I wrote this a long time ago, but now I’m thinking it’s not so bad and I’ll publish it as my dirge to my life as a foreign English teacher. Though I enjoyed the work and time abroad, it’s not the most positive review of the career. In the end, I grew tired of the work and life, but I’m glad I did it.
What is a foreign English teacher’s life like anyway? It’s not entirely romantic, but there are some romantic aspects to it.
For one, you live abroad in a country you don’t know much about and navigate it using your wits, friends and a bit of luck. You live on the margins of society. You’re neither an immigrant, a working citizen, a student or poor, but you have similarities and sympathies with all.
You live near downtown, most likely, and pay a good amount of your income on rent, but you’re near the action, even if you don’t have much space, which is what matters to you.
You’re underpaid and likely don’t work very many hours. Since your hours are dispersed throughout the day you spend a great deal of time using public transportation, time you use to read, observe people and think.
You probably drink a lot. It’s the thing English teachers do when they go out. If you don’t have any other hobbies, it’s a good idea to get some. Playing the trombone, writing plays, racket ball, etc.
Days vary. Some pass quickly, some slowly. Your roommates move in and out. There’s constant noise. It’s like you’re in college sometimes and it’s hard to deal with. You crave space. You think you’ve made the wrong decision constantly.
But then you look around you and … you’re out. Your life is simple. No rat race. No keeping up with the Joneses. You have your easy job, your little money, your small flat, simple food, a few good friends, and a place that is foreign so that you never have to worry about its problems relating too much to yourself.
Unappreciated? Not really. If you go out, it’s easy to meet people who think your job is interesting. But it’s also the most common thing for Anglophone foreigners to do abroad.
Yet the pay remains low and you get tired of living like a student and feeling like one. If you acquire a significant other, and start to make plans, it’s unlikely you’ll remain at the job. If not, then it’s probable you’ll continue to drink and party and the months will pass rapidly.
Work? Oh yes, work is a part of this life. And when you are there you put in your most. But there’s little incentive to really excel, so you put in your hours on site, not worrying too much about your lesson plans after you’ve got the gist of it all, and focusing on acquiring private lessons which pay much better.
Is it hard? Sometimes surprisingly so. Kids are awful most everywhere. You have to put up with a lot of crap. But it’s rewarding, too. You have the enjoyment of knowing that your job is different. That you are your primary employer, and that your life outside of work is what you’re really living for.
If you’re a guy, probably the only thing to keep you in the field is a foreign girlfriend. In reality though, you don’t have much luck with the foreign girls and are much more likely to end up with another expat, who also has plans to go home and grow up eventually.
Would you do it for a lifetime? Therein lies the rub. It’s hard to say how long you’ll last… But after a while all the things your friends in the real world are beginning to work towards begin to draw your envy and appreciation… And then you start to think you should have planned ahead a little better…