Living and Teaching in a Foreign Country: My Top 5 Tips for Adjusting

Moving to a new country can be an exciting but challenging experience, especially if you're also starting a new job as a TEFL teacher. Having lived and taught in multiple countries over the years, I've learned a lot about how to adjust to new cultures and make the most of my time abroad.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed sometimes. After all, it's not as though there is just one thing changing in your life, when you move to a foreign country practically everything in your life changes all at once! Friendship groups, language, culture, food, living arrangements, workplace, the list goes on and on.

After a hectic beginning though, I'm happy to say that everything eventually settles down and everyone I've ever met has eventually adjusting into a comfortable rhythm and way of living. However, the sooner this happens the better. So, there's no need to feel apprehensive, and hopefully after reading this post you'll have some useful knowledge in your armoury to help you out.

In this post, I'll share my top 5 tips for new TEFL teachers who are moving to a foreign country for the first time.

1. Embrace the culture

One of the biggest mistakes that new expats make is trying to impose their own culture on the one they're living in. While it's important to maintain your own values and beliefs, it's equally important to respect and embrace the culture of your host country. This means taking the time to learn about local customs, traditions, and ways of life. It means being open to new experiences and willing to step outside your comfort zone.

Embracing the culture also means being sensitive to cultural differences and avoiding actions or behaviors that may be considered rude or offensive. For example, in some cultures it's considered impolite to make direct eye contact or to speak loudly in public. In others, it's customary to remove your shoes before entering a home or temple. By learning about these differences and adjusting your behavior accordingly, you'll be able to build better relationships with your students, their families, and your colleagues.

One of the best ways to embrace the culture is through food. Trying new foods is not only a great way to experience the local cuisine, but it's also a way to connect with the people around you. Food is often an important part of cultural identity and sharing a meal with someone can be a powerful way to build trust and rapport. If you're not sure where to start, ask your colleagues or students for recommendations. They'll likely be happy to share their favorite local dishes with you.

Another way to embrace the culture is through festivals and celebrations. Many countries have unique festivals and traditions that offer a glimpse into the local culture. For example, in Thailand, the Songkran festival is a three-day celebration of the Thai New Year that involves water fights and other forms of fun and games. In Japan, the cherry blossom festival is a celebration of spring that involves picnics and parties under the blooming cherry trees. By participating in these events, you'll not only have fun, but you'll also deepen your understanding of the local culture.

2. Be patient

Adjusting to a new country takes time, and it's normal to feel overwhelmed or homesick at first. Don't be too hard on yourself if you're not immediately comfortable in your new surroundings. Instead, be patient and give yourself time to adapt. It's important to remember that culture shock is a real phenomenon and it can take weeks or even months to fully adjust to a new environment.

One way to cope with culture shock is to find ways to stay connected with friends and family back home. Technology has made it easier than ever to stay in touch, whether through social media, video chats, or messaging apps. However, it's also important to build a new social network in your host country. Join local clubs or sports teams, attend cultural events, and explore your new surroundings. The more you get involved in your new community, the more quickly you'll feel at home.

It's also important to take care of yourself during this transition period. Moving to a new country can be stressful, and it's important to prioritize self-care. This means getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising regularly. It also means making time for activities that you enjoy, whether it's reading, listening to music, or practicing a hobby. By taking care of your physical and emotional well-being, you'll be better equipped to handle the challenges of living and teaching abroad.

3. Learn the language

While it's not always necessary to be fluent in the local language, learning at least some basic phrases can go a long way in building relationships with your students and colleagues. Even if you're teaching English, showing an interest in the local language and culture can help you connect with your students and demonstrate respect for their heritage.

Learning the language can also make everyday tasks, like ordering food or taking public transportation, much easier. It can also help you avoid misunderstandings or miscommunications that can arise when there's a language barrier.

If you're not sure where to start, consider taking a language course or finding a language exchange partner. Many countries have language schools that cater to foreigners, and some even offer language classes specifically for TEFL teachers. You can also use language learning apps like Duolingo or Memrise to practice on your own.

4. Be adaptable

Teaching in a foreign country can be very different from teaching in your home country. Classrooms may be structured differently, students may have different learning styles or expectations, and cultural norms may affect the way you interact with your students and colleagues. To be successful, it's important to be adaptable and flexible.

This means being open to new teaching methods, even if they're different from what you're used to. It means being willing to adjust your lesson plans based on the needs and abilities of your students. It also means being able to recognize and respect cultural differences, and adjusting your behavior accordingly.

For example, in some cultures, it's important to maintain a certain level of formality with colleagues and superiors. In others, it's common to engage in small talk or personal conversations before getting down to business. By being aware of these differences and adjusting your communication style accordingly, you'll be better able to build positive relationships with your colleagues and work effectively in your new environment.

5. Stay organized

Finally, staying organized is key to success as a TEFL teacher in a foreign country. This means keeping track of important documents, like your passport and visa, and making copies in case they get lost or stolen. It means keeping track of your finances, including setting up a local bank account and understanding the local currency. It also means keeping track of important dates, like holidays or exams, and planning your lessons and assignments accordingly.

One way to stay organized is to create a routine or schedule for yourself. This can help you stay on top of your responsibilities and make the most of your time in your new country. It can also help you avoid burnout or overwhelm by giving you a sense of structure and routine.

Adjusting to a new country as a TEFL teacher can be a challenging but rewarding experience. Having lived and taught in multiple countries, I can say without a doubt that the experience has enriched my life in countless ways. I've learned new languages, made lifelong friends, and gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of different cultures. I'm so much more confident in life, and feel capable of adapting to any new situation. I encourage all new TEFL teachers to approach their time abroad with an open mind and a sense of adventure. It may not always be easy, but the rewards are well worth it. 
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