Adventures in Non-traditional Adulthood: Teaching ESL Abroad

How to Teach ESL Abroad as a Non-Traditional Adult

(This is part of the Non-traditional Adulthood Series, in which we expound on the joys and adventures to be had whilst avoiding mortgages and babies.)
If you’ve got a taste for adventure or a bad case of wanderlust, teaching ESL abroad is a great way to pay off your loans while seeing the world. The college+wedding+babies formula isn’t for all us … in fact, a very large percentage of us take a less traditional, more scenic route reaching the destination that is Grown-up-ville. Why not have a good time while figuring out who we are and what we want?! Teaching ESL abroad is a great way to do this and see the world too!

Now friends, I will not lie to you. Moving abroad is an undertaking and it is crazy difficult at times … but most things worth doing are, right?! Teaching English abroad is also one of the best things I’ve done with my life. And it’s never going to get easier than when you’re young, cute and mortgage-free! So here are a few basics about teaching abroad to get you headed in the right direction. Bon Voyage!

Where should I go to teach abroad?

Well, that is a rather important aspect to the journey, isn’t it? ESL jobs are relatively easy to find, especially outside of Western Europe and particularly in Asia. You should have a really big think about what you want out of this adventure. Some good questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do I have a second language I’m keen to practice?
  • What kind of climate works for me?
  • How much money do I need to/want to make?
  • How do people in this country react to people like me? (This is a pretty important one. How do they treat Americans? Women? People of your ethnic background or sexual preference?)
  • Do I want to go someplace that’s westernized or quite remote?

Once you’ve answered these questions, do a little nosing around the internet to research the countries you’re interested in. Transitionsabroad.com is hugely helpful and include realistic profiles of many ESL-rich countries.

Where do I find a ESL teaching job?

As with many things, ESL teaching jobs are online! You really have two options: lining something up ahead of time or going to your country of choice and finding something once you get there. Both options have their pros and cons. Lining something up ahead of time could mean free airfare, training, being met at the airport and job security. It can also mean being stuck in a job or town that you’re not too keen on. Finding something once you get there may equal higher pay, better benefits and a working environment that fits you. But it also means all the normal stress of finding a job – but in a foreign, non-English speaking city. Wicked stressful, yo.

If this is your first time traveling in a non-English speaking country or teaching ESL, I would probably recommend trying to get something lined up before you go. Do some really in-depth research on your potential employers – check out expat online message boards and see what they have to say about the company and ask your school if you could chat with a few of their current employees. English schools vary hugely so it’s really important to find one that’s right for you. There are approximately a gajillion ESL-job sites online; some of the best are esljobs.com, eslemployment.com and Dave’s ESL cafe.

Do I need a qualification to teach ESL abroad?

Maybe. It really depends on where you’re going to teach English and what you’re hoping for. If you want to teach in Bangkok for a year, backpack around SE Asia and see your fill of Ladyboy shows, you probably only need a B.A. and a native-speaker accent. If you want to teach in Europe for several years, you’ll probably need a qualification. Qualifications range from month-long TESOL certificates to two-year Masters Degrees. However, if you just want to go to Asia for a couple years of sake-drinking fun, don’t feel that you need to undertake a course to get a job.

What about (a million other little things) about teaching abroad?

I had heaps of questions before I moved to Taiwan … could I buy breakfast cereal there? Would the keyboards have English on them? Would it be difficult to be a vegetarian? The best way to find the answers to all these quandaries is to hunt down the ubiquitous expat online message board for your country of choice. These message boards are positively thick with people aching to give you input and help you learn from their mistakes. Take advantage of it!

So get out there! Grab your passport, strap on that giant backpack and have an adventure teaching ESL abroad!

Class Discussion

photo by weaving major
I teach ESL to adults in St. Paul, MN. I love my job and my students pretty effing hard and on a pretty regular basis they bring me to tears of a) laughter b) tenderness c) both. But then we all know that I’m a weeper.

Past discussions I’ve had with students:

  • The first time a student’s husband “loved” her
  • How delicious snake and monkey are
  • If they will get a body like mine from drinking Pepsi
  • Why I have boobies but their Chinese teacher doesn’t
  • If ghosts live exclusively in the ocean
  • Why I have hair like a lion
Equally hilarious is trying to explain any sort of western holiday or celebration. I tried to teach my students about Independence Day with wee, England and America shaped puppets, and a ridiculous story about how England was the mother and America was the unruly child. This was obviously met with blank stares and “Teacher, no.”

So, when I read David Sedaris’s “Jesus Shaves” story I thought “David Sedaris! What are you doing in my classroom!? Get out of there, you!” It is, of course, hilarious and chronicles what happens when David begins taking french classes (in France) and his class tries to explain the concept of Easter to a Moraccan classmate.

Here just a bit of an excerpt.

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is,” said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, shit.”
She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
“He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber.”
The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
“He die one day, and then he go above of my head to live with your father.”
“He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.”
“He nice, the Jesus.”
“He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.”
Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “To give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.
“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”
“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, “The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
My classmates reacted as though I’d attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.

In Praise of Non-traditional Adulthood

photo by fayebatka

 

Lately, a lot of my favorite online haunts have been rife with talk of quarter-life crises and the reality of adulthood versus the rose-tinted nostalgia of our childhoods. Heavy stuff, surely! But it got my little brain a’workin on the topic of adulthood and how we all choose to use ours.I think we can all acknowledge that the American formula for a adulthood goes something like this:
1) attend four-year university
2) meet your special someone while attending said university
3) graduate and move in with special someone
4) get your starter job
5) marry special someone
6) advance in your job
7) baby #1
8) buy a house
9) baby #2
10) move the the suburbs, eat out exclusively at Olive Garden, spend your weekends engaging in lawn care and taking kids to soccer practice, slowly die inside.

I kid, I kid.

Kind of.

But what happens to those of us who don’t find the special someone? Or discover that we can’t get a job with that Anthropology degree? Or feel claustrophobic at the thought of being tied down by a career/spouse/child?You know what? I think it’s the pretty rare individual what actually follows this formula … though that doesn’t keep a lot of us from measuring ourselves against it. How silly! In my entire extended group of friends, I know exactly one person who has followed this formula (at least thus far, she’s on step six at this point … there’s no telling where she’ll go from there!) the rest of us have switched universities, ended long term relationships, had babies before we finished school or bought the house before the wedding. We have taken the scenic route, or a road less traveled or even a series of (interesting) dead ends.

None of this is to say that following the formula is bad. Babies are lovely! Weddings are grand! And lord but I would love to live in something bigger than a breadbox! But I think there’s a lot to be said for this non-traditional approach to adulthood and living life on our own terms, really thinking about the life and future we want for ourselves rather than swallowing this college+wedding+baby notion.

We need to stop punishing ourselves for deviating from what society has taught us is The Correct Way to navigate our 20s and 30s. I will not be ashamed of the holes in my resume resulting from world travel. I won’t be embarrassed to admit that I’m not a home-owner. I won’t blush and stammer when my nosy aunt asks me when I’m going to start making babies.

How closely have you followed the formula?

Weekend Project: Origami Crane Table-topper

Origami and I go way back. I spent nearly every Sunday of my childhood repurposing the Aitkin United Methodist Church bulletins into cranes, boxes, frogs and functioning Mt. Fujis, much to the annoyance of my parents. But now! I’ve used those same skills to whip up this cheap and easy center piece.

Ingredients:
Magazines
Scissors
Tall glass cylinder

1) Pull out your giant stack of magazines. Don’t lie, I know you have them! Rip out pages that are mostly monochromatic and fit the color scheme you’re going for.


2) Square off your pages by folding them into a triangle and cutting off the extra bits. I like to make different sized squares, so I can have a few wee cranes in the mix. It pays to be anal retentive here, because if your paper isn’t a square you’ll end up with a wonky duck, not the crane you’re after.


3) Following these instructions, fold your squared magazine pages into sweet little cranes!

4) Stuff your cranes into your glass cylinder and bask in the smugness of creating such cool centerpiece in 10 minutes with your old Cosmos.

Adventure: Republican Convention

So, I am something of a bleeding heart liberal. I work in Frogtown, weep over the plight of baby seals and have an MPR sticker in the window of my vintage Saab. It’s all very predictable and slightly embarrassing. Why, yes, I do work in social services! And, yes, I am a vegetarian! Why do you ask? Did my birkenstocks give me away?So it was with equal parts trepidation and glee that The Mister and I headed into the fray that was the Republican Convention, hosted by our very own St. Paul. I wore the cowboy hat in an effort to disguise my woefully obvious liberal-ocity. But I suspect it was more Michelle Branch than Michelle Bachman.

While we were there, Sam witnessed a “dirty hippie” handing out bumper stickers promoting his own run for the presidency. His tag line? “Weasel and Shark ’08!” Sam went over to chat the guy up and take a few photos and was joined by some portly, rather drunk convention enthusiasts. They cooed over his camera lenses, hassled the hippie and wanted to know “where’s the action, maaaan?”
Sam assured our drunk friends that, despite his beard and flip flops, he wasn’t actually aware of any exciting plans in the works. So we left the drinkers and the hippie to their own devices and took a seat outside the convention center while I made eyes at middle aged senators.
A few minutes later, I looked back and saw our drunks actually taking off their shirts. They dug around in their backpacks, pulled on some black t-shirts and baseball hats and headed into the crowd, oddly and instantly sober. And you will not believe what the t-shirts said:
Authorized Personel.
They were undercover cops, trying to flush out protesters and get wind of any trouble in the making.
I think it was my cowboy hat that made them suspicious.