So you completed your TEFL course and were hired as an ESL teacher, and you’re feeling ready to set off on the adventure of a lifetime. But as your departure date approaches, you might find yourself overwhelmed by everything to you need to do before leaving. To be honest, there may be even more to take care of than you realize. To help you get your life in order as you make this major transition, here are a few boring but necessary tasks that you should do to prepare for teaching English abroad.
1) Secure your assets
Everyone who leaves home behind to teach English abroad comes from a different background, but in most cases, there are ties to be cut. By this I mean making plans for your lease or mortgage, pets, bills and other commitments. Before I left for Thailand, I had to find a subletter for my apartment, secure a place to keep my car, convince someone to take care of my cat and sell my furniture. The sooner you create a game plan and start making moves, the better. If life happens and slows the process for some reason, you’ll still have enough time to get everything squared away. This kernel of wisdom is brought to you by personal experience and hindsight, courtesy of a high-speed face plant a few months before my Thai adventure began. It’s a better story in person, but let’s just say it involved adult beverages, a Razer scooter and several medical bills.
2) Figure your finances out
Back to bills and other financial matters, it’s much easier to get your finances in order while you’re still at home. Contacting customer service phone lines can be a hassle from abroad and some online chat services don’t work if the company doesn’t serve that country. Make sure you cancel or pause any services you won’t be using like utilities, car insurance, gym memberships and maybe even your cell phone plan.
You should also contact your bank to let them know you’ll be out of the country and where you’ll be traveling so they don’t flag your charges as fraudulent or freeze the card. I suggest getting a debit or credit card that doesn’t have fees for any international transactions; mine was useful even for booking plane tickets from small Asian airlines. Before you head out, research currency conversion rates and determine how much cash you should arrive with to hold you over until your first paycheck. It might be cheaper to order the foreign currency through your bank, but there are plenty of places to exchange your U.S. dollars in most airports if you don’t request it in advance from the bank, or you can withdraw it from an ATM.
3) Prepare the music
If you’re an audiophile, you might be wondering how you’ll keep up with the latest music while you’re abroad. I have a pro tip for you! If you don’t already have a premium Spotify account, now is the time to make the leap. When you sign up for an account and pay through an American bank, the entire Spotify library is accessible around the world. While my Thai students couldn’t use Spotify because the music licenses don’t extend to that country, I could stream anything I wanted to listen to. It costs about $10 a month, but I think it’s totally worth it. My Spotify premium account and my cheap Thai data plan were a match made in heaven.
I also stayed sane on long bus or train rides because I brought my iPod to Thailand. That’s right, my old school spinny-wheel-on-the-front iPod came along to travel the world. It might look a little silly when you pull it out of your bag at the bus station, but I promise your friends will be jealous when you explain the perks. First of all, who wants to take up space on their phone with music? You’re seeing amazing new sights every day… you need those GBs for pictures! Along the same lines, listening to music drains your cell phone battery quite quickly. How can you take pictures of the beautiful sights when your phone is dead?! Plus, you can save money on data if you aren’t streaming music through the entirety of a 13-hour night bus ride through rural Thailand.
Your to-do list before you set off to teach English may be extensive, but once you’re traveling and living life to the fullest, you’ll realize that tackling these real-life stressors and logistics is a small price to pay for the experience.
Words by Christine Hayes.