You’ve decided to transcend national borders, maybe even the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, and teach English as a secondary language. Sweet! But one of the most stressful facets of teaching overseas can be figuring out where you’re going to live during your time abroad. You should really get the problem settled prior to even leaving, just so you know you won’t be homeless and sleeping with the rats in some sketchy alleyway. Should you rent an apartment so you can have your own place and feel the independence of living by yourself in another country? Should you settle in with another family as a homestay guest? There are several different answers to this question and there is no right answer, but as an English teacher who taught English in South Korea for 3 years, I’ll offer my own two cents.
Have a friend? Lean on them!
If you’re traveling over with someone else you know, there is no debate. Stay with them if you can tolerate it. You already know the person so this gives you an advantage right away because chances are you won’t know many, if any, in the country you’re headed to. Even if you don’t necessarily like the person I’ve found this situation to quickly change. People are different while traveling, and I’ve noticed you’ll get the “true” self of someone the further both of you get from home. As I like to think most people are inherently good, staying with them will generally mean you’ll find the better side of that person. It may be tough to acclimate to at first just like any new roommate, but once comfort levels rise you’ll feel much better.
Be Wary of Living Alone…
I headed out to South Korea without knowing anybody, Korean or American. I went 6,000 miles from home thinking I was going to quickly make friends (I’m an outgoing guy after all) and people would be dropping by to hang out and share laughs over at my apartment. This turned out to be a severe overestimation. I spent most of my free time by myself, whether that sitting at home or heading into the city. Living alone was not as glorious as I had presumed it to be and it was tough at times. I was lonely enough as it was being away from my American friends and family, but living alone in another country was a much different fish to fry.
While I managed pretty well in terms of speaking with my landlord and not having any rent-related problems, other ESL teachers weren’t so lucky. I’ve spoken to a number of people who were ordered to immediately pay additional fees and arbitrary rent payments (one guy was forced to split his rent up bi-monthly) but because they didn’t have anywhere else to stay or someone to help manage the situation, they had no choice but to abide by the landlord’s dominion. So my advice to you is this: avoid staying alone unless you are 100% certain of the situation or as a last resort.
Homestay while Away
If I were to do it all again, I would do my best to find a homestay prior to heading overseas. Culture shock isn’t as bad when you can acclimate with a family of natives. Families that accept foreign guests are usually pretty experienced when it comes to international travel and you probably aren’t the first person to stay with them. You’ll very, very rarely get a family that isn’t extremely generous and completely understanding to your feelings. Most families offer completely free or discounted housing, free meals with the family and invaluable advice when you want to get to know the area in which you are staying. You’ll meet some truly wonderful people and they really become a second family to you. So if you’re into saving money, making lifelong friends, acquiring a free culture guide, and immediate friends, what is there to lose?
Culture shock is inevitable. Even as a seasoned traveler, spending months away from home can grind on a person’s psyche. Do your best to eliminate extra stress and anxiety as best you can, because you’ll have enough as it is. In my opinion, if you can arrange a homestay that’ll give you the best shot to live a happy life teaching English abroad. Heck you might even be able to make a few extra bucks teaching English to the family’s kids or close friends. Regardless of what you choose the experience is yours, now go make the best of your life abroad!
After obtaining degrees in English Literature and English Secondary Education, Sean Lords packed up his bags and left to Seoul, South Korea where he lived for three years TEFL certification. Sean has since returned to the States and is currently at work on his Master’s degree.