How Teaching English Abroad Has Changed My Perspective

Many people fantasize about traveling the world.  We think about dropping it all and doing something like Teaching English in Asia, or studying Italian in Florence.  But for so many, traveling the world, or Teaching English Abroad remains just that; a fantasy.  Bills, jobs, relationships and a general fear of the unknown pervade, and we put traveling off until some magical time in the future, when it will somehow become easy.

But I quickly learned that the timing will never be perfect. Traveling will always be, at least a little bit stressful.

But the truth is, I don’t regret a second of it. Sure, it was a ton of work, but Teaching English in Cambodia through LanguageCorps undoubtedly changed my perspective on the world for the better.  Even traveling around my home country, (The United States) has opened me up to new experiences that I would have never dreamed of otherwise.

So, here are a few of my post traveling thoughts, and some reasons why we should all stop procrastinating, and start making plans to see the world in 2011.

People Are Good

Immediately, the people I’ve met while traveling come to mind.  There is no doubt, traversing the globe has changed my outlook on people in general.  Many of us, especially in the US, are taught that people are bad.  Don’t talk to strangers, don’t trust anyone, don’t leave the house alone at night, etc etc.  But it’s been my experience while traveling that the vast majority of people on this planet are inherently good.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been put up for the night by complete strangers.  Whether it’s a middle class family in England, a weaving family in Cambodia, or just a nice man in Northern Pennsylvania, I’m constantly blown away by the kindness of strangers.  I’ve been offered couches, floors, even comfortable beds and breakfast in the morning, with nothing asked of me in return, save for maybe a couch to sleep on in return should the tables be turned someday.  The number of kindhearted, wonderful people I’ve met far outnumber the opposite.  And I have yet to top the feeling of an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) class full of 30 wide eyed Cambodian children, laughing hysterically at one of my bad English knock-knock jokes.

Understand Your Surroundings

Now that’s not to say that bad people don’t exist, and bad things don’t happen.  But traveling also tends to teach us how to avoid those shady situations that we hear so much about back home.  A little awareness about ones surroundings, and plain old common sense, tend to go a long way towards avoiding trouble abroad (and at home, for that matter.)

Listen More, Talk Less

I know personally, making my way around the world has made me a better listener.  It’s no secret that in America, we like to talk about ourselves.  It’s a what have you done for me lately culture, and predictably, what WE have done lately tends to dominate the conversation.  But when traveling abroad, one tends to find that simply sitting and listening can be far more interesting than doing all of the talking.  Sipping on a beer and listening to someone from a different background explain their upbringing becomes fascinating.  Somehow, a funny story can become hilarious when it’s told in a different accent.  Listening to an EFL student of mine explain his daily routine in basic English is immensely satisfying.  When they’re compared and contrasted between cultures, the simple nuances of life don’t seem so simple anymore.

Live Simply

A big part of traveling is learning what you can and cannot take with you.  Condensing my entire life into a bag for months at a time has truly been a lesson in simplicity.  And even though I was able to save a fair amount of money while teaching English abroad, I’ve learned what I can and cannot get by without.  Before every purchase, I find myself asking, “Do I REALLY need this?”

That of course doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on what I’ve learned about myself and the world by traveling and teaching English abroad.  I could bore you with hundreds of pages on the subject, but how has traveling changed YOU?

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