Lost In Korea: 3 Major Skills You’ll Gain From Teaching Abroad

Solo Travel, south korea, Working Abroad — By on March 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm

by Kissairis Munoz

I was a magazine major in undergrad and studied foreign policy in graduate school. At no point during either of my school tenures did I consider becoming a teacher. So when I broke the news to friends and family that I was moving to Korea to teach for a year, I had quite a few conversations that went something like this: “Teaching? But you’re not a teacher!” “Teaching’s not what your degree is in,” and my favorite, “How are you going to find a job when you get back?”

Fair enough. After spending several years and thousands of dollars pursuing degrees, it’s natural to wonder whether taking a year-long “break” will affect job prospects down the road. Will employers take you seriously? Will it matter if your job industry is totally unrelated to teaching? How do you explain that teaching abroad isn’t actually a long vacation, one common misconception?

Luckily, teaching abroad equips you with valuable, marketable skills that every employer looks for. Here are three:

Public Speaking  Even though I talk a lot (seriously, I usually can’t shut up), I’d always hated public speaking. Having to speak up during company-wide meetings was enough to make my palms sweat and my voice tremble.

But when you walk into a classroom packed with kids — all of whom are watching you expectantly — and you’re standing at the front, that nervousness goes out the door quickly. It’s true what they say: kids really can smell fear. If they think you’re scared, they’ll walk all over you. It’s funny to think of kids as being intimidating but anyone who’s had to walk into a class of angry, surly 13 year olds knows they are way scarier than a room full of adults.

I learned early on to walk in with a smile on my face but with a firm attitude. Teaching classes is like being on stage and addressing an audience all. day. long. You learn to speak loudly so you don’t have to repeat things. You make eye contact with the students to ensure they are understanding. You don’t fidget lest you seem uninterested and give them any ideas. After nine months of this, I can confidently say that public speaking just isn’t intimidating to me anymore. After all, if I can keep the attention of middle schoolers who are taller than I am, I can take a presentation any day.

Flexibility  Travel in general requires you to be flexible. Canceled flights, missed trains and lost luggage all force you to be able to adapt. Teaching just takes things a few steps further.

There are cultural differences between you and the kids to get used to: it took my kindergarteners several weeks to learn that pointing with the middle finger isn’t appropriate.

Checking classwork

Then there’s the fact that no matter how well-organized your daily lesson plans are, it’s a rare day if you follow them completely. If one student doesn’t understand, it’s your responsibility not only to change the way you’re explaining something until you get through to him, but also to catch up on lessons. And the each day is filled with minor debacles — someone stole someone else’s eraser, a kid is throwing up and another one forgot their book. You learn to take a deep breath, count to five, find the eraser, grab a janitor and run to the copy machine all while staying cool, calm and collected. That’s just the attitude that employers are looking for. They want to know that when stuff hits the fan, you’ll be able to keep your wits and get through it like a professional.

Independence  No manager likes to hold an employee’s hand throughout every little task. Luckily, you’ll have lots of practice being an independent employee. As a teacher, self-sufficiency is key.

While you might have a syllabus for your classes provided by your school, it’s up to you to determine the most effective way to teach the material. It’s your responsibility to discipline students in your class. You’ll have to review with the kids for upcoming tests, check their homework and let their parents know if something is awry. Your fellow teachers are always willing to lend a hand but, ultimately, it’s up to you to make sure your classes are successful. After teaching, you’ll laugh when someone asks if you’re self-motivated.

So the next time friends and family (especially parents!) ask what you’ll get out of teaching, let them know you’re creating lots of real-life examples and anecdotes to share on your next job interview.

Photo credit: jonny goldstein/flickr, Kissairis Munoz


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