Do I regret doing it, starting in 1984 for 15 years in Arabia and 10 in Asia? No, but I regret choosing South Korea over Japan.
Back then life was full of corruption, exploitation of teachers, no labor rights, irrational and lying supervisors as well as colleagues, sometimes lack of paid housing, and mostly inadequate teaching materials. A few great colleagues mitigated much of these negatives. However, conditions have worsened. Additionally, disrespectful students and cellphones now control classrooms while wages remain the same as 20 years ago.
Painting bought in Ubud, Bali.
I was qualified, with a Masters. At the age of 40, with another year and a half of college, I earned a US teaching credential. For my BA, I had little debt but none for my Masters. I lived poor and worked almost every semester. Overseas’ savings paid for the teaching credential.
I made more money overseas than in the USA, often had free housing, full health insurance and yearly plane tickets home. Living overseas was a childhood dream made real. I enjoyed deciphering the sacred cow of culture and world religions. Both are simply agreed upon rules for survival, with bells and whistles attached, usually by the minority to control the majority of the group. Over time, both become accepted and sanctified. Challenge leads to ostracism.
It was exotic to actually see ancient Egyptian temples and hieroglyphics, Babylonian statues, cuneiform clay tablets, Nabatean tombs and the Empty Quarter Desert. Visiting famous cities worldwide was also astounding.
Extremely old pictographs (with modern graffiti) in Saudi Arabia’s desert.
I didn’t enjoy Asian culture’s ‘obedience/slavery’ mentality, but Asian students were wonderful and worked hard. However, ancestor worship in Taiwan helped me connect Buddhist reincarnation to DNA: we all have had previous lives.
In the Gulf, I enjoyed the weather, the culture, the people but not the teaching. Students were lazy and prone to cheating. Administrators often lacked academic standards and routinely changed grades to please students.
Liwa, in the Empty Quarter, in the UAE
I learned about Ramadan and its 28-day month of good behavior to establish healthy habits for the rest of the year. I saw how both Islam and Christianity have large segments of good, religious people as well as astounding numbers of hypocrites. The Gulf’s history of poverty and reaction to wealth was incredible to experience from 1984 in Saudi Arabia, later in the UAE, and from 2000 to 2012 in Oman.
I’m the one in blue.
Close relationships with an extended Emirati, then with an extended Omani family, made me feel accepted and explained nuances in Arabic culture. Occasional friendships with students were also refreshingly open and honest.
In conclusion, teaching English overseas gave me more than I imagined it could. Its negatives, how it separates teachers from their home culture while family and friends’ relationships are also harmed, are also true. In the last few years, however, it seemed 90% of my life was stress while only 10% was exotica.
I tried to change careers twice but failed. Once was in a Colorado ESL program. The high school’s complicated rules and regulations, unawareness about language teaching, insulated culture, and opinionated principal were unbearable. I returned to teaching overseas.
I saved by adding money to an American teacher pension I had from teaching university in Michigan. Social security, which I had not contributed to for years, amounts to $800 a month. I have retired in Portugal on my Irish EU passport, avoiding Trump and expensive America.
It was an adventure of a lifetime. Learning more about worldwide human psychology by living in Asian and Arabic cultures was a pirate’s treasure. Saving enough money not to become a bag lady in my old age was worthwhile. Dubai Creek, 1990
Every life choice anyone makes includes negatives and positives. For most of us, the two balance. For some lucky few the good overwhelms the bad. Others need help to escape their dismal lives.
Graduating from high school with $40, I did well for myself. But would I do it now? Nope! Not at all.
To find jobs overseas, including Europe for those with EU passports, visit http://www.tefl.com
For other jobs and teacher forums, visit, Dave’s ESL Cafe