A Minimalist’s Guide to Teaching English Abroad
Everyone teaching English abroad is a minimalist. Because that is the life. And because you only have to overpack once.
We know what you’re thinking. But what if I need… But what if they don’t have… You don’t. And they probably do. Overthinking is a slippery slope that dumps all of your crap into luggage the size of a lorry. And what happens next is a slow moving tragedy.
You say your tearful goodbyes then grunt and sweat trying to lift your lorry-luggage into the taxi, already wondering if you’ve packed too much. At the airport an unpleasant agent informs you that your bag is too heavy. They write an outrageous number on a piece of paper and slide it across the counter. Their tight-lipped smile says, “You deserve this hoarder.” You open your bag and stuff your pockets with anything that looks heavy. It isn’t enough. You hand the agent a credit card and calculate how many days you’ll have to spend teaching English abroad to pay the fee. When you arrive at your destination there are no taxis, only public buses. Several kind-hearted locals push your lorry-luggage onto the roof, where it gets strapped down next to bags of rice and chickens in little cages. By the time you arrive at your new TEFL housing, your luggage is dusty and scratched. You drop it with a thud on the floor of your tiny new room and stare forlornly at a closet that is only half a meter wide. You unpack a week’s worth of clothing. You stop. You can’t go on. What’s the point? A week’s worth is all you really needed.
You are not going to a land of naked savages where laundry has yet to be invented. Bring clothes to teach in. Bring clothes to relax in. Pack like you are on the run and might need to leave at the first sign of trouble. Think of it this way: everything you bring from home is a reminder of home and everything you pick-up abroad is a reminder of your exciting new life. Pack the absolute bare minimum and let the story fill in from there.
We realize this is dangerous territory. But… Don’t pack your favorites. Let them go. Pack enough for carry-on and stock up after you arrive. Toiletries are weird territory. In South East Asia for instance deodorant is roll-on perfume and literally every skincare product has bleaching chemicals. You will not be able to find what you’re used to. And anything you bring from home is eventually going to run out. The people who have the most success teaching English abroad are those who are able to quickly adapt. Toiletries may not be the deepest cultural adjustment, but it’s an adjustment you will eventually have to make, so why not embrace it from the start?
Bring the big stuff, computer, phone, etc. Leave the small stuff at home. You do not need an expensive universal adaptor. You do not need extra power cords. You do not need USB drives to backup the cloud in case the cloud goes boom. You will be able to get anything you need abroad. You may have to take a trip into the big city, but you’ll be able to get it. Expect less connectivity than you are used to. Classrooms generally aren’t set up for multimedia lesson plans. WIFI is often terrible. Your life will become a lot less tech dependant.
Teaching English abroad will lead you to a minimalist lifestyle–it is the only practical way forward. You can’t skip from place to place if you’re dragging around lorry sized luggage. Your new life is going to require lightness and adaptability. Pack as little as possible and experience as much as you can.