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How to handle stress while teaching English in a foreign country

Updated 29 Sep 2021

Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, finding a new home and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand at first.

There will be times when you feel like you're living out your fantasy and your Instagram feed will appear better than ever. But you may also feel bewildered, lonely, and stressed out at times, particularly in the beginning. It can happen to anyone. And dealing with unpleasant days without your usual support network might prove difficult.

Many people experience a feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction in themselves after teaching abroad, so these hurdles aren't always negative. That said, being aware of what lies ahead and having some coping skills on hand is vital.

Here are some pressures you might face while teaching abroad, and a few strategies to handle them.

Take charge of your finances

Few things are more distressing than trying to withdraw money from your bank account only to find it empty. Anyone teaching abroad should have some reserve funds on hand for when they arrive, even if their school will cover their housing and other expenses.

You never know when you'll need to use your money, and relocation prices are always higher than you expect, as are possible bank costs in another country. It's also difficult to know how far your teaching wage will extend until you arrive in person, so having enough money in your savings to buy a flight home if necessary is reassuring.

If you don't wind up spending too much of your funds on day-to-day expenses, you can use them to have fun in your new environment! Visit a new city for the weekend or explore the local museums and cafes.

Keep yourself safe

Getting to know a new area, especially the space and people in it, can take some time. While you're still getting your bearings, you're more vulnerable than usual, and if you don't take basic precautions, your personal safety could be jeopardised.

When you initially arrive at your teach-abroad location, do some research on the region you'll be living and working in to learn how to stay safe. Perhaps there are specific streets you should avoid, or perhaps pedestrian crosswalks need to be approached with caution. Researching online, asking any locals you work with, and contacting your nearby tourist centre for guidance are all good places to start.

On a practical level, make sure your phone is fully charged, you have your identification with you, and you have a strategy for getting home before visiting any new place. Observe how those around you behave and take their lead. It's natural to draw attention to yourself if you don't look like the rest of the country's population, but there's no reason to draw even more attention to yourself by acting out. Basically, be clever and aware of your surroundings to avoid running into dangerous circumstances.

Make self-care a priority

Make sure you incorporate some self-care into your new routine while you adjust to living in a new country. You may feel compelled to spend every waking moment on exciting adventures, but the best thing about living abroad is that you have leisure. You don't need to take a holiday because you're already on one! As a result, get some rest. Consume some fruits and veggies. Spend an evening watching trashy reality television or doing whatever it takes to turn off your brain and relax. Tomorrow will provide more of the same cultural experiences. Don't be shocked if you require more time off than normal. You're processing a lot of new information, which can drain a person's energy.

Get your classroom in order

Don't forget that, in addition to all of the above, your new job will throw you for a loop as well.

Teaching may be difficult, especially if you're a new teacher who isn't used to being in a classroom on a daily basis. In reality, even if you're a seasoned veteran, it's not always simple.

Here are two quick methods to spruce up your classrooms:

  • Organise yourself. Plan your classes ahead of time, do your photocopying, and arrive on time. You will appear and feel more self-assured. Your students and colleagues will notice that you are dedicated to your work. Win-win.
  • Ask other teachers for help and be explicit about what you're having trouble with. They're bound to have a variety of tried-and-true methods for ensuring their classes go smoothly. You might even request to observe another teacher's class to see how they deal with difficult situations.

Bonus tip: Consider acquiring a TESOL Certification before entering the classroom, which is meant to prepare you to teach English in other countries.

Look for a group to join

Going it alone is one of the scariest and most stressful aspects of moving overseas for many people. Even the most outgoing of us might find it difficult to meet like-minded people and form meaningful friendships, and beginning from scratch can be daunting.

Fortunately, there are numerous options for meeting people while travelling abroad. Many expat instructors make friends at work, but you may broaden your circle by joining meetup groups, participating in language exchanges, volunteering, and visiting local events. These are all excellent ways to meet other like-minded individuals. If you live in an expat community, there will almost certainly be others in your situation, so don't be shy about reaching out.

Of course, not everyone you meet will become one of your closest friends, but be patient and keep trying. If you have buddies to share your time abroad with, it will be a lot less stressful.

Give yourself a break

It is difficult to adjust to living in a new country. Every day will bring new hurdles, big and small, ranging from culture shocks that test your entire worldview to being trapped on a nagging administrative task because you lack the language abilities to do it quickly.

Some aspects of your new house may appeal to you right away, while others will take time to adjust to. It could take you a year or a decade to become fluent in a new language. You might discover that you're a natural in the classroom, or that the classroom takes a toll on you more than it does on your kids. Everyone's experience of teaching in a foreign country will be unique.

Give yourself a pat on the back for everything you accomplish, no matter how minor, and afford yourself a break for whatever you haven't finished yet.

Teaching in a foreign country is demanding. It's also tricky. You should be proud of yourself for attempting it.

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