Don’t Drink the Water

Your Health Abroad

I’ve heard I shouldn’t drink the water…

When I’m asked if living abroad is healthy or not, it’s hard for me to give a concrete answer. Yes, in some ways, sure, it’s great for you. But sometimes, it isn’t, and, yes, there are places (more than you might think) where it’s not a good idea to drink the water that comes out of the tap.

Looking back at the places I have lived overseas, I would say that my life has been no more, and no less, healthy than it would have been if I had stayed in the USA. Well, except that I have had a lot less stress in my life than my friends back home. Reducing stress levels is certainly healthier!

Quality Care

I have found that when I see a medical professional in a foreign country, I usually get more face time with them. Doctors abroad (depending on the country) are usually not being pushed around by HMOs or clinics and so have more time to spend helping you.

In fact, I had some recurring health problems when I was a lad which were never fixed until I was able to see a few quality doctors abroad. Because they had more time to actually sit and talk to me about my ailments, they were able to offer me some new treatment options. Then, after educating me about those options, they let me choose which path of treatment I wanted to take. What great service!

And, this experience was very different to a few times I remember in the US, when I felt that the doctors were analyzing me more for the size of my wallet than the size of my ailment. I may just be cynical, but truly I do and did trust my doctors abroad more than I did my doctors in the States.

An Apple A Day…

So, the doctors have more time to spend with you. The flip side is they may not have more resources to spend on you. For example, you may find that hospitals are not maintained to the squeaky cleanliness as in your home country.

In fact, overall, things in your new country may not be as clean as you would wish them to be. Ideas about hygiene, especially in the toilet and including hand-washing, can be very different from culture to culture.

If you’re like me you’ll find yourself becoming a compulsive hand washer, which is a GREAT way to keep yourself from getting sick. Another tip is to carry a handkerchief, cloth or tissues with you so that you can dry your hands after washing. Many restrooms around the world will either not supply this necessity, or will just have one cloth towel for everyone to use (and change it once a week whether it needs it or not . . .).

What about the H2O?

A basic rule for traveling abroad is to ask (maybe several people?) before drinking tap water in your new home base. Overall, around the world, you won’t be able to drink it without the risk of falling ill. If you find that your tap water is not going to be good for you, then it’s likely that your country will have an easily accessible and very affordable supply of bottled water. In my case, I can have five-gallon (19-liter) bottles of drinking water brought to my home for about $1 USD. That’s the expensive water company! If I were stingy, I could get the cheap water for about 30 cents.

Also, sometimes water that isn’t suitable for drinking is still okay for brushing your teeth and washing fruits and vegetables, so it’s not always a very serious problem. Make sure to ask your colleagues and other acquaintances how they use the water and about any problems they’ve had.

Bringing it to a Boil

If your water is infested with bacteria or micro-organisms, one way to clean the water is to bring it to a boil. If this is the case where you are, then you can get advice from others living in that area about the best technique and length of time for doing this. However, know that sometimes the problem with the water is from pollution or heavy metals, and boiling won’t correct that.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t skimp on buying whatever the good brand of bottled water is where you live. The slight difference in price is nothing compared to the value of your good health. Ordering the water and consuming it instead of tap water is easy and no big deal. You’ll quickly develop the habit—and will probably forget, in time, that once it seemed strange not to drink from the sink.  These days it seems weird to me to drink from that kitchen faucet.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t just listen to me! I am in no way a health professional, a nurse or a doctor. But, I am careful about my health. I am in now pushing 60 and have lived abroad for many healthy years. The above post is my opinion only, and should be taken as such. For any serious concerns, you should consult your physician.



Staying Legal, Staying out of Trouble

Be Professional and Do It Right

In the country where I used to live, it was required that teachers of English have a university diploma and a TEFL certificate in order to get proper working papers.

Well, really, the above sentence should read “it was  OFTEN required” for teachers to have the proper credentials, as there were many loopholes in these regulations and some schools in the country were able to waive the requirements, and individuals who had experience in another field, for example, tourism could sometimes get jobs as “trainers” rather than as “teachers.”

And, even though I know what the black-and-white regulations are, I would often hear from teachers who tell me they found jobs teaching without a degree, or that they know someone who has worked there without a degree. The question that then comes up, is WHY do I keep on telling people that a degree is necessary for teaching English in that country!?

Here’s the answer: You don’t need a degree to teach English there. But, you do need a degree to teach it LEGALLY. If you look at the situations where people were teaching without a degree, it usually becomes clear that the person was working illegally.

Should this matter to you? Well, many people treat teaching English abroad as a way to travel and stay afloat abroad for a short time.  But even to people who aren’t treating teaching English as a true career choice, I do not recommend doing shady, risky or illegal things, especially because these activities will take place out of their home country. The same kind of people who do this are the people who end up on TV reality shows like “Locked Up Abroad,” crying to the cameras from their jail cells about how it just isn’t fair.

Just like in your home country, breaking immigration law and working without the proper working papers is a serious infraction. And why would you think otherwise? The two main countries that supply English teachers worldwide are the USA and the UK. Both of these countries have strict, difficult, exacting immigration policies. If it’s not a new idea to you that it’s risky for foreigners to work under the table in your home country, then it shouldn’t be a huge stretch for you to understand that the same risk applies to you when you work abroad without the right paperwork.

Unbelievably, I’ve even heard incredibly naive people who laughingly say something along the lines of, “Whatever, let them jail me! What are they gonna do? Throw away the key?” These people may be poking fun at it now, but they run the risk of finding out that foreign countries take their laws seriously and don’t care how long scoff-laws are imprisoned. And, these scoff-laws don’t realize how expensive it can be for friends and family to get someone out of jail in another country.

As you might be able to tell, I find this situation really frustrating. First of all, I feel like the whole EFL industry is brought down by people who work without the right papers. It tars all of us with the same brush. Secondly, people who are willing to work under the table make it possible for shady, unreliable schools to continue business hiring people “off the books.”

TED’s Tips™ #1: I strongly suggest that if you go abroad to teach English, you do it legally. If you do not have a degree, then choose your target country carefully. There are places where people who don’t have university diplomas CAN work legally. Check out Latin America, Cambodia, Laos, parts of China, Indonesia and others.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Research, research, research. Before you pack up and move abroad, make sure that you can get the right paperwork when you arrive. The Internet has many websites that can help you determine what your legal status will be when you arrive. Job postings should also give you a clue: what paperwork or credentials are employers consistently asking for? If you see that all of the schools in your target area ask for degrees, then odds are you’re going to need one to get your working visa. You can start checking things out at ESL Jobs Now.



Just How Long are TEFL Contracts?

The Long and the Short of It . . .

What if I only want to go abroad for a few months? Or a few years? What if I want to spend my life doing this?

Sometimes I hear from people who want to dip their toes into the ocean of possibility that Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) provides, but who don’t want to commit to a long-term contract. Other times, I hear about teachers who are tired of the uncertainty of three- and six-month contracts, and yearn for something a little more promising in the time department.

The good news is, in the TEFL industry, there’s a bit of something for everyone.

Less than one year

It’s not always cheap for schools to obtain the relevant permits and visas for their foreign staff. Employers who don’t want the hassle and red tape will sometimes offer short-term employment to teachers coming from overseas to get around the long-term working visa problem.

I’ve noticed an increase in positions lasting less than one year and some might even reimburse the teacher for their airfare. A good place to start your search for short-term work is at TEFL Temp. And, if you can’t find paying jobs in your dream country for a short time, you may also consider volunteering there. TEFL Temp also offers hook-ups for volunteers.

A year or more

The industry standard is one-year teaching contracts. These are easy to find. And, if you do a good job, your employer will likely offer you an extension to your contract. Keep extending, and you’ll find your original year abroad can stretch to a fulfilling life-long career.

If you’re older

One thing to think about is that discrimination based on age can be common in parts of the world. Therefore, older teachers may find that they are offered shorter term contracts than they wish, or may be passed over altogether. That said, at the time of this writing I was 58, had white hair and—let’s face it—a few ‘laugh lines,’ but I could still find TEFL jobs in several countries. I was a late bloomer—I started in EFL at 40—and had no problem getting jobs in the beginning, either. However, know that the older you are, the more you may need to plan ahead for your job-acquisition tactics. For example, it may make sense for you to go to your target country before finding a job and then look for work once you’re on the ground and can prove yourself.

That’s not to say that there aren’t many older EFL teachers. When I was in Korea a few years back I met many teachers older than 40, and even a few sexagenarians. This is true in other Asian countries as well.

If you’re younger

More youthful ESL teachers will find themselves very much in demand. However, they’ll also probably be scheduled for teaching the youngest students a school has, as employers often think that the younger classes require more energy to teach and that older students may not respect young teachers enough. If you like teaching kids and you’re a young teacher, you’re in a good position for finding a great job, because children’s classes make up a lot of the market overseas.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Whether you want to be in TEFL for a few months or a few years, it’s all your decision. Pick a contract length and go for it!

TED’s Tips™ #2: Teachers who are in their fifties and above may need to plan on arriving in their target country and organizing their job search from the ground. Being able to give face-to-face interviews with prospective employers will demonstrate your energy and passion for teaching abroad—and will show your new boss that age really is nothing but a number.