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!

Jessica Watson

Over a year ago, Jessica Watson packed up her bags and hopped on a plane to teach English to young learners in Bangkok, Thailand. She loved it so much that after completing her contract in Thailand she moved next-door to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to continue living and working abroad. Life abroad is exciting, exhilarating, sometimes annoying but always fun and Jessica plans on continuing to explore and experience life abroad for years to come! Follow my personal Blog.
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