When I stepped out into the world to teach English in South Korea in 2009, I knew it was going to be a memorable experience. As expected, I gained irreplaceable memories from teaching, trying new food, learning the language, and immersing myself in a new culture.
[Teaching abroad as a family] was an unconventional decision, but one we never would have taken back for the world.
But it didn't stop there. Unexpectedly, I picked up two other wonderful things along the way: my husband and my son. I got married to a fellow American teacher in September 2009 and in October 2010, we had our son. After our contracts ended in Korea, we decided we wanted to continue living abroad and teaching abroad in Taiwan -- this time as a family.
It was an unconventional decision, but one we never would have taken back for the world. If you're wondering why, or perhaps considering teaching abroad with your family as well, read on to find out why we decided to teach abroad as a family, and a few tips for anyone considering to bring their family along while teaching English overseas.
Introduce Your Family to a New Language and Culture
Out of all our reasons for teaching English abroad with a family, the opportunity for all of us to immerse ourselves in another language and culture has truly been the most valuable to us. It’s such a great experience to share with your family -- especially children, who soak up new words and cultural tidbits like a sponge just by being around them.
Even if you do make an effort to have a globally aware family at home, it still doesn't compare to learning the language and culture in your daily activities, through your co-workers and new friends abroad, and classes.
If language and cultural immersion are one of your priorities as well, ask your co-workers if there are any language classes or tutors they would recommend once you've settled in. You can also network on online forums or sites -- that’s how my husband and I found our Chinese tutor.
Or, have some family fun and getting involved in neighborhood activities or other events. As a family, we’ve enjoyed Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue parties, participated in neighborhood flea markets, and joined in special Halloween trick-or-treating, all the meanwhile improving our Chinese and immersing ourselves in our new home.
For families with young children, ask around your workplace or your neighborhood about nannies and babysitters. Some of these can be older women who may have families of their own. After our son was born, we asked around our neighborhood and found a wonderful woman who has a son the same age. While my husband and I work during the day, she took care of our son, fed him Chinese food, took him on field trips, and best of all, she spoke strictly in Chinese with him. My son is almost four years old now and he speaks fluent Chinese, (as well as English, of course!)
When we shop, eat out, and run errands, we make ourselves speak Chinese as much as possible. We take our son to museums and other sites around Taipei. We just step out and learn the language and enjoy learning the culture. Every day and every small experience is an opportunity to learn something new about a part of the world we may have never known much about otherwise.
It’s More Affordable
Although this may not be the case in all popular teach abroad destinations, it’s certainly true for many. For example, the cost of living in Taiwan, especially outside of Taipei, is incredibly reasonable -- as are the salary expectations for ESL teachers in Taiwan. At our jobs, my husband and I make over $2000 USD a month each. On this salary, we're able to pay the rent and bills on a cute 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment, eat out every so often, and still have enough money left over to spend on entertainment and even to send money home to the States. Our family is also covered by excellent health insurance, which is cheaper compared to the United States.
It's important to research the salaries, benefits, and overall cost and quality of living so you can pick the job and destination that’s right for you and your family.
Keep in mind, however, that every country and every school offers different salaries and benefits. Before committing to a teach abroad destination, it's important to research the salaries, benefits, and overall cost and quality of living so you can pick the job and destination that’s right for you and your family. For example, most schools in Asia pay enough for one person to live comfortably. Some also provide accommodations -- for single teachers. Even so, many of those schools are willing to give housing allowances and assistance for teachers who need something bigger for their families. In other teach abroad destinations, like jobs for teaching in the Middle East benefits for you to bring your entire family are commonplace.
It’ll Give You Opportunities to Travel
It's no secret that teaching jobs anywhere mean great vacation time, and it's no exception with ESL teaching jobs abroad. All schools give their employees a certain amount of vacation days and personal leave. You can also expect national holidays off.
Every school is different in the amount of vacation time they give their employees, but you can still expect some pretty good time off and use that time to travel around with your family.
My husband’s school provided him at least two weeks’ vacation during Chinese New Year and one month off in the summer. Because of that, we’ve been able to travel between Taiwan and the United States during the summer to see family and friends.
We’ve also been able to travel to France and Italy and we plan for future travels in Dubai, Japan, and Germany as our son grows older. Even though we love Taiwan, we don't want the new experiences to stop there!
Another great thing about teaching English abroad with a family is that you can invite other members of your family from your home country to visit. We’ve welcomed both of our mothers, and given our son quality “grandmother time,” all while introducing our extended family to our host culture as well!
You Become a Tighter Family Unit
What makes this whole experience work for us is that we approach it like a team. We made the choice for all of us to thrive here, and if any or all of us are ever unhappy, we will make changes together. My husband and I knew we wanted to teach abroad with our son so he could have an extraordinary cultural experience and we could make a decent and stable living.
Consequently, you should be confident of your reasons to make this big life change with your family. Are you doing it to make a better life for your family? Are you doing it for an immersive cultural experience?
You also need to make sure this is something your whole family wants to do. Include your children in the discussion by having them think about what they can learn by living in another country. Ask your children what kind of activities they would like to pursue in the new country. Even though our son is still young, we’ve noticed how much he loves dancing, martial arts, and science. We’ve taken him to the Taipei Astronomical Museum and the National Taiwan Science Education Center. He loves learning about different dance styles at folk villages and amusement parks, and we plan on putting him in dance and martial arts classes when he’s older, if he’s interested.
Since we are far away from our families, we have become very self-sufficient as a nuclear family. I can’t always pick up the phone and call my mother if I need advice about child rearing, paying bills, and other daily tasks.
Furthermore, living abroad empowers you as a family to face language barriers, culture shock, new ideas, and lifestyle changes together, and you can adapt in ways that work for you and your family -- especially since what might be the norm in your host country may not correlate easily with your own values and preferences for raising a family.
For example, I don’t agree with letting my young son stay awake past nine at night, which I see many families in my neighborhood do. So, we have figured out an early evening/bedtime routine that works with all of our schedules and gives him the rest time he needs. We also adapt holiday traditions, such as Christmas, so that we as a family can still enjoy our own cultural traditions. Even though we don’t get Christmas as recognized holiday in Taiwan, we have still found ways to celebrate it.
Additional Tips for Teaching with Your Family
Reach Out: Talk to your co-workers, neighbors, or join online communities, and you’ll be amazed by the support and resources you will find. We're very fortunate to live in a wonderful community where it’s been easy to reach out and ask questions. Some of our neighbors and most of our co-workers speak English and are able to make things understandable for us. We’ve gotten ideas for activities through friends and co-workers with families. Thanks to a Facebook group of expat mothers in Taipei, I was able to find opportunities to volunteer in school libraries in order to gain experience towards my Master’s degree.
Research: Make sure that you find the teaching job that will be right for you and that will also support you and your family. Keep in mind that some countries prefer their teachers to be single, rather than married with children. It’s still possible to find jobs in those countries, but be prepared to keep your options open.
Also, spouses are not always guaranteed a job at the same school, but recruiters try to place spouses in positions close by. Make sure to express your preferences to recruiters and always be honest in your application that you are bringing a family with you. If possible, see if you can find out if the school employs other Western teachers with families and ask if you can contact them.
Make Time For Yourself: If you’re a single parent, it is very difficult to juggle a teaching job and parenthood. But it is so important to make some time for you. Give yourself a chance to step out and enjoy the sights on your own, take a class in something you would like to learn, or go to a neighborhood café and relax. You can find a babysitter for a couple of hours by asking around your neighborhood or talk to the expat community for recommendations.
If you have a spouse/partner, have some “couple time.” My husband and I schedule a date day every Saturday afternoon, and my son goes and plays with his babysitter and his friends. I take belly dancing, yoga, and kickboxing twice a week, while my husband pursues Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Not only are you able to meet people outside of work and your family and you can further immerse yourself in the new culture, but you give yourself a chance to recharge your batteries.
- Want more advice? Read our article 7 Things to Consider Before Teaching Abroad with Your Family.
Ready to Teach Abroad with Your Family?
For nearly five years, my family’s life has spanned the United States, Korea, and Taiwan. By teaching and working abroad as a family, I think we’ve made a rich experience even better. I also believe we’ve become closer as a family.
Teaching has helped me approach parenting with more patience and openness, and I’ve been continually amazed by watching how my son has adapted to our life in Taiwan.
It isn’t always easy, and we have lots of decisions to make about the future, especially as our son approaches the age to enter school. However, this has been a lifetime experience that has meant the world to us, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.Photo Credits: Whitney Zahar.