Monday, 7 November 2011

The pros and cons of living abroad


Living abroad is not all fun and games. Here are my pros and cons of living in a foreign country. 


Pros

Excitement
Living abroad is exciting. No matter where you chose to escape to the culture and adventures you have will always be different to back home. Most of you have probably travelled abroad and had amazing holidays, but actually living somewhere, even if it’s only for a couple of months, can give you a fascinating insight into other parts of the world.

Meeting new people
On my travels around the world I met a few interesting characters, but I really got to know the locals when I stopped and lived somewhere. That’s one of the beauties of teaching English; you get to meet and chat with the locals, find out why they are different, have interesting discussions, and find out what makes them tick or fill with rage.

Cuisine
This can be a con if you’re a fussy eater or have special diet requirements, but international cuisine is a decent pro of living abroad. Some countries have a few weird local delicacies: in Ecuador I tried intestines and guinea pig (not at the same time), in Brazil a weird frog spawn goo type of muck, in Australia kangaroo, in Thailand dried worms, and in China (I didn’t actually eat it) my chicken and rice arrived with the chicken’s head on the plate (put photo of chicken’s head). Pushing those funny eats to one side the world is bursting with exotic cuisines.
Adventures
Living abroad is full of adventures. During the week you work hard and teach, but when the weekends or holidays come round you can dart off and have a mini adventure. This might not always be possible on a teacher’s wage, but a couple of times a month you could pop away. My biggest adventures were when I was travelling between the countries where I was working. I travelled overland from Quito to Salvador in Brazil, spent three days on a bus from Miami to Los Angeles, whizzed up the East Coast of Australia, and travelled overland from Bangkok up to China and then caught the Trans-Mongolian to Moscow. There are plenty of adventures to be had.

Learning a language
Not only will this help you become a better teacher (by understanding exactly what the naughty teenagers are saying to each other and about you) but you’ll get a buzz conversing with the locals. I believe it’s important to keep your brain active. Learning a language increases your IQ and is a massive buzz of living abroad.

Having stories to tell
If you love telling your family and friends stories about your holidays and trips abroad, then you’ll have much more to share if you actually live in a place. You’ll really get to know people and places and have much more to talk about when, or if, you return home for those pub catch ups. This can be a con though (see below).

Cons

Danger
While I was living in South America I experienced four dangerous incidents: two in Quito, once at knife point, and two in Brazil, once where they nicked my bag. This is something you must consider if you are going alone. Read up about a country and find out where you can and can’t go. While in Mexico nothing happened to me, I became naive. On my first night in Quito I got held against the wall by a crazy local man. Luckily he didn’t find my money, credit cards, and passport tucked in my money belt. Be careful where you go, especially if you look really foreign. Try to blend in.

Loneliness
If you’re travelling alone you will have lonely moments. I’m close to my family and mates back home, and not one day passes that I don’t think about them. When you’re travelling or working you might be busy, but guaranteed you’ll have low moments when you miss family comfort. I was away from mine for two years. The worst moments were at Christmas, birthdays, or hearing good news about people getting married or big get-togethers. Even after six years living in Spain I still get those Sundays when I’d like to pop round and see my Nan, or Friday night comes round and you wish you were back in your local with your mates again, but that’s one of the punishments for living away.

Always being the foreigner
I like being a foreigner, but sometimes it really gets to me, especially when the locals try to get one over you. Whether it’s not giving you the right change, taking you on a longer taxi route, or pestering you for money, being a foreigner can be a drag at times. Even when you stay somewhere for a long time you’ll always feel a bit of an outsider, it’s learning how to deal with it. I remind myself that I’m in another country, living the dream, and often the frustration fades.

At some point, you’ll have to go home
This refers to those on a gap year or only living away on a temporary basis, not to those hardcore expats who have no intention to returning to the rat race. While you’re travelling the world and teaching in various places, at the back of the mind your home country will float around. You’ll have a fear of going back, that your adventure has to end. This can get you down at times; it did to me for quite a while. My solution was to move permanently to Spain.

Your stories are not appreciated
While you’re living away all the exciting moments will seem important to you, every time something cool happens you’ll think, I can wait to tell so and so about that, or, my mates will find that so funny. The reality is that when you do get home everyone may be slightly interested, but your stories and adventures will never mean as much to anyone else as they do to you. I find this depends on who you are talking to, if someone else has travelled the world or lived abroad then they’ll find your experiences more interesting because they’ll be able to relate to you.

Miss things
For me it was Boots prawn and mayonnaise sandwiches, lilt, and premiership football. You will miss things. You’ll wake up in the morning with a hangover and crave a snickers bars or lucozade, but you’ll find replacements. A massive mound of egg fried rice became my hangover cure in Thailand, but not a week passed without thinking of washing it down with a cold can of lilt.

They are my pros and cons of living abroad. Feel free to add another on a comment below, or tell me that you think I’m talking rubbish. We all have our own opinions; that’s the beauty of blogging. 

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this post. I found it very informative and helpful. I am taking a job teaching English in Asia and am very excited. I used this as a resource when I was making my decision. I am now looking for a international car shipping to get my vehicle over there.

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    1. Hi Jake,

      No worries, nice plug by the way. International Car shipping indeedy. So where are you heading?

      Barry

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  2. Hi Barry,

    Thanks for such an informative post. I am 52, divorced and my kids have just left home. I have been working in a Secondary school in England (admin, not teaching) since 2004, and now thought it was time I did something for myself. I got a BSc with the OU (and am currently halfway towards Honours) and contemplating taking a TEFL with the idea of teaching abroad. BC (Before Children) I did a lot of travelling, mainly using my thumb (was easier and safer way back then!) and one of the reasons for the TEFL is that I still have the travelling/exploring bug. I am now researching a) what TEFL to take and b) what country to go to. I have a few things to consider, one of which is that I am slightly asthmatic and cannot go to anywhere that has a poor air quality, (such as any of the big cities in China) as it would kill me!, also that I may need to send money home. If it wasn't for the latter, I would love to teach in India for nothing more than enough money to live and eat. So, have you or anyone else any pointers for me? I seem to qualify for most jobs being a native English speaker with a degree (and will have a TEFL), though one job I saw posted wouldn't accept anyone over 50!! (Grr)

    I have seen a plethora of TEFL online courses and wondered if a CELTA (which is a requirement in Arabic countries -where I do not want to go despite the salaries) is a better option even from the start?

    Any more advice, pointers etc from someone who has been there, done that and come back with the T shirt would be appreciated!

    Thanks, Caroline

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    1. Hey Caroline,

      Thanks for writing, welcome to the TEFL world. Yeah my Aunt used to travel a lot with her thumb, she's stopped doing that now; scares the neighbours.

      I'd defin go with a CELTA if you want to get the best training, more recognised qualifications, and decent classroom practise in a TEFL environment (vital if you want to teach).

      Not sure what to suggest for location, depends what you want from a country. I'd say Bangkok is a great place to live, but you'd suffer with the pollution. Are you after a big city or small towns near the beach? Spain is decent, safe, nice kids, and plenty of jobs at the mo. I loved Brazil, but more for the experience and not for living long term. I think you can send money back from anywhere these days.

      I'd just make sure you enjoy TEFL first, you're sure to meet a lot of newbies like you on the course that will guide you in the right direction.

      One thing I would suggest is just to choose a country you like the sound of, head off and try to find a job on location. There's a massive world out there and everyone is trying to learn English so your choices are endless...

      Good luck, any more q''s then let me know. Have fun.

      Barry

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