Saturday, January 28, 2006

Tomorrow is the beginning of the Spring Festival and Chinese people are on the move. Scurrying like columns of ants toward the loading platforms to return to their families. Since I am a teacher at a university I'm enjoying some time off and catching up on some things that I have been wanting to do. They keep the trains moving here, I hear them day and night as I live on a street that has the line. It's not bothersome, in fact I enjoy watching the trains pull out and come in. One tradition I enjoy are the dumplings at this time of year. It's part of the traditional meal. They filled with many varieties of food such as lamb, pork, peppers, cabbage, beef, egg, shrimp and pretty much whatever you think goes together well.

Harbin is supposed to have a ban on fireworks. Well at least I have been told that. Which is pretty funny. If there is a ban it is overlooked by the police and there are large displays from tops of buildings and the streets and it will be ongoing for about two weeks. When I was in I Chang it was customary to light off the large string of firecrackers in the stairwells of the apartments. Really loud! Hopefully all the bad spirits will be frightened away and 2006 will be a good year for us all. One thing that you see a lot of in Harbin is the practice of burning yellow paper on the street corners. Nobody seems to know the origins, my guess is that is probably comes from Taoism, where honoring the past ancestors is practiced, Shintuism also has some of these characteristics. The idea is that the paper is money and they are sending money to the newly departed or perhaps long departed relatives. It begins with drawing a circle on one of the corners of the street. First burning some paper outside the circle for those other spirits and then burning the bulk of it inside the circle. Being the smart ass that I am I have asked, if you believe that you should burn real money. Fat Chance.

Another tradition is the red envelopes with gifts of money for the unmarried and commonly for the young ones. Schools will have lots of new children in new coats and other clothing as shopping and marathon games and television viewing will dominate the holidays. For me, I am having fun promoting and working at the computer. Hope you get some red envelopes and have a great new year. Tomorrow I will walk you through a couple of techniques to get your blog seen and listed with the major search engines.


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Monday, January 23, 2006

Digital Cameras have got to be one of the coolest products to hit the market. They have opened up so many ways to document your travel. I like my shots of Icelights but I found some really outstanding shots from R Todd King. I think his photos really capture some of the atmosphere of the Snow and Ice festival. Which attracts artists from around the world. Be sure to take a look at his other sites in China.

There are so many sites to explore when you are contemplating working abroad as an English teacher. I hope I can save you a bit of time and point you to some resources that will help you have a successful working experience in China. Well anywhere really the principles are the same. It's all common sense deligence. My aim with this blog is to give you a feel for the lifestyle. Practical steps for finding a decent job at a good school can be found here. I highly recommend Transitions Abroad. The link is in the right column of the blog.

Let's get down to some of the daily tasks and how to go about them. When I left the states, I used to do most of my banking online, and I still do, but one thing I did not consider that has become a bit of a problem is my bank card. Since I have been here three years and have not been home yet, my card has expired. I arranged to have the bank send it to my school but it never has arrived. Getting mail at your real address is even more sketchy. There really is no mail delivery as we know it. A notice is delivered and may be stuck on your apartment door. Curious neighbors may take a peek or your delivery person may not be able to find it. Whatever the case may be mail is a problem. You may want to get a box at China Post. I do recommend that you have at least one credit card with you for emergencies. If you don't have a card get one here before you leave. Well now would be better. You see one of the ways I am able to maintain my travels is through simple free businesses like this. Believe me the internet will be a big part of your life, unless you have no friends or family to communicate with. You need that card for emergencies. Now, back to banking. Most schools will pay in cash. So you may not be comfortable storing that under your mattress. You most likely will need a Chinese friend to help you with this. It's pretty painless and you should be able to set up an account and get an ATM card in 30-45 minutes. Be sure to bring your passport and resident card. It is very convenient and machines have English, so it is a breeze to use. You will not be able to purchase anything with it online. It is just for ATMs. So if you want to get something online you need to have a bank card or credit card or prepaid visa. So get it now.

I put 1128 people in my Imvite downline and I am going to do the same in this new business. This is something anyone can do that has an internet connection, and as a teacher you will have one. Most likely it will be ADSL. It will not be as fast as Korea's but not to shabby. I urge you to take a look see it for yourself. You will be happy you did. Monetize your Blog. Next post I'll show you a very simple way to make a few bucks or a substantial income, larger than your salary teaching in China in just 30 minutes per day.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Teachers in China as well as locals will enjoy the worlds largest wild natural animal park. The Manchurian Tiger is the star performer here in Harbin on the northern bank of the Songhua River. Special cars will take you through the park for viewing this spledid animal. Here is a site put up by HIT, or Gong Da, Harbin Institute of Technology, which will show you all of the major attractions in the city. HIT is the best university in Harbin. What I mean is that HIT is the highest rated University in the province. I believe I had heard that it had made the top ten at one point in time. Some of my peers at Sunshine International Language Center in Harbin were working there as part of their contract with Sunshine. As stated before, some private language schools will contract their teachers to the local schools. It may be a middleschool, a university, a private high school. There are all kinds of variations. The bottomline is it brings in money to the private schools. Some teachers don't mind this, as they have a certain amount of hours to be filled, whereas others see this as inconvenient, or perhaps even feel that they are being "used". Each situation could be different. Just remember you are a bit of a commodity, and the more control you have over your work conditions the happier you will be. I didn't like being farmed out much but it was a business decision that I understood. I was always treated well by Sunshine. It also gave me more contacts which helped me to gain a position which was much better. So it can be exploited from the teachers side as well. Chinese culture values relationships and these relationships ultimately may determine your success in China. Cooperation is highly valued and exploilted.

If you want to see some horror stories, you can find them regarding many different countries. China schools are no exception. I have been lucky, or perhaps as some say, luck is being prepared when opportunity knocks. I always checked out the jobs and talked to people, or in my current job had worked there, during my contract with the private school. If you were interested in Harbin as a possible teaching city, you may like HIT. Generally the ads I have seen for HIT are among the lower salaries, but you have a higher level of students there. It is also in a good area. You could do a lot worse than HIT. Here's one tip that will save you lots of grief. When you are going through your process be sure to do some searches on the schools for negative posts from former teachers. You may find different opinions posted about the same school. Almost all of the ESL jobsites have forums that have comments from teachers. You may be able to find a former teacher's email and get some first hand knowledge about the school. Due Diligence!

For anyone who would like to chat about teaching in China or any of my friends, family or peers who might be checking this out, please download this messenger. It's one of the ways I make extra money while I'm on the road. It's free to use so check it out. It will save you lot's of money on phone calls, with the audio and video chat. You can also save some cash when you shop online. Your mother will thank you.


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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sofia's church is one of the must see sites in Harbin. Probably the most famous Russian built structures in Harbin. It is not an active church anymore, it now hosts a museum about the Japanese experiments during their occupation of Manchuria. It is also home to some lucky pigeons who have escaped being eaten. It was rebuilt in brick after buring down. Across the street is a store that is typical of many in China, kind of like a mall, or really a small. Stalls for each small businessman or woman. These are the kinds of places you can bargain at. I found my oven there. Gotta have that pizza and roast beef.

Let's talk about workloads in the different teaching positions. The lifestyle is quite different. If you are at a university teaching it will be more like a routine you are used to. Assuming you have a day job and do about 8 hours. You will probably have around 4.5 to 5 hours of student contact in the classroom. So with your prep, and marking you may work more than 40 hours. Especially at first, and the days will fly by. You will have your weekends off. You will probably have to make your tests and record your marks. It helps to be familiar with Excel and Word as all the software here is Microsoft. Some classes are large. So marking can definately be time consuming. You know this if you have taught before, but as many of you reading this may not have teaching experience you need to be aware of this. So when you see the ads that say 16 hours of classes per week, just remember that's probably less than half the job. So you will perhaps be busier for a 13-14 week period and may have 5 weeks off for the Spring Festival. Then you can travel. Many of my peers will be returning to Canada for a month, others have chosen to see Beijing, Shanghai, Hainan, Pakistan. Traveling out of the country is easier now as you don't need a re-entry visa as long as you have the proper documents, which are now in your passport.

Should you choose a private language school, a business, you will have many of your days free, work in the evenings and on weekends. You may teach 16 hours in two days so you could have several days off per week or just one class. Many contracts are for twenty hours of classes per week. So a busy weekend school may load you up on the weekend. In contrast to the university you many not have alot of other duties besides teaching. The occassional event such as Christmas or talent night or English corner at some schools are usually part of the deal and you must be sure at contract time what is expected with these type of events. Usually they're fun and not too time consuming. It's alot easier to get things done working at these type of schools as you are able to move about the city to do your business, or shopping. There are fewer hours overall working for the private schools and you can usually just show up for the teaching. Some schools will offer lunch or dinner if you have classes in the afternoon and one in the evening. My first job here in Harbin was at such a school and they employed a cook and a cleaner. You may find the cook to be a good source for learning Chinese. Handy when you are buying your own food at the market.

I feel either choice can be a good one, ofcourse you also have the age factor for choosing your Chinese teaching job. Well, on a personal note, I have finished my contract and again I don't know if I will be teaching at the same school. I hope so as the money is quite good and it is good most of the time. Now my pressing decision is will I travel during the Spring Festival? My Chinese girlfriend will go, the question is will I. It's required you know, you must go home and eat dumplings and watch TV marathons and play games. It's a family thing.


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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Teaching in developing countries is a great way to see the world. I mean that in many different ways. You gain perspective about so many different things. I have to say that, the type of person who is attracted to this lifestyle is usually quite likeable, independent, adventuresome, and looking for more in life than the more "normal" folks. For the most part a very likeable group. It's kinda like being at a party, and there's one person that is just interesting because of the path they took in life. With a group of expats teaching in a developing country you may have a whole room full of them. Now I know most of the world thinks of China as a developing country but I sometimes have difficulty with that idea. Yes, they are developing, at a tremendous rate. My point is that it is developed to the point that soon we won't call China a developing country as it may shoot past many other countries.

If your focus is to see a lot of China while you are teaching the best way to do that is to get a job at a university. For example the fall semester is ending right now, second week of January. The spring festival is coming and my classes will start up again the first week of March. You could have six to seven weeks off. You may want to choose a school in an area close to what you want to see. The travel allowance which most universities offer will cover the cost of any trains and in most cases hotels too. Two thousand Yuan is pretty average for a university travel allowance. It won't cover the cost of a 4 star hotel for very long though. If you have a travel partner you can save quite a lot on hotels. Be sure to find out if you are paying for a room or per person. Some hotels have different prices for more than one person.

Chinese people often travel to parents or grandparents homes during this time and stay with them for up to a month. There are several week long vacation periods in China so short trips are possible throughout the year. Usually you can get a ticket about 4 days before your travel. Long term reservations on the trains don't seem to be possible. The planes are pretty much like you would see in the west, except most are sold out most every flight. If you absolutely are stuck and have to get a ticket, there will probably be "scalpers" if you are traveling during a peak time. They tend to hang out around the station, of course, you will pay a premium price for the ticket and may risk buying a "knock off". You might want the help of a Chinese friend for this part. Foreigners can be taken advantage of if they don't have sharp bargaining skills.

Let's talk a bit about that. Haggling is expected here. Most of us are just no good at it as we don't do it much, save a garage sales or when we buy a home or car. There are certain times when you may be quoted a price that is 3,4, or 5 times more than what they are willing to sell for. It's quite interesting and I feel I have attained a certain level of skill in these type of bargaining sessions. If you keep you eyes and ears open you can and learn a few phrases, you will even draw a crowd when you are bargaining. I have a whole routine, complete with faces and squealing sounds to indicate I think their price is way too high. Okay, here's a short Chinese lesson, raise your eyebrows, bug your eyes, and say gweeela, and then step back a bit and frown at them. This will undoubtedly illicit at laugh from anyone looking on. Believe me, they all want to know what you are buying, that goes for vegetables to electronics. If you have the time, check the other vendors for the same of similar items and come back if you have to. You will instantly gain more respect from the seller with just a few words of Chinese. The small businesses will almost always bargain.

In summary, if travel is what you are looking for, find a university job. You will get a free apartment, with TV, furnishings, bottled water, cooking utensils pretty much most everything you will need. And your salary, be it small by western standards, will allow you to eat out as often as you like and get there by taxi. You will be firmly in the middle to upper class when it comes to spending power. Or just sock it away for a nice long vacation at some nice beach.
Happy Trails


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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Working abroad is a great adventure, but it is a good idea to do your research. I think back to the time when I was contemplating the big "move" and recall several months of surfing reading and getting as much information as I could. As mentioned in the previous blog entry, my first teaching position was at the University of Beijing, commonly know as Beida, and historically named Peking University. In some ways I lucked out, as it was a good position at a great institution. One that has opened many doors for me. The mere mention of the name is enough to raise a few eyebrows. In other ways it was totally due to my correspondence and interaction with the contact person for the job. Yes, I also had some teaching experience at the college level in the states but not much. My field is communication arts, in the theatre. There are many related fields that are suitable background for success in the area of ESL. If you aren't confident about your abilities to teach in the area, a small investment in an online TEFL certificate course would be money wisely spent as it will open more doors for you at a higher salary. However, most BA educated people will have the skills they need to get entry level jobs, as there is a high demand for native speakers.

One thing you should be aware of is that a school must possess a license to hire a foreign teacher. Although there are many ways around this situation. Sometimes a school will have a license and a teacher will be hired using that license and used in someone else's school. This may cause problems getting your resident permit. Or some schools will just tell you that you can come over on a tourist visa and then they will have your visa changed to a Z visa. This does happen, but if at all possible you should do it right and go through the process, of invitation, visa application and this will save you lots of headaches.

Another thing to be aware of is the practice of farming you out. Typically, a private language school may have heavy weekend schedules. Classes during the week are usually targeted to an older market or business English. The bulk of students are 6-15 years old. So in order to get those heavy weekend crowds, several teachers are needed, but may not be too busy during the week. So many schools contract with schools to provide a foreign teacher. So you are a money maker for them and not yourself. You may also be placed in a situation that is not that great, and you probably will be paid only for the actual hours. You could spend half your day for two or maybe three hours of pay. Travel time, prep, all come at your expense. I'm not sure what the going rate is but I'm sure that it would not happen if the schools weren't making money at it. In fact I have been told that is where the money is at. So be aware that when you read and add for a private language school that says you may teach at a primary or middle school, the school is really brokering you for a profit. That does not mean that the experience will be bad, but you should understand this.

Try to get the emails of any current teachers at the school you are considering. See if they will divulge their salaries and other important details about the conditions. Telephone them or chat on messenger. Do they have staff or ownership that speak English well enough for you to communicate? This is really important as you will need lots of help at first just to do what you need to do. You may want to start with one of the larger language training schools that have been doing this for a long time. You don't want to find the doors to your school locked up and shut down and your salary gone too. As long as your documents are in order you will be able to find another position. Even if it is not the start of a school year. And the last tip; always get a letter of release from your employer at the end of your contract. Without it you may not be able to secure another position. Use your head! You will learn as you go, but you surely should learn as much as possible before you go.


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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Travel now easier as a teacher in China.

There have been some recent changes in the visa resident permit area that will make things much easier for teachers and the Chinese as well. This is a good sign. It used to be that you needed your z visa, which enabled you to work, and a resident permit that was renewable yearly. The visa was placed in your passport and the resident card was in a green book. The resident card was the most important document. Your z visa actually doesn't have a expiration date on it. So you had to update the resident card yearly. You still have to update that yearly, but now there is no separate book for the resident card. It is also placed inside your passport. So one less document to carry around. Not that I carry mine. The best part about this change includes the ability to go home on a break and then re-enter the country, effectively making it a multiple entry visa. This is a big step for the Chinese and shows someone is thinking to streamline the process. This really simplifies the process of going back home during the spring festival or the summer break. If you are at a university you may want to do this.

A rule of thumb for documents, make copies! You should always have at least a copy of your passport with you. Especially, if you are relinquishing your passport for visas or resident permits. It always makes me a little uncomfortable to give up my passport but this is the process and it usually takes less than 2 weeks. That is one reason it is so important to have a good school to teach at. They have foreign affairs officers to assist you with these matters. You will need your passport for many things, such as opening a bank account, should you desire one. It is a cash and carry society but many people use the ATM machines. If you are going to be needing wire transfers The Bank of China is where you need to do it. It is one of two banks going through a reform process to upgrade and standardize the banking to the excepted international standards. If you get paid cash and won't be converting any into dollars any bank will do or even no bank at all. You may need a phone if you rent an apartment, and you will need to have your passport for that as well. Checking into a hotel? Bingo passport.

One more tip, make sure you start these things early enough so that you don't try and leave with an expired visa. You might end up paying a fine just to leave. Some people come to China on a tourist visa and then get another when they find a job. I recommend that you do your homework, get an official invitation from a school. Most will send you an preliminary contract, you must then send that information with your passport to the nearest consulate and you will likely not be reimbursed for the initial visa. Subsequent visas should be paid for by the school. If you start off right each teaching assignment could lead to a better one. I have doubled my salary, well nearly triple it in three years. I started at Beida, Peking University (Beijing U.) because I knew I could then teach most anywhere I wanted and have a better chance of getting a top salary at any given institution.

Here's a insiders tip. The high paying jobs are usually jobs associated with a western university. If they are administering a program in partnership with the Chinese school there is a good chance the pay will be closer to the western wage. That's the case with me. I teach at a Chinese University for a Canadian College. So you may want to consider looking at home for schools that have joint ventures with Chinese schools.


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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Teaching abroad offers so many great opportunities for to those who are brave enough to explore. You may find lifetime friends along the way. You surely will be seen as a unique person by all of your circle of friends, whether they are at home or in your new home. Let's talk a little about housing in China. If you are teaching at a university you will have at least a one bedroom apartment with kitchen living room area. Most of these places will have most everything you need. Most will offer bottled water, a washing machine, TV, internet. Most schools will post this information on their recruiting materials so be sure to take a look at what is provided. If you are more adventuresome, you may want to have your own apartment outside of your workplace. There are rentals that have some furnishing as some Chinese people invest in another apartment and rent one. So there may be some furnishings, a bed, desk, wardrobe.

Here are a few things to expect. You may have to pay for several months in advance. This is the practice not the exception. Everyone is used to 1st and last months rent, and perhaps a security fee, the idea of having to pay 6 months at once or even a year is surely new for most westerners. I paid for one year in my current place. My advice is to fully concentrate on your teaching for the first few months, save your salary as best you can so that you have the option of finding your own place. The majority of positions offer free housing. As this is a considerable expense for them, you may not get the highest quality place. This is one drawback, contrasting the type of apt. you may get at a university. They are usually quite modern as the building craze here is non stop. I have never seen so many cranes in my life. It's all about what you like and want. Most apartments have small bathrooms and kitchens, they usually share a wall for the plumbing. The bathrooms have a drain in the floor and you shower in the room, there isn't a shower stall in most. The hot water heater is usually in the bathroom mounted to the wall. Kitchen may not have hot water or another heater may be used but this is not common to have two. I have seen on-demand gas heaters in kitchens in Yi Chang.

Kitchens may be very small and narrow in older buildings. You can never tell what an apartment may be like from the outside as some interiors are really nicely furnished but the outside of the building may be less than attractive. Many kitchens and bathrooms may not have an electrical outlet, only a light, in older buildings. There may be only one outlet in your living room or bedroom. So the multi plug market is hot. If you are only signing a contract for six months or a year, your best bet is to take the housing that is offered. You may like your fellow teachers and enjoy the bonding. The advantage of having your own place is experiential, you get a better feel for the culture as you are living the same way as others. You'll know when it is time to make the move into a more independent situation. One investment I recommend is a small oven, if you like to make any of the things you make at home this is very helpful. Sometimes you just want roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, or a pizza with real cheese, or sticky rolls. Oh, be sure to bring the potato masher with you if you come as I have never seen one here in any store or street market. Yes, I admit it! I like potatoes better than rice!


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Thursday, January 05, 2006

The International Snow and Ice festival officially opened today. Complete with fireworks and hoopla. Harbin revels in the cold and the people take great pride in presenting this wonderful display of "art ice" to people from around the world. When I arrived home this evening, the news showed some very brave and perhaps slightly waco swimmers in an outdoor pool. It must have been an official function as there was a long line of officials there braving the cold. Now, I'm not sure where you live or if you have ever been in a frigid area, but it can be numbing if you are not prepared. I remember -30 F during some winters in Wisconsin, and Minnesota generally has the lowest reading in the U.S. at International Falls, but somehow the current -25 C seems just as cold or colder. So seeing men swimming in this cold is quite awe inspiring and comical. This current picture is from a previous Icelights festival. This picuture turned out pretty well. Picture this, you're bundled up like a Michelin man with your ski gloves on, down jacket, a fleece vest, a sweater, long john tops, longjohns, thermals and wool long johns; and you have to time the photo so that the exhaust of your breath doesn't hover like a ghost between you and your subject.

The attraction is quite affordable at or near 80 rmb or about 10.00 U.S. per person. I have attended each winter that I have been here in Harbin. Some displays are sponsored by leading Chinese companies, such as TCL, Haier, Lenova, Harbin Brewing, ect., and others are independant artists. Harbin seems to have a large number of artists. The portrait artists are frequently seen on Center street. I have found some art galleries with high quality paintings and other fine items priced quite low. At the Icelights festival it is the sculptures that take center stage. The mix of lighting and ice is really quite beautiful. One could spend quite a few hours there enjoying the sights if you have dressed warm enough.

If you would like more information about life in China as a teacher of ESL, you are welcomed to use an instant messenger, and I would be happy to chat. You can find the best messenger here. It will come in handy ordering a gift for Mom when you are on the road.


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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

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Teaching English Abroad has lots of rewards. I ran across this great article that sums it all up rather nicely. Enjoy! Worldtour

Learn To Teach English As A Foreign Language By John Davison

Perhaps you are at career crossroads, and you are looking for a more fulfilling and interesting way to utilize your skills. If you are interested in teaching and traveling to exciting and interesting destinations, then you might want to consider teaching English as a foreign language abroad. English is the most commonly spoken language in the world today, and desire of those in other countries to learn the English language is growing at a steady rate. Therefore, there is a demand for bright and motivated individuals to teach conversational and written English to those abroad, both young and old.

The benefits of teaching English as a foreign language in another country are numerous. Not only are you providing a service to those who desire it, but you will benefit from those you teach as well. In choosing to teach the English language in one of several locales such as Southeast Asia, South America, Western Europe, and the Middle East, you will learn about new cultures and traditions. You will have the opportunity to shatter stereotypes regarding our own American culture. You will have the opportunity to do a large amount of traveling to neighboring nations. You will become self-reliant and self-assured on your journeys, and you will certainly make many new friends.

Teaching English as a foreign language can have many benefits for your career as well. Your exposure to new surroundings and your experience teaching will garner you excellent communication skills. You might find that your prior work experience coupled with your new teaching venture will provide you with a considerable amount of career options when you have completed your teaching duties. You will have opportunities to change your life and career on a global scale.

Because the demand for instructors to teach the English language abroad has increased, so has the demand for more qualified individuals to apply. Language schools are highly discriminating when it comes to hiring new instructors. That is why it is important to get your certification in TEFL/TESOL (Teaching English as a foreign language/Teaching English as a second language) if you intend to apply for a position with a language school. Certification demonstrates to potential employers that you are serious in taking on this challenging new career. Certification can be achieved by taking courses at a number of campuses nationwide, and there are even certification course programs available online. Receiving your certification for teaching English as a foreign language will certainly prepare you to be a more effective and successful teacher by instructing you on how to teach grammar, how to teach vocabulary, how to teach speaking, how to teach writing, how to motivate your students, how to manage a classroom, and how to construct lesson plans. Receiving your certification will also better prepare you for a move abroad, which can be daunting and stressful. Having the peace of mind in knowing that you are fully qualified to perform your new job will help to alleviate some of the stress in throwing yourself into an entirely new country and culture.

Teaching the English language to students in foreign nations can be exciting, fulfilling, and highly enjoyable. It is a mutually beneficial experience for you and your students. Not only are you representing your own country and culture, and imparting your personal knowledge of the English language and your culture onto others, but you are also learning about other individuals and their various experiences and traditions. While broadening your mind and experiencing something totally unique, you are also embarking on an exciting new career, one that has the opportunity to open many new doors for you professionally.

About the Author: John is a director of numerous Internet companies and is a published author. Many articles have been produced on a variety of subjects with excellent content and depth. All his articles may be reproduced provided that an active link is included to


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"The roots of education are bitter but the fruit is sweet". Aristotle