When and where did you teach abroad? Did you go with a program?
I've been teaching English abroad for a decade. I first started in South Korea with the EPIK (English Program in Korea) program. I taught in Busan, South Korea for three-and-a-half years and then moved on to teach in Oman at a small college in Nizwa, Oman. I've taught here for six years. I took a year off to go to graduate school in Germany after my first year in Oman.
What made you want to teach English Abroad?
I was laid off from my market research job in Chicago and decided to move abroad. I had visited a few girlfriends teaching in Japan a few years prior and was always interested in having the experience for myself. I only planned to teach for a year, but I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to keep renewing my contract. A decade later, I’m still abroad.
How did you conduct your search? How did you select your program/country and/or find an employer abroad?
I originally found my job online on Monster.com, randomly searching for positions. I was deciding between Japan and South Korea at the time, after learning about Japan through friends, but ultimately decided South Korea was a better fit for me. When I was ready to leave Korea, I was considering positions in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman. I found the opportunity to teach at a college in Oman on Seriousteachers.com. After reading up on Oman, I decided that was the best fit for me. I’ve been really happy with my destination choices.
What was your biggest surprise about your teaching experience abroad?
My biggest surprise would be how easy it was for me to adapt to different cultures. I think you have to be very flexible to pull off the expat lifestyle. I tell people that this life isn’t for everyone. You will have challenges, but for me it's been a learning experience and has shown me just how adaptable I can be to changes in culture and environment.
What made your experience abroad a success?
My experience abroad has been a success for several reasons. I've discovered my own strength, willpower, met amazing people and travelled the world. Since living abroad I've visited close to 50 countries and started a travel site called I Luv 2 Globe Trot with a business partner I met in South Korea named Renee. On the blog, I document my experiences living abroad, as well as writing reviews for hotels and restaurants. Additionally, we started a travel group on Facebook iluv2globetrot, where we give advice to future globetrotters and those already traveling the globe. We've hosted group trips and meet-ups as well in the community around the globe.
How did you deal with the cultural divide during your time teaching abroad?
It's important to try to immerse yourself in the culture while living abroad. While teaching in South Korea, I took Korean lessons. I can still read my Korean letters today. I also frequented local spots like the jimjilbangs (bath houses). When I went out to places like this, I’d always have locals approaching me wanting to practice their English or become friends. Living in Oman, it’s important to respect the local culture, so dressing modestly has become important. Omanis are super friendly, and I don't have any issues living here.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Research, research, research! Researching destinations ahead of time and using social media to network beforehand is key in having a good experience abroad in my opinion. Use communities such as iluv2globetrot on Facebook. The “Black Americans Living Abroad in South Korea” community helped me a lot before my move to Korea. I also ended up writing my own book, A Guide to Landing an English Teaching Job Abroad, that has loads of tips, interviews and steps to assist in the application process for various countries.
What did you miss most about home?
What I've missed most about home is my family and friends. I've made amazing friends abroad of course, but there’s nothing like family. While I don't really miss living in the States, I do miss the people I’m closest to.
Do you have any final observations on your experience?
My final observation would be that living abroad makes you stronger in many aspects of your life. You'll learn how to handle obstacles and think on your feet, managing alone in a foreign culture.
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
Since I've been teaching abroad for 10 years, I've enjoyed this lifestyle a lot. At some point I plan to retire abroad because I love the expat life. I see myself somewhere like Portugal or Cape Town running a bed and breakfast, helping others to have fruitful experiences traveling abroad and fulfilling their dreams.
Nicole's story shows how one trip abroad can lead to a lifelong adventure. We commend her willingness to travel between multiple contrasting cultures, adapting and learning as she goes. She clearly demonstrates an entrepreneurial spirit as well, aiming to share what she's learned in her blog. We wish Nicole many more years of travel and cross-cultural immersion. If she is looking for a professional challenge, she might one day wish to move from teaching English to another type of job. A domestic position abroad, or an internationally-focused job with a North American firm, could expand her cross-cultural career understanding even further. This next level of immersion opens up even more types of cross-cultural understanding. We also wish her well with her goal of starting a small hotel business abroad. Good luck!
- This article will help you further enjoy and profit from your international experiences after returning: Re-entry After Teaching Abroad
- Teaching English As a Stepping Stone to Your International Career will help target the ways in which teaching English can lead to other opportunities.
- Women hoping to follow in Nicole's footsteps may be interested in our section, Women Living & Working Overseas.