When you teach English abroad limitations that you once considered reasonable become laughable. People back home are like, I can’t join a gym, I’m too busy. I’m afraid to change jobs, what if it doesn’t work out? Back to school? No, no, I couldn’t possibly! And you’re like, “I took a 90% pay cut and moved to a remote village in Laos. I’ve been flushing the toilet with a bucket for months. Can’t join a gym!? BWAHAHA!!!
When you teach English abroad travel becomes a serious obsession. You’ll find yourself moving to a new continent just to have a new travel hub. From Thailand I could see all of South East Asia. Oh! Or maybe Panama. From Panama I’d have quick access to Central AND South America… This way of thinking will be your new normal. Your old ideas of a holiday at the end of the year will seem absurd, like ordering dessert and getting handed a plate dusted with cookie crumbs. “Hi. So, I don’t mean to be rude, but WHERE IS MY COOKIE!!?”
When you teach English abroad you tend to live a minimalist lifestyle. Everything you own will most likely fit into a backpack. You’ll limit yourself to work shoes and flip-flops and secretly wish that you could wear flip-flops to work. You’ll love the minimalism. You’ll feel freed by it. And then you’ll go home to visit family and friends and end up thinking, “Holy ^%$@. Did everyone always have this much stuff?”
#4 KEEPING IN TOUCH
Keeping in touch when you teach English abroad will become a creative outlet. You’ll find yourself blogging, hosting a YouTube channel, plastering Facebook with envy inducing photographs. The people back home will binge watch your new life. They’ll tell you that you’re an inspiration and that will push you to continue creating. Will you miss them? Obviously. But your growth and their joy over watching you grow will feel a lot like a hug.
When you teach English abroad your social circle gets A LOT bigger. You’ll befriend teachers and travelers and everyone will fan out around the globe. You’ll have couches to crash on from London to Lima. But you’ll have to remember who you’re talking to. With your travel friends it will seem perfectly normal to start a conversation with, “So last weekend, I was kayaking in the Borneo Highlands.” And with your friends back home, those same stories will seem boastful and ill-fitting. Your friends will listen politely but they won’t get it. Your new life will be too unreal to them. Sensing that, you’ll settle into the comforts of history and nostalgia. That separation is a gift. Because sometimes you need NEW! And sometimes, you just need to be known.
When you teach English abroad your diet changes. Duh. What is surprising is how permanent those changes become. Live in Asia for awhile and you’ll become a connoisseur of rice based dishes. Live in South Korea and kimchi will forever be in your fridge. Live in South America and you just might get addicted to an herbal tea called Mate. And many years later, you’ll find yourself eating Thai green curry with Czech dumplings and kimchi on the side, washing the whole thing down with a big mug of Mate, whilst slightly annoyed that you still haven’t been able to find Masala Magic crisps outside of Nepal.
Back home happiness is often a long term goal. If I get that promotion, I’ll be happy. If I get married before I turn ___, I’ll be happy. When you teach English abroad the pursuit of happiness becomes much more immediate. Every day is different. Every day is new. And that makes you hyper aware of where your happiness stands, and more importantly, how to adjust it. You’ll find yourself doing the little things; a swim in the sea, whisky and jazz at the local pub, a walk through the Christmas market; whatever it takes to give your happiness a little extra shine.
A lot of TEFL graduates start out thinking, “I’ll teach English abroad for a year or two, and then I’ll find a real job.” But then they do the actual work of teaching English. They form bonds with their students and watch them make real, measurable strides. They feel the rush of positively affecting another person’s life. And suddenly, Regional Director of XYZ Corp. doesn’t sound so real. Not every TEFL graduate becomes a career ESL teacher but everyone who eventually goes home does so with a different sense of purpose.
#9 THE FUTURE
When you teach English abroad your plans for the future change. How could they not? Your ideas of what is possible change. Your sphere of influence changes. Your diet, your relationship to happiness and your sense of purpose change. You change. You can’t go back to the old future. You have to dream up something new.
Maybe you’re not much of a dreamer now but teach English abroad and you will be. You’ll find inspiration in education, travel, food and global networking. You’ll shed the old future and run headlong into the new. Into a future where dreams do not have limitations and neither do you.