By Rissa “Iris” San Miguel, Staff Writer
What would it be like to live in a different country? To learn the native language? To be on your own in an unfamiliar place, around strangers — could you do it? With many more viable job opportunities popping up across the globe, living and working abroad has become a very tangible possibility. For some, the change of scenery that comes with the job description has an allure all on its own.
If that piques your interest, teaching abroad is one option, and it’s a trend that’s on the upswing, due to the ever-increasing need for the world to speak a universal language and difficulties finding jobs after graduation. Many have considered it a chance to experience the world from a new perspective before “growing up” and settling into their career paths. Whatever the case, it’s a big decision that requires serious thought and some serious internet legwork. Besides knowing where you want to go, what forms you’ll have to fill out and how much money you’ll need to have there (it’s recommended you take around $5,000 with you to pad your bank account until the checks start clearing), you’ll also want to consider why you want to go, and what you’ll do when you get there.
Two alumnae, JoAnn “Shiseido” Truong Nguyen, from the University of Cincinnati, and Alexane “Mirage” Do, from the University of Georgia, have had the chance to explore this opportunity, and we interviewed them to hopefully give you some insight on teaching abroad from two distinct countries.
JoAnn “Shiseido” Truong Nguyen enjoying leisurely activities during her stay in Korea.
1. When and where did you go when you taught English abroad? For how long?
JoAnn: I taught English in Seoul, South Korea in December of 2005. I signed a one year contract.
Alexane: Currently I am teaching full time in Listowel, Ireland which is located in the Southwest near the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. I left in January and will arrive back to ATL in a week, so it’s been four months.
2. Why did you decide to teach abroad?
JoAnn: I had always wanted to live abroad and always had the passion for teaching children. I decided to pack my bags and go after talking to a friend who was doing missionary work in Japan. Plus, I wanted to take a break after graduation before applying for grad school.
Alexane: I’m a double major in English and International Education with a minor is ESOL, so it’s always been a pure passion of mine to travel and meet all walks of life. As far as teaching, I love to endeavor upon an individual’s growth and development from adolescents to mature adults. I want to enrich this world by being a devoted and open-minded role model or guidance to our future generation.
3. What were some truths/misconceptions that you found out once you arrived?
JoAnn: I always knew Koreans could drink but this assumption definitely holds true. Soju = Water…
Alexane: Truths: When traveling and living on your own, it’s true what they say, that the first three to four weeks will be extremely rough from loneliness, assimilation or homesickness. Don’t let your mind wander off too much, because after that first phase everything will be okay. You can do it!
Misconceptions: You can’t travel because you’re on a tight budget. My family and scholarships have been the major providers when it comes to financial aid. I’ve worked and saved some myself, but if you organize well and separate your wants from your needs, extra adventure and traveling is definitely possible! I budgeted wisely and am now utterly satisfied with my “Tour-de-Ireland!” I’ve gone to ALL of the main attractions and have visited this country from top to bottom, and left to right while staying on a well-maintained budget!
4. What did you pack, and what would you have packed/brought with you to your destinations in hindsight? Why?
JoAnn: I packed clothes, a year’s worth of make-up & skincare products and my laptop. What I should have packed were more shoes! I wear a size 8 and it was SO hard to find shoes in my size!
Alexane: I packed too much. My best advice to you is to refrain from packing heavily. Lugging around two big suitcases, a book bag and an extra small carry-on was horrendous. Be a smart packer and only take what is necessary! I highly suggest digging up information on your country’s seasonal weather on what to pack. For Ireland, it rains a lot and it’s usually chilly/cold so I packed leggings so I can wear them inside of my jeans or slacks, rain boots, a big coat and a whole bunch of different sweaters. That was all I really needed!
5. What are some of the highlights of your experience?
-Walking down the street from my villa (studio apartment) passing Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and the likes to get my hair done at Toni & Guy.
-After some good Korean BBQ for dinner, singing karaoke from sundown to sunrise and going out for breakfast afterward in the middle of the week because class started at 4 p.m.
-The nostalgia of taxi cabs and city lights.
Alexane: My teaching experience at my Convent Secondary school has taught me a lot about being patient to uniqueness. I’ve met so many teachers and students who have really held my hand through it all. My traveling around Ireland was also my favorite part! I learned all about its history, culture, language and traditions by seeing and listening. Spontaneous fun such as going to football (soccer) matches, the live music pub night and activities happening in town were always so memorable to me. The personal experiences sucked me in.
6. What were some issues, if any, that arose unexpectedly and what did you do to resolve it?
JoAnn: I can’t think of any real “issues” but I did have a stalker. I resolved this issue by skipping my Korean class for a couple weekends, (I’m not one to skip class but this guy would wait for me outside) being mindful when walking back to my villa, not taking any unknown calls from my cell phone and having one of my guy friends tell the stalker that he had bought my phone from me because I had moved back to the States and was never coming back.
Alexane: The toughest part as an independent traveler is the unfamiliarity of EVERYTHING that surrounds you. My school system was completely different from the States, the strong Irish accent, the exchange rates threw me off, lack of food in grocery stores, the conservation of water, electricity and trash is overwhelming, and since I live a rural part of Ireland, lack of places to go and see. Those were some things that I was NOT used to when I first got here, and that I’m still not used to. You just have to make it work by playing along. Not everything will be the same anywhere you go; it’s a challenge for yourself to be able to latch onto the same lifestyle as our locals.
7. Being away from family and friends can get lonely. What did you do for fun, and who did you hang out with?
JoAnn: For fun, I’d grab dinner with co-teachers after work, have brunch with my church friends after Sunday Mass, hang out with my classmates from Korean class and go out with Lambdas that I met or already knew from the States. Oh — I definitely did lots of shopping, too!
Alexane: Luckily, my staff provided me with the warmest welcome into their community and linked me up with some of their sons/daughters who were my age. Having connections is the key! You have to be open to meet people and to develop a relationship with them because they’re the ones who will introduce you to their circle of friends. Most weekends, other traveling teachers like myself take small one day trips to see a part of Ireland via bus. We go to the pub a lot of the nights, that’s where everyone (young and old) go to have some Irish fun! We also go to a lot of Irish traditional music nights where the locals sing, dance and tell stories.
8. What advice would you give someone who is interested in teaching abroad?
JoAnn: Talk to people you know who have taught abroad. Keep an open mind!
Alexane: The huge part of finding happiness wherever you go, especially when teaching abroad, is to make trusting friends and co-workers. Trust your intuition when it comes to strangers wanting to befriend you. Be yourself and be persistent when you have the opportunity to meet a potential friend because they’ll help you immerse in their native country. Go on cheap (but reliable) guided tours and see your country as much as you can! You shouldn’t just live in it, but experience it as well. There are always great deals and discounts so do a lot of researching. Learn on your own (but never be afraid to ask for help) the skills to adapt 100%, it will foster resilience and happiness. Be a lifelong learner. Go out, explore and have fun!
9. Any last comments?
JoAnn: I was very fortunate with my experience teaching abroad and met lots of great people. Unfortunately, I’ve heard of not so great experiences. If you are interested in teaching in Korea, my advice is to stay in Seoul. www.TeachinKorea.com takes you directly to the school that I worked for.
Alexane: You only live once. Travel and see how the world was created, revolutionized and currently transforming with humanity! Life is constantly changing. It’s a wonder out there and no matter what you see, where you go and who you meet along the way, you’ll find yourself.
Alexane “Mirage” Do celebrates Irish tradition and kisses the infamous Blarney Stone for the Gift of Eloquence.
If you would like more information, go to your school’s career development or study abroad centers. They’re a good start and have brochures for you to take home. Also check out the following websites: