On paper, teaching English abroad is a pretty sweet option: exploring new cultures, getting paid to travel, notching up awesome stories to tell your mates back home.
But thinking you’re going to do it, and actually, properly getting on that plane are two very different things. So what holds people back? Fear, that’s what! Teaching abroad may be great, but leaving everything you’ve ever known (including gravy, Radio 4 and Jaffa Cakes) behind can be a tad daunting. So, to help you turn feeling scared into feeling excited about the opportunities offered by TEFL, here are people’s most common fears of teaching English abroad and how to face them:
Fear 1: My students will eat me alive
A lot of the time they’re cute and well-behaved, but sometimes it feels like the spawn of Satan is sat at the desk in front of you. Lovely Astrid for instance, recently had one kid sitting in class systematically breaking pencils in half. Not nice. Adults aren’t an easy option either: while they probably won’t smash up your stationery, they can undermine your authority and start taking over your show.
Solution: Be assertive and take a stand, as students (of all ages) can smell fear, seriously. You’ll also feel much more confident about situations, and know how to cope with them better, if you do a TEFL course before you head out.
Fear 2: My school will treat me like dirt
The optimistic part of you is hoping for golden sands, friendly locals and lots of spare time to explore. The less optimistic part of you is imagining a dungeon-esque classroom which you’re locked into 7-days a week and forced to run English corners for the rest of eternity.
Solution: Research! Make sure you chat to people on forums and do a few Google searches of your school before you sign your name of the dotted line. You also need to negotiate with your employer to make sure that your expectations are going to be delivered. Ultimately though, take things you read online with a pinch of salt, as if everyone took everything the read on the internet seriously we’d never leave our houses. Also, if your school isn’t what you hoped it would be, there will be other options while you’re in-country; and if you do feel you need that extra support, a supported internship programme might be just the thing for you.
Fear 3: I’ll be alone
What use is experiencing all these amazing new things if you don’t have anyone to share them with? You could be in the most incredible place in the world, but if you’re sat in a crummy apartment eating instant noodles and watching TV shows you can’t understand you won’t be having the best time in the world.
Solution: Get out there. There are loads of ways to make friends whenever you’re in a new country. – start with the people directly around you (other teachers at your school, students) and branch out from there. If this is your main worry, then why not sign up for an internship, where you’ll move and teach abroad with a group of interns – the perfect opportunity to make lifelong friends!
Fear 4: I won’t like the food
It’s a fact of life: some people just aren’t that adventurous when it comes to food. In fact, I had one ex-boyfriend whose entire diet consisted of beige food: cheese, bread, chicken, more cheese. I think he made an exception for bacon. But it has a happy ending folks, as he went out to Japan to teach English after uni and is having such a great time that he’s still out there. So I figure if he can get over his irrational fear of tomatoes to fulfil his travel dreams, anyone can.
Solution: Wherever you are in the world you will have a choice about what you eat. It won’t be like some constant bush-tucker trial filled with fried locusts and sheep testicles. Yes there will be exotic food, and yes I did eat something in China that made me gag once. But weigh that up against the amazing new food you’ll taste and it seems pretty low-risk. Plus, wherever you are in the world these days, there’s never a McDonalds far away.
Fear 5: I’ll be unemployable when I get home
You’re clued up, you’ve got a five year plan, but how does TEFL fit into it? Won’t employers see your swanning off around the world to teach English as rather indulgent? I mean, shouldn’t you have been back at home chained to a desk like they were at your age?!
Solution: Quite the opposite to harming your long-term career prospects, TEFL can actually help them! By making that leap to teach English abroad you’re proving you’ve got gumption (aka balls) and that’s before you factor in the leadership, communication and organisational skills you’ll develop during your time in the classroom.
What are your TEFL fears? And how did you get over them?