My middle school girls and I out for a picnic in South Korea.

My middle school girls and I out for a picnic in South Korea.

For everyone back home:


Myth #1: Teaching abroad is not “real life”


Friends and family back home constantly question us on when we will be returning to “real life” to start our careers.

“You have so much fun out there…” they sigh wistfully, “but when are you coming back? Where do you think you’ll work?”

They think we’ve had our fun and games, but now, it’s time to go home.

To live and work abroad is not a normal lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile and sustainable one. Yes, we swim off of tropical islands in crystal blue water and chow down on spicy rice dishes from questionable street food carts while a new culture swarms around us, but we also work HARD. We teach and connect with children from all over the world and I like to think we make a difference.

This IS real life and this IS a real job.


Myth #2: People who teach abroad are running from something


“I could never do what you do,” people say to us, “I’ve got too much to do here. “

This is a guilt trip that subtly states that we are selfish, thoughtless people forgoing our responsibilities to people and life back home. We are probably immature and running from our problems, while they face them head on.

We may have left behind some responsibilities back home, but we have a whole new set of them abroad. We have made a choice to give up the comforts of home for the chance to experience the world, even though it means missing birthdays, weddings, and even, deaths. It’s a hard choice, but it’s worth it.

We aren’t running from things. We’re running to them. We’re running to adventure. We’re running to acceptance and understanding. We’re running to the beautiful unknown.


Myth #3: People who teach abroad are in constant danger and living in slums


“You live in Korea? You brave girl, do they have washing machines?”

‪As an American, I know firsthand how blind our patriotism can be. When you believe you are the best country in the world, you start to think that no one else actually has your standard of living.

“So, like…you’re moving to Taiwan?….Why..? What will you even do there? Is it safe?”

Well yeah, it should be pretty safe. Not everyone there owns a gun and there is an economy that is actually asking for teachers. I’ll try my best to survive without Wal-Mart.

“But…ummm…are your parents okay with you doing this?”

Forget it.

I live in a nice, clean apartment with air conditioning and a washing machine. I look outside and see high rises and cars driving by. If there weren’t Chinese on all the signs, I could almost pretend I was back at home safe home.


Myth # 4: It’s impossible to teach students whose language you don’t know


We can’t always understand our student’s foreign tongue and this can be frustrating, but it pushes us as educators to find creative and interactive ways to teach vocabulary when they don’t know a word in English. Our acting skills are quite polished now and blackboard drawing skills are a must.

Even better, working with foreign students is like a language exchange. We teach them English and learn their language, in class, when they repeatedly say in their native tongue, “I don’t understand”, “Really??, “Oh my god!”, and various animal and food names. The students also find it hilarious to tell us phrases in their language and have us repeat it, which we usually make a mess of.

The students have become the teacher.


For everyone abroad:


Myth #5: Students don’t have special needs or behavior problems


In my experiences in Asia, many parents don’t want to acknowledge that their child may have a learning disability or needs medication for ADHD because this is seen as shameful, so it is ignored both at home and at school.

I’ve had some lovely students who obviously needed to be in special education classes where they could grow and learn in an environment suited to them, but instead they sat in my class confused, upset, and trying to keep their head above water.

As a foreign teacher, it is not our place to diagnose children or suggest these things to their parents, so we have to accept the cultural differences and do what we can for the students.


Myth #6: All English teachers are drunkards and inadequate in their jobs


“Dude, he vomited in the bathroom at school all day today and then he was teaching totally drunk. He raged way too hard this weekend.”

Everyone knows someone like this when they teach abroad. The expat just out of college (or pretending they are still in college) who hasn’t accepted that teaching abroad isn’t a paid vacation and is rocking their party lifestyle so hard that it’s bleeding over into their day job. These people are a blast on the weekend, but sometimes when looking at them, it hits you.

This is who is educating the children of this country in the English language. Hopefully they don’t slur too much…

I’ve taught abroad for four years now and I’ve met far more excellent teachers, than drunken, rude ones. Sadly, those brash, stumbling teachers are the ones who get the most attention out in public and locals can get a bad impression.


Myth #7: English teachers came abroad because they were failures back home


I’m guilty of assuming this about people and we’ve all heard it said a million times.

“God, she is so weird. Definitely didn’t have friends back home.”

“He is a total loser. These local girls give him attention and he thinks he is a god now. There is no way he could get anyone back home.”

We all come abroad to find and bond with other open-minded people in a community of travelers and then we revert right back to our snide, middle school ways of gossip and talking behind each other’s backs. No matter where you go in this world, you will meet people that rub you the wrong way or seem strange. This doesn’t mean they came to teach English because no one liked them at home; they came for the adventure, the frightening, yet exhilarating culture shock, and the opportunity to work with children in a new country.

But yeah, okay, that ONE guy definitely couldn’t make it back home…;)










4 thoughts on “7 Myths to Dispel About Teaching English Abroad

  1. I love your comment “and blackboard drawing skills are a must”. I do what you do, but in Swedish… I teach Swedish to immigrants in our country who came to Sweden from other cultures and with other languages as their mother tongue. I have noticed that being quick and clear in drawing is a must, just like you said here. I have also noticed that letting go of your own control sometimes helps, since showing the meaning of a word is way easier than explaining in a language that your students struggle with. My students are adults. I used to teach children before and I loved it. I look forward to reading more of your experiences from teaching abroad. Thanks!
    Anyone out there som skulle vilja lära sig lite svenska, kanske? 😉

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