Going traveling, backpacking, whatever you want to call it, it is a rite of passage for young westerners hailing everywhere from Los Angeles to London.
But is it the best way to experience another culture, or do you spend weeks flitting from place to place with little to show for it but snapshots and kitsch souvenirs?
If you want to experience another culture, I reckon it's time to ditch your backpack and grab your TEFL certificate.
1. Spending time with people just like you? That isn't experiencing another culture!
Ah, hostels, the spiritual home of the backpacker.
Great for cheap accommodation, but is spending all your time with other backpackers who are just like you making the most of your time abroad?
Hell, you could have just stayed home!
Opt to teach abroad, and your working life will be spent surrounded by locals, both students, and other staff.
Great for getting under the skin of the country's culture.
2. You'll be paid to be there.
Unless you've got a bulging bank balance, spending any length of time in a country is out of the reach of most travelers.
That means quick hops here and there, only seeing the don't miss' sights that guidebooks rave about.
With TEFL, you'll be getting paid to be in a country for anything from six to 12 months, which means you can experience everything a country has to offer (not just the selected extras) and not feel like you have to cram it into too short a time.
3. You'll get to know the people whose country you're visiting.
While it's easy to pass through a country and have nothing more than a few brief exchanges with waiters and taxi drivers, teaching abroad forces you to get to know the people you're teaching, working with, and even living with.
Sometimes cultural differences can be a bit of a challenge, but you didn't fly halfway around the world to have everything run as it does back home!
Before you know it, you'll be mastering local drinking games, cracking jokes with your boss, and making friends with the old lady who lives in the apartment next to yours.
4. You're already qualified to do it!
If you're a native English speaker, you're already qualified to teach English abroad.
Yes, you might need to do a TEFL course to get your hands on the best jobs and not make a total mess of your time in the classroom, but you don't need any previous teaching experience or the ability to speak another language.
5. Don't just take snapshots, be in the picture yourself.
Go to any major tourist attraction, and you'll see backpackers snapping away, trying to peer into an alien culture.
Want to know the best way to get to know the place you're visiting?
Stop hiding behind your camera and dive in feet first, get to know people and you'll soon find that you're not on the outside looking in, you're in the picture yourself.
6. You'll get the lowdown on the coolest stuff in town.
Have you ever read a guidebook for your hometown?
Flick to the bar and restaurant section, and I bet the cool bar you and your friends go to on a Friday night isn't in there.
By the time that book hit the shelves, it was already out of date.
That's why working abroad is so great, because you'll make friends with so many locals and long-term expats, you'll know exactly where's good to go on the weekend and it won't be yet another dodgy tourist bar.
About the Author: Honor Baldry works for TEFL course provider i-to-i. She ditched her backpack to teach English in China and reckons it's the best way to travel. To find out how to start teaching abroad yourself, download a free copy of TEFL Uncovered: How to Teach Your Way Abroad with TEFL!
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Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:
- G Adventures for small group tours.
- World Nomads for travel insurance.
- Hostelworld for booking hostels.
- Rail Europe for train passes.
Tuesday 18th of January 2011
Excellent list, but I would agree with Li. It can be hard to integrate properly, no matter how long you spend there, particularly if you are a bit of an introvert like myself.
Saturday 13th of November 2010
This is a well written and researched article and I really like it. The reasons one might have in teaching english abroad might differ but it is a very rewarding and fulfilling. It's something new and different but it is also worth it.
Thanks for the tips! If you have a chance, come visit me back.
Friday 13th of August 2010
Well said! I'm getting my TEFL qualification as we speak and can't wait to get started.
Hansen N Hunt
Saturday 7th of August 2010
I love the idea of #5... get in the picture! Create the picture with your actions and that will be something you will remember forever (and someone else may have snapped it for you too).
Wednesday 4th of August 2010
Love and agree with every point. I started teaching English to finance my around the world travels, and at the moment the only thing I regret is that I have been based in Germany (still teaching English) for the past 3 years. Im still traveling, but I miss the total immersion you get when you move to a place to work, and the food in Korea and Japan. :-)