I’ve been teaching abroad for ten months now and I’ve learned firsthand about settling into that first foreign posting. If you’re searching for that first foreign adventure here are three quick things to consider before you board the plane.
- Attitude is everything.
There are thousands of blogs that will tell you to consider location and community before going into your first abroad experience, and there are very good reasons to do that. But once you’ve decided those things and gotten your feet on the ground, attitude is everything. That early optimism and hope will fade, the things you did at home like going to a coffee shop with friends, calling a your parents, stuff your face with avocados, are going to be a lot harder (if not impossible, I miss avocados T.T) in your new home.
For me, my first hurdle was an unfurnished apartment, only 1 million krw in my pocket, and my first pay check an undisclosed number of weeks away. I’m going to be honest and say that the minute the door closed, I sat down and sobbed. I was jetlagged, I was hungry, and I had no idea how to ask for help. Thankfully I didn’t need to, my landlord ran straight to tell his wife that the tall white girl was sobbing loudly in front of her stove (which wasn’t working and neither was my washer and my toilet only flushed if you stuck your hand in the tank to do it yourself. My landlady took me shopping for some basics, though I couldn’t afford to buy very much at the time. I was able to make myself dinner, shower, and contact other native teachers on Facebook to figure out how to get a taxi to my school in the morning.
Tldr: That’s what you have to consider, you’re moving to a new country and everything will be new. You don’t have to be happy every single day, I can guarantee you won’t be, but if you can’t adjust your attitude daily to cope with the hurdles, then you’re going to have a very miserable 12 months.
- Don’t over plan.
Yup, that’s right, don’t plan. Don’t worry about it. Your first few weeks, or even months, will be spent trying to find your balance and sousing out your employer’s expectations. My co-teacher’s first words to me were “Sorry, I don’t speak good English.” and our interactions since have been carried out in broken sentences and goofy gestures. She can barely communicate to me what we are doing for the day in class, even if bold declarations such as “do this, not that” were easier for her to form in English, she never would because it’s entirely against her culture. I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve planned and then been told, literally minutes before, that they’ve been canceled. Side note: If you’ve lived in the Southeast of the United States for any period of time, then you’ll have no problems adjusting to the Korean culture’s roundabout way of speaking. You can’t count on anyone being able (or willing) to string together enough English to really prepare you for the work week, so until you know where you coteacher falls on the scale of communication, just take it easy.
Tldr: Give yourself time to adjust before you launch into super teacher or super traveler mode. You’re going to need it.
- Life exists outside of school.
This is a mistake that I made early on and can’t quite correct, for reasons other than finding a welcoming expat community. Interact with the other expats in your area, find them on your city Facebook group (most cities have at least one) and make a coffee meet up. If you can, hang out with as many different people as you are capable of. I’ve found some of the most interesting and enriching conversations I’ve had are when I’m cross comparing my experience and perspective of the world as an American with the experiences and perspectives from Koreans or other expats.
Tldr: Travel is all about broadening your mind with new experiences, people, and sights. Korea has plenty of opportunities in that department, we native English teachers are here to inspire that cultural exchange in the classroom, but it doesn’t have to end there. Also you can catch Farfetch’d in Korea!