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10 things teaching English abroad taught me

China, TEFL

Teaching English abroad is a rewarding way to earn a living whilst traveling the world and giving something back to the places you visit. I have been teaching English in China for two years. Below I list 10 things teaching English abroad has taught me!

10. Not speaking the language

You don’t need to speak your host country’s language to teach English effectively. As full immersion is the best way to get students learning, only English is spoken in the classroom. Outside of work is a different matter and it obviously helps if you can speak a little of the language, but even then I have managed pretty well with the little Chinese I have.

9. Understanding differences

No matter the cultural differences, people are basically the same everywhere. I remember first being in an office with my Chinese co-teachers and thinking that they talked and acted the same as the people at work in the offices back home I used to work in. I don’t know why this surprised me so much at first, but it made me smile nonetheless.

8. You can make a difference

You can really make a difference to students’ lives. Seeing how your students progress is extremely rewarding and when they all get high scores in their end of term exams you know that what they have learned in the classroom will help them in their adult lives. Speaking a second language well is an incredibly useful skill and will put my students ahead of their peers when it comes to future study and employment.

7. Unique challenges

Teaching English in China has taught me how hard Chinese students study compared to elsewhere. Student’s timetables are so full that they often have no time for socialising, playing and even resting properly, which can present a unique set of challenges. It’s not unusual to see students sleeping in class so it pays to create fun and interesting activities to keep them engaged. Get them active in the warm-up so their minds and bodies are firing on all cylinders!

6.  How to cope with difficult circumstances

Moving to the other side of the planet on your own can sometimes present difficult circumstances that are amplified far more than if you were at home. When I first moved to China I got sick with gastro-enteritis which was not a fun experience, but it tested me mentally and I am stronger for it. I lived in a city with winter temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius which was a challenge in itself. I now feel I could live anywhere after spending seven months in such hostile conditions.

5. The ability to be self sufficient

Although I get a lot of support from my school, I have learned to be very self-sufficient in my daily life. Simple things can be a lot harder if you don’t speak the language well, but the rewarding feeling of small achievements can be greater than at home. Taking a bus somewhere, ordering a meal and being understood or even negotiating the traffic on your bike can all leave you with a sense of achievement.

4. Know your worth

Generally native English speakers earn a lot more than their local counterparts, but we expats face a lot more challenges than the locals (living far from home, adapting to different lifestyles etc.) so it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. Sometimes I feel guilty for being paid a much higher salary than my colleagues, but then I remember that my school is paying for the services of a native speaker and someone to come from afar to impart their knowledge and skills.

3. Teaching can be a lot of fun

My previous job in accounting and insurance was nowhere near as rewarding and fun as my current job as an English teacher. Even on days where I might not be feeling great, as soon as I enter the classroom all negative feelings evaporate. Working with youngsters who want to learn is an incredible experience and there are a lot more smiles than “bad days at the office”.

2. Make the most of the time you have

Teaching English abroad usually means you have a lot of free time. What better opportunity to learn a new hobby? As well as travelling at every opportunity, I have started a travel blog (, picked up the guitar and have written articles for other blogs. I love to explore my city (Luoyang) and cycle when the weather permits, looking to find new and interesting places to see and write about.

1. Every day is an adventure

I have lived and worked as an English teacher for 2 years, but it still feels fresh and exciting. My days are rewarding and fun and my work/life balance is a lot better than when I was in England. I have travelled to 10 other countries since being here, met many great people and enjoyed a great lifestyle. Moving to China to teach English was the best decision I ever made – I just wish I hadn’t waited so long to do it!