Picking a new Country for a Long-Term Commitment

China? Brazil? Tanzania?

Where would you decide to settle for the next five to twenty years?

We are going to talk a bit about expatriate thinking this month with a series of posts about living abroad for the longer term.

Life abroad can be pretty addictive and many of us who have spent more than three or four years abroad often end up overseas for twenty or more years.

There is an initial hump of two or three years that sends most people “back home”.  That “hump” will be the topic in a following week.

RULE #1:  Don’t fall too much in love with the first place you land.

Too many people arrive in one country and never leave it.

They arrived in Brazil, fell in love with it and never left.  What they never found out is that they would have loved Japan, China, Costa Rica or some other place even more.

Give a few other countries a try too.

Part of what is happening is that people are falling in love with the experience of living abroad, which is pretty d*mn exciting all by itself.  But in the process they attach that love and excitment to the specific country in which they are presently living.   In other words, the same thing would often likely happen in almost any country in which they first landed.

I was lucky when I started out as I had decided I wanted to see many countries and live in more than a few.  So I spent about two to five years and more living and working in Botswana, Korea, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.  That way when I decided to settle down, I had a much broader base of information to call upon for the decision.

Korea was my home twice for three academic years each time, but ten years apart.  It was strange to see so many long termers there that had never left and experienced living and working somewhere else while I have the good fortune to experience two additional countries and cultures in depth during that time.   Don’t misunderstand, Korea is a wonderful place, but don’t limit your options so early in your expatriate experience.

If you intend to work abroad only for a year two, then yes, one country is about right.  The cost of moving and changing jobs is a bit much to do it more often than about every two years.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t close out your options.  If you are going out to “See the World” – go see it and experience it.  LIVE and WORK in more than one place so you can get a broader sense of the real world out here.

Teaching Internships in China

I HATE this Country! TEFL Troubles . . .

Have you heard that before?

If you are an experienced EFL teacher with many years abroad, you have probably heard it from your coworkers more than a few times.  Maybe even said it yourself.

The most common advice given to people who make much statements is something like this: It’s a big world out there. Move to somewhere you really like.

After all life is too short to waste in a country or culture that is not to your liking, isn’t it?

Well . . . yes and no.  Are you supposed to LOVE every country in which you teach? You probably already know that I like playing the Devil’s Advocate and I am going to do that here.

Examine your purpose and reasons for living abroad and if one of them is to better educate yourself about the world then sometimes living in a country/culture that you don’t like/enjoy/feel comfortable with — is an opportunity to learn more and to explore yourself a bit.

In three different countries, I found I quite disliked them the first year I lived there and two of them I came to quite like and enjoy.  One – not.

The one not, even after a few years of living and working there was Saudi Arabia. It was a culture just a bit too suffocating for me. Certainly, of course, there were things I liked about the place, but overall things were just wrapped a bit too tight for me. I did stay there five years though, for financial and personal benefit.

But, while the money was important, it wasn’t everything. Looking back I realize now that I learned a lot about human behavior, conservative religion and cultures and most of all, how much the education system in my home country never taught me about the world.  I probably learned more about that world in Saudi Arabia and more about what I don’t know – than anywhere else I have ever lived.

Saudi Arabia is a country that helps me believe that people MUST get out and see the world. Preferably a lot of it to get a better grasp on how the real world functions (or doesn’t). Get out and experience a few places for more than just a sandy beach or a ski holiday. Do really SEE the world. You’ll be quite surprised.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get out and see the world and realize that just because you are not sympatico with a country or culture doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to learn while you are there. Don’t let it make you unhappy, be sure you get something out of the experience.

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


Planning a TEFL Career Abroad: Your Education

This post was inspired by a man who wrote the following:

Hi, I am 20 years old and trying to figure out what to do with my life.   Recently I heard about teaching abroad and this is now my goal. I’m about a semester away from my associates degree [a two year degree in the USA] and was wondering whats the next best step I should take.

This is a great question and as mentioned in the last post, one of my few regrets I have about living the TEFL life abroad is that I didn’t even KNOW about it as an option until I was 37.  If I had known as this young man does at age 20 – I would have been raring to go!    Good for him that he has found something that fires his imagination for living an extraordinary life.  He has already proven he is smarter than I am!

A Few Realities Intrude . . .

My advice to this  young man was to finish university with a bachelor’s degree.  Though if he would like to just go out for a year and teach to see if it is what he hopes it is – then he should just grab an online TEFL certificate and go for one year to a country like Cambodia where the TEFL certification will do him just fine.  And then get back to school and get the next level of degree.

Degrees and TEFL

A BA/BS degree is quickly becoming a requirement and while there are still a few places where you can work without one, the choices are shrinking by the day and you would only ever be getting jobs from the bottom of the barrel.  You might even think you could talk an employer into hiring you without one – based on your charm, skills and experience, but usually the degree is a legal requirement for your working papers.  Thus your potential employer usually has no choice but to hold out for the degree holder.

Get that degree.  There is another reason too.  And that is if you intend to be an educator, it is good to have demonstrated your own belief in education.   I sometimes find it amazing the number of people who say that you don’t need a degree to be a good teacher.  They are right, you don’t.  But how do you intend to sell your students on education if you as an educator don’t have one and demonstrate your disinterest in it?

Get that degree.  In fact, if you have a BA/BS and find you like teaching abroad – I usually recommend that you RUN – don’t walk – to get a master’s degree.  The differences between a BA and an MA are about as huge as between no degree and a BA.

A graduate degree will make you eligible for college and university positions, a more likely candidate for teacher training jobs and Academic Director type roles and wages along with the amount of paid time off can improve dramatically.

During most of my teaching career I had anything from ten to twenty (yes – that’s 20!) weeks paid vacation per year.   All that paid time off is a special treat if you love to travel or if you need to earn a little extra.

Many teachers take a short paid job while on vacation to boost their savings.  Others use the time to visit family and see even more of the world.  And many of us did both.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Okay – I’ll say it a THIRD time: Go get that degree!

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

Living Abroad is Not for Everyone?

A reader recently commented – and copied part of a previous post – and also asked a good question . . .

[My only regrets about living the TEFL life abroad were…]  “That I waited until I was 37 to do it! Had I known, I would have gone as soon as I graduated from university in 1976.  I don’t dislike America, it’s just that it is all too familiar. I had already spent 37 years there and there is too much to see, too many places to experience and enjoy.”

The reader then wrote:

What you wrote is exactly how i feel right now today. I am 37 and was thinking these exact same thoughts. Thank you.

Question – why do you say living overseas is not for everyone?

Over on my first ever TEFL-type website www.TEFLdaddy.com I wrote a checklist of questions about whether heading abroad is a good idea for an individual.

Let’s revisit that idea.  From a positive perspective the question might be:

Is Teaching English Overseas appropriate for me?

It might be.  Only you can decide if a career in TEFL – teaching English overseas – is the right path for your life at this time.

What are the things to consider?

Do you have a family that you are responsible for?  How would they feel about moving overseas and living in a foreign land?

Do you have a spouse?  How would s/he feel about giving up their job?  Will she be able to find work overseas?  Is she interested in teaching English also?

Do you have children?  How will you educate them while overseas?  How might they feel about giving up their friends?

Do you have debts that must be paid while you are overseas?

Are there special medical issues for you or your family that must be considered?

Do you have the financial reserves to return to your home country and re-establish yourself if things don’t work out?

Have you ever taught before – do you have any reason to believe that you might enjoy teaching English?

Have you ever traveled or lived overseas before?  Did you enjoy it?

Would you find the daily problems of living and working overseas frustrating – or a refreshing challenge?

This list is only a beginning – as individual as each person is – so are the questions that need to be answered in making this decision.

What qualities are needed to succeed?

My observation has been that people who succeed in TEFL overseas have the following characteristics and knowledge:

  • They have reasonable expectations about their new occupation and what it can and cannot provide for them
  • They understand that their new country is not like their home country – solutions to problems that work at home often don’t work overseas
  • They realize that problems they had at home will probably also exist overseas
  • They know they will have good days and bad days – just like back home – and don’t blame the bads days on their job or new country.
  • They know they may experience good bosses, bad bosses, good jobs and bad jobs – just like back home
  • They are flexible people who can roll with surprises and “punches” – they are resilient and can bounce back from a bad situation
  • They are willing to work under different cultural expectations, willing to follow different cultural work rules
  • They are not generally moody or depressed
  • They view their success as a personal challenge
  • They spend a considerable amount of time researching their move – before they move.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Give yourself some honest answers about the questions and then you will know if you are ready and appropriate for the challenges of living and working in another culture.

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

TEFL Jobs and Contracts

Contrary to Popular Belief,
Contracts are not as Important as you Might Think

I read some promotional material today from a TEFL course provider and it was about checking on the details of your contract before being hired. I agree that you certainly need to check on the basic details of your contract before signing a deal and heading across the world to take up a position.

But, be aware that there is a bit of a problem in the thinking of legalistic and litigation minded Westerners when they start talking about contracts.

Away from the Western world, much more is done with a handshake and a smile. And if the agreement doesn’t work out, you vote with your feet, not your lawyer. In most countries including Western countries, only the lawyer wins. I’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars chasing hundreds of dollars. It just doesn’t make sense.

And, in fact, in most countries the best way to have your contract honored is to be willing yourself to go outside the contract and make yourself valuable to your employer. The benefits can be great. I was once given an end-of-employment bonus much larger than what the contract required. I’ve been given much paid time off that was not required in my contract.

But then I have never niggled over little things in my contract and I have, in fact, never had a serious problem with a contract. Sure, I was cheated by a school once, but that is only once in about 15 years of teaching abroad. And I harbor no anger or animosity toward that school, that culture or that country. Other than that one occasion, I’ve always been treated very fairly.

That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been cultural misunderstandings, miscommunications and other problems. Of course there have been. Life is life no matter where you are living. Some people expect that because they go abroad all the world’s problems will just slip away . . . . la la la la la . . .

Approach your contract as your employer sees it, as a working document. That’s all. Most non-Western employers do not see contracts as being written in stone. You give a little, you take a little. You give a lot, you will probably get to take a lot.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Go along to get along. Avoid the negative ninnies out there as their goal is usually to drag you down into their negative world.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Other than the basics of an agreement, don’t niggle too much on the details. That way your employer is much more likely to give you some slack when you want or need it.

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