Basic tips for staying safe while teaching English abroad
Teaching abroad is a terrific way to get out and see the world. Not only will you have the opportunity to travel and immerse yourself in a faraway community, but you can rest assured that you’ll be providing your hosts with an invaluable skill set while at it. In our global economy, English has become the must-know language for individuals all over the world to intercommunicate and improve their livelihoods.
Some areas in the world, though, do merit some more concern than others in the ways of health and safety. Travelling to regions of the globe that are more prone to conflict or disease fits squarely into this category. But even in developed, safe countries there are risks which you should always be in tune with and self-care guidelines you should stay aware of so that you’re staying healthy while teaching abroad.
No such concern should prevent you from making the leap to teach abroad, and this point can’t be stressed enough. As an educator, you will become a valued member of the community and will always have a safety net to fall back on through your host school/program provider/agency. The following pointers can help you make the best of your experience and ensure a healthy and happy livelihood teaching abroad.
Is teaching abroad safe?
Yes, teaching abroad is safe. As an expatriate working abroad you’ll benefit from the combined oversight of your overseas embassy, on-the-ground employer, and international organization that you choose to teach abroad with. It’s a good idea to choose a verified employer or organization for just this reason, so that you know you’ll have all of these layers accounted for. When striking out on your own, it helps to have the security and assurance of means to fall back on.
This being said, when you’re actually on the ground, your health and safety will be largely in your own hands. You’ll have a safety net to back you up, but also need to be smart of your own accord. Being a good traveler, showing respect for your host community, and staying cognizant of geographical and cultural boundaries are all important keys to staying safe while teaching overseas.
The world’s safest countries that also double as popular teach abroad destinations
Certain countries are obviously safer to teach in than others. The reality is that stable states with more developed economies are less prone to engender the kind of unwanted attention that foreign travelers might receive in other countries that don’t fit this description. Good relations between your own country’s government and your host country’s government certainly won’t hurt your safety net while teaching abroad, either.
According to World Atlas’ latest report, some of the world’s safest countries to teach abroad in (that also happen to be top tier educational destinations as well) include Portugal, Czech Republic, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Chile, Romania. These countries are just a few of many where you can enjoy a high level of safety while teaching abroad; the fact of the matter, though, is that even in countries that fit the bill of “less safe,” you’ll still enjoy a higher level of security living abroad as an expatriate. So take relative safety into consideration while choosing where to teach, but don’t let this be the end-all consideration.
11 basic safety tips
Now onto some concrete advice. The following are 11 steps that every international educator can take to ensure their experience abroad will turn out a happy, healthy and safe experience.
1. Be smart.
Let’s kick off these tips broadly with a mantra that should be observed by all travelers at all times: be smart. It’s easy to feel somewhat invincible while off globetrotting around the world, living freely and not observing the same rules of self that you might at home. But no one’s invincible. Bad things happen to travelers sometimes when they act carelessly.
This isn’t to say that you should be overly cautious or guarded while teaching abroad. To the contrary, the best way to go about the experience is to be open and embracing of every new situation. But you have to remember that you are a stranger in a strange land, and it can be a risky venture to abuse that privilege. By “being smart,” we mean simply finding your own balance between total spontaneity and carefulness.
One of the beautiful things about travelling and teaching abroad is the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in a community that might be much different than your own. Adaptation in this sense isn’t just a method to maximize your experiential takeaway, though; it’s also a means to ensure your health and safety while teaching abroad. Observing local standards and practice—to the extent that it is possible or desirable—is a good way to fit in and utilize the wisdom of your host culture to its own purpose.
3. Be aware of special circumstances.
As an add-on to the previous tip, it’s important to be aware of cultural differences that may affect local attitudes towards race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities. Depending on where in the world you go, these differences can be a significant cause of culture shock and discomfort. Teaching abroad somewhere that is less tolerant than your own culture can be a challenging nuance to navigate.
In the end, teaching abroad is as much about learning from the experiences of your host culture as it is about imparting those of your own. You may not be granted the same degree of freedom or respect you do in your own country; take that as a lesson about our world, and grow from it. The important thing, as far as health and safety while teaching abroad is concerned, is to find a balance, expressing yourself to the degree that is comfortable in your new environment.
You may not be granted the same degree of freedom or respect you do in your own country; take that as a lesson about our world, and grow from it.
4. Don’t get lost.
Here, we have a more tangible tip, and an important one: Always leave a trail of breadcrumbs, so to speak. While you’re teaching abroad you may begin to feel comfortable enough in your host country to venture out on your own and explore new terrain. That’s all well and good, but you should do so on the conventional wisdom of your hosts. There are certain places in every city and every country that are simply less welcoming to foreign travellers. It’d be safer not to stumble blindly into one of these areas if you can avoid it.
5. Mind your intake. 🍹🍸🍺🍷
This tip can be rephrased, simply, as don’t drink too much—or, at least, know your limits. Alcohol is a steady constant in expat culture. If you partake, then you’ll quickly become aware of this fact. Drinking can be a great way to socialize and meet new people from around the globe, and within boundaries, there’s no harm in it.
But, many needless incidents or confrontations that befall travellers also do so as a direct result of intoxication. In a foreign country where you are unfamiliar with your surroundings, the risk of a misunderstanding is heightened exponentially when alcohol gets involved in excess. You don’t want to be that person. To paraphrase a quip from Jackie Chan’s ‘Legend of the Drunken Master’—drink to swim, not to sink.
6. Respect your host.
This tip is related in a way to the previous. As a teacher abroad, you’ll have somewhat of a reputation to maintain as a visitor in your community. You want to be on good terms with your hosts, and not overstep cultural boundaries out of ignorance. The best way to fully embrace your host country and avoid any unwanted misunderstandings is to make a genuine effort to learn about the local culture and navigate within that realm. Many confrontations can be resolved through nurturing mutual respect.
7. Get inoculated with the necessary immunizations.
Most of the tips up until this point have been behavioral; how to carry yourself and act in a way that will maximize your immersive experience while minimizing the chances for and incident to occur. Now, we venture into some more practical tips for staying healthy while teaching abroad, from a very simple starting point: get vaccinated. There’s nasty diseases out there in some regions of the world which you don’t want to endure while teaching abroad. Taking preventative health seriously is extremely important.
8. Make contacts.
To build off this previous point, engaging with your local community is a great way to build a network of contacts incase anything goes wrong with your health and safety. If you get sent to the hospital or jail, for example, it’s going to be nice to have someone on the ground you can trust to help you through the experience. Making global friends is one of the greatest perks in itself of living abroad. It can also be a boon to your health and safety teaching overseas.
9. Keep contacts.
Knowing people on the ground is important, and so is maintaining connections abroad. Making sure that you have an easily accessible channel to vital contacts such as your family, employer, and embassy is another way to insure your health and safety while teaching abroad. If you’re ever tempted to take a weekend trip “off the map,” then always carry along your metaphorical compass that can help guide you back.
10. Monitor your nutrition & stay active.
It’s easy to forego many dietary normalities while traveling. If you’re teaching abroad for an extended period of time, this is something important to keep tabs on. Many people return from extended tours abroad with either significant weight loss or weight gain, for example, because they never developed a healthy routine. In addition to knowing what foods to stay away from that can make you sick, monitoring your overall nutrition intake is an important factor that’s often glossed over as part of the experience.
Staying active while living abroad is important for physical and mental health. At times, you may be tempted to hole up at home instead of venturing out to face the bizarre of the unknown. That’s understandable, but don’t let it become a routine. Homesickness can be real, and the only way you’ll beat it is by creating a new home abroad. Staying active, getting out of your comfort zone and engaging your community is a great way to make sure you’re staying healthy while teaching abroad.
11. Have a backup plan.
This final tip is pure logistics: Always have a backup. Keep an emergency stash of cash on reserve, make photocopies of all your important documents, keep a record of your sensitive information (i.e. passwords, credit card numbers, etc.) tucked away. And keep all under lock and key. It may well turn out you don’t lose anything during your time teaching abroad. At that point, you’ll be deserving of congratulations. But until then, the safest bet is to duplicate everything.
These tips can all help you stay healthy and safe while teaching overseas, and ensure that you’ll have an enriching experience as a result.
These basic travel health & safety tips have got your back
But in conclusion, the overarching point worth re-emphasizing is: don’t be afraid! Teaching abroad can be a daunting prospect enough without obsessing over every little thing that can go wrong. Make a plan, stick within those guidelines, and let your gut take you the rest of the way. Anywhere you end up in the world, you’ll find that people can be unendingly decent, and limitlessly compassionate. As a teacher, there’s nothing like getting out and learning this lesson for yourself.