10 Life Lessons I’ve Learned While Teaching Abroad

As a traveling teacher, I have spent the past 4 years of my life growing physically, mentally, and spiritually. I am constantly learning, and being tested by the beautiful challenges that life catapults my way. I have lived in the same neighborhood as drug dealers in Honduras, bribed an immigration officer in Indonesia in order to be granted “permission” to board my flight, been quarantined for hours in an immigration office in El Salvador, robbed at knife point in Nicaragua, and the most challenging of all: I have taught a class of 18 kindergartners in a low income school in Honduras. Despite these minor hiccups, I wear a smile on my face, and carry a heart filled with gratitude for the experiences.

Yes, I am a teacher. But the biggest teacher of all has been the experience itself:

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 1. Courage

Imagine leaving your home country with only one suitcase and $500. This was me at the age of 23.

My first teaching assignment was in Indonesia, and I had never been, didn’t know the language, nor did I know anyone living there. I will never forget the adrenaline rush that overcame me when I stepped off the plane, but mostly, I will never forget the courage it took to get on it in the first place.

It is challenging to leave one’s comfort zone, but I’m thankful I did because it was the best decision I ever made.  Today, I am able to face the challenges life throws my way with grace, confidence, and enthusiasm.

Anything is possible; if you think it, you can create it.

2. Humility

When traveling to other parts of the world, one gets the opportunity to see how others live. There is nothing like witnessing poverty in person to make you aware of just how silly your “first world problems” are.

3. Acceptance

Many times when traveling, things don’t go your way. Buses are missed, planes are cancelled, luggage is lost or stolen, ATM cards stop working, etc. When isolated on the other side of the globe, you learn to accept what is. Over time, I realized that working with what you’ve got is much easier than fighting it. Once you apply this to your daily life, your quality of living will improve. Trust me.

4. Compassion

We are all here together, and we are all striving and looking for the same things, whether it be love, happiness, stability, or simply a hot meal. I saw this pattern unfold over time, and as my eyes awakened to it, my heart grew heavy and light at the same time. I am no different then anyone else; we all want to be happy and loved. So start by showing love to everyone you meet. As Paulo Coelho wrote, “Happiness is multiplied when divided”.

5. Creativity

It’s art time and you have 18 kindergartners, 5 pairs of scissors, 3 glue sticks, and some construction paper. Trust me, you will learn how to tap into your creative reserves.

6. Problem Solving

Your flight to Destination A is canceled, and therefore you will miss your boat to Destination B. You have to be at Destination C in 48 hours to get to work on time.

No math class on Earth can teach how to solve the above. These problem solving skills can only be learned through experience.

7. Unity 

Language barriers can be frustrating, but whenever I find myself at a loss for words, I’ve learned to simply smile. A smile is universal, and no matter what language you speak, it conveys a message of good intention and kindness. With one motion, a smile melts barriers and taps into the innate bond that all humans share. So the next time your verbal communication skills fail you, simply tap into your nonverbal reserve and smile.

At the end of the day, we are all just humans. Not Russian, not Chinese, not American; these are all just abstract man- made labels which only serve to separate us, when we should be aiming to unite.

8. Appreciation

There were a couple of times while living in Honduras that I had to leave my little village and travel to the capital, Tegucigalpa.  Tegucigalpa is very dangerous, so the only option was to stay in a fancy, gated hotel.

One of my favorite memories is arriving at the hotel and taking a nice hot bath. I soaked and soaked, and nothing in the world could have made me happier. The house where I lived in the village of Gracias didn’t have a bathtub, and even if it did, I wouldn’t have wanted to soak in the brown water that came out of the tap. Besides, even if I did dare chance it,  the water was probably shut off anyways.

I will never take running water, or a hot bath for granted ever again.

9. Sense of Humor

No toilet paper for miles and all I’ve got is an old receipt?

A creepy man following my friend around taking pictures of her feet?

The village doctor telling my roommate that she should drink more Coca-Cola because it cures all?

27 people in a van made for 12, for a 5-hour journey, and 3 people are puking?

The immigration officer asking if I would like to be his third wife?

The local vegetable vendor, who proudly sports a t-shirt 3 days of the week reading “Give me head until I’m dead”, deciding to charge me a new price for the same item every day?

Yes, we all say that it will be funny one day. But why not laugh now, and enjoy the comedy of the situation in the present?

10. Patience

Although extremely rewarding, teaching little ones is a true test of patience. Whether they need special attention, have issues at home, have attitude problems, or all of the above, as a teacher you have to be there for them through thick and thin. It doesn’t get easy, but it sure puts everything else in perspective.

In addition, living in a country with a different culture and language than your own presents another challenge.  There is no doubt about it; wanting to convey something and not knowing how to is annoying. While living abroad, you will get used to not getting things you want right away, or for that matter, even getting them at all.

I have learned invaluable lessons while teaching abroad, which have helped manifest the life I live today. Yes, there have been some uncomfortable moments, but all in all, it’s been a blessed adventure. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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