I’ve spent three Thanksgiving holidays abroad now, which makes me a little sad because Thanksgiving at my house is the best. Yeah, yeah, your mom makes the best pie or turkey, whatever. My mom seriously makes the most wonderful food. She makes everything from scratch, and on top of making the turkey, two pumpkin pies, a pecan pie, a crimson pie, cranberry sauce, salad, green beans, gravy, and stuffing, she also makes vegetarian friendly stuffing and a tofurkey for our non-meat eating family members.
My mom rocks and so do our gourmet Thanksgivings, but as we all know though, Thanksgiving isn’t all about the food. It’s also about the family and friends gathering around a huge table and being thankful for all of the love in your life. If you have to be abroad for Thanksgiving, you have to work a little bit harder to find both the food and the company to share the evening with. Having at least one of these two things while abroad for Thanksgiving is lucky.
My first Thanksgiving abroad was five years ago while I was on Semester at Sea. We were in Spain on Thanksgiving Day, and my friends and I ended up spending the entire Thanksgiving evening in an Irish pub. I think I ate half a bag of chips that night. Not a successful turkey day because there was not a bit of turkey involved or much food for that matter, but it was filled with lots of good friends and love.
Unfortunately, my second Thanksgiving out of the country wasn’t nearly as successful as my first turkey-less turkey day. I was living in Khon Kaen, Thailand at the time, and my American buddy invited me to a Thanksgiving buffet at the Sofitel, the nicest hotel in the city. I was very excited to actually get to celebrate one of my favorite holidays with other turkey lovers! Thanksgiving night I called to confirm what time we would meet and I was informed that we had missed the dinner. They had held the Thanksgiving dinner for the foreigners the Saturday before and we had missed it! I was heartbroken. Who celebrates Thanksgiving on a Saturday?!? No turkey, no pie, and no one to spend Thanksgiving with. I ended up eating fried rice alone at one of the restaurants I frequented. It was not a good Thanksgiving.
This year I knew that I would be missing Thanksgiving again, so I made sure we celebrated before I left the home. It was a much smaller Thanksgiving than usual because not all of the usual attendees could make it in October, but it was perfect nonetheless. I figured that if I ate a Thanksgiving dinner before I departed, then I couldn’t complain about not having a fabulous holiday with all the fixings in November, little did I know that I would get to have a real Thanksgiving dinner here in Seoul too.
I really lucked out getting two Thanksgivings in one year, and the best part was that I didn’t have to celebrate in Korea alone; all of the other teachers at the school I’m working at, even the Canadians and British, partook in the festivities. We ordered a Thanksgiving dinner to go from Dragon Hill Lodge in Itaewon, which is close to the US army base (hence the availability of a Thanksgivingtake-away meal). For around one hundred bucks, you get a meal that serves ten to twelve people, as advertised. The package includes a turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, and a pumpkin pie. Altogether for fifteen of us, including the cab fare to pick up the meal, it cost around eight dollars per person. Not bad for a Thanksgiving feast.
Concerned that there wouldn’t be enough food, we each brought side dishes. I made my mother’s delectable cranberry sauce, so even though I was away for Thanksgiving I still had my mom there in a way. Others brought mashed potatoes, two extra pumpkin pies purchased from the always reliable Costco, a broccoli pasta dish, scones, rolls, sweet garlic bread, and spring rolls. We had our feast in the gym of the school, each of us seated in the tiny kindergarten chairs making our glasses of wine and beer seem slightly sinful.
After the meal was over the girls talked over the leftovers while the boys played some form of football/basketball, reverting to the traditional Thanksgiving roles. We divvied up the leftovers, put the wine and beer bottles in the recycling, and moved the kindergarten tables and chairs back to the classrooms where they belonged. Tomorrow the kids will be none-the-wiser about what their teachers were up to the night before. Although nothing comes close to mom’s Thanksgiving dinner, this year’s was as close as a Thanksgiving abroad can get.
This post was originally written for diwyy.com.
After you’ve found a potential teaching position, you will be overwhelmed with excitement and ready to pack your bags. Before you sign a contract or buy a plane ticket, make sure you question your future employer about all of the following topics.
The Terms of Your Contract
Make sure you understand everything in your contract before you sign it. Ask about anything you are unsure of. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this step. Find out if it’s okay for you to tutor on the side for extra income, if you have a Christmas vacation, or if there’s a dress code.
Before you agree to getting paid a certain salary, make sure you have an estimate of how much it is going to cost you to live in that country. Also try to research what the standard salary for a foreign English teacher is in that country or city. Teaching English is a really great thing to do, but things can go downhill fast for you if you aren’t able to pay your bills.
Find out what kind of visa you will be getting and how you need to get it. Many developing countries will allow you to apply for a work visa from a neighboring country, but sometimes things are a little more complicated. Employers may ask you to work under the table and use tourist visas instead of work visas because they are much easier to obtain.
There are a few downsides to this for you, the teacher. The first is that you will most likely have to leave the country every couple months. If this is the case, make sure that the school is helping you fund these trips or are at least paying you enough so that you aren’t paying out of your savings. Secondly, governments usually frown upon working in their country with a tourist visa. It is unlikely you will get caught doing this, but you have to decide if you want to risk it. I worked two different jobs like this and never had a problem. It did make me a little nervous at first though.
Ask about your average class size. Find out the maximum number of students you potentially could be teaching. Take it from me; trying to control 30 twelve-year olds in a public school in Thailand, where they only understand about four percent of what you’re saying, can be more than exhausting. The smaller the class size, the happier you are going to be at the end of the day.
Also find out if there are going to be any other teachers teaching with you. This can be great if you are trying to control a classroom, but it can also make the actual teaching process more difficult sometimes, especially if that teacher isn’t a foreigner. In that situation they might speak to the students in their native tongue, which can defeat the purpose of even having you there.
Other Foreigners at the School
Ask how many other foreigners teach at the school. I know teaching abroad isn’t necessarily about meeting other foreigners, but about immersing yourself in the culture of one specific place on the globe. But here is the other side to the story, if you don’t have a support system, then you might crack. I lived for five months without much access to other foreigners and it was extremely hard on me emotionally. The locals in the area will be lovely, but being able to bond over the little things, like constantly being stared at, with another foreigner is key. You don’t need to teach at a school with a ton of foreigners, but a few will make your quality of life a little better.
Contact a Foreigner Teaching at that School
Before you agree to sign a contract, contact another foreigner at that school. Ask your interviewer for an email address of another foreigner teaching there. This is a good way to find out exactly what you are getting yourself into. Ideally you could get two email addresses, but some schools might find this offensive. Tell your contact that you are so excited to go teach there, but just want to make sure you are choosing the right school.
Ask them what their experience has been like, if they get along with their fellow teachers, and what a standard day or week is like for them. This is also a good time to ask questions about the city you will be living in. A great question to ask is whether or not the school pays you on time. Also ask how many people have left before their contract was up and what the circumstances were. This is a great way to find out whether or not other people like it there without directly asking.
You can also ask if there is anything you might not be able to buy or find in the country you are teaching in. The answer to this question will help you when you are packing. I will cover some of these key items in my next post.
This post was originally written for www.diwyy.com.
The search for a job teaching English abroad can be done in several ways. It mostly depends on the country where you are interested in teaching. Developed countries will have more requirements for being hired and will usually have more visa requirements as well. Whereas developing countries typically do not have as much red tape and make the search a little bit easier.
The Internet is going to be your key to finding a job abroad. If you Google the phrase: “teach English abroad” you will get six million results back, so I suggest making your internet search a little more specific. If you can determine a few cities you think you would enjoy being stationed in, then it will make your search a bit easier. At the same time though, you need to be flexible. If you have your heart set on one city, it might take you a while to find a job, or you could be disappointed when you only find listings in other cities.
If you are interested in teaching in a developing country, I usually suggest packing your bags, buying a plane ticket and just showing up in your country of interest. This sounds incredibly scary and risky, but is worth it for a few reasons. The first time I left the country to work abroad, it sounded like it would be a great fit, but I quickly found out upon arrival that the city I was going to be living in was not ideal for me. Throughout my stay in Thailand, I was constantly offered teaching positions everywhere I went. I realized that I could have just wandered the country until I found a suitable location, and then accepted one of the many jobs offered to me.
If this is an option you might actually consider, then you need to be a very proactive person. Sometimes being offered a job is as easy as mentioning that you are an English teacher to the right person, but if you are avidly looking for a job, you might need to be a little more aggressive than that. Tell everyone you meet abroad that you are an English teacher looking to settle down in that area. Most people you will meet know at least one other English teacher or school, and this can lead to important connections. Schools can’t hire you if they don’t know you are out there looking for a job. Make sure you let people know you are interested. Networking is your best friend in this type of search, not the Internet.
Things can be much more complicated if you are looking to teach in a more developed country. For example, South Korea requires that you send them your diploma, a background check, and transcripts from your university. Not only do they need all of these items, but they also need you to be in your home country during the application process. So it would be a poor idea to show up in South Korea and hope to get a job.
If you are leaning towards teaching in a developed country or don’t want to show up in a developing country looking for work, then your next question is “How do I find a job on the internet?” Before you start googling, let me warn you that many of the ‘jobs’ you will find listed are not in fact jobs. Many times they will ask you to pay them to come teach English.
Volunteering is wonderful and I am sure that there are pay-to-volunteer programs available that put a lot of the money you pay towards helping the organization you work with, but unfortunately there are many that don’t. Sometimes the organizations that will set you up with a teaching position if you pay a couple thousand bucks are just scamming you. For one of my previous jobs I worked with volunteers who came through a rather large name in the pay to volunteer business, and I can say without a doubt that almost all of the money went directly into their pockets and did not reach our organization. So if you choose the pay-to-volunteer route, make sure your money is going where you want it to.
Remember what I said in my previous post as well, TEFL and TESOL certification is not completely necessary to teach abroad. Before you spend the money on it, make sure you absolutely need it.
Sifting through the results that your search engine will turn up is definitely a process. Idealist.org is a great website for the global job search. This website allows you to search by country, language, categories, job type, etc. If you are interested in teaching English in South Korea I recommend going to Dave’s ESL Cafe and checking out the listings there. I wish I had a list of websites for prospective teachers for every country, but I don’t. If you know of a great website for teaching abroad in any country, please comment below. Let’s compile a list of helpful websites for prospective English teachers!
This post was written for www.diwyy.com.