I have been teaching in China for over a year and a half now, and during that time I have learned some life lessons (some easier to learn than others) that I think everyone should read before making the plunge to teach abroad. These life lessons might sound cheesy, but they truly are a reflection of my time abroad. I have learned more about myself and my goals, expectations, strengths, and more from my time in China than all of my post-secondary education put together. After all, experience is the best teacher!
When I first came to China to teach English, I thought that teaching abroad was something only young 20-year-old Americans did in their college gap year. Imagine my surprise when I got to my center and met a whole cornucopia of colleagues – in ages, backgrounds, and nationalities. What I quickly realized was that, for many, teaching abroad wasn't just a job: it was a career. Over the past 16 months of teaching, I've seen numerous colleagues, myself included, find that teaching abroad can flourish into a career. You can obviously stick with teaching, and become specialized in that, but many don't realize there is a lot of “behind the scenes” work to teaching as well. From managers, engagement specialists, to content creators, quality assurance, and more; teaching is more than just a classroom. You can develop thousands of skills that you can take with you throughout your career.
As I mentioned before, I have met some amazing people through my center and teaching abroad in general. I have met lawyers from South Africa, to snowboarders from Australia, and young tattoo artists from China. One of the best things about teaching abroad is that the people are amazing! Your colleagues will become friends that you will keep in touch with for the rest of your life. Plus, working in another country means you will meet so many locals that can show you the local flavor of your city and country. Having diverse friends and co-workers has opened me up to so many different viewpoints, experiences, and advice that I truly believe I am a better person because of it. Plus, it's a great way to build a global network!
A lot of people I know teach abroad because they are still figuring out their passions in life. In my case, I found that teaching IS one of my passions. For some, teaching might just be something they do for a couple of years, for others, a lifetime. What's great about teaching abroad is that you get to experiment. You might love all parts of teaching, or just a few, but that's okay because you're one step closer to understanding your wants, needs, and strengths in the workplace. For example, maybe you find that you love to lesson plan, or love explaining harder grammar concepts, or coming up with fun educational games. Each of these skills tells you something about yourself: that you're analytical, you like putting concepts in different perspectives, you're a creative type. The classroom is such a diverse working environment that you are sure to find something you're passionate about.
Even after over a year and a half of teaching, I find that I am still learning new and better ways to teach. One of the best things about teaching abroad, in my opinion, is that no two days are exactly alike. I'm someone who always craves differentiation in a workplace; I find that I usually get bored at a job after about a year. This complacency is almost impossible as a teacher, due to the unpredictable nature of kids (and often times adults!). The field of teaching is always evolving and finding new ways to incorporate psychology, learning habits, human behavior, new media etc. You can go into a class well prepared, expecting a certain outcome, and come out of the class realizing something you didn't even consider before. Some might not like that teaching keeps you on your toes and forces you to be flexible, but I love it! I know it might be a cliché, but I do truly believe sometimes I learn more from my students than they do from me.
The road to teaching abroad can be winding, circuitous, and meandering (word of the day); but this is half the fun! For some, teaching abroad is as easy as buying a plane ticket. For others, it takes years of meticulous planning. Either way, those who teach abroad quickly realize that the real adventure comes when you least expect it. There are many different paths that one can take, but travelling these paths is worth it – I promise! I never expected to be teaching in one of the biggest cities of the world, but I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything. Be ready for teaching abroad to challenge your expectations of what adventure can be.