If you have been reading about teaching ESL overseas, you’ve probably read about the wonderful experiences and benefits of becoming a teacher abroad, such as travel, food, money, culture, and people. All of these are great reasons for getting certified and moving abroad. What if an added benefit was losing weight or a change in your vision? Here are some unexpected ways teaching English abroad changed my life and could change yours.
Changes to your weight are a strong possibility for those traveling overseas for an extended period of time. Many expats have had this occur to them within the first year of their travels. When you think about it, it makes sense that you would see a difference in your weight because you are changing your eating and exercise routines. My personal experience was a positive one and quite remarkable in that I lost nearly 75 pounds in a year. I went from a prepackaged fast food and sweets enriched diet to one that was mostly homemade, healthy, fresh foods. The only fast food place in my new hometown in China was a KFC (which I dislike). I also changed the way I ate. In America, I would shovel food into my body using forks and spoons like a black hole in space swallowing entire stars and planets. In China, the food utensils of choice are chopsticks, meaning one small portion at a time and longer eating times. In America, I would drive everywhere I went, no matter how short the distance might be. In China, I was walking up to two miles daily to go shopping, to go to school, and to visit friends. I eventually bought a bike so I could explore my new surroundings and travel further to see this remarkable country.
Changes to your vision
My vision changed too. No. I am not talking about getting 20/20 vision. I am talking about how I see the world. If you give yourself the opportunity to change through the various cultural and social experiences, you might see that things you once believed in are either not as important any longer or that you do a 180 in your thinking. The key to this change is that you give yourself permission to think differently about things. Many expats refuse to do this and they spend their entire experience in a new country looking at things through “western” glasses. Others embrace the unique and challenging exposure to different cultural and social norms. In doing so, a person might find that their perspective on things in their life changes. Areas where my philosophies and beliefs have been challenged or changed include education, religion, parenting, dating, and politics (to name just a few).
I have always been a very independent type of person. Early on in my life, I had learned how to cook, wash clothes, and take care of myself. I know how to balance a checkbook and the importance of saving. Never in my life had I had so much access to money, though. While salaries for teaching English abroad depend heavily on the country and job, in China I am making a salary equal to that of what I made in America, but most of my daily expenses and taxes from America are gone. The cost of living is so inexpensive here. As a result of this and a little saving, I have so much money that I have to make decisions on what to do with it. It is a nice problem to have, being debt-free and nearly expense free. I began to build an emergency fund after I paid off all my debts. Now that this fund is complete, I now have to decide what I want to do in regards to a retirement fund and other investments. I always shake my head in disbelief when I hear about expats here who are living pay-check to pay-check. I can only imagine their bar bills and food bills.
Changes to how you interact with the world and others
The last change to be mentioned here is similar to the “vision” benefit, but an expanded version. Whereas the vision benefit speaks mostly of the changes in your personal views, this benefit expands your understanding of the world. You quickly become aware of all the stereotypes that are placed on people around the world. Things you once thought were true about a group of people are often proven wrong. You also realize how small your life is when you begin to see how vast this world is. My views on economics, politics, religion, social issues, and much more are challenged and tested nearly every day. One thing I realized is that people are more similar than different in this world. The majority of people put their pants on one leg at a time. They do the very best they can to provide for families, grind through a day’s-worth of work, encourage their children to be the best possible people they can be, and have dreams of achieving higher status in life than their ancestors. You quickly realize that we are a mere speck of sand on this planet, regardless of how low or high you think you are in the grand scheme of things.
Some expats fight hard to hold onto who they once were before leaving their home country, only to realize that change occurred anyway. Other expats open their arms to this change and leave their former selves in the past. Either way, change will happen. Regardless of your reasons for becoming an ESL teacher, know that this decision will be a life changing experience. Embrace it and enrich your life in ways you may never have dreamed possible.
Written by Bill Gain
Bill Gain is an Oxford Seminars TESOL/TESL/TEFL Graduate who has been an ESL teacher and blogger in China for four years. For most of his life, he has worked with young people in recreation and special events. He has a bachelor’s degree in Communication/Public Relations and a master’s degree in Recreation and Special Events Programming.