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Preparing to Teach Abroad: Culture Shock

Admin - Mar 11 2018

It doesn’t matter if this is your first teaching job, or your fifth, teaching abroad brings forth feelings of excitement and nervousness, especially if it is in a different culture. Some are able to teach in places they have learned about, or even visited, but unless you have really lived there and been a part of it all the culture shock may take you by storm. Culture shock is one of the largest reasons that teachers abroad leave their positions. This is a shame for these schools because they lose good teachers, which is something many of these students desperately need. But, that doesn’t have to be the case. With a few simple tips, you can prepare to avoid culture shock and be the best teacher for your students.


1.  Do Your Research

This may seem like it is common sense, but once you have your teaching assignment/placement, it is important to research the area and the school where you will be working. Learning about popular attractions and things to do are things tourists do – while they are good to know so that you have things to do for fun, it is more important to learn about: the culture, the weather, the population, etc. By learning about the culture of the students you will be working with, you will also be learning about community you will be working in.

Learning about the weather and the population is equally important. Learning what languages are spoken, what income levels the population is composed of, common jobs, etc. offers some insight into your students’ home lives. You will have a greater understanding of the amount of support available at home (an issue often raised when assigning students homework), how many students may or may not have access to the internet (again, an issue raised when assigning homework), among other topics.

Knowing the weather/climate, as well as understanding the culture, helps you to prepare clothing to pack, as well as other necessities. Some schools are not well air conditioned, but prefer teachers to maintain a fully covered professional appearance; if you come with knee length skirts, shorts, tank tops, or short sleeves you may offend someone. That is why it is important that you do your research before you move. You can research the area online or by communicating with teachers who have experience in the area (if your organization shares that information.)

2.  Get Involved with Your Staff Members

Another way to avoid the culture shock, aside from being prepared, is to get involved with your fellow staff members once you have moved. Getting involved with other staff members offers you a sense of community and family in your new home. They can “show you the ropes,” show you things to do, and make sure you’re ready to go. They are excellent resources both in and out of the classroom and can be some of the most important people you meet at your new job

More often than not, many new teachers abroad spend a large chunk of their time calling home. If you are trying to head off being homesick, spend time with your new staff members. Ask them to share with you some of the traditional meals of the area and take you to local activities. While you may not get along with everyone, knowing how to work with them and establishing positive working relationships will help to forge a positive working environment and home life (since many staff members live in the same complex/area.)

What’s more, having a family in your new home will help you have a foundation for when things are rough. While you may want to go it alone… don’t That is what they are there for! You will more than likely become overwhelmed and/or homesick and trying to handle it on your own will only make things harder for you. You are in a new place where you may not be familiar with the customs or comfortable with all that is going on. Your fellow staff members have been there and can help you get through it.


3. Get Involved in the Community

There is no better way to hedge culture shock than to become a member of the culture. Become a coach, volunteer, or become a part of a religious organization you affiliate with (if there is one offered.) Get to know the people. Don’t let nerves, fear, or whatever it is hold you back from being a part of something bigger than you. You are there to teach. and what better way to be able to reach your students than becoming a part of their world?

The parents of your students will appreciate the steps you are taking to get to know them, and the community will respect you for it. If you do want to get involved, ask your staff members how you can do it and what groups they recommend. If it your first year teaching, or your first year teaching abroad, be careful not to become overly involved to where you become overwhelmed: start small and add more on to your plate the more you feel comfortable in your new position.

Getting involved will also help to keep you busy and keep your mind off of being homesick. The more you get involved, the more successful you will be. If you can become more a part of your school, this is the place to start as you will have the opportunity to be more involved with your students and get to know them further outside of the classroom. The more comfortable that you become where you teach, the more comfortable you will be teaching and living there.

These are only a few ways that you can avoid the culture shock of teaching abroad. As you prepare and go through your training, you will become more equipped with ways to avoid culture shock. Do not be afraid to fall in love with your new home. While some teachers stay and make it their permanent home, other return home changed for the better. Regardless, teaching abroad offers you an unforgettable experience that you don’t want to miss out on.

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