A challenge for many first time English teachers is how to meet friends abroad. Being in a new country around people you have never met before can be exciting and scary for many people. This can be heightened if you are usually shy or introverted. We’re going to take a look at both great and not so great ways to meet friends abroad when you are teaching English for the first time.
What are some things to consider?
Before we get into how and where to actually meet people let’s take a look at how to make the process more successful.
The number one thing you want to do is to have an idea of who exactly you want to be meeting. Expat English teachers come in all flavors. Some of them are sweet, some bitter, and some taste like crap. If you don’t have an understanding of the type of people you want to be spending your time around you could easily fall in with the crap crowd (every city has a crap crowd). This is not only going to be a major waste of your time but also a huge drain on your budget and potentially your health. But we’ll talk more about them later.
Think about the things that you like to do in your home country. Believe it or not most everywhere in the world with the exception of underdeveloped nations and rural areas have much of the same things to offer. Whatever you like doing whether video games, martial arts, yoga, dancing, movies, soccer, and everything else can all be found in almost any city you go to anywhere in the world.
Chances are also good that there are other expats who are also into these things. Even more, there are probably meetup groups for any one of these things in most major cities around the world. So think about what you like to do at home and realize that it will probably transfer over if you want it to in your new home country.
Lastly, you are going to want to think about what you want out of your time abroad. Are you looking at making a career out of teaching ESL? Do you want to live in a new country so that you can travel and learn about it? Are you trying to learn a new language and teaching is a good way to support yourself? Answering this question will not only help you answer who you want to be around but also why.
If your goal is to learn a new language, for example, then you are probably going to fail miserably at it if all you do is spend your time around other English speakers. I’ve lived in Thailand for almost three years now and have learned only what I need to know to get around mainly because where I am there are so many people that speak English.
If you don’t have a clear understanding of what you want out of your time abroad then you are going to have trouble meeting the type of people you want.
Where can I meet people abroad?
As mentioned above you will be able to meet just about any type of person that you could want to and even some you don’t. For this reason, figuring out the type of person you want to meet is going to largely determine where you meet them. Let’s take a look at some different types of people as well as the places you can meet them in other countries.
Let’s first examine one of the more common types of people who teach English abroad. Not everyone who teaches English is looking to make a career of it or to live in a foreign country long term. There are many people I have come across who see teaching English as a solution to funding their travels. They teach during the week and travel on the weekends and during holidays. It’s a great way to explore a country more thoroughly than just staying at hostels for a few weeks.
If this is you then you are in luck for meeting people. One of the best places to start is with other teachers who may work at your school. There are going to be plenty of other foreigners who are new to a country and looking to travel on the weekends who would love to travel with you. You may even like them.
Outside of the teachers at your school you can easily stay at hostels when you are traveling around and meet people for short-term adventures. While most of these people are probably not going to be staying in the country for long and will not be a long-term solution to meet friends abroad they can provide some company during short weekend excursions.
If your goal is to teach long-term or if you are already a well-established teacher then chances are you are going to want to meet up with likeminded people. The best way to do this is through professional organizations and associations.
Most countries where career oriented teachers will end up will have some kind of professional association for TEFL teachers. Some examples of this are the Japan Association for Language Teaching, Korea Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, and TESOL Arabia to name only a few.
The members of these organizations are going to be other career-oriented TEFL teachers. You will be able to share resources and have someone to talk to about teaching. You may even be able to find your next job through the connections you can make in these organizations.
Maybe you are teaching abroad not only to teach English but to also learn the local language. There is no better way to learn a language than to be immersed in it and teaching for a year or more in a country is one of the better ways to get that experience.
If this is your goal then you are going to want to avoid spending all of your time around other English speakers. The tendency will be to talk in English all of the time and you won’t learn much. Instead, find local friends or other teachers with the same goals (and then you find local friends).
Frequenting places where the locals like to go is a good way to immerse yourself in a language. When the wait staff at a restaurant or the shop workers at a mall you go to don’t speak any English you will quickly begin to learn the basics you need to get around.
From there you can look for meet up groups where other like-minded individuals get together to practice with locals. A good place to find one of these meetup groups is on the main meetup website.
If you are a natural born athlete and want to keep up your active lifestyle even while teaching English abroad then you are in luck. No matter where you are teaching you will easily be able to find like-minded people. In most cities around the world, there are meetup groups that you can join to play sports on the weekends. You can also try and find fellow athletes where you are teaching and see about getting some friendly competition going.
Don’t forget about gyms either. Even though you are in a foreign country there are going to be many expats that hold memberships at local gyms. Your chances of finding people you get along with and who share in your desire to stay active is high.
Lastly, you may want to think about learning a new skill. A great way to meet new people is through martial arts schools and similar activities. You can look around a find a school that is right for you in the discipline you want to learn and will easily make new friends.
The last group we will talk about is hobbyists. Whether you are a video gamer, model builder, comic book collector, anime fan, movie buff, or musician there are going to be tons of options in most major cities for finding people into the same thing as you.
The first place to start will be stores that carry the products you need for your hobby. You may have to try a few times to find other English speakers if you haven’t yet mastered the local language but chances are there are other English speakers in the country you are living in that will share your interest.
Aside from this, you can easily find meetup groups as with the above-mentioned types of people. Go online and look for organizations in the city you are living in and see when they meet up.
Who to avoid?
Just like in your home country there are going to be people you want to avoid. They are probably going to be the same people as in your home country. But you should take heed so that you don’t end up in a group of people that would be better avoiding.
The main things to watch out for are the burnouts and barstool philosophers. If you enjoy partying and like to go out that’s one thing. But in almost any country there are going to be expats who have been there for many years and who are burnt out with where they live but have nowhere else to go. Avoid these people like the plague. Their cynicism is going to be contagious.
This doesn’t mean that if an expat complains about the country they are living in that they should be avoided. There are going to positives and negatives to any country and calling out the negatives doesn’t make you a cynic.
However, if there is a teacher at your school who has lived in the country for ten years and no one else seems to want to be around them there may be a reason for that. Make sure you don’t get stuck spending your time around people who are going to warp your sense of perspective.
You should always be honest with yourself about where you are living and try not to look at everything through rose tinted glasses. However, spending your time around people who are carrying around a lot of baggage with respect to the country they are living and maybe also teaching in can easily leave you with a bad taste and an improperly skewed perspective.
What are some final thoughts?
As mentioned throughout it is going to be very important for you to figure out your long-term goals and think about why you want to teach abroad. This is going to help you immensely when trying to meet new people as you will know the exact people you want to meet and where they are likely to be. If you are in a rural location this may be more difficult. You will want to try and make it to a major city if one is nearby as this is where the vast majority of expats and teachers in most countries are going to be located. Also, remember to avoid people who are going to bring you down and potentially get you in trouble. They exist and if you don’t watch out you could easily find yourself in one of these groups.