Staying Sane While Teaching English Abroad

Teaching English is a lot of fun and a great way to travel and see the world, but don’t forget that it is a job and with this comes responsibilities and sometimes stress. Let’s face it, we all remember how we treated our teachers when we were in school; we wouldn’t listen, we would whine about homework and feel giddy when we had driven our teacher mad enough to give up and put on a film instead of teaching the boring stuff. Now, you are the teacher and your students are up to the same old tricks and you are ready to pull your hair out. Now you know how your former teachers felt. Yet, you have one advantage that your former teachers didn’t have; you are living the dream abroad and there are numerous ways you can make your life as an English teacher much less stressful and more enjoyable!

My first tip is to take advantage of the new location and unique culture every weekend. Don’t sit inside and wallow in your stress, instead hop on a bus, train or even a plane and travel, see some new sites! Personally, living in a city is not my cup of tea, so I’m always getting outside the city on the weekends and exploring a temple or getting lunch along the river. If you like cities then you should already be aware that they are BIG and there is always something new to explore. I had a blast taking a bike tour of Bangkok when I lived there and even though Phnom Penh is smaller, I have still ended up in new territory every week. There is so much to explore and you’ll me remiss if at the end of your time in a country, you didn’t explore every nook and cranny!

Teaching

Teaching by worthbak, on Flickr

This next tip is an extension of the first one; live in a country with beaches. Maybe some people will disagree, but I have found a beach to be the most relaxing place to unwind and forget about unruly students and grading. For this reason, I have loved living in Southeast Asia where a weekend at the beach is a short bus ride away. I’ve heard the beaches in other parts of the world are amazing too, so I have no doubt any country that is not land-locked will do! Let your worries and stress melt away as you soak up the sun and enjoy the beautiful view of crystal clear waters and white sand with palm trees waving hello.

A more practical tip is to live close to your workplace. Trust me on this; traffic is a headache everywhere in the world but especially in Asia where TEFL is in the highest demand and you may very well end up there. In Bangkok, I lived about a ten minute walk from my workplace and I didn’t realize how sane this kept me until I moved to Phnom Penh and had to deal with a thirty minute commute to the school I’m volunteering at. It makes a huge difference, especially when you have to tack on another thirty minutes to the original half-hour to account for the ridiculous amount of traffic and even more ridiculous driving techniques of the locals. My advice is to find an apartment near your workplace, close enough that you can walk or just hop on a mototaxi for a quick ride there. Not only will you lessen the stress of getting to and from work during rush hour, but you will save loads of money on transportation also, money you can use for one of the weekend beach trips mentioned above!

Argentina Volunteering

Another thing to do to keep yourself sane in the classroom is to play games. Many TEFL teachers will attest to the power of games in the classroom to not only get the kids’ attention, but also make learning and teaching a mutually enjoyable experience. Student’s love games and if you can work some English into those games, they will enjoy class much more without even realizing they are learning. If the students enjoy the class, teaching will be much less stressful. Plus, you can get involved in the games too; students love racing or competing against the teacher! For example, if there is an odd number of students and the game involves pair., then jump in and have fun; this keeps you on your toes too and prevents any classroom blues.

My last piece of advice is to seek out the expat community in whatever city/country you are living in. Sure, we go live abroad to experience another culture, but when work get stressful, the familiar is very comforting. You’ll revel in weeknights with people from your homeland who speak the same language and understand your frustrations with adapting to life abroad. An expat community will also provide other comforts of your life back home like favorite Western foods and second-hand English bookshops.

Teaching can be stressful wherever you are, but it can be a bit more daunting when you are a TEFL teacher and your students don’t speak the same language as you and you are thousands of miles away from home. But don’t fret, this stress can easily be remedied and benefits of teaching abroad far outweigh any stress. Teaching is a privilege and I am so thankful for everyone of my students who’s interest(or their parents) in learning English enabled me to live abroad. Take a couple deep breaths and dive right in! Don’t let any stress hold you back; every problem has a solution and when all else fails, head to the beach and leave your worries in the classroom!

25 Comments

  1. Jackie on December 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Great article! I am thinking of teaching English abroad after our adventure around the USA. I’m thinking of going somewhere that speaks Spanish, that way I will have at least a little bit of language. I think this sounds like an awesome way to see the world!

    • Jess on December 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm

      It is a great way to see the world! And a great way to learn a new language or improve on one you already know!  🙂

  2. Jackie on December 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Great article! I am thinking of teaching English abroad after our adventure around the USA. I’m thinking of going somewhere that speaks Spanish, that way I will have at least a little bit of language. I think this sounds like an awesome way to see the world!

    • Jess on December 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm

      It is a great way to see the world! And a great way to learn a new language or improve on one you already know!  🙂

  3. Steven Sirski on December 7, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    I found cafes to be pretty relaxing where I could sit back and observe life. Though sometimes the servers wanted to practice their English which would mean, basically, another language lesson.

    • Jess on December 8, 2011 at 2:44 am

      Cafe’s are definitely a great place to relax! I used to also go to the park quite regularly and rent a bike or bring a picnic lunch. 

      It is tough when people want to practice their English….you don’t want to be rude or knock their enthusiasm, but sometimes you also just want to shed the “teacher” persona.

  4. Steven Sirski on December 8, 2011 at 12:52 am

    I found cafes to be pretty relaxing where I could sit back and observe life. Though sometimes the servers wanted to practice their English which would mean, basically, another language lesson.

    • Jess on December 8, 2011 at 3:44 am

      Cafe’s are definitely a great place to relax! I used to also go to the park quite regularly and rent a bike or bring a picnic lunch. 

      It is tough when people want to practice their English….you don’t want to be rude or knock their enthusiasm, but sometimes you also just want to shed the “teacher” persona.

  5. Susan on December 8, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Thanks for this – it made me smile. I have had the worst week with my little ones over here in Korea… almost to the point where I was going to put on a movie tomorrow.  Haha. I’m glad I’m not the only one!

    • Jess on December 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm

      Oh, I know that feeling! My first week teaching at my new job here in Cambodia left me on the verge of giving up and just letting them run around the classroom! If I had a tv, I wouldn’t of hesitated with putting in a movie!

      Glad it mad you smile and I hope next week is a bit easier for you! Bless those little ones; they can be such a headache sometimes but then they look at you with their cute, angelic smiles and you can’t stay mad at them! 

  6. Susan @ Travel Junkette on December 8, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Thanks for this – it made me smile. I have had the worst week with my little ones over here in Korea… almost to the point where I was going to put on a movie tomorrow.  Haha. I’m glad I’m not the only one!

    • Jess on December 8, 2011 at 9:42 pm

      Oh, I know that feeling! My first week teaching at my new job here in Cambodia left me on the verge of giving up and just letting them run around the classroom! If I had a tv, I wouldn’t of hesitated with putting in a movie!

      Glad it mad you smile and I hope next week is a bit easier for you! Bless those little ones; they can be such a headache sometimes but then they look at you with their cute, angelic smiles and you can’t stay mad at them! 

  7. Marc G. on December 8, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    What has been your favorite place that you have taught at so far?

    • Jess on December 8, 2011 at 8:53 pm

      That’s a tough question! So far I have taught in Thailand and Cambodia and to be honest it’s a pretty close call! Everyone always asks me who is better, Thailand or Cambodia, and I’ll always break out into a cold sweat because they both have a special place in my heart. 

      Thailand is more Westernized, especially Bangkok.  Many of the roads, even to the rural areas, are paved neatly and there infrastructure is more organized(for Asia that is!). But Cambodia is so real.  It’s still Cambodia, with a small dose of Western culture to keep you sane. The roads are bumpy, the people are friendly and nothing makes sense but everything works the way it is supposed. Personally, I prefer the realness of Cambodia and the lack of mega-sized shopping malls on every corner filled with Versace and luxury cars! But Thailand, the Thai and the Thai language, will always have a very, very special place in my heart…that is probably why I haven’t ventured very far from it’s borders! 😉

  8. Marc G. on December 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    What has been your favorite place that you have taught at so far?

    • Jess on December 8, 2011 at 9:53 pm

      That’s a tough question! So far I have taught in Thailand and Cambodia and to be honest it’s a pretty close call! Everyone always asks me who is better, Thailand or Cambodia, and I’ll always break out into a cold sweat because they both have a special place in my heart. 

      Thailand is more Westernized, especially Bangkok.  Many of the roads, even to the rural areas, are paved neatly and there infrastructure is more organized(for Asia that is!). But Cambodia is so real.  It’s still Cambodia, with a small dose of Western culture to keep you sane. The roads are bumpy, the people are friendly and nothing makes sense but everything works the way it is supposed. Personally, I prefer the realness of Cambodia and the lack of mega-sized shopping malls on every corner filled with Versace and luxury cars! But Thailand, the Thai and the Thai language, will always have a very, very special place in my heart…that is probably why I haven’t ventured very far from it’s borders! 😉

  9. Chris Walker-Bush on December 9, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    The first piece of advice really is the best.  I had friends who worked all week and then spent their weekends alternating between being drunk and being fast asleep in their apartments. And then they’d complain about being bored or homesick! Drove me insane.

    • Jess on December 10, 2011 at 8:03 pm

      The I like the first piece too. I’ve had a few times where I spent the weekends glued to the computer and I had to take my own advice and get off my butt and go somewhere. I never regretted doing that, but I always regretted spending a weekend doing nothing.

  10. Chris Walker-Bush on December 9, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    The first piece of advice really is the best.  I had friends who worked all week and then spent their weekends alternating between being drunk and being fast asleep in their apartments. And then they’d complain about being bored or homesick! Drove me insane.

    • Jess on December 10, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      The I like the first piece too. I’ve had a few times where I spent the weekends glued to the computer and I had to take my own advice and get off my butt and go somewhere. I never regretted doing that, but I always regretted spending a weekend doing nothing.

  11. [email protected] on December 10, 2011 at 4:45 am

    All great advice.  As I just finished the (can you spell g-r-u-e-l-l-i-n-g?) month-long CELTA course here in HCMC, I can surely attest to all.  Indeed, the bar-none BEST thing I did was get a nice quiet room just 5 minutes’ walk from the ILA school.  And while expat compatriots can be refreshing at times, I much preferred to steer clear of the “backpackers” strip and instead have met lots of locals (not to mention made great networking connections) by living a bit away from the expat area.

    And though I couldn’t DREAM of getting away for the weekend while trudging through the CELTA, you can bet that now that it’s over – I’ve got an air ticket to Sumatra in my pocket and I’m soon off for some serious wiggling of toes in tropical sand!

    • Jess on December 10, 2011 at 8:08 pm

      Congrats on your CELTA! 

      I lived outside of the expat area too, which I loved(you don’t ever want to live near Khao San)…but it was nice to have (expat) friends from work to hang out with on the weekends who understood some of the frustrations living abroad, or could vent about things or say things that only Western people would get. That was in Thailand; now I live in Cambodia and my apartment is in the most LOCAL area you can get and I’m itching for just one person who I can say to, “Hey, what’s up?” 
      Haha! But I wouldn’t change living abroad for anything in the world! 🙂

  12. [email protected] on December 10, 2011 at 5:45 am

    All great advice.  As I just finished the (can you spell g-r-u-e-l-l-i-n-g?) month-long CELTA course here in HCMC, I can surely attest to all.  Indeed, the bar-none BEST thing I did was get a nice quiet room just 5 minutes’ walk from the ILA school.  And while expat compatriots can be refreshing at times, I much preferred to steer clear of the “backpackers” strip and instead have met lots of locals (not to mention made great networking connections) by living a bit away from the expat area.

    And though I couldn’t DREAM of getting away for the weekend while trudging through the CELTA, you can bet that now that it’s over – I’ve got an air ticket to Sumatra in my pocket and I’m soon off for some serious wiggling of toes in tropical sand!

    • Jess on December 10, 2011 at 9:08 pm

      Congrats on your CELTA! 

      I lived outside of the expat area too, which I loved(you don’t ever want to live near Khao San)…but it was nice to have (expat) friends from work to hang out with on the weekends who understood some of the frustrations living abroad, or could vent about things or say things that only Western people would get. That was in Thailand; now I live in Cambodia and my apartment is in the most LOCAL area you can get and I’m itching for just one person who I can say to, “Hey, what’s up?” 
      Haha! But I wouldn’t change living abroad for anything in the world! 🙂

  13. Deaweh Benson on January 13, 2015 at 2:07 am

    Great tips! Seeking an expat community is very helpful while teaching abroad

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