Teaching can be a very demanding job. When coupled with the stress of living in a new country it can be downright exhausting. Understanding a few work and life balance tips as a new expat can help you to better manage that stress. The important thing to remember is that even though you are there to teach it is a job just like any other. There is work time and personal time and respecting the boundaries between both will help you to more easily balance the two. Let’s take a look at some more work and life balance tips to better prepare you for being a new expat.
What are some things to consider?
As mentioned above it is extremely important to draw a very clear line between work and personal time. This is something that you are going to have to do for yourself as the more work you are willing to do for your employer the more they are going to let you do. More often than not this work is going to reap you little to no rewards especially if you are on a salary.
Don’t get me wrong you should understand what you are signing up for before you go. This is a job and you are there to teach. There is a misconception spread around the internet that teaching English is a nice vacation from your normal life and you are going to be sipping drinks on an exotic beach in Thailand while making a nice salary.
Unfortunately, that scenario doesn’t exist. In reality, you are going to be working five days a week and most likely will be far away from the beach and far away from Thailand if you want to make anything resembling a livable salary.
This isn’t to say that traveling will be impossible while you are teaching abroad But, suffice to say, it won’t be the do what you want when you want lifestyle promoted on many blogs. You are going to have a certain amount of vacation time and probably a few days off each week along with national holidays. For the rest of the time life is going to be pretty similar to what you are used to in your home country.
So, when I talk about work and life balance I’m not talking about shirking your duties to party all around Ibiza. Instead, I’m talking about how to clearly define those duties so that you don’t burn yourself and can more easily maintain your peace of mind.
What are the work and life balance tips?
Have a clearly defined contract?
Your contract should say exactly what you are to do and for how long. This should be done prior to signing anything and you should always remember that everything is negotiable. If you don’t like something then ask to have it changed. If they don’t want to play ball then leave. There will be other employers.
Your duties should be very clearly laid out in the contract so that there is no confusion as to why you are there. Make sure this includes any administrative work that you are to do each week as well as any extracurricular activities you may be asked to oversee. Schools in some countries will have teachers preside over clubs and student groups. Make sure this is in the contract if you are asked to do this.
Also, make sure your contract states exactly how much time you are required to work each week. It may not be possible to get an exact schedule as some schools will have you teaching different classes at different times based on the need. This is usually more in private language schools as opposed to public schools. However, you will want to have a clear understanding of how much time you are required to be at work each week.
One thing to consider is that contracts in many countries are seen as a way of getting a person into the job and then after you are there they become worthless. However, by having a document stating exactly what your duties are you can refer to this in the event of a dispute.
Remember that you don’t have to work any longer than your contract says and you don’t have to do a ton of duties outside of what you signed up for. If a school is demanding that you do then don’t be afraid to speak up and refer back to that contract to remind them what the original agreement was. Having a clear understanding of what you are expected to do and for how long will allow you to clearly define the boundary between work and personal time.
Organize your time better
I live in Bangkok which is known for having horrendous traffic. Most anywhere you go in the city at most times of the day, and sometimes late into the night, there is going to be gridlock on the streets and long lines for public transportation.
I once spoke to a gentleman who lived in an area of the city called Sathorn who told me when he used his car he could only get one or two things done each day as it could easily take two or three hours to drive somewhere and a half hour or more to find parking if that was even possible.
While it isn’t quite that bad if you use public transportation it can still easily take over an hour and a half to get somewhere only a few kilometers away. The thing is this is completely stupid and inefficient. Out of necessity, this has forced me to utilize my time more effectively or else there is little I would get done during my week.
I’m lucky enough to be an online-only teacher so I’ve managed to cut out daily commuting from my schedule. However, most expat English teachers won’t be so lucky. You will have to ask yourself what is the point in having a day off if you spend the whole day commuting just to get one or two errands done.
This won’t be an issue if you are in a rural location as you will easily be able to get around. However, a large number of teachers and maybe even a majority of teachers are going to be in major cities around the world with populations of 10 million plus people. In this situation being organized isn’t just going to be a luxury but a vital step in managing your personal time as well as your stress levels.
You will need to find some kind of method to better organize your time. There are quite literally hundreds of different strategies that you can try until you figure out what works for you. A resource I like and have found to be effective in my own life is Carl Pullein. His website is a trove of useful and actionable information for better time management and productivity.
Learn to love the word no
“No, I’m sorry I can’t go out today”. “No, I can’t attend the extra staff meeting this weekend.” “No, I’m afraid I can’t teach an extra class this evening.”
Part of balancing your time better is learning how to eliminate the things which are trying to steal your time. This can be both your employer and your friends. Anyone who is robbing you of your time.
Coming from America, I’ve been instilled with the idea that I always have to be doing more. I should work more, play more, read more, watch more, and talk more. The only thing I shouldn’t do more is sleep.
However, this isn’t a recipe for success. The only solution to more is saying “no more”. I had to say no more to cramming my schedule full of tasks I didn’t have enough time or energy to accomplish during the day. Also, I had to learn how to tell people no when they asked me to go out and tell my employers no when they asked me to do something more than what was required of me according to my job description.
If your co-workers ask you to go out but you’ve made plans to go exercise or to wake up early to go to a museum then tell them “no”. Or, if your employer asks you to teach a class to cover for another teacher even though subbing classes was not something discussed in your contract then tell them “I’m sorry but no I can’t this time”. You can’t expect to truly balance your personal and work time if you are letting others steal your personal time.
Don’t let time thieves steal from you the most valuable thing you have as a human being. Remember, time is the only thing in the world you can’t get back. Learn to say “no” more often and you will easily be able to preserve the balance between work and personal time.
What are some final work and life balance tips?
The burden is on you to strike the proper balance. Remember, no one else is going to care. Your employer is always going to want more work from you and your friends are always going to want more of your personal time. You are the only person who can figure out what is truly important to you. Because there will always be people trying to steal your time you are going to have to remain vigilant. But, if you can find the proper balance and do everything within your power to guard that balance you will find yourself much more organized and in a better position to deal with stress as a new expat.