I recently learned that a third of my former students has moved to Taiwan to teach English, and I couldn’t be happier for all those young people who have heard the call to escape their comfort zone and seek opportunities beyond the borders of the familiar. One of those students lived with her husband in the island nation off the coast of China for nearly five years, embracing the expatriate experience and even raising their first child there. The experience of living abroad, immersing yourself in a new culture, being part of another community, can be an invaluable education, and it was an opportunity that I pursued almost thirty years. It’s also a tip I highly recommend to anyone who gets the chance. Get out of your country for a while. Go elsewhere and see what the world has to teach you.
In the summer after graduating from college, I interviewed for a teaching job at my old high school in the small town of Alton, Ill. And then quickly walked around eight thousand miles around the world to teach English in a buxiban, or âcram schoolâ. Â», In Taipei, Taiwan. It was one of the boldest moves I’ve ever made, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Of course, I had help in the choice, especially because the young woman I was in love with was going to Taiwan to teach, and I didn’t really have any other plans. It was 1992, and English teaching jobs didn’t really fall on me, not that I was looking too diligently. The 1991 recession and cuts in state spending on education didn’t help either. Also, my wife’s former roommate, who was Taiwanese, was coming home to live with her parents and brought up the idea that we were teaching there. So after a visit to the Educational Placement Office at the University of Illinois, where we found a pretty basic flyer featuring teaching positions in Taipei at Hess Language School, Julie and I bought our tickets and got on. aboard an airplane.
Since our stay in Southeast Asia, the idea of ââgoing abroad has been one of the most constant advice I give to my students: go somewhere else. Take leave of your bubble and run away from the familiar. Get out of your country; if you like, leave it. This leap of faith may simply be a semester abroad while studying, or it may be a work-study program or a job exchange. It could be a single gig for your business or a one-year date. Either way, when the opportunity to travel presents itself, take it. My wife and I ended up staying in Taiwan for five years, teaching and traveling the world. We went to Hong Kong for the weekends, lived a month in a bungalow on the Greek island of Paros, spent a week surfing and lounging in Bali and got engaged in the botanical garden in Rome . Eventually we returned to the United States and lived for a short time in the city of Chicago, where she worked as a pastry chef and I taught in college. A few years later, we traveled to Colorado, a place we had never been to before.
Moving after our stay abroad was also important and refreshing. After years as expats, the Midwest of our youth has actually become exciting and new just as a result of our absence. While it might be clichÃ© to believe that absence makes the heart more loving, it’s pretty much certain that being somewhere else for a while can make everything about the house even more special. Going without familiar amenities and feeling like a stranger can be a truly rewarding experience. It’s telling to be in a place where no one is like you. It’s disorienting to be in a place where no one is like you. It is also worth it.
Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Smirch best known for her graduation article Wear Sunscreen, advised young people to “live in New York once, but get out before it gets tough.” Live in LA once, but leave before it makes you sweet. I fully support this advice, as well as the subtle sarcasm directed at the two cities. I would extend this advice to include travel beyond your national borders.
Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator and school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at [email protected]