Is TEFL Lonely?

lonely.JPGOne of people’s biggest fears about teaching abroad is that they won’t meet anyone and will be alone too often. Is this a realistic fear?

Yes and no. I’ve been fortunate to meet an excellent bunch of people – other foreigners and locals, some of whom merely by chance – who are happy to hang out, and you may be too, especially if you are working in a school with a preponderance of first-year native speaker teachers.

However, I’m also very comfortable and even fond of spending time on my own – a weekend without any plans is absolutely fine for me. Most teachers get a good deal of human interaction during communicative classes as well – though of course this is work, not play. Despite this, my first year teaching felt extremely isolated in many ways. To be fair, the end result is at least partly connected to how much you put into it…but there are some natural constraints:

Locals have their own lives and so may second- or third-year foreign teachers. Fairly enough, many people are hesitant to invest their time and energy in a friendship that is more or less certain to end in a year.

I don’t think the situation would be much different in reverse, but most of us are used to having a social network already in place at home. And even if you move to a new city in your own country…you are generally expecting to stay longer than a year, which facilitates making friends.

When stressful things happen – like moving, starting a new job, or dealing with on-the-job challenges – many people find solace in having others around. Teaching abroad puts you in a position to go through many of these experiences, and you should be prepared for the very real possibility that you will have to deal with some of these things alone, or at least without the wide support network you might have at home.

But on the positive side, even though you may not enjoy dealing with everything alone, you gain the knowledge that you can. Knowing that you can move to another country and work a job and figure out what to do whatever happens is pretty empowering.

The other plus to this type of situation is that it widens your friendship “horizons.” You may well find other EFL teachers in the same boat, and people who have traveled and do travel are often more open to keeping in touch loosely and meeting up in the future. These may be different kinds of friendships – friendships that are based on daily or weekly meetings may fall apart when you are apart, but this other type can grow and even prosper.