Where do you work now?
I am currently teaching English in Oaxaca Mexico, but in the last year and a half I've taught in Myanmar and Morocco as well.
What’s the best thing about living abroad?
Each country I've taught in has unbelievably awesome things and for Mexico I gotta say that the people here really know how to enjoy themselves. At all ages, they love to dance and sing and work and drink and smile. They have a great attitude towards life so it makes it a great place to live.
Why did you want to become an English Teacher?
I wouldn't ever say that it was "my childhood dream" or anything but what I did was just follow my curiosity. I was curious about the world. What's out there? What can I experience? I thought getting a TEFL and teaching English abroad would be a wonderful vehicle for that. I turned out to be wonderfully incorrect; it's a lot more than just a ticket abroad. I'll elaborate more shortly, but I love it for that reason.
How did you start? What did you do before teaching English?
I enrolled in the TEFL program at UVic during the last semester of my degree and then promptly didn't use it because I went tree planting. By the middle of July the bugs were getting fierce and the sun was becoming unbearable so I went into the little public library in Mackenzie, BC and applied to 20 different ESL jobs in 15 different countries. The job in Myanmar emailed me back quickly, and I interviewed with them as soon as I could. It was parent-kid reading day in the library so the interview was a bit awkward but they offered me a job nonetheless. I took it, and caught the next Greyhound to Vancouver Island. My parents were surprised to see me but even more surprised when I said I have a flight to Myanmar in a couple days, so if I die, love you! Bit of a shotgun arrangement, but it turned out to be a life defining decision.
What’s the best thing that has happened to you since you started teaching English?
Languages. I was a bit late to the game, as there are many people who know this from an early age, but I'm glad I realized it at all. In Myanmar I was the only foreigner the school had ever had and I was the only foreigner I knew of for about two weeks. Literally no one spoke English except one guy who I only saw on the first day. I had to learn Burmese. It was the greatest thing that could have happened because I realized the power of speaking someone else's language to them. We don't really understand as Anglophones because we kind of take it for granted that others will speak our language. Additionally, our language isn't tied to our culture in the way it is for others. For us language is more of a means of communication. For others though, learning their language is not only the greatest compliment you can pay a culture, but also the key to opening the door to that culture. I put in more effort than most to learn, and the effect was plain to see. People were just so appreciative and open as soon as they realized I had put time into learning how to communicate with them. I had experiences most wouldn't have. I learned as much Arabic as I could in Morocco and now In Mexico I'm doing the same with Spanish. When you are teaching people eager to learn your language daily, you kind of owe it to the people to learn theirs. It's something I'm very grateful to have learned and couldn't have done it without teaching English abroad. Chayzu timba day! Shukran! Gracias!
What’s the worst?
The most obvious, and most cheesy, is leaving the people you meet in the places you go. I've now left two places where I made unbelievable friends, worked with great teachers and taught amazing students. I'm still in touch with a few of them but it's hard. If I had to choose a second less serious sounding "worst" though, it would have to be the lack of punctuality on this Earth. Don't take for granted that people are on-time in Canada (even if it seems like they aren't, they are)! In Morocco there was such a thing as "Moroccan Time" or the "Moroccan Time Zone" because literally everyone was late, all the time. My landlord there once told me he'd be by to collect the rent at 6pm. I waited for him, doing nothing, until 8pm when he knocked on the door and greeted me friendly as could be, as if nothing had happened. It's been a similar story in Mexico. Although, I've never seen anyone late when they booked a soccer field to scrimmage on! Strange isn't it?
What have you learned about yourself or the world around you since you began teaching abroad?
This may sound a bit simple, but if you give it some thought you might find it's not as simple as it sounds. I think there are predominantly two sides to how westerners view western culture. This is necessarily reductive, but here goes: there are those who think western culture is the most successful and advanced culture in the world and see less impactful cultures sort of as interesting specimens in a museum. Then there are those who think that most other cultures would be preferable than consumerism, capitalism, scientific reason, globalization etc. Before I went abroad I was probably closer to the first perspective, even if I didn't really realize it. Now, I've kind of figured out that neither of these points of view are quite correct. Western culture is just one of many that have their pros and cons. No culture is better or worse than another, simply different. For example, western culture has skyscrapers and massive feats of engineering, but I recently went to a small Zapotec village in Mexico where the buildings were just brick and tin, but the community was closer than I could have possibly imagined. There was no crime and no poverty. It was like a family of 800 brothers and sisters. To me, that was as impressive as the Empire State Building. A community like that really is a feat of astounding proportions. I think this notion can be summed up in a quote I heard from a lecture by a botanist/anthropologist named Wade Davis. He recounts what a Tibetan monk once told him, "We [Tibetans] can't believe that you went to the moon, but you did. You can't believe that we can achieve spiritual enlightenment, but we can." Whether it's in community, spirituality or science and engineering, human genius is expressed in many ways. Teaching abroad helped to clarify that for me by allowing me to experience it.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an English Teacher?
The first thing I would say is don't overthink your safety. You're going to be fine. Probably better than fine. The world is full of people (like your parents and TEFL Programs) saying "Watch out I heard Myanmar is dangerous!" or "Don't walk the streets in Mexico at night alone!" Fun fact, the other night I was walking the streets in Mexico alone at 1am and was given free pizza by some bystanders and hung out with a friendly guy at his late night taco stand. Yes there is always a chance something bad will happen, but there is a 100% chance of something awesome happening to you. Use your common sense, but don't let "safety concerns" influence you unnecessarily. I would have never gone to Myanmar otherwise. Secondly, if you are monolingual, start hitting the books. Learn the language of the place you're going. It will be the most worthwhile thing you ever do. Don't be the classic lazy Anglophone!
Anything else you would like to mention or add?
One last thing I'd like to add is that through ESL Teaching I actually found my passion. Teaching isn't for everybody (although I would advocate that teaching ESL abroad for some amount of time is something everyone should do in their life) but I found that it's for me. I'm going to be getting my BEd to become a fully certified BC Teacher. In the near future, I plan to work in international schools all over the world. I got lucky by finding that teaching is what I loved, but for many others the experience of teaching abroad influences them in many other, equally positive ways. What could it do for you?