Common Challenges of Teaching Abroad

Hello again! This week I thought I’d discuss some of the challenges associated with studying and teaching abroad, as well as some ideas for overcoming these challenges. In my interviews, all the teachers I’ve talked with have spoken very positively about their experiences. Any challenges they’ve faced have definitely been talked about in a positive light.

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Communication Challenges

This is obviously a big one as most placements are in countries where the native language is not English. Sometimes teachers were placed in home-stays where the family spoke little to no English. In the classroom teachers talked about the additional challenge in teaching students – particularly the younger ones who had a very low English level. Getting around in a foreign country also has its challenges; however, many of the teachers I talked to explained that locals were very kind and willing to help.

What are somethings you can do?

  • Learn some basics of the foreign language. This will help in communicating, but also shows others that you are willing to learn their language as well. Even when working with students, allowing them to teach you some of their language can be a great way to build relationships. In some cases, the teachers I talked too became fluent in the language in 2-3 months (effort goes a long way).   
  • For teaching, check out my other blog post here about strategies for working with ELL students.
  • Have a sense of humour! Use body language and gestures to help and try not to stress out too much about communicating.

Cross-Cultural Adaptation

There are a few models I’ve read about that attempt to understand the adaptation that occurs when living in a foreign place such as Kim’s Cross-Cultural Adaptation Model. When interviewing teachers, all of them did talk about cultural differences and adapting to them, but it didn’t really seem like it was a challenge or something they didn’t enjoy. However, it can be challenging to adapt to a new way of life and different cultural norms. Always being “the other” and standing out can have negative psychological effects. 

What are somethings you can do?

  • Do some research on the country you are going to. It’ll help if you know what is considered polite and disrespectful. For example, in Japan and Korea it’s very rude to not give something (such as money) without using two hands.
  • Have an open mind (which I think is why most of the teachers I talked to enjoyed their experiences). Even if you don’t agree with a cultural norm, you do have to respect the people and their culture.   
  • Try to not take things personally. It may be hard at times if you are experiencing discrimination, but it’s important to have a strong back-bone to overcome this and realize this experience is not going to last forever. 

Home-Sicknesses

As talked about before on my post about culture-shock, homesickness is a common feeling that most people go through. Since TAB is a shorter program (8-10 weeks), most of the teachers I’ve talked with didn’t discuss this in too much detail. I have experienced this as when I was in Korea, as I was away from home for a year.

What are somethings you can do?

  • Have strong support systems. Whether this is from using social media to talk with friends and family from back home or from other teachers that are teaching abroad as well. 
  • Try to keep busy and experience new things! Take time for self-care as well.

Financial difficulties may also arise, as living abroad (especially if you aren’t working) can be expensive. It’s important to be prepared before going. Student-teachers also talked about having to make time for courses they had to take while teaching. Especially in cases where teachers were teaching full time! Time-management is crucial.  

I think the challenges you face while abroad are what makes it such a great experience. After overcoming them, you become more adaptive and confident in your abilities as a teacher.

What are some challenges you have faced while abroad? How did you overcome them?

References

Sandel, T. L. (2014). “Oh, I’m here!”: Social media’s impact on the cross-cultural adaptation of students studying abroad. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 43(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/17475759.2013.865662

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