Hey ladies! Why don’t you introduce yourself?
Francesca: My name is Francesca and I’m originally from Los Angeles, but have lived in France and Martinique. It’s funny how I ended up there, because I was never one of those girls who grew up dreaming about seeing the Eiffel Tower in person, or walking the streets of Paris with a croissant in hand. If anything, I always thought I’d end up living in Cuba one day because I am a salsa fanatic and studied Spanish in high school.
Cindy: What up?! I’m Cindy and am currently 6 years strong teaching throughout this crazy/beautiful world of ours.
How did you end up teaching abroad?
Francesca: It all started one summer after a study abroad course in Portovenere, Italy. I had a free week to explore Europe, and the south of France was only a short train ride away. I was going solo, and decided to go to Cannes and spend a week exploring the famous riviera. France totally stole my heart and I spent my last two years of uni studying French like a maniac and the first chance I got after graduation I took a job teaching English in a small town about an hour north of Paris and the rest is history. Martinique is technically a part of France, but geographically located in the Caribbean so heading there next was a no brainer!
Cindy: I went to school for teaching, graduated, certified, and then started my journey on the public school teaching route. As much as I loved that journey, I wanted to do more. During my time at university, I studied abroad in Costa Rica, which opened my eyes to everything teaching abroad and travel. It was all so new to me and was my first trip abroad with other future educators. From then on I promised myself to teach in another country.
As I finished my first official year of teaching, with my sanity still intact, I said peace out to America and headed to SE Asia. I had plans to teach in Thailand for a few months and start my international journey in Costa Rica, but I ended up falling in love with the concrete jungle/ the dirty B/ good ‘ol Bangkok.
What is the hardest thing about teaching abroad?
Francesca: The hardest part about teaching abroad is always the first few months. You have to be persistent and not give up just because it’s difficult to adjust. Moving to a place is a completely different experience than vacationing there. You go from seeing the best spots in a couple days to seeing every facet of life from the local’s perspective, unless you move to a place like Barcelona that has a big expat community where it’s easy to only speak English and live amongst your own people. The beginning of the road gets really lonely, especially if you aren’t fluent in the local language. I think every traveler moving abroad should invest time and money in making sure they have at least a basic conversational grip on the local language or dialect.
Cindy: Some tips to make life easier while teaching abroad are going into the experience with an open mind and staying relaxed. This may sound like common sense but it is harder than you think. When you have lived in a country your whole life, had the same beliefs, same friends, etc., you forget that there’s another world out there. The ideas, culture, beliefs, and everyday are far different. Also, staying relaxed. When you have to go to immigration 4x in one week and get turned away multiple times or you’re #48492931 in the queue, the only thing you can do is chill. So it’s best just to buy some snacks and laugh about it later.
What is the best thing about teaching abroad?
Francesca: Teaching abroad has improved my life in little ways that I didn’t expect. It forces you to become a better communicator, and any shyness you may have about speaking in front of a crowd will evaporate quickly! From a personal standpoint, teaching abroad has given me the opportunity to travel long term – something I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, or at least not without several years of saving in advance. The steady income is great because you can use some of it to explore the surrounding cities or countries which may be too far to access when you’re at home.
Cindy: I was interviewed and offered a position in a small nature based school in a beautiful jungle-esque area of Bangkok. I fell in love with my school, with its fully open classrooms. It was like we didn’t even have walls when we opened all the doors! I spent 2 years there, and when I wasn’t at school I was traveling. But also when you arrive to work everyday and get warmly greeted by the sweetest little faces you cant help but love what you do. Or when you drop your students off for a specials class and it becomes routine that upon arrival they start screaming your name and give you a class bear hug. I mean how could I not enjoy what I do everyday?
What are some things you would want people to know about teaching abroad?
Francesca: Teaching is a huge responsibility and it’s so important, especially when teaching children, to be kind and patient with them. You impact them more than you will ever know. I used to run into kids at places like the grocery store, and they would come up to me with a big “hello,” beaming as their parents told me how much they heard about their child’s English teacher. You are a walking representation of the country you come from which can be a great way to set a positive example, especially in these times.
Cindy: They say that your classroom and environment feeds off the teacher’s energy and if you know my energy… WOOO my classes every year are poppin’! I pride myself on carrying this energy with me wherever I go. I strongly believe that a positive and fun environment makes learning 20x more beneficial than some people’s perception of what a classroom looks like.
People of all walks of life leave home every year to start their teaching journey. I love that teaching abroad opens up so many opportunities for people to enjoy “work” and travel at the same time. However, you can be the best teacher in the world, but if you don’t mesh with the culture, you won’t survive.
Any advice to others teaching abroad or thinking about teaching abroad?
Francesca: My biggest piece of advice is if you’re considering a place, do thorough research, and make use of the internet! Instagram is a great way to see live photos of people in the place you may be considering as well as youtube, which is where a lot of people share their expat stories.
Cindy: Building a relationship with your students is important. I am here to tell you that this is one of THE most important parts of teaching. You can write the best lesson plan, have all the Plan B’s, have multiple degrees, but if you cannot gain trust and have a positive relationship with your students, that classroom is going to be wack. So no matter if your student is 2, 12, or 45, pay attention.
For example: I had a 3-year-old student that loved Snoopy. When he was not having school, all I had to do was throw on some Charlie Brown classics and my little homie was all about it.
Or I had a group of 5th grade girls that I coached for basketball. I opened my classroom doors to them everyday before practice. They could listen to music, do their homework, or just know they had a safe space to hang out instead of hanging in the streets.
Or my adult students really struggled with English grammar. I developed games based off the activities they enjoyed in class. I listened to their stories, asked them how they were doing, and genuinely cared.
Also, since most of us are embarking on these journeys to teach English, keep in mind that conversation is huge. Through experience, I’ve noticed that most student’s handwriting and written languages are impeccable. Their written language might be on point, but there is a large struggle with conversational English. Here are some tips:
- Slow down your speech but don’t dumb it down, there’s a difference.
- Use a wide range of vocabulary.You would be amazed at the amount of information a 2-year-old English language learner can retain. So go ahead and teach them words like respect, humongous, and confidence. Then be amazed when they use it.
- Correct mistakes. PLEASE. Whether it’s a written mistake, verbal, or pronunciation please correct your students. In the end you are the teacher and they are depending on you for support. Once again be amazed at the progress. If you consistently correct your students mistakes you will soon see self correction and increased knowledge of the English language! (Hold back tears, jump for joy, and air fives kind of excitement.)
- Cultural exchange. Lastly for the loveeeeeee please try your hardest not to make conversing in broken English a thing. I’ve seen way too many foreigners start speaking like the students they are teaching. Keep in mind that no matter if it’s your student, neighbor, or local food vendor, they are looking to you for some genuine English language.
And one last thing…
Cindy: Take it all in. Love it all. Hate it all. Just experience whatever your all is. Yes, you are traveling for work, but work is not your life. Go to that free champagne ladies night on a school night, take that insanely fast mini van 3 hours away for a beach vacay, eat the street food, drink a bucket on khao san, and take a yoga class where no one speaks English. And…
- Remember the time your student with little to no English spoke her first full sentence while having a conversation with a baby chick
- Remember the “is this real life or is this an action movie set” fire drill at your school in Thailand
- Remember the adult students twice your age who respected you as a young educator
- Remember the opportunity, respect the opportunity, and live it to your fucking fullest.
Ain’t nobody got time to waste.