When you teach English abroad life is beautifully unpredictable. The “Ha! I live here!” moments become a daily pleasure; a family of five crammed onto a tiny scooter, Prague Castle appearing suddenly through the window of the tram. Your weekdays will have structure; teaching, lesson planning, dinner at your favourite spot. But as an English teacher, when the weekend arrives, you’ll literally have a whole world of options.
So, how do TEFL teachers spend their free time? For most it goes something like this:
Most tourists visit the same three or four places and move on. As an English teacher, you’ll have the opportunity to truly delve into the local culture. Pack a small bag and hop on the local bus. Find a stretch of beach that no one knows about. Hike up to a little mountain village and sit by the fireside sipping the best beer you’ve ever tasted. Go Christmas shopping at the artisanal market a few towns down the road. The truth is you will probably end up knowing the secret spots near your adoptive home better than you do the secret spots near where you grew up. People living at home tend to think, “Oh, I can go whenever.” The risk takers who teach English abroad don’t push their adventures off until whenever. They just go.
You may have itchy travel feet, but don’t forget the opportunities in town! After all “in town” from your perspective is still a world away. Take the time to learn about the culture in a way that tourists don’t have time to. If you are teaching English in Argentina take Tango lessons and learn about its history and connection to Argentine culture. If you are teaching English in Japan learn how to make sushi. Or step back even further. Spend time on the water with local fisherman, volunteer in a local market, learn the whole process from the sea to the sushi bar. Your involvement locally is important. It creates cultural bonds, it supports local business owners and it makes the world smaller in the best possible way.
Work on Yourself
Most TEFL jobs require 20-25 hours a week in the classroom, plus lesson planning and office hours. You will have more free time than you are used to. And it is not a job that follows you home. You will be able to leave school at school and maximize that additional time. For many, this presents an opportunity to pursue goals they never had time for at home. Maybe you want to become a certified yoga instructor. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book. Maybe you want to get a Masters degree through an online program. Or maybe you just want to bang on bongo drums until you get half good at it. You’ll have time to pursue self-improvement projects. Decide how you want to grow and make it happen.
The free time options when you teach English abroad are as varied as they are amazing. The trick is finding your balance. Don’t just travel. Don’t just get cultural or work on yourself. Do it all. But, in measurements that make you happy.