Teaching Abroad – Austin’s Survival Guide (Part One)

Teaching Abroad – Austin’s Survival Guide (Part One)

Close your eyes. Now open them. Now just pretend that they’re closed again because otherwise you won’t be able to read this. It’s a Wednesday, and today is the day you’ve finally mustered up the courage to go and try the local restaurant down the street from your apartment. You arrive and plop yourself down on a plastic stool because you’ve realized that the cheaper the chairs, the cheaper the food. You’re covered in a thin layer of sweat. This is normal. Next, the equally sweaty and cheerful restaurant lady comes over to “take your order.” The following encounter essentially consists of a series of pointing, miming, and keeping your fingers crossed that you’ll eventually get a plate of food that isn’t alive or a member of the insect family. As she walks away, out of the corner of your eye, you see a family of rodents scurrying across the far side of restaurant. It’s in this moment that it finally registers, “Wow, I live in Asia.”

The scenario above represents some of the many challenges that exist while adapting to your new life teaching abroad. You’ll need to acclimate to a completely different style of food, navigate the language barrier, endure the constant battle to stay dry, and learn to unlearn the standards of hygiene that you’ve been acclimated to your whole life. It’s these kinds of things that we’ve taken for granted that will now become a key part of surviving each day.

Language Barrier - Teach Abroad in ThailandOne of the more obvious and initial obstacles you will face is dealing with the language barrier. It can make even the simplest of tasks infinitely more challenging. Whether it is ordering dinner, asking for directions, or even just getting a haircut, sometimes you’re just going to have to smile and hope for the best. While eventually you will pick up enough of the local language that you’re able to feed and clothe yourself, there will inevitably be some mishaps along the way. The key to surviving those mishaps is the ability to stay patient. It will be frustrating at times, but patience will really be critical to your happiness while living abroad. Just recently, a friend told me a story about how it took him 2 weeks and 4 different trips to Tesco to successfully buy one plunger. As much as it would be easy to blame the employees for not understanding English, miming out the act of “plunging a toilet” over and over really makes it hit home that learning some of the native language will go a long way.

Asian Snacks - Teach Abroad in ThailandThe next big issue that we as expats face is the food. Eating what the locals eat can be an incredible, delicious, and terrifying part of immersing yourself into the culture. Saying that you’re open to trying new things and being offered fried rat over rice with spicy sauce are two completely different things. In the West you can buy candy on a stick, in Asia you can buy scorpions on a stick. Plus the diet in the Western world is completely different than an Asian diet. Whereas back home things are all wheat based, here everything is rice based. So on one hand, anybody with a fashionable, new gluten-allergy won’t have any problems, but on the other, everyone else might have some digestive adaptation to deal with on top a little bit of culture shock. But fear not! Pharmacies are ready for this. Yes, going in and miming out your symptoms can be embarrassing, but two minutes later you’ll get basic antibiotics over the counter for just a few dollars.

Another major part of adapting to life overseas is the inherent difference in hygiene standards. I’ve developed a simple principle that will be very telling of how well you will do in coming to terms with these disparities. It’s called the “hair-in-my-food” principle. For example, if you’re the type of person who finds small hair in their food, picks it out, and continues to chow down, you’ll do just fine living in Asia. If you’re more of the, “I’m gonna say something and send this back,” kind of person, you’re going to have a bit of a tougher time at first. Expats here see things every day that would make health inspectors back home quiver in their Birkenstocks. Want to buy meat at the market? Be prepared for your raw filet to be picked off the top of a pile that’s been sitting in the heat with complex mosquito-prevention technology spinning above it (see: stick with inflated bag tied to it).

Thai Squat Toilet - Teaching Abroad in ThailandHow about the hygiene beyond food? Let’s talk about toilets. When was the last time you worried about the mere existence of a toilet? The first time you find yourself staring at a hole in the ground to squat over, you’ll think back fondly to these naive times. Toilet paper? That can be a luxury in Asia. Sometimes you just need settle for the water basin beside the hole and make sure not to eat food with your left hand. Let that sink in for a moment… Those of us who live here get used to carrying around an extra roll of TP with us at all times, just in case. Problem solved.

To the uninitiated, many of these things can be a little scary and unsettling. Yes, you will do and see things living abroad that you would never see or encounter in your hometown. But for most of us, we left our hometowns precisely because we wanted to see how the rest of the world lived and to experience a culture that is nothing like our own. I could’ve spent this whole article discussing the breathtaking scenery or amazing hospitality that you will inevitably encounter. However, it’s important to remember that any experience in life will come with both good and bad parts. The key is to embrace them both, find humor in differences that exist, and you’ll come out of this experience a wiser and more humble individual. “Suffering cheerfully endured, ceases to be suffering, and is transmuted into effable joy,” is a Gandhi quote that I’ve always liked and thought it applied well to teaching and living abroad. The things you’ll encounter each day will vary, but approach them with a smile, and your time spent here will truly be a life-changing experience.


Austin Bentz Elephant Thailand Chiang Mai Teach AbroadAustin is our Education Programs Manager.  Originally from California, Austin describes himself as a traveler, eager to see everything he can and curious as to how the rest of the world lives.

Check out Austin’s blog here
Austin shares his most memorable moment teaching abroad over on our YouTube channel


Teach Abroad – The XploreAsia Experience

Teach Abroad – The XploreAsia Experience

Teaching Abroad - Flight GoodbyeYou’re on the way to the airport, there’s a silence in the car. There’s so much you and your family want to say but aren’t quite sure how to articulate it. Today is the day you leave your home country, your friends and your family behind. You still can’t believe it, it doesn’t quite feel real yet. In-between bouts of checking if you’d lost your passport since the last time you checked five minutes ago, you get flashes of excitement and fear, all at the same time. You are going to teach abroad.



You say your goodbyes, tell your mum to stop crying, your dad hugs you as he checks to see nobody can see him shedding a tear. You walk through those gates alone. Your family are still standing waiting for you to turn around and come back as they fade away into the distance. Nerves turn to fear, and then the excitement kicks in.
Rewind a few months, you’ve just booked your ticket: the tangible evidence of your drive, passion and hard work. You’ve given yourself a chance for something more, something different and something completely alien to you. You’ve accepted that things just haven’t been enough. You want to see the world and immerse yourself into a completely different culture. At the same time, you want to try your hand at teaching, maybe do some volunteering, and gain all-round new skills. It’s a huge, life-changing decision that is equal parts exciting and terrifying.


You’re officially on the plane. You’ve watched three outdated movies and the baby next to you hasn’t stopped screaming for the past two hours. You’re tired, weary and now so far from home. The plane lands with a bump and you fight your way out of the plane. The first thing you notice is the heat. Your bags are feeling heavier as you make your way to your pickup, but you can finally say you’ve arrived.

Teach Abroad XploreAsia ThailandWelcome to your new adventure. You’ve come a long way, but life as you know it is about to change. You’re going to have an experience like no other. You’re going to meet likeminded travelers and forge incredible bonds with people who will be friends for life. You’re going to become a teacher, one that your students will never forget, and one who they’ll idolise and want to know everything about. You’ll talk about your experiences.

You’ll tell everyone about the first time you went to an elephant sanctuary and when you received a blessing from a monk at a temple built into a mountainside. You will never forget the first time you got a chance to try-out Muay Thai and the taste of the pineapples fresh from the ground. The dogs you meet at Rescue Paws will always have a place in your heart. You will tell tales of communities welcoming you with open arms, your students, your new families, friends and inspire others to follow their dreams.

Teach Abroad Thailand Hua Hin SongkranYou’re going to have tough times, times where you feel lost, frustrated, even angry. But with the supportive network of both the people you meet on the course and the XploreAsia family, you will get through these barriers and re-emerge ready to take on all challenges. These experiences inspire a growth within you that you would have never experienced back ‘home’. Chances are you’ll stay a lot longer than planned as you fall in love with the rich culture and the warm, friendly greetings from passers by. You’re living in a culture like no other, an experience unrivalled, a journey you chose for yourself.


This is your XploreAsia experience – embracing adventure, changing lives.


XploreAsia Blog

XploreAsia Blog

Teach Abroad XploreAsia Rescue PawsWelcome to the brand new XploreAsia blog!

Our blog is unique as we have tapped into our network of teachers to provide you with an unflinching view of teaching abroad.

You can expect stories from past and present teachers, current TESOL participants along with history/politics from Michael Volpe.  Staff stories and current news from everyone here at XploreAsia & Rescue Paws will also feature.

We are constantly on the lookout for writers, if you would like to contribute any of your own thoughts and/or ideas please contact me – jon@xploreasia.org

Please bookmark this page and follow us on this new, shared, venture.


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