Boomers Teaching Abroad: Can You Hack It?
Baby Boomers are finding out some hard truths about teaching, either in paid or volunteer positions, in foreign countries.
After several manic decades of career building and child rearing, many boomers are now at a point in their lives when they’re done climbing corporate ladders and raising kids. They seek enriching experiences and many are finding these by going abroad to travel, live, give or learn.
Teaching provides a sense of purpose to extraordinary experiences in foreign lands. If you’re thinking about teaching abroad, you’ll want to reflect upon both the strengths and weaknesses you would bring to it as a mature person.
First, consider your strong points: Chances are you have greater problem-solving skills than when you were young. You’ll find these invaluable in creating games and activities for students especially if you’re working in schools where teaching resources are minimal as they often are.
You’re also more efficient because you’ve learned to do many tasks quickly meaning that you’ll ramp up faster in your new job or volunteer post. This will translate into more free time to explore your new surroundings once you’ve settled in. Another strength related to your stage of life is you’re likely not interested advancing your career in so you’ll be more relaxed about office politics and enjoy the job more.
Some hard realities
You should be realistic, however, and consider that there are some downsides to taking up teaching at this stage of your life. Your bosses will be younger than you and you’ll have to help them manage you. They may be intimidated by your age, poorly trained by their school or under-qualified for the job. Also, being older than all of your co-workers (the majority of teachers are in their twenties) means you’ll spend more time alone as younger colleagues spend weekends at clubs, beaches and on strenuous outdoor activities.
If you’re already an educator, much of what you know about instruction may have to be unlearned when you go through training on how to teach a new subject such as English as a foreign language. It’s very likely you won’t know much about your assignment until you’ve been there a few months. It takes that long to get a sense of the management, culture, environment and people—and that’s just at the school.
All of these work-related issues can be dealt with by bringing the same qualities that make any travels abroad successful: realistic expectations, an open mind, patience and a sense of humor. Boomers have a better than average chance of success at teaching abroad because they don’t undertake such a decision lightly. Once they commit to an assignment or contract, they keep to their obligations. They do their research, know what they’re getting into and they have the patience and experience to deal with issues as they come up.
Teaching is a great experience and many boomers have found new energy and purpose in life through it. Just make sure you do your research, ask a lot of questions, talk to many people—on-line forums are great for this—before you commit to an assignment. And then go with a sense of adventure and enjoy the experience.
Doris Gallan is the author of The Boomers’ Guide to Going Abroad to Travel * Live * Give * Learn (to be published in the winter of 2011). She is an expat who has traveled in 50+ countries and lived in five and visited all seven continents. Doris’s husband, Jacob Frank, has taught English as a Foreign Language in Mexico, Costa Rica and China.