Working overseas has many advantages. It looks great on a résumé. It lets you really immerse yourself in the day-to-day life of another country and culture. It’s a great way to make overseas travel affordable. It gets you out of your comfort zone and helps you grow as a person. It broadens your perspective and lets you see the world through a broader lens. It helps you pick up girls at bars as you regale them with your exotic adventures.
After University I spent some time in Taiwan teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). I was woefully unqualified with virtually zero credentials beyond my post-secondary degree. Things have clamped down nowadays though, with teachers expected to at least have some certification. Even so, these Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) credentials are relatively easy to get and there is still a big demand for ESL teachers in many countries.
Dave’s ESL Café
is a good place to start if you're interested in learning more about teaching overseas.
Having a knack and interest in teaching is important. I was terrible. I was in class one day with my Junior One girls (thirteen year olds), whose grasp of the English language was painfully bad. The lesson for that day was “rooms around the house” and I was growing weary of the subject. Being the first class immediately following lunch, I was ready to fall asleep right then and there.
I had drawn the layout of a house on the blackboard and was going through the different rooms with the students. I would point to a room, call out the name, and have the girls repeat it back to me. It was certainly not the most engaging teaching technique for the students or for me, so I decided to have some fun.
As a fan of the TV show, The Simpsons, I took a page out of the book of Moe and introduced these impressionable youth to the “real” name of a garage. In one episode, Moe the bartender mocks Homer when he uses the word “garage” instead of Moe’s preferred term of “car hole”. Moe’s logic seemed good enough for me.
“Kitchen,” I called out. “KITCHEN!” a chorus of Taiwanese voices replied.
“Living room,” “LIVING ROOM!”
“Car hole,” I continued. “CAR HOLE!” they replied without hesitation.
I kept a straight face and continued through the list.
I continued my guilty pleasure of introducing ridiculous vocabulary to my students for quite a while. Eventually, I decided I was abusing my authority as a trusted educator—that, and I was worried that someone might eventually catch on to my private jokes and get me fired.
Although ultimately I decided that teaching was not my cup of tea, I still very much enjoyed my experience in Taiwan. Visiting a country as part of a packaged tour can be fun but will only skim the surface. Traveling as a backpacker certainly offers more opportunities for authentic experiences and encounters but you’re still there as a tourist.
Working and living in a country can offer a much deeper and richer experience. Renting my own apartment, shopping at grocery stores, opening bank accounts and driving my own scooter through the insanity that is Taiwanese traffic, made things lot more rewarding and meaningful.
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