Guest post by Kelli Finch, an American teacher who taught in Costa Rica.
As teachers, we’re lucky now to have the option to do what we love anywhere in the world. With so many organizations in different countries looking for international teachers, it has never been easier to teach abroad. Of course, these experiences come with their ups and downs. Teaching abroad can be an amazing experience, but it can be very challenging as well.
I came to Costa Rica nine years ago to teach English at a high school for at-risk teenagers. My first few months here were hard. I was fortunate enough to be living in a supportive community with four other people from my country, and with their help, I stuck out the first semester. After that, something clicked, and I fell in love with teaching abroad!
Looking back on my experience in Costa Rica that first year, and now reflecting on my experience working with international teachers who come and teach in the US with Participate Learning, I’ve come up with a list of just a few of the pros and cons of teaching abroad.
Pros of teaching abroad
1. You learn about other cultures.
Being immersed in a different culture is a fascinating experience. Every day, you can learn or try something new. In my first year teaching in Costa Rica, I was able to try new foods, visit new places, practice a new language, and meet people with different ways of thinking and living.
Now, I’m able to share what I know about Costa Rican culture with people from other places around the world, and it has enriched my knowledge and life in a way that studying about the culture from afar never could.
2. You’ll be able to share your own culture (and learn to appreciate it even more).
I remember in that first year in Costa Rica, I planned a Thanksgiving celebration with my students. We talked about why we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US, and they shared their thoughts and ideas with me about this holiday after learning about it.
It was so interesting to see my own culture through the eyes of my Costa Rican students. Being immersed in this new culture allowed me to rediscover my own culture and appreciate it in a way I never had before.
3. You’ll become a better teacher (and person).
When you teach abroad, you gain professional experience with different kinds of students, colleagues, and school communities. You can learn about a new educational system and will need to adapt to the way things are done at your school and in that country.
This makes you more flexible and tolerant. It forces you to be a team player and ask questions, creating positive relationships with your co-workers. These qualities don’t apply only to the classroom; they also help you to grow as a person. After my first year in Costa Rica, I remember reflecting on the experience, and I felt that I had grown in so many ways, both personally and professionally.
Cons of teaching abroad
1. You’ll miss home.
There’s no doubt about it; at some point in your experience, you’re going to miss something about where you come from, whether it be the people you love, your pet, the food, or just being able to speak your own language more often.
For me, the hardest times were the holidays and special days that I was not able to spend with my loved ones or in the way that I normally celebrate them. On those days, it’s important to know exactly why you are having this experience and to focus on the positive things.
2. You will experience culture shock.
When I first arrived in Costa Rica, everything was so different and exciting. Sometimes, though, things were so different that I had a hard time not comparing my culture to the new culture. It can be shocking to see people doing things that you are not used to seeing or hearing them talk about things that you’re not used to talking about.
This same culture shock can make you miss home and appreciate your own culture even more. It’s important to keep an open mind and remember that in that country, you are the one that does things differently from everyone else! And remember, it’s great to try things you’ve never done before.
3. You won’t quite fit in.
No matter what you do, you’ll always be a foreigner when you’re teaching abroad. You might look different from most people, and some people may not be accepting or welcoming. They might make assumptions about you based on what they have heard about your country.
As much as you try new things and immerse yourself in the culture, you will never be a “local.” Having been in Costa Rica for nine years now, I definitely think of it as one of my homes, but people will always see me as “not from here.” It’s something you adjust to and come to accept.
Is it worth it?
So, is it worth it? In my humble opinion, absolutely! Teaching abroad changed my life for the better, and I’m a better person for having done it. Despite all the challenges along the way, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to have an open mind and heart and keep a positive attitude in the face of hardships. If you’re on the fence about whether teaching abroad is the right move for you, take the plunge. It might just be the best choice you’ll ever make!
Interested in teaching in the US? Learn more and start your application with Participate Learning.