11 Lessons You Can Only Learn While Teaching Abroad

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1. Being abroad is not all a walk in the park. The stereotypical expat life is glorified by the media and other Americans to encourage Millennials like me to drop everything and embark on some whirlwind adventure. But that’s not always the case. When you move to a foreign country on your own, it’s tough, lonely at times, and difficult to stay afloat financially. It gets easier as you adapt, but sacrifices are unavoidable.

2. Keeping up friendships long-distance can be difficult (and I’m horrible at it), but with enough hard work and initiative from both parties, it can be done. I’m thankful for the friends who have taken the time to check in on me and continued to share their lives despite the distance and time. It makes those friendships that much sweeter.

3. You learn to enjoy life day-by-day. Long lunch breaks during the day are the norm in Italy; working overtime is practically a sin. And you know, they seem to have it right. I’ve learned to take a step back and enjoy my coffee without thinking constantly of what I need to do next and feeling anxious. As they say, “che sarà, sarà.”

4. It’s nothing like studying abroad. I’ve seen a side of Florence I didn’t see before as a short-term student four years ago, and I’m meeting Italians and expats that have built their own communities here. I’m learning so much more about the culture and people on a daily basis than I ever did before as a study abroad student, and I love it.

5. Teaching in itself can be incredibly challenging and intimidating especially when you don’t speak their native language. It requires serious creativity, play-acting, and loads of hand gestures in order to communicate with them. But when you’re able to cross that bridge, a whole new world opens up.

6. Though it can seem pointless, using only English even in a classroom of beginners can be done effectively. You build relationships not only through common interests, but through this experience of learning between teacher and student with its difficulties, laughs, frustrations, and accomplishments. It’s a beautiful thing.

7. The learning goes both ways. I’ve learned so much from my students, not only Italian words and phrases, but cultural cues. They’ve taught me how to communicate without language, how to be more expressive and patient, and how to relax and go with the flow when my lessons weren’t going well.

8. The relationship between teacher and student in the classroom is not universal. I’ve found, teaching young students, that the way we teach in America is quite different from how they teach in Italy. Learning to adapt to their understanding of that relationship and managing your classroom accordingly can be time-consuming and exhausting, but knowing that your own methodology won’t always work is important. Every class responds in a different way. Sticking to your philosophy but changing your tactics is the key.

9. Some of my worst classes here have also become some of my favorites. There were a couple classes that intimidated me and I dreaded going to in the beginning. However, as time passed, we grew close without even realizing it. I love making fun of my students, laughing with them, and joking around during the lessons. Though we don’t always understand each other (and with the danger of sounding too cheesy), smiles are universal.

10. You come to appreciate your roots. It’s true when they say distance makes the heart grow fonder. I’m thankful for my family and that I had people back home who supported me while I was abroad. I know that I’ll always have a place to go back to no matter where I go, and it makes me braver to try new things.

11. You become a stronger person. I’ve become more independent and confident in myself, not just because I was living on my own but living on my own in a foreign country. Building a life from the ground up is different than simply moving from one city to another. It’s afforded me a serious challenge that I’ve grown so much from and hope to take with me wherever I go.

Despite its many challenges, teaching abroad was one adventure that was definitely worth it. TC mark

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