I remember the first time I arrived in South Korea to teach at 23, feeling completely overwhelmed and underprepared. Jet lag also doesn’t help with the nerves! I look back on this daunting feeling of being submerged in new surroundings with great fondness, with each new place nothing is quite the same as the first time you set up your international teaching gig. I remember having to find a phone box (yep, they still had those) to make a call to my mum in the middle of the night for some reassurance. Fear not, being as connected as we are now you are always a call, text or social media post away from support!
Your mind is probably overflowing with questions: What is the school like? What will happen when I arrive? How will I meet people? What if I don’t speak the language? Our Teacher Horizons advisors talk to hundreds of teachers each week who are thinking of embarking on a new life abroad. The fear of the unknown can be anxiety-inducing, but we are here to reassure you with tips to enable you to embrace the roller coaster, so you can buckle in and enjoy the ride.
1) Use Social Media
Use Social Media to get to know what is happening in the area you will move to. There are now so many expat groups, and probably groups specifically for teachers – maybe even your school- so do your research and get connecting! Taking advantage of social media is a great way to build your support network to help you before you even set foot there, it also increases your likelihood of having someone to meet in person when you get there.
2) Familiarise yourself with the language
At the very least learn key phrases like hello, thank you, goodbye. The locals really appreciate it and it will fill you with more confidence. If you have time to enrol on a course or do some online language learning beforehand hand that will also support you immensly in fitting in.
Thinking of moving to China? For helpful tips on applying for a Chinese visa go here.
3) Familiarise yourself with the culture
Do your research and familiarise yourself with the culture. Going in completly blind to a new culture will only increase that feeling of being overwhelmed. Learn their cultural norms and get set to adopting them straight away. The locals will appreciate that you are trying and it will help you feel welcomed.
4) Bring some items from home
Bring some familiar items that will offer you comfort in those moments of culture shock or home sickness. This might seem a little silly, but settling in with some old favourites will enable you to feel more relaxed and more on the path to building that homely feeling. For me, it is always tea bags, some photos and a blanket from my travels.
5) Give your body time to adjust
Be gentle on yourself and your body in the time of adjustment, new places will often play havoc on our bodies while we adjust to new foods, temperatures, water etc. Your school will likely help you get set up with healthcare but also bring some of your pharmacy staples with you…nothing worse than trying to navigate some paracetamol with a migraine, only to learn they don’t sell them off prescription.
6) Organize your important documents
One thing that has always helped me feel more confident before setting off to a new job abroad is having a documents folder. Airport travel before even arriving at the destination can already ignite those anxious feelings, so it is wise to have all your essential documents neatly together. Even though now electronic copies can suffice, I always like to have a back-up just in case. I always have a folder in my carry-on with a copy of my passport, all itineraries and tickets, insurance, vaccination book, and sometimes my CV or contract for the job just in case. Even if you don’t have to pull them out on your way there it makes for easy reference whenever you might need them.
And finally, a bonus mind hack for you. Give yourself a break, you are going to feel overwhelmed, nervous and homesick but it’s okay! You’ll soon settle in. You will look back on this in years to come with a sense of awe and achievement.