Teach Abroad

Dealing With Depression While Teaching English Abroad

Steve Patton

Steve calls Boston home, though he spends as much time on the road as he does in any one place these days.

There are really no words to describe the transformation that takes place while teaching English abroad. Living in a foreign country for an extended period of time is a life changing experience, and no matter where you go or what you wind up doing, you will learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. But as with any important experience, there are ups and downs, and sometimes, feeling down can be unavoidable.

Finding yourself in a new home, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, new scenery, and working in a different language can certainly be a bit overwhelming, and there’s no shame in admitting that things are not 100% peachy 100% of the time. We’ve all been there before, and just about everyone will feel melancholy at some point or another while living abroad.

But, the key to dealing with and overcoming those rough patches is knowing what to expect, and understanding that sometimes, you just have to take the bad with the good. So for everyone out there that has experienced case of the travel blues, here are some strategies for overcoming hard times while teaching English abroad.

1. Keep in Touch with Friends and Family

One of the most effective ways to avoid depression while teaching English abroad is keeping in touch with your friends and family back home. There have been countless times where I’ve felt a bit down while traveling, and a phone call or Skype session with a good friend back home has cheered me right back up.

So, e-mail friends and family, and let them know what you’re up to. Ask them about any new news and updates on life back home. Chat on Facebook, share your photos on Instagram, schedule a call, or even better, send some old fashioned snail mail! Getting a real letter in the mail is such a rare treat these days that your friends will appreciate that 20 cent postcard more than you even know, and it will go a long way towards making you feel more connected with your life back home.

If you have a smartphone with you, WhatsApp is becoming a really popular way to send international text messages for free -- just remember to mind your time zone!

2. Unplug from Technology

On the opposite end of the spectrum, unplugging from technology can be one of the most freeing aspects of international travel. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, or recognize that the fear of missing out on things back home is what's causing you to feel down, some time away from the internet can be a great way to relax and rejuvenate.

Some alone time with a good book or a journal, away from distractions like your phone, TV and the internet, can do wonders for the soul.

Take a weekend getaway from the city and head to the beach or the mountains or wherever you can escape to will put your mind at ease and help you remember why you wanted to teach English abroad in the first place. It’s not often that we have the opportunity to totally disconnect from technology, so embrace it while you can. Some alone time with a good book or a journal, away from distractions like your phone, TV and the internet, can do wonders for the soul.

3. Engage with Your Students

Your job can unfortunately sometimes be a source of negativity while teaching abroad. Troubles with bosses, co-workers or difficult students can weigh you down, and there is no shame in admitting that. But your classroom can also be a fantastic source of inspiration.

If you’re feeling a bit stagnant or frustrated, try introducing some new activities with your students. A new game or inventive lesson can invigorate your students, and that enthusiasm is infectious. The smile on a young learners face when he or she grasps a new lesson is often the best medicine.

And when an issue arises with your job that you’re unhappy with, it’s usually best to confront the issue rather than ignoring it until it becomes a more serious problem.

At the same time, you need to remember to pick your battles wisely. There are certain inherent differences between working in a foreign country and working at home, so it can also be to your advantage to let the little things slide. Control what you can, try to change what you can’t live with, and don’t let the rest bother you!

4. Socialize

The best way to combat homesickness and loneliness is to make new friends. A relaxing dinner out with friends and a few glasses of wine is a great way to pick up your spirits, while getting a better feel for your new surroundings at the same time.

So, don’t feel shy! Invite your coworkers or classmates out for a meal or a drink, or if you’re the culinary type, invite them over for a home cooked meal. Remember that other foreigners are in the same boat as you, and will almost always be grateful for some new friends and companionship. And locals will usually be excited to show you the ropes of their hometown, so don’t be afraid to ask. You never know who may end up being your new best friend ;D

5. Stay Active

Staying active and fit will do wonders for your mood while teaching English abroad. An hour or so of exercise a day will keep those endorphins flowing, and when your body feels healthy, your mind will usually follow suit.

Get outside, run around in the sun and get a little bit dirty!

An exercise class like yoga or kickboxing can be a great way to kill two birds with one stone and meet some new people too. So, try getting some friends together to go for a Sunday afternoon run, or organize a pickup game of your favorite sport and turn staying active into a social activity too.

There’s a reason that your parents always told you that TV will rot your brain, so get outside, run around in the sun and get a little bit dirty!

6. Create Something

When you’re feeling down, turning those negative emotions into something positive can sometimes pick you right back up. Photography is a great hobby while traveling, and taking some photos you’re proud of is an awesome feeling! Write a song or a poem about a cool adventure you’ve had, or keep a scrapbook of interesting things you find throughout your travels.

A lot of people like to keep travel blogs, and it can definitely be a cathartic activity. Keeping a blog of your journey also gives your friends and family back home another way to keep up and connect with you, but whether or not anyone actually looks at your work, you’ll always have it for yourself, and that’s the important part.

In the end, it doesn’t even matter if what you create is any good! Just the act of making something can have a very uplifting effect on your spirit.

Remember, There is No Normal

To wrap up, I think the most important part of avoiding depression while teaching English abroad, is remembering that everyone is different, and your experience isn’t going to be same as anyone else’s. It’s okay to feel down sometimes, and if you’re bummed out and just want to hang out in bed for a day watching Netflix, that’s okay too. Just don’t become complacent and let self pity become a habit. Traveling is ultimately what you make of it, and it’s up to you define what is important to you and get out there to make it happen.

Don’t become complacent and let self pity become a habit.

So don’t be scared if you don’t feel euphoric every day, but at the same time, if you start to feel truly depressed, it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes things are out of your control, and if you’re stuck in a situation that’s not right for you and doesn’t seem to be getting any better with an honest effort, get yourself out. Your health and sanity should be priority number one, just like it would be at home.