New country, new class, new language, new food, new smells, new friends, new EVERYTHING. You’re juggling a lot while getting TEFL certified abroad. Your training takes up the bulk of your days and you always seem to be continually preparing for that next lesson plan. It can be tough to balance your own travel experience while ESL-ing all day. Tough—but not impossible. So before you overload on stress—the verb, not the syllable—remember that you should also immerse in culture while living in a new country!
Why would you want to immerse in culture when getting TEFL certified abroad? Because it will help you connect with a new community, learn to interact with all different types of people, and give you a completely new understanding of life around you. Immersing yourself in another culture will be an educational experience that you can’t get back home. So embrace it, love it, and always remember to go with the flow as you attempt to maximize cultural immersion while getting TEFL certified abroad.
7 cultural immersion experience ideas for TEFLers
These seven cultural immersion experience ideas while getting TEFL certified abroad are bound to give you a unique experience of a lifetime. Immersing in the culture doesn’t mean you have to constantly be go-go-go. Take your time, get adapted, and know that your overall goals are up to you. While some people are keen on learning a new language, others may prefer cooking the local cuisine. You are only human and don’t have to do it all. Just have fun!
1. Learn to eat local.
Immerse in culture, immerse in food. Now’s your chance to eat everything you have read about leading up to your TEFL course abroad. Spicy, sweet, savory, smoky, salty, and more. Is that a vegetable, a bug, or a piece of fruit? Try a bite and see!
No matter how busy you may be with your TEFL course, you MUST eat—there’s no way around it. You will have the opportunity to binge all your new fave foods. Eating local will not only save you money, but your tastebuds will be in a new, strange, and delish kind of heaven. Soon enough you will find your new go-to cafes on your way to class, find a lunch stand near your TEFL center, and you can spend your evenings between homework and lesson planning trying something new every time. Food, food, food—it’s half of the joy of traveling somewhere new.
Don’t just eat local, but cook local! Try out a cooking class in your TEFL town and learn how to make authentic dishes. Yes, we all love the convenience of eating out, but if you can stock up on some tasty ingredients, cheers to you!
2. Look for local language exchange events.
It is 100% understandable that you don’t have time to learn a brand new language when you are taking a TEFL course abroad. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn some basic words and phrases to immerse in culture. Whether you plan on staying in your TEFL host country short or long term, you don’t want to be that person who can’t say hello to the waiter at the restaurant.
Make sure to download an app that can provide flashcards or basic phrases to learn the local language. It’s always important to know how to say “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” and “where’s the toilet” wherever you may be. Best of all, most language apps are FREE!
Try to set goals. It can be as simple as learning a new word or phrase a day. Check out language schools, tutoring opportunities, or events that provide basic classes to learn the local lingo. You won’t regret it and have a new appreciation for what your TEFL course entails.
Life tends to be much easier for English speakers when traveling abroad, so learning a new language goes really far in the sense of respect and cultural immersion. Impress the locals by knowing a bit of their language and being able to properly ask for a beer after a day of hard core studying—เบียร์.
3. Get your classmates involved!
Taking a TEFL course abroad means that you will make brand new TEFL friends! Best off, they will be from all areas of the world. Immerse in culture with those you will be spending loads of time with. There will be other people in your TEFL course who are also eager to explore their new city even on top of the piles of homework and lesson planning. So why not set up study dates in different parts of the city? You can hang out with your homework pals while sitting in a local cafe drinking cappuccinos or some mystery soup that you accidentally ordered. Maybe you need a night out on the weekend and a classmate knows a cool local spot. Make sure to be friendly with your TEFL classmates because you are all going through the same situation.
Aside from exploring the new local culture with your classmates, take advantage of that unique networking opportunity with people from all different countries! Who knows where you will be couchsurfing next? Do you want to teach abroad in one of your classmates home countries? Did you just make a new best friend who is not a native speaker and wants to brush up on some English language slang? Because of the hours you’ll be spending with your classmates, you’ll find that some of them might be come long-term buddies for life.
4. Map it out.
Cheers to more apps! Whether it’s Google maps or a local app, learn the subway, walking, bus, and bike routes of your new city. Pin your school, your home, and all of your favorite bars and restaurants while TEFL-ing abroad. Google won’t always show the hidden gems, so make sure to screenshot your pins. This will help you if you are lost or need to check what’s nearby on TripAdvisor. Soon enough, you will throw those maps out as you will be comfortable with getting around anywhere. Before you know it, you’ll be giving directions to other travelers!
Take the time to explore the neighborhoods where you are living and where you are getting TEFL certified. Whether you mosey around before or after class, take some time to unwind and just watch what’s going on around you. You can shop at the local markets, stumble upon a bar with live music, and snap pics of ancient architecture. There is no reason to not get your daily steps goal while discovering all the new and exciting things in your area. Even if you aren’t living in the trendier neighborhoods, there’s lots to be seen.
While prancing around your beloved new city you will find ways to learn more about the culture. See what opportunities there are for homestays, language swaps, meetup groups, cooking classes, art classes, sports events, and anything you need to unwind from a day of TEFL courses.
5. Adopt the customs.
Cultural immersion experience ideas include learning the customs of your host country. You need to know what the cultural norms are in the country where you are getting TEFL certified. Whether it’s bowing to your elders, taking your shoes off at the door, or only exchanging money with your right hand, you want to learn some of the basic norms about living in certain places abroad. Some countries may not mind the chatty foreigners on their morning subway commute while others may give you a death stare if you even murmur a peep.
Furthermore, how do you go about grabbing a taxi? Do you yield at an intersection for a motorbike to pass or do they stop for you? What’s the proper way to order food? Do you pay before or after your meal? Are you supposed to tip at restaurants, cafes, or spas? Do a bit of research before you get to the country but know that you will also learn the majority through viewing it first hand when you go abroad.
So slurp your noodles, cover your shoulders, and don’t even consider ordering a drip coffee outside of the US. Remember, you are the guest! You want to leave a good impression for those hosting you in their country. Locals will appreciate and notice if you follow their cultural norms.
6. Chat with locals.
You may not have time to make tons of brand new local friends, but make an effort to chat. It can be your first “teaching experience.” Ask for directions, ask for recommendations, ask where to find WIFI, ask away! You’ll soon enough find your favorite fruit stands, cafes, and can chat with those behind the register. You may get some insight to your new city through a local and they will love the opportunity to speak English with you if they can. Making local friends may take a bit of time, but they will be your best resource for anything that you may need or want to know.
Becoming friends with locals is a huge perk when living and TEFL-ing abroad. You may be invited for dinner, you can set up language exchanges, or you may find a new host-family that wants to adopt you. Connections abroad are always a bonus when traveling the globe, and local connections are some of the most authentic and best ways to truly immerse yourself into a new culture.
7. Plan your weekends.
Try to budget your time wisely. No matter your course load, try to have a “non-study” day at least once a week. You’ll be glad you planned time for adventure over parts of the weekend. Whether you’re in an intensive course that’s crammed into four weeks or doing something with a little more chill time, you’ll want to plan your downtime in advance so you don’t waste the days away.
Cultural immersion activities also include attending festivals or events. Check out what’s going on in your city over the period of your TEFL course. You can also explore famous markets, go to a nearby castle, check out local shrines, or hit up a beach. You will be busy, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to unwind and have fun.
Immerse in culture while getting TEFL Certified
Taking part in cultural immersion activities while getting a TEFL certificate abroad is crucial for anyone looking to travel and teach around the globe. Remember that even if the coursework seems to be a bit much, you are waking up in a foreign country each day! The fresh—or fishy—smell of cultural whirlwinds will greet you every morning.
Getting a TEFL abroad is a perfect way to network in a new country and meet tons of people from all over the world. You’ll have a chance to step out of your comfort zone and learn to to figure out life abroad all while TEFL-ing about. So embrace that culture shock and be apart of it!