TEFL Safety

There are from time to time sad stories that appear in the news about EFL teachers encountering problems with crime abroad; while these stories are no less sad than stories about misfortunes that befall others, they often hit closer to home. As EFL teachers abroad we are in foreign countries where we probably cannot read the cultural “writing on the wall” as well as we would be able to at home, we generally aren’t fluent in the language and may not even know exactly where and how to get help in an urgent situation. Our families may not know our day to day whereabouts, and even if they did, they might not be in the same position to help as they are at home.

Is it unsafe to teach abroad? I think this would be a gross overgeneralization. Most countries are statistically – and practically – safer than the US and perhaps other English speaking countries EFL teachers hail from as well. It would be silly to say that EFL teachers aren’t at a bit of a disadvantage safety-wise, not knowing “the lay of the land”, but my impression is that EFL teachers do not generally encounter major problems with crime – or at least in my experience of the web I don’t tend to hear about it.

It’s hard to say “what you can do”, aside from taking general safety measures, like letting people know where you are, staying in public areas, using your best judgment and erring on the side of safety. Knowing emergency numbers or having the number of someone who does and can translate is one step which, in the past, I have rather ridiculously skipped. All that said, there are few magic precautions that actually guarantee things will be fine – and in the odd case where someone might say “the person should have…”, the reality is that all of the facts are rarely available. Another reality is that there is risk in any choice you make; my personal view is that the risk of teaching abroad in most places is less than many people worry – and there is a great amount to gain from living in another culture.