ESL Teacher – Student Relationships

Man and woman holding hands

If you are single and teaching English abroad the opportunity to date will probably present itself at some point. Let’s take a look at your options for dating while abroad and where you can meet people. In the process, we’ll also examine the number one rule you should never break for any reason.

What do I need to know about relationships abroad?

Generally, dating while living abroad is going to be just about the same as dating while in your home country. There are a few cultural exceptions, which we will discuss below, however, the process of meeting people and moving to a date will be similar.

There is one rule though that you should not break for whatever reason in regards to relationships abroad: Don’t date current students. Period. No exceptions. Don’t even think about it.

If you are teaching adults, the line that exists between teacher and student can often get blurred. While this line has been crossed countless times by teachers and students around the world, and has arguably resulted in a successful long-term relationship for the couple, more often than not, the consequences of a broken relationship can be devastating, not just to the couple, but also to other students as well as the school that employs the teacher.

When a relationship between a teacher and student goes downhill, the results could range from a total loss of respect of the teacher from students, to the teacher getting terminated by the school. Not a good situation, especially when you’ve moved abroad to experience life in another country, and where the safety net of your home country is unlikely to exist for foreigners.

In some popular ESL destinations, relationships between locals and foreigners are illegal and thus getting caught by authorities could land you into a legal mess, including imprisonment. This is certainly not an experience you want to go through all because you didn’t respect the boundaries of a teacher-student relationship, and the laws of your host country.

Don’t think that you won’t get caught either. A quick search on Google reveals a large number of cases where teachers have been arrested for inappropriate relationships with students. Both local and foreign English teachers have been arrested in various countries.

Many ESL destinations are indeed more conservative with regards to personal relationships than in most native English speaking countries. The cultural differences alone can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations about the relationship itself. For example, what you might consider to be a casual relationship, may be interpreted by a local boyfriend or girlfriend as serious.

For these reasons, it is best to avoid the situation altogether. Keep your contact with your students professional at all times and be tactful about giving out your personal phone number or social media information. If you conduct private lessons for younger learners, make sure all communication outside of the lessons is done through parents. If you teach adults, use your head and consider the possible consequences of crossing the teacher-student relationship line. If you must pursue a relationship with a current student, wait until the person is no longer a student at your school, and the teacher-student relationship has come to a complete end.

While we are on this topic, it is probably a good idea to avoid dating other teachers and staff at your school as well. Although this advice holds true anywhere in the world, relationships at a school in a foreign country are a bad idea. You are in a position that holds a certain amount of authority and respect, and crossing this boundary would be poor taste on your part. Not to repeat the consequences already stated about relationships between teachers and students, this is your place of work, where your are expected to perform your work duties and your source of income. If a relationship between colleagues goes south, the atmosphere at work can be impacted for  everyone working in the same office.

Take time to understand the culture you are living in before you begin looking at people to potentially date. If you are in Brazil, for example, the culture surrounding relationships and dating is much more liberal than in Saudi Arabia. It is going to be extremely important for you to be aware of the cultural differences as well as any potential laws you could be breaking.

If you have chosen to teach in the United Arab Emirates, not only can you get into serious trouble for showing public displays of affection, pre-martial sex and cohabiting between unmarried couples is are illegal. Needless to say, a pregnancy between unmarried couples can lead to imprisonment for having pre-marital sex.

You might be forgiven for assuming this is only the case in conservative Middle Eastern countries, but a quick search will reveal that sexual relationships in Laos between citizens and foreigners is illegal. According to the Australian Embassy in Laos:

Sexual relationships between foreigners and Lao citizens who are not legally married are not permitted under Lao law. Permission for marriage or engagement to a Lao citizen must be submitted in a formal application to Lao authorities. Penalties for failing to register a relationship range from USD$ 500-5,000, and possibly imprisonment or deportation.

Every country will be different regarding what is legally and socially acceptable so it will be up to you to make sure you understand and follow these laws and norms. Remember that most countries are going to be similar to your own regarding dating. it is better to be informed than sitting in prison though so make sure you do your due diligence before you begin dating while teaching English abroad.

What are my options for relationships abroad?

Depending on where you are living you are going to have options when it comes to dating. This goes for both men and women. That’s a good thing though as you will have no problems avoiding relationships abroad with your students.

Tourists

If you are in a country that is popular with tourists then you can easily find dates among the ever-changing faces. Obviously, this isn’t going to be a recipe for long-term success. So, if you know you are going to be living and teaching in the country for multiple years and are looking for a more long-term relationship this isn’t the best option for you. If, however, you are only teaching for a year or for a few months then you may have no problem with dating tourists.

Other Foreign Expats

In most any major city around the world there will be a strong expat community that you can easily become a part of. Most expats are friendly and open and, you will find, quite easy to befriend. This means that somewhere in the thousands of expats who live in the country you are teaching in you may find one or two you want to date.

Locals

As mentioned above you are going to have to look into any laws that exist regarding relationships between locals and foreigners. In the above example Laos has laws prohibiting relations between a foreigner and a local if you are not married. There may be other countries with laws similar to this and you don’t want to run afoul of those laws. That being said, there are plenty of successful relationships in countries throughout the world between foreign teachers and local men and women.

This will by far be the most challenging of options as you may experience a language barrier and cultural issues which complicate your relationships. But, if you can get past those issues then dating a local is perhaps the most stable option as they will not be leaving after a year.

How can you meet people for dating abroad?

The most obvious answer to this question is the same way that you would meet someone for dating in your home country. What you have to remember is that assuming there are no cultural or legal restrictions in place, dating is pretty much the same throughout the world in the modern era.

You are probably going to meet people more easily if you are going out and actually introducing yourself. If, for whatever reason, this isn’t your style or you don’t have the time there are still a number of options for meeting people that are effective.

The Traditional Way

As mentioned above if you get out and talk to people it will be much easier to meet people. When you are living abroad there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get out and explore. Since you are in an entirely new city you are naturally going to be inclined to go out to new bars, museums, sightseeing destinations, and similar places. If you make friends easily this is going to be your best bet for meeting people. You will probably find that it is very easy to make friends while abroad. Since people are on vacation or they are living in a foreign nation they are more open and therefore will be more liberal about talking to you. You can use this to your advantage when trying to meet people.

Dating Apps

Dating apps are quite popular among expats and locals in countries throughout the world. This includes apps like Tinder and OkCupid where you have to sign up and create a profile. These may be among the easiest ways to meet locals for friendships and dating.

Adil Vellani
Adil Vellani
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Adil Vellani is the co-founder of ESL Job Exchange. With more than 20 years of international experience in both the education and corporate sectors, Adil is devoted to sharing his knowledge and experience to help individuals and organizations connect and make a massive impact in the lives of ESL learners across the globe. Adil also lectures at the Sino-European Institute of Aviation Engineering, where he teaches aviation engineering students in an international degree program.
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