If you have ever considered backpacking abroad or ever dreamed of living in another country, teaching English abroad might have crossed your mind. You may have heard that it’s a “great way to save money and travel!” or “It’s easy work and you can travel long term!”
While these statements hold some truth, there is a lot of missing information online about the reality of teaching English abroad. When I moved to Thailand, full of excitement and anticipation for the adventure ahead, I quickly realized that I, like many others, had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.
After spending 14 months in Thailand, traveling extensively, and learning countless lessons along the way, I am here to share the top 10 things I learned teaching English abroad.
10 Things You Will Learn Teaching English Abroad
1. You will probably work a lot when teaching English abroad
When dreaming of teaching English abroad, you may picture endless amounts of time off, adorable pictures with students, and a great work-life balance. While this can be true, that’s not always the case. In fact, the workload will vary from school to school in each country.
Hopefully, you are moving abroad knowing you will work, but many people think of it as a permanent vacation. Teaching English abroad can be amazing and you can get a lot of time off if you are lucky!
Some countries value vacation and public holidays more than others. Some schools also value these things more than others. Just know, you are there to work. And you may find yourself working a lot.
Teaching is more than a full-time job. You care for the student’s needs, constantly think about lesson plans, and deal with parents. When choosing to teach English abroad, there is no way to fully prepare what you are getting yourself into. It’s best to be flexible and understand you may work a lot.
Keep Reading: Teaching English In Thailand – What It’s Like
2. You are in a position of privilege when teaching english abroad
Visiting or moving to Thailand more than likely means you have the ability to travel far and wide. It’s no secret that Westerners are drawn to visit Thailand due to its affordability. While this holds some truth, it is important to recognize and understand your privilege. Many Thais cannot afford to travel farther than just a few hours driving outside their city, let long traveling extensively.
3. Don’t settle for just any school. Take your time, and choose wisely.
If teaching english abroad is on your radar, there are many different ways to accomplish this goal. The two most popular are to go through an agency before arrival, or arriving in the country and look for jobs in person. Regardless of the route you decide, take your time and carefully evaluate the schools you come across. I asked questions like, “What curriculum do you provide?” and “do you require weekend work?”.
Like teachers in America, Thai teachers work REALLY hard and often work outside of work hours including afternoons and weekends. Ask these important questions to see if your potential schools values line up with your goals to ensure a fulfilling and rewarding teaching experience.
4. Save MORE money than you think for teaching English abroad
When you begin to plan your Thailand adventure, whether it involves backpacking or teaching english abroad, bring over more money than you anticipate. Although Thailand is a relatively cheap country to live in, expenses can add up quickly. From unexpected emergency situations, visas, and work permits, to rent deposits and transportation. Things add up quickly! Additionally, if you choose to teach, you may go the first couple of months before you receive your first paycheck. Most schools pay your salary once a month.
When I traveled to Thailand with an agency, I quickly realized it was going to be expensive. Thankfully, I saved a substantial amount before moving abroad, but I made many friends who wished they had saved more before moving abroad to teach.
5. Take advantage of every day
Seize every day. As the saying goes, “time flies when you are having fun!” and this holds true in Thailand. Time really does fly! During your time abroad, you will experience incredible highs and maybe even face some challenging lows. You will meet some of the most amazing people and visit breathtaking places. Take advantage of all this country has to offer and try not to spend your time being introverted. What will you remember most? Sleeping in and watching TV or going out on a walk and exploring a new place? It’s likely the latter.
While it can be intimidating, to get the most out of this country you must talk to the locals, and experience local culture. Of course, having a recharge day of watching Youtube is occasionally needed, but try not to make a habit of it.
6. Out of sight, out of mind. Leave clothes at home
When packing for your trip, aim to pack as lightly as possible. Thailand, like many countries in Southeast Asia, is VERY hot. Pack lightweight and breathable clothing. Chances are, you’ll forget about the clothes you left at home! If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. You can always buy clothes on arrival, but shedding clothes is a bit harder. However, keep in mind that if you are taller, or require larger sizes, finding suitable clothes can be more difficult. Bangkok, and most major cities, has many shopping centers, and you can find most things you need there.
I cannot stress this enough. Myself and others severely overpacked for our Thai adventure. Many of us brought suitcases and we all regret it! Pack light, and leave the heels and nice clothes at home.
7. Politeness goes a long way when teaching English abroad
In most Asian cultures, politeness and respectfulness go a long way. They highly value this. Where I taught, in Thailand, the culture has a huge emphasis on politeness and respect. When passing a Thai person, always Wai as a sign of curtesy. This is especially true when starting a job in Thailand.
The Wai is when you put your hands together (as if you were praying) and bow your head. Keep your thumbs on your chin and the tip of your fingers on your nose. To be extra polite, move your thumbs to your nose and the tip of your fingers to your forehead.
A Wai is a sign of respect, and the Thai people hold it to a very high standard. To make a good first impression, be sure to Wai when you see others in authority.
In most Asian cultures they have the same, or a similar polite greeting. Be sure to do your research on the country that you choose first, so you are prepared. First impressions are everything, and its important to show respect!
If you choose to teach in a different part of the world, the same holds true.
8. Be a YES person. The point is, say yes to everything (within reason, of course).
When I began my time in Thailand, I was so exhausted every day after teaching I just wanted to go home and nap. Regrettably, I may have missed out on some really cool opportunities to tutor others and make Thai friends. I know I was tired, but I wish I had just said yes more often. As time continued, I began to say yes to more and show up to more events. This lead me to meet an amazing group of friends, who I still talk to today. When embarking on your journey abroad, say yes more, you never know who you may meet.
9. Don’t sweat the small things when teaching English abroad
You did not come to Thailand to be stressed out. It’s okay to be selfish and take this time for your personal growth. Don’t waste your time stressing about the small things, or the big things really. Embrace the laid-back and happy culture of Thailand. Thailand’s culture is one of relaxation and happiness. After all, relaxation and contentment are ingrained into the Thai way of life. “Mai bpen rain!” and enjoy it!
10. Document everything
Pictures, writing, videos, whatever works for you, document it! Every day in Thailand can be an adventure, so make it one! Document these times, because having something to look back on is one of the greatest gifts.
After one year in Thailand, I have learned many lessons. Some of them I learned quicker than others. Living abroad can be challenging and is not for everyone, but for those willing to take the leap they will see growth in themself. Teaching english abroad is a time full of personal growth, learning lessons, and making lasting memories. Enjoy every minute of it. I sincerely hope these 10 things I learned in teaching english abroad will help you in your future endeavors!