Teachers health isn’t just a luxury working abroad. It’s a necessity. Your job relies on you being present and ready to teach. Not just healthy for yourself but because you are around children with still-developing immune systems. Because you are in a foreign country with different health concerns you need to take some extra time to ensure you are staying healthy.
What to consider?
The most important thing to consider is that you are in a foreign country. Not only is your immune system not optimized for your new location but there are a host of other factors which could impact your health you may be unaware of.
The advice I am giving is in many ways generic but is geared towards understanding many of the things new teachers forget when they first move abroad. However, this in no way will address your specific situation in regards to the country you are in. For this, you will need to see your healthcare provider or a recommended health professional familiar with the area you are traveling to.
You need to talk to them about any preexisting conditions which could be impacted by the new environment. They should advise you on any immunizations which you may need before traveling abroad and how long before leaving you should get them.
It is best to take care of all of this before you move abroad. The quality of health care where you are going may not be up to the standards of your home country. This won’t be the case if you are going to a well-developed country like Japan or the United Arab Emirates. However, if you are doing a volunteer program for example in Cambodia or in the jungles of Myanmar then access to quality health care will be limited.
For this reason, you need to talk to your doctor about your situation and follow all the advice given. This is the best and first step you can take to ensure you are staying healthy abroad.
What are the four tips?
Sleep is Imperative
It is also one of the first things that fall to the wayside when you first move abroad. Traveling around the world already can have an impact on your sleep in the short term. However, making this worse is the fact many ESL teachers tend to stay out late with new friends exploring their new environment.
The problem with this is that without proper sleep none of the other aspects of teachers health can really be improved. This is because sleep plays an extremely vital role in multiple aspects of health including brain function, physical health, immune system upkeep, and many other roles.
The United States Department of Health recommends adults aged 18 years and older get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each day. This is a general recommendation as sleep needs will vary but in general, this is a good place to start. Each hour less than what is needed has been shown to accumulate as a sleep debt which will need to be paid at a later date.
You are going to want to go out with the new friends you’ve made and enjoy every aspect of the new city you are in. But, make sure you are not doing so at the expense of proper sleep and thus sabotaging your health.
Don’t Neglect Excercise
Maybe you don’t think you can find a time to exercise or maybe you didn’t exercise much before moving abroad. Either way, you need to make it a priority after moving abroad as it will make all of your other health goals much easier to achieve.
Proper exercise plays an integral role in helping to maintain our bodies by promoting brain health, boosting our immune system, improving our sleep quality, among many other benefits. Just like getting quality sleep is imperative to your overall health, so is exercise.
In fact, it has been shown that a lack of exercise can contribute to thinning in areas of the brain which are critical to memory. Something that we as teachers need desperately.
How much exercise do you need though? Well, the US Department of Health recommends that the average healthy adult get at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week and strength training for major muscle groups at least twice a week.
Don’t think that you can find a place to exercise? Think again. Every city in the world has a gym and there are going to be options that match your budget. If the gym isn’t your thing you can easily find an activity such as martial arts or tennis that can give you the levels of exercise you need. Also, think about purchasing a piece of workout equipment such as a kettlebell which can provide a cheap and easy way to get your complete workout in. Don’t forget that you can always find a place to run.
Watch What You Eat
I don’t just mean junk food either. You are going to be in a foreign country where the food is completely different than what you are used to. This means that you have no idea initially what will and won’t agree with your body.
Chances are you will get an upset stomach at some point while living abroad. In more severe cases that upset stomach may be caused by food poisoning. Especially if you are teaching in an underdeveloped country or a rural part of a country which may not be as developed as the city.
Be mindful of what you are consuming. If the place you are eating at looks as they’ve never heard of food prep safety then avoid things that could make you sick like meats. Also, don’t fall into the trap thinking that street food is okay just because everyone you know says they’ve never gotten sick. Food prep safety exists for a reason and consciously eating at places that don’t have any mind for safety is a giant gamble you may one day lose.
The last thing you want is a bout of food poisoning to keep you out of class or worse. Remember that some very nasty illnesses can be transmitted via food including Hepatitis A and the Norovirus.
If you are mindful about what you are eating and where you are getting it from you should be just fine during your time abroad.
Don’t Avoid the Doctor
If you are in a place where access to proper medical care is limited then you have an excuse. However, for the vast majority of teachers moving abroad the healthcare system in the country they are living will be just as good or better than in their home country.
This means that you need to take care of yourself in the same way you would at home. Don’t skip your yearly checkups. Don’t avoid the doctor because you think you can just “sweat it out”. Don’t just go to the pharmacy and get a few things that may or may not work.
If you talk to other teachers who have been in the country for a while you should easily be able to find a doctor who can speak English and is suitable for you. Remember that many doctors in major cities around the world went to school in the west so whether you are in Mexico or Japan chances are they will speak English. You can’t always count on this but I’ve found it to generally be true.
Avoiding the doctor while living in a foreign country could have some severe consequences if you catch something nasty. Maybe you do just have a cold or maybe you have the onset of something worse and potentially life-threatening. Getting checked and treated when you know something is wrong is the only way to be positive.
Also, before you go make sure that you have expat health insurance. You shouldn’t be avoiding the doctor because of the cost. After all, you shouldn’t be putting a price on your own health.
What are some final tips?
Remember that students are depending on you staying healthy. Not just because you are there to teach but also to help protect their fragile immune systems. Just remember that you are in a foreign country and it is even more important for you to take care of your body. By following the above tips and employing a bit of common sense you should easily be able to avoid any major illness and minimize the minor ones that most people get.