This is a guest post by Ashley Gold of The Daily Snap. You can read her bio below.
So you’ve made the bold and adventurous decision to uproot your life and move halfway across the world to teach English in Asia? Right on! You know you will be completely immersed in another culture and will have easier opportunities to travel the continent, but what else can you expect? Below is a list of some realistic expectations before you set off on your grand adventure!
- Professional etiquette is based on social status. In most Asian countries, hierarchy and elder respect are extremely important. In Korea, for example, no Korean teachers ever question the director of a school, as he is at a higher level and whatever he says or does, goes. Chances are, while you are employed in Asia, you will have a concern. If you are working in a Korean hagwon, for instance, it is common for pay issues to arise. If you fully mold yourself to the culture and never question your boss, you may be losing out on benefits owed to you. Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of; just be respectful in your confrontations.
- You will feel overwhelmed by all the foreign characters.
Remember when you could read all the signs around you? Forget about that! When you exit the airport in Asia, prepare to be visually overwhelmed by all the random lines and shapes that, when organized together, somehow form words. I would suggest studying the alphabet of the country in which you will teach before you go (simpler for some countries than others); this will help ease the adjustment tremendously. Your reading will be slow at first, but immediate immersion will allow you to get better more quickly. While we’re on the topic, it’s best to learn a few choice words and phrases to help you get by because not everyone will speak English. Greetings, restaurant food items, and important questions (Where’s the bathroom??) will be helpful to know.
- You will become a master of charades. Even if you take the time to learn the alphabet before you go, becoming fluent in another language is a process that can take years. You will gesticulate more than you ever have. You may look silly at times, but it will get your point across and you will feel very accomplished when you get exactly what you were looking for. Additionally, when you are going to take a taxi, have your destination already written out on a piece of paper in the native language. When you’re shopping, it doesn’t hurt to have photos on your phone that you can show. Looking for mugs in a store but don’t know how to say mugs? Pull up the photo on your phone, point and shrug.
- There is no language barrier for emotions. Smiles, laughs, cries, and yells transcend language barriers and are a good reminder that we are all people on the same Earth. Even if you can’t (yet) speak the same language, you will know when your students think something is funny or if they are sad or hurt. You will know when your cab driver is angry at you. You will know when you have impressed someone.
- Your diet will change completely. Want to pick up a cooked chicken or a Lean Cuisine on your way home from work? Try again. Local grocery stores don’t offer much in the variety of Western food. Rice is also a main staple that is consumed all the time (it is acceptable for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Korea). Unless you grew up in Asia, it will take your digestive system some time to get used to the influx of rice. Some food items, like produce for instance, may be way more expensive than you are used to. $20 for 1 mango? Think I’ll pass on mangos for now. You’ll have to find the local items that are tasty to you, but not ridiculously expensive. Knowing how to cook is helpful, too.
- If you think you’ve seen crazy driving before, just wait. Red light running, driving on sidewalks, unfortunate drunk driving, parking in intersections…. Police enforcement is basically nonexistent (at least from what I’ve experienced in Korea and heard of elsewhere, like China), allowing people to do whatever they want. Always look both ways before crossing.
- Plumbing is different… Depending on where you will live or travel, you may have to get used to toilets of the squatting variety. You may not be allowed to flush toilet paper down the drain. Your shower may be a hose over your sink. You may have to turn your hot water on and off. Your dishwasher will likely be your hands.
- You may witness discrimination in a new way. From bars that don’t let in foreigners (yes, even Caucasian males), to taxi cabs that won’t pick you up, to physical handicaps being hidden, and to overweight people being taunted, you may experience a side of discrimination you never expected. You will find elements of racism and discrimination all over the world, even in your homeland, and Asia isn’t immune from that.
- The kids will be as cute as you imagined. Not much more to say than you’ll probably want to sneak some in your suitcase when you leave. Keyword: Some. Don’t believe all the stereotypes.
- No matter what, you will have an adventure to remember! The opportunity to experience “real life” in another culture is extremely special to begin with and should not be taken for granted. Don’t forget that while it may not be your normal day-to-day life from home, it isn’t a vacation. There will be highs, lows and many challenges in between, but together they will form the chapter of your life abroad – and you’ll never forget it!
Ashley has had the travel bug since she was 2 months old, at which time she took her first plane ride from LAX to HNL. She’s been flying around the world ever since, having touched 5 continents and 20 some-odd countries. Upon returning home from her semester abroad in college, she knew she had to experience living in another country again, instead of just visiting. After 4.5 years of climbing the corporate American ladder, she decided there was no time like the present. In 2015, she moved to Korea to teach ESL to kindergarten and elementary-aged children. She blogs about her Korean adventures on The Daily Snap.