Solving Problems in a Foreign Culture

The reality is that we all face problems that must be solved every day. But when living in a foreign culture even the easiest of problems “back home” can become a challenge to solve. Especially at work. And if they are not solved, they can threaten your employment, your very security and your dream of living and working and THRIVING abroad.

Your new country isn’t your old country. How people behave and respond can be quite different.

When “Yes” is better than “No”

Western-style assertiveness is not so common in the rest of the world. A story to illustrate: In the summer of 1993, I was teaching at a university’s summer program (socking away a little extra cash while I was on paid vacation from my college!). The weather was very hot and sweaty – and the classrooms had no air conditioning. And I mean HOT and SWEATY – we were soaking with sweat.

A Coffee Shop

The students suggested that we have our class across the street in an air-conditioned coffee shop – a great idea! Only about eight students in the class, so we would easily fit in a big corner booth. I asked the supervisor if it was okay – and he said, “Yes.” A few minutes later he said, “So you are not having class today?” I replied, “Of course we are, we are going to meet in the coffee shop – as the students requested. That’s okay, isn’t it?” He said, “Yes.”

A few minutes later he – again – said, “So you are not having class today?”

Well . . . we went through this cycle several times before I got a bit upset and told the supervisor, “If you don’t want us to meet at the coffee shop – just SAY ‘NO’!” Needless to say, everyone was upset. But, it didn’t need to be that way – I really should have picked up on it the first time – or at least the second time the supervisor asked if I was not having class.

Western Assertiveness – (this IS important!)

Western assertiveness can be your greatest downfall. Other cultures deal with problems in different ways. Try to learn the most appropriate way to get things done, to get the things done that you want done. I always knew what I wanted, what I needed, but I used their cultural behavior to get it done. Overassertive behavior would not have worked. I got what I wanted, many others didn’t. I don’t care who is right or who is wrong. I just want done what I need to have done. Period. Follow the cultural rules. They work.

My Favorite Phrases

What did I say for getting things done, even when it wasn’t my fault and I knew someone was jacking me around? “I’m sorry I am such a problem – can you help me with this?” Another one that works well is, “What would you do if you had this problem?” Swallow your pride. Life overseas is more like a fun cultural game. Learn how to play it – so YOU win. It is fun and challenging to figure out.

The What would you do if you were me and had this problem? question got me a driver’s license in Taiwan, only seconds after the same clerk told me it was impossible, as my USA license had expired a few days before. I asked her the question – she stamped the forms – and gave me my license! Getting angry and assertive would not have worked. She was right, she was following the law and had every right to refuse my request. But because I asked for her help and advice – she gave me a license.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Develop your skills in dealing with cross-cultural communications and your life will go much smoother overseas! It’s all part of learning to be a skilled expatriate.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

What is a Typical TEFL Job Like?

What is Teaching English Overseas Like?

How will I spend my time at school?

Good Questions!

Teaching is enjoyable work if you enjoy people.  Like any occupation, each specific job can vary greatly.  It depends on what type of school or company you work for, the country you work in and the ages of your students.  Let’s take a look at all your options.

Adults or Children

The teaching of adults is often less-structured than the teaching of children.  They are, usually, more motivated, have a reason for taking the class, and already have some English speaking skills.  Kids, on the other hand, are often in class because their parents signed them up, have short attention spans, and need a lot of activity to keep them interested.

New Teachers

New teachers tend to teach children’s classes, though this is not always true.  Everyone has their own preference – some people love to teach kids and even kindergarten – some prefer to teach only adults.  Perhaps because of the more structured lessons, new teachers are more frequently assigned to the very specific routines that younger learners need.  That’s not to say that teaching kids is easier – I think it is more difficult!

Teaching Kids

Language schools often hire new EFL teachers for kids classes.  These classes are usually after school and will involve teaching the basics in a very interactive format.  Note the stress!  Kids need action!  This is not a lecture class.  Songs, games, activities and imitation drills will provide the basis for these classes.

Sometimes these classes will be 30-45 minutes instead of 50-90 minutes more typical of adult classes.  Often, you would teach four to six of these classes in one day, with from six to fifteen kids in each class.

Adult Classes

These are sometimes called “conversation” classes where adults come to sharpen their already existing basic English skills.  While this sounds like a “chat” class – you would still be expected to provide instruction, some activities, some error correction – and a lot of encouragement.

These classes can vary, but typically are 50-60 minutes – and you might teach three to six of them in one day.  Sometimes, due to adults’ working schedules, you might teach very early in the day, or late in the day, and sometimes both!

Adults tend to be easier to teach (IMO), but you can end up with some difficult work schedules to accommodate your students.  Some new teachers are a bit afraid of teaching adults, worrying that adults will be more likely to judge their teaching ability.  They are right, but most students are very forgiving of newbies.

University Classes

Particularly if you already have a masters degree, you might find yourself teaching at a university or college.  High status – maybe – but you might also find yourself teaching 30-100 bored students who are required to take the class.  In my experience, a class of less than 25 is hard to come by.

I once taught a reading class with 100 students in it  and have heard from another teacher who taught 150 students in one class.  Don’t attempt this kind of teaching until you get a little experience under your belt.  Typically, you will teach fewer classes per week, but you can see from the numbers that preparation is critical  and any kind of home work will lead to piles and piles of work that you will need to do at home.  Most classes will be 50 to 90 minutes.

Middle and High School Students

These classes, tend to be middle of the road, lecture a bit: language principles, grammar, pronunciation, etc., then an activity.  Sometimes these too can be large classes of students who may not be highly motivated.  If you are teaching at a public school, classes can be quite large, in a private language school, classes will be smaller.

Corporate and “Company” Classes

Some companies will hire you to improve their workers’ English skills.  Classes will tend to be small, but often at odd hours to work around your students’ work schedules.  Student attendance may be erratic.  I personally enjoy these type of classes, but many teachers don’t, as students are often quite tired after a hard day of work and just want to go home.  I can’t blame them!  These classes tend to focus on “Business English” and the language of the workplace.

And everything in between

TED’s Tips™ #1: Expect just about any combination of the above and you will not be surprised!

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

Beat the Recession: Teach English Abroad

Teaching English Abroad:  Recession-Proof Jobs

Many readers of this blog already know that I help people find jobs in China, more as a part-time hobby than anything else. I quite enjoy helping people get started in the the TEFL life.

One thing many people aren’t aware of is that there are still a huge number of unfilled TEFL jobs around the world and the three largest markets: China, Korea and Thailand are still looking for you. In spite the rush of college students who can’t find jobs because of the high unemployment rates in their “developed” economy home countries, there are still plenty of jobs open.

For your consideration, the chart below reflects economic growth and unemployment rates in the three countries that provide the greatest numbers of EFL teachers and the three countries that hire the most teachers (China and Korea, for sure – I am guessing about Thailand as #3).

Country Unemployment
Rate: July 2010
Estimated Economic Growth
January 2010
USA 9.5% 3.2%
UK 7.7% 1.9%
Australia 5.3% 2.9%
China 4.2% 11.0%
Korea 3.75% 7.0%
Thailand 1.6% 12.0%
Data by

Wow! The numbers speak for themselves. The developing world is booming while the so-called “developed” countries are struggling.  Unemployment rates in the East are low – they are high in the West.

And – even if things did turn bad in the developing countries – most countries of the world tend to invest more heavily in education during bad times. So you get good news both ways.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If a sour economy is giving you a beating in the “developed” world – head overseas and find yourself a good job, a good life and a whole new world.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

Who Teaches English Abroad?

What kind of people teach English overseas?

You will be quite surprised. Maybe even shocked.

Who are they?

To a large extent they are people just like you. People who saw an interesting opportunity and took it.

Recently I went out for dinner with an experienced lawyer from Chicago who had just finished his TEFL certification course.

I’ve met other former lawyers, a hotel manager, tennis instructor, construction worker, retired military people, social workers, business managers, a factory manager, journalist, psychotherapist, retail sales staff, public school teachers, retired people, a petroleum engineer, and many more. And those are only the ones I asked! After a while – you won’t even be surprised any more!

Why are they teaching EFL overseas?

Why not! You will sometimes hear people talking about “running away from it all” and “escaping America” (or other countries). But more often people are running to what they see as an interesting and exciting lifestyle opportunity. Fulfillment of a dream of actually experiencing the world, rather than just seeing it through the window of a tour bus or a television.

Why do they stay overseas?

Now that’s the hard question. Mostly because they are enjoying themselves, meeting their personal and financial goals, and just don’t feel the need to go home. I recently retired abroad. Did I start out with that goal? No. But I love it!

Most people do go home permanently at some point, but there is a small percentage of us who find the lifestyle just too enjoyable to go back “home.” For me – right now – “home” is a wonderful tropical island that I may never leave!

TED’s Tips™ #1: The most successful people overseas are those “going to” something rather than just “running away” from something in their lives. Go to a new life, new opportunities, the chance to see and experience the world. Going to creates success. Running away from creates failure.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China