People sign up to teach English abroad for a lot of reasons. Many want an adventure before entering “real life” after college. Others are looking for a way to save money towards a home or business. Some want to experience other ways of living before deciding where to call home for the rest of their lives. And of course, there are the opportunities to master a foreign language while teaching your own.
But some of the best advantages of teaching English abroad come as a surprise even to people who showed up expecting all of those other things. Here are a few of our favorites.
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Surprising Ways Living Abroad Changes Your Life for the Better
This doesn’t appear surprising at first. When was the last time you talked to somebody about their foreign vacation and they didn’t talk about the food? But this benefit goes beyond noshing on a few iconic treats in the tourist district wherever you happen to live.
When you spend months or years in the same town, you get to know the food on a deeper level. From trying local treats and developing a favorite bulgogi cart, nasi lemak stand, or pirogi vendor. You will start to understand why that one’s your favorite. Also learning about the culture and the history of the food in ways a short visit simply can’t teach.
And when you come home, you quickly discover which of your local ethnic restaurants is the best and how to find the ingredients to make your versions at home.
Learning to Ask for Help
Asking for help is surprisingly difficult for many adults, especially men. We’re taught to be independent and competent, and showing this kind of “weakness” is foreign to us.
Living abroad without asking for help is simply impossible. You’ll need assistance with the language, even if you arrive after years of college-level study. You will need help with directions and finding supplies. You will also need to ask for help from locals, co-workers, and people at home who can help you with tasks that pop up abroad.
After a while, you get used to asking for help. Then, you get good at it. And when you return home, you return with a skill that’s valuable in all areas of your life: asking for help as soon as you need it.
Appreciating the Small Things
This advantage shows up twice: while you’re abroad and when you get home.
When you first arrive at your overseas assignment, it’s the little differences that make the place feel exotic, new, and exciting. The different trees, new color schemes in town, smells and sounds all combine to make the place feel more vibrant and interesting than the home you’ve been accustomed to. It’s part of why foreign travel is so engaging and fun.
When you arrive home, you experience this again. You notice details of your home country you wouldn’t have had they not been absent from your life while you were abroad. You also appreciate small creature comforts, like drinking water straight from the tap or being able to buy your favorite ice cream flavor, that you previously took for granted.
This can give you a lifelong appreciation for small details that makes every day a little more enjoyable.
You already know that foreign language skills and experience abroad look good on a resume. It also gives you advantages in a job interview.
If the person interviewing you has also lived abroad, you have instant rapport and something in common. There’s a brotherhood or sisterhood between people who have lived the expatriate lifestyle, and they tend to look out for each other. That bond won’t get you a job you’re not qualified for, but it can at least serve as a tie-breaker between you and similarly qualified applicants.
If the person has not lived abroad, they almost always overestimate how difficult it is to work in another country. This can translate into them believing you will be capable and resourceful because living abroad isn’t easy.
Confidence helps us in every aspect of life, contributing to better communication, stronger job performance, deeper relationships, and an increased sense of what is possible in life.
We develop confidence by successfully overcoming obstacles and challenges. Living abroad is exciting and interesting, but it’s also a serious challenge. Small hardships and large logistical issues abound on this journey, yet you find yourself living a successful life amid the inconvenience. The result is knowing you thrived in a new country despite doubts about your abilities. That’s confidence, and confidence always helps.
As a bonus, living abroad can also “take you down a notch” in areas where you’re overconfident.
Widening Your Network
Networking is one of the most important “soft skills” in business and personal life. The more people you’re on good terms with, the more opportunities you’ll have and the more support you’ll receive when you need it.
Living abroad puts you in touch with two new circles of people you wouldn’t have met otherwise: locals and fellow ex-pats. In both cases, you’ll form friendships and connections with some of these people that last the rest of your life.
Arbitrage is when you take advantage of a known difference in price and value between two locations or sources. For example, if you know you can buy goods in China for $1 per unit and sell them in the U.S. for $3 per unit, that’s arbitrage.
Many (though not all) TEFL jobs pay a wage substantially higher than subsistence — and higher than most new college graduates could earn at home. With a little financial attention, a teacher living overseas can leverage this to make serious progress toward financial goals such as:
- Paying off student loans or other debt
- Saving to start a business
- Amassing a down payment for a house in their home country
- Setting aside a retirement nest egg
- Having enough saved funds for extensive travel afterward
This is possible due to the higher value foreign countries place on speaking English, as opposed to your home nation. It’s rarer in these countries, and therefore, it’s worth a higher income.
As a bonus, when you get home, you’ll find that many employers pay extra for people comfortable with a second language.
This is short and simple: Having lived abroad puts you at the front of the line for promotion opportunities that involve dealing with foreign vendors, clients, workforce, and relations. It also gives you the same advantages for domestic advancement that it gave you when applying for a job with a company in the first place.
You can find out more unexpected perks of teaching English online here.
In some ways, these advantages are more fun when they come as a surprise, among the many discoveries you’ll make during your overseas adventure. On the other hand, if you know to expect these advantages, you can plan your teaching abroad to take advantage of them and maximize how you gain from them.
Are you looking for advice on which TEFL course to choose from? Our friend Mairead has written a fantastic blog on this topic.
Stephan VanOstrane lived in Germany for a year and also lived in Thailand for two years in his 20s. He’s back in the U.S. and now shares his firsthand experiences as a freelance writer.
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