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Nepal

How often do you think about Nepal? For me the answer used to be "not often", but now I think of it every day, and can hardly wait to return. Looking back, Nepal wasn't on my "must see" list, but with a glitch in my plans I soon found myself on a plane to Kathmandu.

There are English schools in Kathmandu that pay minimal wages to western standards, but adequate for comfort in Nepal. My own posting was in a rural area, half way up what the Nepalese call a "hill", and what I call a "mountain".

There was no plumbing, no western facilities, and cooking was done over a wood fire. I did go to a local hotel once to buy a bit of time in a shower, but it would have been better to simply wash at a spring the way the locals do. I soon got into the habit of filling a bucket with water each evening and having a sponge bath in the morning. My laundry facilities consisted of a bucket and a bowl.

My students had been exposed to bits of English, but the most advanced speaker was slightly below Lower Intermediate in skill. Some of the others had only the most basic skills. Classes were a challenge for many reasons, so creativity, flexibility and thinking outside the box were essential. For example, all students had English classes at the same time, which meant that ages ranged from six to twenty-two and ability ranged from bare beginner to the single "close to Lower Intermediate" speaker.

How can a teacher deal with such a mix? Pair work was useless, so I divided them into teams and had them play games. Somehow, the teams always ended up with even results so that everyone won and there were no losers. I let them chose the lesson themes. The older ones were anxious to learn about introductions; the younger ones liked animals. All were keen on sports, and were David Beckham fans. Lessons about parts of the body led to a special treat -- the Hokie Pokie. They loved it.

The NGO had told me that the school was poor, so I took three suitcases, packed with school supplies, sanitation and medical supplies, and just one change of clothing for me. My decision to pack supplies for my hosts and take only one change of clothing was the right one. Local clothing is right for the weather and social convention. The school supplies were things like pencils, pens, crayons, and books; it didn't cross my mind that they might not have paper. It was amusing to think back to my CELTA classes and remember the class about technology and all the wonderful websites available. Downloadable materials are of little use if you don't have a printer.

My own facilities were basic by Canadian standards, but much better than those of my students. They had mats on the floor; I had a sleeping platform with a pad. It was uncomfortable at first, but fatigue teaches you how to fall asleep.

The food was rice, lentils and boiled vegetables three times a day. It seemed strange at first, but when I came home everything in Canada tasted like cardboard. For a few days I ate my meals beside a chicken -- yes a chicken, clucking happily beside me. Then the chicken disappeared; I suspect she was still at the table, but in another role. Eating my dinner companion didn't even seem strange.

Did I have meltdowns? Oh, yes! They were at night, when I was alone on my hard sleeping platform, wondering what on earth I was doing there. But if you ask me now if I would go back and do it all over again, the answer is unwaveringly YES!!!!

Timing is a big issue for any trip. I was in Nepal during the monsoon. That isn't terrible, because most of the rain is during the night and it washes the pollution out of the air. The bad part is that the days are always cloudy. It's frustrating to be looking toward the greatest mountain range in the world and see nothing but clouds. My next trip to Nepal will be just after the monsoon, when the air has been cleaned, but the skies are clear. That way I will be able to see Mount Everest.

Would I recommend this to another English teacher? It depends on what they want. If they need money, forget it. What teaching in Nepal does provide teaches is exposure to a completely different culture, experience with a monolingual class in challenging conditions, and a serious test of your ability to function without western luxuries. I had always wondered whether I would be able to survive Third World service. A short time in Nepal gives the answer, and for me it's a yes.

-Beverley Trull, Toronto, Canada

Saudi Arabia

Squat, sand-coloured buildings, almost indistinguishable from the seemingly endless desert that surrounds them. Sunlight as sharp as a knife blade. A frighteningly obvious economic disparity between the Saudis and the south Asian working class. A culture that never ceases to mystify and amaze. These are some of the images that fill my mind when asked to describe Saudi Arabia, as I have been asked to do many times by friends and family who view this country as the mystery that it surely is.

Not for the judgmental or weak-willed, Saudi Arabia nonetheless has many riches to be unearthed, most of them cultural. To those who delight at understanding the many different ways of viewing our shared world, this country surely offers a substantial opportunity to have your worldview crumbled to pieces and put back together again. And as far as I'm concerned, an intelligent human being should welcome this opportunity on a daily basis. It's best to leave your "I'm so offended" face back in your home country and just come to soak it all in. All cultures have countless faults (yes, even yours!), so instead of pointing fingers it's best to open your ears.

Years in India made the phrase, "wow, did I just see that?!?!" a commonplace utterance for me. Well, in Saudi, the phrase has been slightly tweaked to "wow, did I just hear that?!?!" The massive gulf separating my worldview from that of my students does not at all hinder the learning process (at least in my experience), but it certainly increases the enjoyment I get out of my work. For example, who knew that the topic of camels could be brought into almost any discussion???

To those who wish to know what Saudi students are like (at least in my limited experience), reading H.G. Wells' The Time Machine may offer insights when the protagonist travels forward to the year 802,701. That's all I'll say on the topic for now. Lets just say, I'm sure it's not like any other classroom setting you've experienced, and especially if you've only taught in Korea, where I've been told that a strong work ethic is strongly embedded in the culture. Let me put it another way; I teach at a university, and yet my students never take notes, nor would they ever do homework if I gave it to them. Their studying for tests is limited to the 5 minutes in class before I hand them out, and cheating is like a sport. All that being said, if you learn to roll with the punches (as you always should when living in another country), it can be a very enjoyable teaching experience.

To conclude, I'm loving my time here in Saudi. My living arrangements are great (compound with A/C and pool), my colleagues are a diverse and interesting set of people, and of course the tax-free salary is outstanding. Ten years of student debt are melting away incredibly quickly. Easily my best working experience in years. Getting a Saudi visa is quite a difficult process, but if you can pull it off and you can adapt to the Saudi culture, it can be quite rewarding, both financially and in terms of quality of life.

-Adam Gassner, Toronto, Canada

China

I have been teaching in China since February 2011. I teach children from 3 to 17 years of age in a private language school. The experience is unbelievable. The kids have a completely different mentality here. They apologize when they're late, they stand up when answering a question (at least they don't do that in Canada), but they are also very afraid of making mistakes and losing face. There are times when you really have to work hard to give an answer or participate to the fullest extent. But they are very happy to talk to you when they can. I have children not in my class come up to me to talk and practice their English between classes or even on the bus ride home.

To live in a country so unlike my own is incredible. The customs and traditions are fascinating to observe and participate in. From the impromptu dance groups anyone can join on the streets and chuar (outdoor barbeque) at night to the underground markets and kite flying during the day; I love discovering it all.

People in China are very curious about foreigners, especially since there aren't many of us around; at least not the in the cities outside of the tourist cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Xian. The locals stare, try to sneak pictures, say, "Hellooooooo!" a lot while passing by and want to know everything we are doing, buying or wearing. It's both amusing and annoying at the same time. There are good days and bad days when you just wish to be left alone and go about your day without it, but it's part of the life here and you grow to have a love/hate relationship with it.

The amount of different people I've met while living in China has been amazing. From students studying abroad to teachers from all over the world and the Chinese themselves, I love seeing everyone adapt and interact with each other in China.

All in all, this has been, and I'm sure will continue to be, an amazing experience. I wouldn't change it for anything in the world.

-Jennifer Whelan, Oshawa, Canada

Taiwan

In the year 2000 I boarded a plane to Taiwan for an adventure-year of teaching. My original motivation was a financial one. I had just completed my studies and it seemed like the best way to pay off my mountain of study debt in the shortest possible time. Little did I know that the experience would turn out to be so much more and that the one year would turn into ten.

I achieved my financial goals within the first year in Taiwan. Not only did I pay off my debt, but I had a good life in a country where the cost of living was cheap and the salaries so much more than I would have ever earned back home. I decided to stay another year and bought a house back home. The two years turned into three and before I knew it the three years into seven.

Even more than the financial benefits, I saw myself grow as a person and an educator. The things I took for granted before, I started to appreciate. Friendships became deeper and every place I visited in my travels around Asia enriched my views about people and the world. As a teacher I learned skills that I would have never acquired if I stayed back home.

After my seventh year in Taiwan I took a trip to the Philippines where I met the love of my life. I moved to Korea two months later to join him where he was living his own expat life. After teaching in Korea for two years I was appointed as supervisor of one of the branches of the largest language institutes in the country. This enabled me to practice the management skills that I studied in the postgraduate degree I completed just a year earlier through a correspondence course.

I am now married, better qualified, experienced and happier than I could ever be. I have experienced more in the last ten years than I could have ever imagined. My experience of living and teaching abroad not only made me a better teacher, but also a better citizen of the world.

-Etienne Visser, South Africa

Bolivia

In 2006, I taught English in Bolivia for nine months. I worked at a private language school that had a good mixture of adults and adolescents and an equal number of younger children.

Bolivia is changing in very interesting ways at the moment, as the indigenous people become more confident and their culture is becoming the official culture of Bolivia. Previously, Bolivia was ruled and governed by the descendants of Spanish settlers. It is very interesting to see more indigenous people come into the classroom, but it is also a bit of a challenge to make it interesting for them. For example, people are not that interested in Brittany Spears as you might think (I know, this is a real culture shock).

In the classroom, don't be afraid to try new things. The students might be different from other students you have meet, or even from each other, but if you bring in their culture and ask them about it, you will see things to do and talk about.

As for tips and advice, I would say just enjoy! There are lots of street celebrations and festivals. Day to day living is cheap. People are very laid back and friendly (you may have to wake people up at street stalls). Be a little bit careful with your things. You will have to be patient. Things will not work as well as in the west or maybe, will not work at all. Manana is the first Spanish word you'll need to know!

-Garreth Keating, Dublin Ireland

Japan

Japan is great. I live near Osaka and I can tell you that during the tsunami and earthquakes it was as if nothing was happening where I live. I did not even feel a tremor. The country seems to have repaired itself and I have a few teachers who live in Sendai (from Toronto!) Their lives have gotten back to normal and things here are stereotypically happy.

I highly encourage new teachers to come and work in Japan. The pay is good, although it is a tad-bit expensive to travel within Japan, but it has been an unforgettable experience so far. The people are very nice and Japanese pupils have just been voted as the most well behaved in the world.

I just received my Japanese drivers license. It was an easy, but long process. As a Canadian citizen, I am not required to undertake any testing. I simply make my appearance, show them my passport, fill in a few forms and after a few hours I am issued my Japanese drivers license that very same day. Not too shabby!

-Zlatko Stipic, Toronto, Canada

Czech Republic

In 2006/2007, my boyfriend and I spent six months living in Prague and teaching at International House. Prague itself is obviously well-known for its' stunning architecture and culture, which makes it a great place to live. Saying that, the crowds of tourists in the central area can, at times, be frustrating. However, you soon learn where the more local, less touristy (and cheaper) places are.

International House Prague is a great place to teach. It's a big school where there is a lot of support and always someone who you'll get on with and who is up for an after work beer. I taught a diverse range of students from children, to one to one business students, to exam classes, all of which were lovely and extremely hard-working. The only downside is that you can get sent all over Prague and beyond to different schools and businesses, which can mean many hours sat on metros and buses.

At weekends there are many interesting places to visit in the Czech Republic and in the surrounding countries. We took advantage of these opportunities and visited Karlovy Vary, Vienna and Cesky Krumlov only to name a few places. All in all, living and teaching in the Czech Republic was wonderful experience.

-Lynsey Tarr, Manchester, England

Mongolia

I worked for the University of the Humanities in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for seven semesters. I was teaching in the British and American Studies Department, where my main job was teaching General English. This was a great experience in so many ways. Firstly, the people I worked with were wonderful people, very hardworking and committed even though they are paid quite poorly. Secondly, the experience taught me to be independent and not to rely on prepared resources, as many were not available. If you're the sort of person who can chill out and not get upset when things don't go quite right then you'd enjoy working in Mongolia. The lifestyle is certainly different to most places in the world. There's plenty of work available in Ulaanbaatar for English teachers, but wages range from around $5.00 per hour up to around US$17.00 per hour.

- Dean Hurst, Wanganui, New Zealand

Oman

Hola amigos!

When people learn that I give presentations about Arab countries, they are usually very surprised, so, every talk I give starts the same:

"Hello! I am not Arab. I am not Muslim. But still I have a lot to share with you. I lived in the Middle East for three years. I was not kidnapped and my friends were not terrorists. Now, I want to share my experiences with you..."

So what was a Spanish speaking Argentinean girl doing in the Sultanante of Oman for three years?

Teaching English of course!

I was hired at a job fair in the U.S. and, once hired, started reading about what was to become one of the best experiences of my life!

I was sent to teach English to students entering university (SQU, Sultan Qaboos University www.squ.edu.om) in the capital city of Muscat. My students had just graduated from high school and because of their high grades they could go to SQU. It was a big challenge for them because it was their first time away from their families and villages and also because for the first time girls and boys were allowed in the same classroom!

I taught my students English, but they taught me so much more! Through them I learned about their culture, religion and values. I was also invited to their villages where I was always more than welcome. Wow! Arab hospitality is not a myth!

Shortly after my arrival, I started studying Arabic. Believe me, it is not as difficult as it may first seem. I got to know the locals and quickly made friends. The Omani are friendly and peaceful people and are very willing to share their culture.

My friends in Argentina kept telling me "be careful"! Of what? I still don't know.

Today, I am back home in Argentina, but the friends I made overseas are friends for life and the lessons I learned ever lasting.

Thank you. Gracias. Shukran.

-Carmela Flores, Cordoba, Argentina

South Korea

I began my journey of teaching English abroad five years ago in South Korea. To be honest, I didn't head to South Korea because I loved the culture. In fact, I didn't know much about it. I was going because I desperately needed a job. After working the job market (waiting tables and substitute teaching) with a Bachelor of Education and having exhausted all my options for two years, I soon came to realize I was better off leaving the U.S. to secure income some place else. That some place else turned out to be Seoul, South Korea.

Without a doubt, the most challenging part of living abroad for me was adapting to the big city. Until that point, I had never lived in a city over 1 million people, but there I suddenly was living in a city 10 times that size. Being from Texas I wasn't used to public transportation, as we drive everywhere where I come from. But I soon got the hang of it thanks to the help of some other English teachers.

One thing I quickly learned is that other teachers are your lifeline when living overseas. No matter how well I knew them, the foreign English teachers I came across in South Korea were usually very helpful. From sharing information about where to find North American goods to planning weekend getaways and long holidays together, many of these people soon became close friends because if someone understood what it was like to be out of their element it was them!

I grew a LOT from my teaching and living experiences in South Korea. It allowed me to get to know myself better and it revealed some strengths and weaknesses. If you have an open mind about other cultures, languages, food, and people in general, then I would definitely recommend that you live in a foreign country for at least one year. It will make you a better person.

-Gina Owen, Dallas, Texas

India

In 2010, I volunteered with various organizations working with Tibetan refugees in the Dharamshala region for three months.

The Tibetans were simply the best students I have ever had by a mile. Many of the Tibetans decided to become refugees because of limited educational opportunities in Tibet, as well as religious persecution, and risked a lot to come to India. Even though they may be shy initially, they will soon learn to do everything you ask of them in the classroom all of the time. As a teacher, these students were an inspiration. It was an absolute joy to teach them, as they were extremely hungry for knowledge.

Dharamshala is a tourist town with all western amenities. It is unlike the rest of India and you will not find the same degree of chaos here as in other parts, but it is still India, so be prepared. There are good restaurants, a range of accommodation to suit all budgets, but there maybe power cuts and a cow can still cause a traffic-jam. Also, some of the other tourists might be nuts.

-Garreth Keating, Templemore, Ireland

Argentina

Spanish spoken with the hint of Italian accent, the sight of people chatting while sharing mate, the sound of candombe (an Afro-Uruguayan rhythm) being played in the park are just a few of my favourite things about Buenos Aires.

At first, it feels as if you might have gone to Madrid by mistake. There is undoubtedly a European feel to the city. It's a great place to teach. Being able to speak English is seen as an important skill to have in the world of work, and travelling-wise, the country has so much to offer. One place to definitely visit is the North. Salta and Jujuy are breathtaking. My advice when travelling: go by coach and make sure you book 'coche cama'.

-Keri Jackson, London, England

Poland

I taught at International House Torun, Poland for one year. It was a fantastic experience, both in terms of developing as a teacher and living in a different culture. The school was extremely supportive and a great place to 'find my feet' after completing the CELTA. Observations, workshops, seminars and training days provided great opportunities for developing my teaching skills and getting fresh ideas. The staff themselves (the management, office staff, senior teachers and regular teachers) all worked together well, and I forged some great friendships with them, which I continue to have 5 years on, despite us now being scattered around the globe!

Aside from the teaching, it was great to live in a foreign country - I chose Poland because I thought it would be sufficiently different from Western Europe, but not so much of a culture shock as somewhere like the Far East. And indeed, I settled into to life there pretty quickly. Torun itself is a beautiful medieval town, with loads of interesting buildings and tons of atmospheric underground bars. The beer is excellent. It's a great place to socialise, particularly after work. The locals were generally pleasant enough - not overtly friendly, but decent people. Shop assistants have a tendency to be a bit unfriendly and unhelpful at times, but you'll soon get used to this! The money you'll earn may sound like a small amount compared to UK or USA salaries, but relative to the cost of living, you'll be able to live pretty comfortably while you're there - I used to eat out regularly. Torun's a great place to work, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

-Chris Jones, Newcastle, England

Indonesia

I taught children and adolescents in Indonesia from 2009 to 2010 at a private language institute. Indonesia, especially Java, operates on different standards of politeness to other countries. Indonesians are extremely polite, but it is their own standard so they will act in ways, which you may not understand. For instance, there it is always considered polite to greet someone by asking: "Where are you going?". This is a literal translation from Bahasa Indonesian, which might strike a foreigner as rude, but in fact is quite polite by Indonesian standards. This politeness is a part of everything the Javanese do.

In the classroom, the main challenge is to make the students talk. They will need a lot of help in expressing themselves, as the culture does not encourage adolescents to talk and make mistakes. But younger children will express themselves freely.

Outside the classroom, the culture and way of thinking of the Javanese is fascinating. The natural beauty is spectacular. Smiles are common everywhere you go. If you are finding things a bit strange at first, even guided tours are not expensive. But as you learn more of the language, you may find it is not as confusing as it looks. Things have a way of coming right in the end.

Please note that Indonesia visa regulations are getting tighter for EFL teachers. Recently, the Indonesian government has decided that "a degree in English" instead of a CELTA is required, but it is still not clear what exactly that means. Ask your prospective employer carefully about your prospects of getting this visa for more up to date information.

-Garreth Keating, Templemore, Ireland

Belgium

Belgium has its obvious attractions: great beers, wines, cuisine and some amazing scenery in parts. Workwise it's maybe not so attractive. The initial red-tape a newcomer faces (even with an EU passport) can be daunting and exhausting. Once established as a resident, the next problem is finding work. Ninety-nine percent of teachers are self-employed and work for a variety of different schools dotted around the city they live in. Being self-employed brings its own problems and headaches: the main one being finding enough work to pay the bills every month. The second, keeping a tight reign on your own finances and remembering that a sizeable proportion of what you earn will have to go towards tax, social security and health insurance. In short, a nice place to visit, but quite a testing place to work.

-Anonymous, England

Georgia

Georgia is great! The people are very welcoming and hospitable and the country itself is quite beautiful. I had never seen mountains before and the Caucasus mountains are pretty remarkable. I'm staying with a host family which of course has its pros and cons but we're getting along just fine. They pretty much consider me a part of the family. The food variety is pretty limited unless you're staying in the capital and they really love to drink here. Mostly wine and homemade spirits called cha cha. Also, the roads and drivers are a bit crazy but it definitely makes for an adventure. The pay isn't extravagant but you can make due with what you're given as long as you're not living too high on the hog. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants an adventure. This country has been fairly untouched by English speaking foreigners so you're a bit of a novelty to most people. Anyway, I've really enjoyed my time here and if I wasn't in need of a higher salary I would definitely stay longer.

-Danielle Ariss, Toronto, Canada