Coming Home After Teaching Abroad – 8 Things You Need to Know
Teaching overseas can be a great experience - countless articles and blog posts provide advice on how to find the perfect job teaching abroad and what an amazing experience teaching overseas can be.
What is rarely discussed is that only a minority of educators teach abroad for their whole careers. Many teachers work abroad for a year or two before returning home to go to graduate school or to start a career in their home country. While there are challenges in moving to a foreign country, moving back home can be even more difficult. Having taught overseas myself for 5 years and having made the admittedly difficult transition back to North America, I would like to offer some advice to teachers currently working overseas and those considering teaching abroad about the transition back to your home country.
1. Save Money
While teaching overseas, I encourage teachers to experience as much as possible. Get out, see the sites, travel, both in your host country and in neighboring countries, but do so within your means. While rock climbing in Thailand during your vacation and studying flamenco guitar in Spain for two months after you finish your contract may be amazing experiences – they may not seem so amazing when you are back home living in your parent’s basement. Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are not cheap places to live. You will have significant expenses when you return – you will have to find a place to live, potentially buy a car, purchase clothes, furniture, etc. – all of these things cost money. It is also challenging to save money while working in most English speaking countries, so take advantage of the opportunity to save while you are teaching abroad. Strike a balance between saving every penny and experiencing what your host country has to offer. Never leaving your apartment and eating ramen for dinner for a year straight is not an ideal way to spend a year in Asia, neither is having the highlight of your day being stealing your parent’s neighbors wi-fi when you return home.
Depending on where you teach, look into teaching a few private lessons on the side, especially if you can do so legally. I know of one school in Qatar that allows teachers to tutor outside of school – the going rate is around USD $100 per hour. If one was to teach 5 hours a week at this rate, that is an additional USD $2,000 per month. If this all went straight to savings, this would equal USD $24,000 per year – not a bad nest egg to come home with.
2. Make a Plan While Still Overseas
While you are still overseas, start planning your future. The internet is an amazing thing- while teaching virtually anywhere in the world, you can also be applying for grad school, applying for jobs, study for a Master’s Degree and networking with future employers. LinkedIn is a great tool for this. Set aside some time each week to work on your future. Network with potential employers and with individuals that work for companies and in industries you want to get into when you get home. Let them know when you will be returning home and what your intentions are, and see if you can set up meetings or interviews so you can hit the ground running. If you come home with a vague plan – i.e. getting a job or thinking about grad school, your savings can evaporate quickly and your only option may be returning to teach abroad again. A side note – teaching abroad is a great career choice for some. For others, it is a defined stop on a path to somewhere else. However don’t get stuck in a default loop of teaching overseas, coming home for a while, and then taking another contract overseas for lack of anything else to do. Continuing this cycle can hurt your chances of ever developing a meaningful career anywhere – after a couple years, either commit to teaching abroad or commit to coming home, and stick with it.
3. Keep Your Licenses and Memberships Current, and Pay Your Taxes
While having a grand old time overseas it is easy to overlook obligations at home, like filing tax returns. Keeping your documents current may be a low priority item while you are living overseas. However once you return home you will have a ton of things you have to do, the more things you can do while still overseas, the easier your transition will be.
4. Look For Housing Before You Come Home
The single biggest expense for most returning teachers is housing. Whether you are buying or renting, look at options, contact landlords and set up viewings before you return home – an investment in this can prevent a rushed decision once you return that can cost you many thousands of dollars.
5. Continue Your Education While Abroad
Teachers no longer have to wait to return to their home country to start grad school. Reputable universities such as the USC Rossier School of Education offer 100% online degrees that can be completed from anywhere in the world: https://www.esl101.com/master-education. While a degree from USC isn’t cheap, it could help you get certified as a teacher in the US after you return home – if this is a career path you wish to pursue. Pursuing a degree on-line is especially attractive for teachers heading to the Middle East – with a high salary and less than robust night life, taking an on-line degree can be a great way to get a jump start on a career at home. A word of caution, however – be careful what on-line program you sign up for. The bottom of the barrel are degree mills – websites where you can simply purchase a degree in any subject you desire – (looking at you – Rochville and Saint Regis) - presenting these degrees as legitimate can actually be a criminal offense. I certainly wouldn’t want a Rochville dentist working on my teeth or a Saint Regis engineer building a bridge I drive over every day. On-line schools that are accredited but offer less than stellar educational qualifications are the next step up. As a recruiter, I do not regard someone with a Master’s from the University of Phoenix in the same regard as I do a candidate that has a Master’s from a brick and mortar university – and many potential employers will not treat a University of Phoenix or other on-line degree with the same weight as a traditional degree. Most of the best on-line programs are offered as extensions of existing reputable universities – like the above mentioned USC.
6. Reverse Culture Shock
When teachers first head out to see the world they prepare – they learn a few words of the local language, read about the country where they are going and learn the cultural do’s and don’ts. Few teachers prepare to return to a familiar environment. While your home environment may not be tremendously different from when you left it – you will be different and so will your reaction to a seemingly familiar environment. After four years of living in Korea I must have said, ‘You want me to do what for $10 per hour?’ to myself at least a hundred times. I didn’t think I had changed, but I had. I got used to being treated like a rock star and it was a rude awakening when I came home and no one cared that I was white, spoke English and had an American passport. No one was paying me $40 an hour to eat free meals at their house and chat with their children in English, and I certainly no longer had the income to flip a coin and decide whether to go to Malaysia or Singapore for the weekend. It was tough to get used to not having disposable income and not being the center of attention.
7. You Did It For Yourself, Not To Impress Others
Don’t be that guy or gal who forces your family to go through 200 pictures of the Great Wall of China on your phone. It may have been an amazing time for you – but it might not be for your friends, family and the person sitting next to you on the bus. Don’t trump everyone’s story with something you did that was cooler and more amazing when you are living abroad. It may have been cooler and more amazing to you, but it can be annoying and off putting to the people around you. Don’t be condescending or rude when people ask dumb questions. Remember that not everyone has the opportunity to travel much less live in another country – answer naïve questions patiently and remember how little you knew before you left to teach abroad. When I left the US at age 21 to teach in Korea, it was the first time I had been out of the States (aside from a few car trips to Canada) – I knew very little about the world at large. And no, I didn’t learn Japanese while living in Korea. Also remember that many people simply can’t relate to your experiences abroad, and that’s OK. More than once when I returned home from teaching abroad I would launch into a long story about some experience I had overseas and would be met with blank stares or a non sequitur response. What is important to you may not be important to the friends and family you left at home.
8. Apply What You Learned In As Many Ways As Possible
Teaching abroad provides tremendous experience – unfortunately this experience does not directly translate into many careers at home. Your teaching experience may not be recognized if you are applying for teaching jobs at home. Having ‘Edutainer - La-La Ponyland’ on your resume may not be your ticket into Goldman Sachs. I happened to start a company that recruited teachers – so my career choice did directly draw on my experience teaching overseas, but this was a fluke, not by design. Some of my former co-workers from Korea ended up as urban planners, others in academia. In most cases while their experience teaching abroad didn’t directly help with their current career, it provided a depth and breadth of knowledge that was widely applicable.
If you save money, be prepared, stay humble and keep an open mind, the transition back to your home country may not be easy, but it will be easier, and you will have options beyond a job that entails saying, “Would you like to supersize that?”
Photo Credit –Beverly and Pack: https://www.flickr.com/photos/walkadog/
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