Expat Interview: Teaching English Overseas
Posted by Dannielle Noonan
Ever thought about teaching in Japan? How about Slovakia, or perhaps Germany? Read our expat interview with Amanda Kendle, who blogs at Not a Ballerina, about her overseas adventures. She might just inspire you!
Hi Amanda! Where are you from, and how did your life of travelling begin? How have you gone about finding jobs, accommodation, etc around the world?
I was born in Perth, Western Australia, and my parents infected me with the travel bug when I was eight years old - they took us out of school, flew to England, bought a motorhome and we drove around Europe for six months. When I was in my 20s, I took off on another much bigger trip, and spent over five years teaching English in Japan, Slovakia and Germany, and travelling to about thirty other countries while I was at it. Teaching English as a second language was a great way to see the world - I got to experience local life in three completely different countries, I met lots of lovely local people, learnt some languages, and used holiday time from teaching life to travel to nearby places.
You’ve lived in Japan, Slovakia and Germany – tell us a bit about the cultural quirks and ups and downs of expat life in these locations!
Japan was definitely the quirkiest place I've lived and there were cultural differences around every corner - but it was fabulous. Japanese people are infinitely patient and kind with foreigners, and didn't mind if I got things wrong. Sometimes I felt like a child when my Japanese friends would take me somewhere new, and I would follow all their instructions - when to take my shoes off, when to bow, how and what to eat.
Living in Slovakia (before it joined the EU, but after the fall of the Wall) was fascinating - my apartment was in a typical Soviet-era block, everything was super-cheap, and everyone I met had tales to tell of life under socialism - which had both its bad and good points. Curiously enough, although Germany was in many ways the most typically Western country I lived in, not so different in many ways to Australia, I found it almost harder there to figure out the local quirks - for example, I'd make mistakes like washing my car on Sunday (a big no-no where I lived).
Can you also tell us about any experiences you had with the healthcare systems and insurance in these countries?
When I lived abroad I was always a bit worried about what I'd do if I got ill. In Japan, I had a really bad root canal infection and saw a couple of slightly scary dentists (one had rusty tools, one wanted to pull out half my teeth) before discovering that one of my students was a dentist, and she then took really good care of me (and spoke English, too!). Just before I left Japan, I caught chicken pox off one of my younger students and the doctor I saw wasn't very helpful at all!
In Germany, I found that the care was really good - I had a slipped disc at one stage and the healthcare system provided me with a long series of physiotherapy appointments and rehab, which was great. I always laughed because in German this was called "Krankengymnastik" which literally sounds like "sick gymnastics"!
How do you settle in to a new community?
Because I was working as an English teacher, many of my first contacts when I moved to a new place were other ex-pat teachers. This is both good and bad - it's great to have people who speak English and who know what it's like to move to that place, but it's easy to get dependent on them and not meet any locals. So once I was settled in terms of somewhere to live, getting around, and finding food, I tried to meet locals - for example, by taking language classes and by doing volunteer work. Those were really rewarding.
What are the most difficult tasks (emotionally and in terms of paperwork) involved in planning a move?
The biggest emotional issue I had every time I moved on to a new country was that I was devastated to leave the previous one! I was always excited about moving (a little anxious of course, but mostly excited), but so sad to leave all my new friends. The internet helps me keep in touch with them but it's never the same as living in the same town.
In terms of paperwork, work and residence visas were always a huge hassle, without exception. I break out in a sweat just thinking about it!
What’s the best part of living abroad?
There are so many wonderful things about living abroad, but I think the best part is all the amazing friends I made. It really taught me that even if they have different customs or speak a different language, people are really exactly the same everywhere. I have several very special friends from my time living abroad that I miss terribly, and when I get to visit them and catch up again it makes me wish I could move back to their country!
You blog a lot about ‘reverse culture shock’ – what words of advice can you give about dealing with repatriation?
Moving back to Australia was a hard time for me. I returned to the most isolated city in the world - it's a three-hour flight to the next city - and felt kind of trapped. What helped me a lot with this reverse culture shock was finding ways to get the feeling of travelling without leaving home. That involved finding foreign friends - it helped that I was teaching English as a second language here in Perth, so I met people from all over the world regularly - and doing lots of different multicultural kind of things - I went back to Japanese classes, I learnt to cook foods from different countries, and I listened to my favourite German music. I think a lot of people (including me!) aren't expecting it to be so hard to move back home - once you realise that it's a challenge and face it head on, it gets easier.