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How to Piss Off an ESL Teacher

Student Work
by Marie King Jul 7, 2014
Refer to our time abroad as a “year off.”

A year off from what, exactly? Real life? I’m still working, earning, and saving money while living in a foreign country. Life goes on, no matter where you are. I’m just taking advantage of the opportunities available in this great big world.

Yes, I could stay home and work a 9-to-5 desk job and live a financially stable life where I get to count the days until my next vacation. But why? Living in a foreign country means that everything is new and exciting — every weekend is a vacation. Hell, I even get excited to go grocery shopping in the evenings.

Assume we’re all drunks and party animals.

Korea is a great place to party, as are many destinations in Asia. The booze is cheap, the karaoke lasts all night, and the opportunities for interesting drunk eats are endless. As much as we might like to party — and some of us much more than others — that’s not the primary reason we’re here. We want to learn the culture of another country (and that just so happens to include nightlife!), meet new and interesting people, and have experiences that will stay with us forever.

I’ve come across many ESL teachers who make it their career and life — they have families, they work hard, and they care about the people and children they work with.

Say you’ve always wanted to do that, but can’t.

This is coming from a socially awkward introvert: You can. Anyone can. I’ll admit there are certain roadblocks, but the majority of people I’ve known who are guilty of making this claim are well able to make the move.

It’s not a matter of whether or not you can. It’s a matter of if you will. It’s tough for everyone. We all have lives and things that might need to change in order for us to make space for what we want to do. I can’t help but feel frustrated with those who say they just can’t — as if my choice were magically easier and the life I left behind less important.

Teaching abroad has given me the opportunity to push myself and develop new social skills, or at least to fake it. When it comes down to it, you’ve got to stop and ask yourself: Am I really going to let myself stand in my own way?

Continually ask the prices of various items.

My best friend is an avid smoker. She’s quite passionate about it. This means her #1 question when I travel is: “How much is a pack of cigarettes?”

I don’t know the price of everything, and I don’t pay attention to the minor differences. Honestly, I don’t even know the exact prices of pretty much anything back home.

Fail to understand the geography.

Korea has seasons. They include winter — this isn’t Southeast Asia.

I’ve had friends fleetingly say they’ll visit in January or February, only to revoke their decision a minute later when I explain that we won’t be going to the beach anytime soon. Don’t plan on visiting me if you haven’t even taken the time to understand where I actually live.

Ask if we’re homesick.

This almost seems like an attempt to make me feel like I’ve made the wrong decision by moving. Plus, asking is more likely to bring up the nostalgia that makes us homesick! Of course I miss home at times — it’s only natural. But after the culture-shock phase is over, it happens less often.

But keep in mind that the important thing to miss is people, not places. And people can still be in your life, even from a distance.

Forget to keep in touch.

I get it — sometimes it’s hard to count on someone when they’re not physically around. But just because I live halfway around the world doesn’t mean I should be forgotten. I still want to know what’s going on in your life, how the wedding planning is going, about the dinner party you threw last week, and the color of your new living room set. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Relationships take work. And don’t forget — now you have a good excuse to visit a new country with free accommodation and an eager host.

Act like we’re on a long-term vacation.

We are not on vacation. We are working and living abroad. This doesn’t mean we get lots of free time. The majority of private school teachers receive just two weeks of vacation per year.

And teaching is hard work. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably hasn’t experienced it. Teaching up to eight classes per day while trying to fit in time to lesson plan isn’t exactly taking it easy. It’s not all visiting temples and drinking soju.

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