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Adjusting to a foreign workplace.

If you decide to make the decision to work overseas, adjusting to a foreign workplace can be difficult. In most cases there are other English teachers who you can relate to and ask for advice, but if you’re working at a regular school as the English teacher, you may be the only foreigner in the school or town. You may also be the only person who can speak English. This can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. If you are having trouble coping with your new environment here are some tips to improve your work life.

Greet your co-workers

Say good morning to everyone when you first wall in, say hello when you pass people in the hall. Ask how are you? If you have a chance. A few simple greetings can go a long way when you do them every day.

Sometimes the locals are just nervous about talking to a foreigner or using English, so if you make yourself appear approachable they’ll be more likely to try and to talk to you.

I once worked in a school where my co-workers would ignore me when I greeted them, which was hard, but the best thing to do is to continue greeting them unless they obviously don’t want to be talked to. You may think they’re ignoring you, but they might be busy or didn’t hear. It may be difficult to be friendly to people who ignore you, but other people are watching you, so it’s best to avoid becoming an employee who doesn’t greet anyone.

Appear happy

If you appear happy it makes you more approachable. Even if you don’t feel happy try your best to fake that you are. If you appear happy for long enough you might even fool yourself.

Try and keep your dialogue with your co-workers as positive as possible and avoid complaining about their country or culture. If you talk about all the things that you like about the new place, the locals might get excited and tell you more.

Attempt small talk

Sometimes the staff are busy and don’t have time to talk, but a few comments about the weather, or their stylish clothes doesn’t hurt. Ask what restaurants they like in the area, or what the local attractions are. It’s a great way to find out more about your new home.

Try learning their language

It doesn’t take a long time to learn a few simple greetings and talk about the weather. Don’t worry about making mistakes; they don’t expect you to be perfect. Joining a language class is also a great way of meeting new people.

Respect their culture and learn the cultural norms

At least try and learn a little about the country that you’re going to live in. It will make your life easier and you can avoid embarrassing yourself. Some of the things they do may seem strange and meaningless, but it’s the way that things are. Avoid the temptation to criticise their culture or refuse to follow their rules.

If you make a mistake apologies and try not to make it again. There’s not much else you can do.

Do your job properly

Your co-workers will have a lot more respect towards you if you do your job properly and look like you’re working hard.

In some cases you may have a much easier class load than your co-workers, and it’s easy for them to feel resentment towards you if you spend your free working hours playing on your phone or surfing the net. Try to at least pretend that you are doing work.

Befriend your students

If all else fails, go hang out with the students instead of your coworkers during break time. You might look weird hanging out near the monkey bars with a bunch of first graders, but at least you’ll have someone to talk to.

They might not know enough English to have a conversation, but most children can play soccer and games. It also looks good to your boss and school manager if you spend extra time interacting with the children.

Obviously it’s not always appropriate to be friends with your students outside of school.

Sometimes the staff at language schools are reluctant to become friends with you because they’ve done so with teachers in the past who left within a year or two. Some teachers, who I used to work with every day, became busy after returning to their home countries and ceased contact.

Sometimes the longer you stay the friendlier the school becomes. I worked at one school which really warmed up to me after my second year, and it became a great and enjoyable experience.

If you are having trouble with your work environment consult your supervisor

In most cases you’re not the first teacher who has worked there (or had problems) so they might have some useful advice to help you deal with the situation.

Build a life outside of work.

It’s a lot easier to deal with work isolation if you have friends to hang out with and vent to once work is over. It takes a while to make friends after moving to a new country, but joining a club, sports team, volunteer group, or language class is a great way of meeting new people outside of work.

Many chain English schools have large group trainings, so it doesn’t hurt to keep in contact with people from the same training group and hang out with them. Most English teachers leave after a year or two, so it’s also a good idea to try and make local friends.

If all else fails immerse yourself in your work.

If not matter what you do and they still won’t warm up to you, you can always just immerse yourself in your work. You are after all being paid to do a job, not be best buddies with everyone.

If you have too much free time at work, create a goal to work towards like I want to become a better teacher, or get along well with the students, or get a difficult student to try in class.

Final notes

Ultimately it is part of the school’s responsibility to create a reasonable working environment. It’s one thing to feel a little lonely at work, but if you feel like people in your workplace are bullying or mistreating you, and the management won’t do anything about it. It might be worth considering changing jobs.

Have you ever experienced feelings of isolation in a foreign work environment? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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