Teaching English abroad is all about the soft skills. Of course, there are hard skills that will help your day to day, but I'm here to tell you those can be easily learned. From my experience living abroad in China for 3 years, here's a list of the top 5 skills that I believe will make you a successful English teacher overseas both inside and outside of the classroom:
Living abroad, nothing ever goes to plan! Your flight has been delayed. The grocery salesperson doesn't understand what you're asking for. Starbucks doesn't know what a chai tea latte is?! You get to class, and your kids don't want to play the game they loved last week. All of these examples and more, mean that on any given day you must expect change, and in these moments, you need to be flexible and adapt quickly. Maybe that means always having a pack of cards in your bag so you can play games with friends for hours on end until your flight. Or trying new lattes at a local coffeeshop until you find your new “regular”. When it comes to your students, knowing when to add new features to an old game in order to make it more fun or when to play the class' favorite song to hype them up will be the difference of either a long lesson or a successful one!
When teaching English abroad you can expect to be surrounded by many different people – not only a wide range of ages, but also a variety of cultural backgrounds. During my years in China not only did I interact with local students and teachers, but I was also surrounded by other foreigners from America, England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Canada, and South Africa. This came with many different perspectives, ideas, and humors. It takes a strong sense of understanding and empathy to communicate effectively in a multicultural environment. In the classroom, many of the students are learning a language for the first time. Putting yourself into their perspective and realizing how difficult or overwhelming certain days can be, helps you become a stronger, more effective teacher.
Most say patience is a virtue. I say it's a necessity! Working with children is known to highlight this quality in anyone that may already struggle with it. Add on the language barrier and you will realize why having patience is so important in this type of teaching role. You can be teaching a second language to students who are at an age where they aren't even fluent yet in their native tongue – and at that age neither were we! This takes time, practice, and patience. Lots and lots of patience!
On the hard days, the gloomy I-don't-want-to-get-out-of-bed or I-miss-home days, you need to push through the fog. Everyone has ‘bad days' at home, and they can be just a little extra ‘bad' when you have the added challenges of navigating life in a foreign country. It's important to remember this is part of culture shock. It's okay to have those moments, and like anything, it will pass. When month 4 hit and I was feeling a bit more homesick, I started going to the gym to help kick that feeling. I chatted with my roommate and colleagues, and I made sure to go out a few times each week with friends for an extra boost. Working through those couple tough days is 110% worth it.
I'm not sure this collaboration of words can be classified as a “skill” but its SUPER important! Teaching English abroad is all about the experience, and I've always split it in my mind between inside the classroom and out. Being in the classroom you might think it's best to come across strict, have good classroom management, and ensure the kids are learning everything perfectly– all things that hold truth – but that's not all. You need to have fun! Laugh when things go wrong, make the kids laugh to help things go right, and enjoy your time with them. They pick up on your energy and if you're having fun, they will too. Create a space they want to be in! If you can conquer that in the classroom, you shouldn't have much trouble outside as well.
There will be a lot of new quirks with your life abroad. New places to see and explore – be passionate about learning, laugh when you get on the wrong bus, and enjoy the adventure. You'll never experience anything else quite like it!