person, like me, put a cut off point in time to limit how long your resume will be. Do they really need to know that you worked for McDonalds 35 years ago?

Conversely, if you are very interested in teaching in a particular specialty – Business English, Science English, Hospitality English – be sure to include your experience in that area to strengthen your position.


Most countries will want a photo attached to your resume. Passport size, top left corner. Not everywhere is the same, but not a big deal if you put it on the wrong corner. It is usually okay if you print it on the resume.

Make sure you dress and appear professionally in the photo. You won’t believe the photos people submit when applying for jobs. It is as if all reason hath departed when heading overseas.

Age, Marital Status, Sex, Nationality, Dependents

Get used to it now. If you don’t include this information, and the employer has many applicants, guess where your resume will go. In some countries, if you do not include this information, they will assume you are hiding something.

Get used to the idea that not everyone thinks the way you do or has the same rules or standards. That people and cultures and countries are different is what makes the world all so interesting.

It’s okay to be creative

Avoid templates, you blend into the background as if you weren’t there. Try something creative. Use color, give it shot. Try a Google search for “creative resumes”. But don’t go too overboard.

I once had someone give me a resume in which a guy and his girlfriend were both looking for jobs so they split the page down the middle with his resume on the left and hers on the right. Not recommended.

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Put a professionally taken photograph on your resume with you dressed in formal work attire with a pleasant smile. Many cultures put heavy emphasis on appearances. Appear professional, it will make a difference. Have at least twenty copies made. I promise you will need them.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Put what the employer needs to know at the top of your resume. Help the employer screen you in by putting your qualifications for the position right at the top. Don’t make them search for a reason to hire you. Give to them right up front – at the top.

Finding a Job Teaching English Abroad #1

The Job Search in TEFL

I hope you already read the previous post about finding a TEFL position that fits well with the skills and experience you may already have. That approach is simple and moves you in front of the pack of people just looking for “any old job” teaching English.

The point I want to make today about the job search, and it was mentioned in the previous post too, is to not apply only to schools that are advertising. In fact, your best strategy is to apply to schools that are not advertising. I landed three of my last four college/university teaching positions at schools that were not advertising at the time

There are many reasons why this is the best strategy, but I will highlight the two most important ones.

Schools often don’t like to advertise and interview candidates.

Schools don’t usually have human resources staff who take this time-consuming task for them. The person responsible for fielding applications, questions and sorting out interviews and hiring is already busy with their full-time job teaching. Other teachers are not usually too excited about being asked to “sit in” on interviews either.

So . . . interviewing and looking for new people is not a favorite task among teachers – at any school. The department head would be very happy to have a qualified candidate walk in the door and present themselves for the opening that may be coming up soon or that already exists. Or have your resume/CV and smiling photo arrive in the mail.

The Numbers Game

I had a friend once who was looking for a job in a language school in a city that had about ten major schools. Most of those schools had about four to eight teachers. Those schools rarely advertised as they were looking for a native-speaking foreigner and most of the schools had no idea how to get one without using a recruiter.

Yet my friend was hesitant to knock on a couple unadvertised doors.

Let’s look at the numbers though. Ten schools with an average of about six teachers each. That means sixty teachers all rotating in and out. That means – on average – one opening every week.

Most people will give a month’s notice for that kind of job and so we have at least four openings that schools know about at any one time. So about a 40% opportunity that any school you go to will have an opening coming up or an opening right now that they need to fill.

And won’t they be relieved that they don’t have to do a load of interviews?

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Don’t wait for a job to be advertised. Beat the crowd and just go get it.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Schools and especially colleges and universities often know when other schools have openings. If you are polite and conduct your search in a way that reflects well on your – they will often tell you about another school that has an opening if they don’t.

Why fight the competition? Just out think them.