I’ve spent nearly a decade teaching abroad in a variety of classrooms. My Costa Rican classroom overlooked a dance studio. In France, I worked as an English teacher in a summer camp which meant that I was usually wearing a ridiculous costume while I taught grammar or vocabulary. While living in Spain, I worked at an exclusive American school where my tiny, three-year-old students wore preppy uniforms.

Despite the differences in classrooms, one thing was always the same. When teaching abroad, I felt that my students taught me just as much as I was teaching them. 

Here are 6 lessons that you’ll learn once you begin teaching abroad

Patience

Awe

Flexibility

Responsibility

Joy

Open-mindedness

Lesson One: Patience

In Spain, I taught at an English immersion American school. I must admit, when I signed up to teach abroad, I never expected to teach three-year-olds how to speak English.

For the first six months or so, my students babbled at me in barely developed Spanish or stared at me blankly. After months of repetitive songs, games, daily routines, book reading, and puppet shows, one day the switch flipped and these tiny humans started speaking English!

Like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, learning English takes time. Learning to accept this kind of patience takes time, but the rewards make the hours well-spent.

Lesson Two: Awe

Teaching abroad in Australia

In Australia, I had the privilege of teaching an incredible student in my beginner English class. Originally from Brazil, he loved participating in class and encouraged the other students to do the same. His sense of humor is one-of-a-kind.

This student proved to be one of my greatest teaching lessons not because of him, but because of me. This student is deaf. In order to best provide for him, I had to make sure I was always facing him when I spoke so he could read my lips.

To work on correct pronunciation, I made sure he felt the vibrations in my throat or the air escaping my mouth. He did everything 110%. I am still awestruck at the courage it took to move across the ocean to learn a foreign language and truly thrive in that environment. I guarantee you’ll meet some awesome students of your own in your classroom.

Lesson Three: Flexibility

Teaching English in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, people run on “Tico Time.” What is “Tico Time” exactly? Let’s just say that if it’s raining, students aren’t going to come to class. If it’s too hot, they aren’t going to come to class. Also, if their cousin is in town or there is a soccer match or they need to stop at the market, they aren’t going to come to class. Basically, you never know who is going to come to class.

“Tico Time” isn’t a bad thing. It’s a relaxed way of living which makes Costa Rica one of the happiest countries on the planet. It does, however, make it extremely difficult to plan lessons and stick to those lesson plans.

Teaching abroad in Costa Rica taught me to be flexible because I never knew who would be in my lessons. Instead of a specific plan, I needed adaptable activities that could serve a wide variety of ages, language abilities, and time frames.

I still rely on these lessons when something unexpected happens. Once you’ve learned to be flexible, those skills will stay with you for the rest of your teaching career.

Lesson Four: Responsibility

In Australia, I have been preparing adult students for the Cambridge B2 First and C1 Advanced exams for almost three years. My students rely on these exams to enter university programs, get jobs in their country or abroad, or apply for visas to live in foreign countries.

Learning English has the potential to change someone’s life. My students have made great sacrifices to leave their homes in Asia, South America, or Europe to improve their English in Australia. It’s my responsibility to best prepare them for the exams that could potentially change their course in life.

Responsibility means doing everything I can to help another person succeed. This may mean correcting extra writing tasks, motivating them to participate more in class, or making sure they have everything they need on exam day. As you grow as a teacher, you’ll learn how to take responsibility for your students’ success.

Lesson 5: Joy

Teach abroad in France

In France, I taught French children at an American English immersion summer camp. It was my job to teach them English. It was also my job to keep them entertained, provide comfort when they were homesick, and teach them about American traditions.

Some of my fondest childhood memories come from summer camp. Seeing French children participate in American summer camp staples like bonfires, competitions and talent shows taught me joy. Joy is making a s’more for the first time, capturing the flag, or spending the day at a lake.

Teaching abroad isn’t always about the language. It’s also an exchange of culture, traditions, and ways of seeing the world. The best way to see the world, in my opinion, is through children’s eyes. Learning joy as a teacher means relearning how to see the world like a child.

Lesson 6: Open-mindedness 

In every country and classroom I’ve taught in, I’ve met people that are very different from me. Each student carries their own story and I am fortunate to make an appearance in at least one chapter of their life.

Some of my favorite lessons include talking about cultural traditions. My students’ voices not only open my mind but their classmates’ minds as well. I always feel like a moderator at a mini-United Nations meeting during these lessons.

Teaching English or any other subject abroad is a challenging profession because you don’t have a safety net of friends and family. You will, on the other hand, gain a broader worldview than if you had stayed at home. Open-mindedness is the lesson the world needs most in 2020.

Final Thoughts

Jamie Gajewski

If you are interested in teaching abroad, please leave a comment below. I love to help teachers and students go abroad. Although the world’s borders are currently closed, it’s never too early to start planning your adventure of teaching abroad.

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