Teaching is often a go-to profession for those of us who want to see the world, I’ve been teaching English as a second language for 3 years now, with 1 year in Japan and 2 years here in Chile under my belt. I’m lucky enough to get to travel, immerse myself in new cultures – and still get paid! I would recommend this job to anyone.
But this lifestyle isn’t just about having fun; it’s also helped me learn and grow as a person. Here are 10 things I have learned in my travels as an English teacher!
I started learning how to be more independent when I moved to Japan for my first English teaching job. I was fortunate to have a lot of help from my company there; they set up our apartments, paid our rent, assigned translators, etc.
When I moved to Chile, I came with just my job contract and a hostel reservation. Although I have more freedom to teach how I want at this company, they don’t have the resources to be as involved in the teachers’ lives as they did in Japan. I found an apartment on my own, among many other things, in another language. It was difficult but very empowering. You gain more independence being forced to do things on your own.
My communication classes did always tell me that there are many ways to communicate, and while I didn’t understand what that actually meant at the time, I’ve discovered it’s true! A lot of the time, it requires using hand motions, facial expressions, pictures (sometimes drawing them myself) or even just my tone of voice or a laugh. It’s made me more versatile and ready for any conversation. Another aspect of this that I think is really important is the difficulty of sometimes NOT being able to communicate. It’s so frustrating sometimes that I just want to go to bed and put the covers over my head and never come out. My Spanish is passable now after being here almost two years. However, it’s made me really appreciate these other aspects of communication and to not give up just because someone may not understand you at first.
You think when you start traveling you must already be somewhat open-minded. But when you are fully immersing yourself in a new culture, it’s a bit more tricky. Living and working in a new country is the ultimate test of open-mindedness. You take your ideas of how to live everyday life and basically throw them all out the window. You learn the ways and worldview of your host country every single day. Especially for someone like me – from a small town of 15,000 people – moving to Santiago, Chile – which has a population of over 7 million.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in Chile is how to be mindful of how a country’s past affects its present. From the 1970s to the early 1990s Chile was under a military dictatorship, which in addition to their natural boundaries, has transformed Chile into a country more separate from its Latin American peers, a cultural island almost.
Value of technology
This is a big one. I don’t think I could have lived in another country 30 years ago and anyone that did is incredible. Other than the fact I don’t actually get to see my family & friends face-to-face basically nothing has changed. We’re all talking on Facebook, texting, Instagram-ing, Skyping, talking on the phone, etc. It makes my life so much easier. Everyone can see everything I’m seeing here with me uploading pictures to everything to share with them and I can see what is going on at home. I can research any question I have about Chile and Chilean life online and there are so many translating apps now. Not to mention I have no idea how I would have made it to work without GPS on my phone. I don’t think there has ever been an easier, better time to travel than NOW!
A “career” can come later
I graduated college having absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I randomly applied to teach English and ended up getting the job, and I will be forever thankful. The things you can learn traveling and living abroad I find to be so much more valuable than any work experience. I wouldn’t call teaching my “career”- I didn’t study teaching in college, and I never thought I would be a teacher. But I am learning so much about life and the world and myself. I know how to interact with people from all over the world, with different backgrounds, ethnicities, languages, etc. I have learned an extreme amount of patience with myself and others. I have learned how to speak Spanish (somewhat). I value my global perspective. I feel now that making money to get a new car, new apartment, new things aren’t important, your experiences are what you’re going to look back on. I want to spend my 20’s growing through my experiences to become a better person.
I love my job, but it can be quite exhausting. I teach private classes at my students’ houses or offices all over the city, all day long. It’s a lot of transportation in a very large city. I love moving around all day and not being stuck at a desk. But this job really forces you to think about how you take care of yourself. I can’t eat 3 McDonald’s cheeseburgers and expect to have the energy to ride the bus for an hour out to my student’s house and play with them. I really have to make an effort to eat right, drink a lot of water, relax and get plenty of sleep. I never go out on a weekday. I take a Spanish class every Friday and a yoga class every Saturday for myself. Chile is also great because you can buy fruits and veggies on almost every street corner. They sell water in the metros; they have beautiful parks and nature to enjoy. I have made a great group of girlfriends here as a support system, we meet every Friday for “friends Friday” – and it completely revives my soul after a long week.
“To travel is to live”
The best things I have ever done in my life are studying abroad in Europe in college, moving to Japan and then to Chile. I have always wanted to understand the world, but how can I really know myself and the world if all I know is a life in West Virginia, USA?I It’s something that no one ever regrets. I think if I can do it then anyone can. I feel especially lucky to live and travel in Chile as it is one of the most beautiful countries you can ever visit. It has everything! The desert in the north, Patagonia in the south. The ocean to the west and the Andes to the east. There are vineyards, islands, geysers, caves, lakes; I think nearly anything you could want to see.
I can do anything!
The amount of confidence I have gained since I started living abroad feels amazing! I moved to Chile having never been before and not knowing anyone that lived there. It’s not easy to take the leap out of your comfort zone, but now I feel like I can do anything. I have taught and connected with people of all ages and ethnicities, helped with tourism work, translation work, university research, English summer camps, the list goes on! When you live abroad you feel great accomplishing just about anything, especially in another language. Going to the bank, buying groceries, getting on the right bus or metro, just not getting lost. The great thing about living abroad is being so childlike again. You can’t read anything, everything is new, different and exciting; you’re not sure how to cross the street or get a bus or buy anything. So when you do accomplish these small things, it feels really good!
Go with the flow
I have definitely learned to be more relaxed and just go with it, when it comes to both life and work. When traveling or living abroad things rarely go as you expect. You get lost, miss buses, get robbed, and deal with unpredictable schedules. A lot. Which took some time to adjust to. Sometimes the lesson you spent hours creating just won’t work out; it’s always going to be trial and error at first. I used to think I was such an easygoing person but actually I had just never been put to the test!
Make every day count
Over the past years, I’ve watched my students grow in their confidence, some in height, and English-speaking capability. Since we have such a short time together, it’s important for me to make every single moment count, which is easier said than done.Maybe they remember my lessons that have gone terribly, maybe they don’t. Maybe they don’t even remember everything I’ve taught them on the good days, but they remember that my class was FUN. They remember my effort to engage with them through language barriers to laugh together. That is the most important thing.
This is a guest post by Sarah Moody.
Sarah is a 28 year old yogi, feminist and travel addict from West Virginia, USA. After 1 year teaching English in Japan, she’s now based in Santiago, Chile. Apart from travel, her other biggest vice is Netflix. She’s currently touring Costa Rica, and you can follow her on Instagram