4 Unexpected Ways Teaching Abroad Can Improve Your Writing Skills

4 Unexpected Ways Teaching Abroad Can Improve Your Writing Skills

Have you ever considered living abroad and teaching English?

I quit my job two years ago and moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Writing used to be a small hobby of mine — something I did when I had the chance. Now I work on my writing every day.

Here are 4 reasons why you should consider teaching abroad if you want to be a writer.

1. You’ll have new experiences to write about

Ernest Hemingway said it best: “In order to write about life first you must live it.”

Living abroad gives you new experiences to build stories from. There are nights out with friends watching the sun come up over stunning landscapes, motorbike trips through towns you didn’t know existed, or even just a cup of coffee, watching a strange way of life weave around you.

Good stories come from tension and conflict — change fuels both. If your life is an interesting story, it will seep into your writing.

2. You’ll meet new characters

People who leave their comfort zones to live abroad are full of good stories.

They’ve dealt with corrupt police, unexpected immersions into a community, deplorable transportation, dangerous wildlife and much more. An international assortment of characters live in all the popular teaching destinations, so you’ll hear about the adventures of people from around the world.

Their stories could be the seeds for your own. Those people telling you the stories will also become new characters in your writing. You’ll meet the weirdest people you couldn’t possibly have imagined — the full spectrum of motivations and eccentricities.

3. Your English will improve

It wasn’t until I had clever students asking me about the intricacies of English grammar that I realized I had gaps in my own understanding.

Students need you to explain things in simple language, which you can only do if you know what you’re talking about.

By helping others learn your language (and learning a new language yourself), you will appreciate the power of conciseness. Much of what we intend to say comes out by superfluous means, through methods such as metaphor and irony. You don’t have those luxuries when you are learning a new language. Brevity is all you have.

4. You’ll have more free time

A future as a writer is wishful thinking for most.

It isn’t a secret that it’s a tough way to make money. Nobody in their right mind would quit their day job to write unless they already had a serious readership, a freelance clientele, or they won the traditional publishing lottery. You have to scrape and claw for those precious few hours where you can focus on what you want to do.

Wouldn’t it be nice to work less?

In many of the countries that are popular destinations for teachers, the cost of living is minuscule relative to average wages. Because of this, you don’t have to work as much. In my current job, I teach about 20 hours per week. I could work more, but I use my free time to write, edit and whatever else my heart desires. If you’ve been dreaming of a year off work to write your novel, teaching abroad could be a realistic compromise.

Think about how much better your writing could be if you had more time to devote to it. Teaching abroad gives you that time. When I read the stuff I wrote two years ago, I cringe. It’s bad. Since then, I’ve invested thousands of hours into writing and studying the craft. I’m not a great writer, but I am improving because of the hours I have to work at it. It’s inescapable that you have to devote thousands of hours of practice to become a master at any craft, so why not give yourself the time to work on your writing?

Teaching abroad is a low-risk way to take your passion and develop it — but instead of investing money into a new company, you’re investing time into an idea of your future self. If you want to grow as a writer, consider teaching abroad.

I didn’t move across the world intending to become a writer, but you could.

Have you ever taught abroad or considered teaching English in another country?

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17 comments

  • Jill says:

    Agree with so much of this as a 25-year expat (much of it in SE Asia). Though I did also see my English deteriorate. Speaking to young children all day, I found my English sometimes mirrored the Chinese syntax (to my horror). It did, however, make me realize why Chinese children speak English the way they do—they are speaking with native constructions but English vocabulary. 🙂 My expat journey has provided me with five years of blogging, one contemporary women’s novel, and my first successful NaNoWriMo (a collection of stories from my traveling days).

  • Laurie says:

    And how does one “travel” to write and “work” for pay at the same time? Thank you!

    • Jared says:

      EFL teaching requires much less time then a full-time position in your home country. Many schools in HCMC offer per class employment. You can teach 12 classes a week, and have plenty of time to write.

      HCMC is inexpensive to live in, although it is more expensive than other cities in Vietnam.

      I worked in Vietnam, Indonesia, SK, and China. It is a great experience for so many reasons.

    • Joseph Skinkis says:

      Start as a volunteer, you will gain experience, see if you like teaching overseas, and use it as a paid vacation. I volunteered in Canada (CUSO) to go to Papua New Guinea. After two years there, I taught overseas in ten different countries for the next fifteen years. I loved it.

  • Tom Bentley says:

    Besides the departure from the everyday places and people being fodder for fiction, you can also directly write travel pieces about your experiences. I taught English for a year on a tiny island in Micronesia 10 years ago, and sold a number of pieces to newspapers and magazines about the experience. Thanks for the good piece!

  • Fatima Nicholson says:

    Great piece of perspective. Especially, since it comes at a time that I am currently traveling. I have yet, to break my own piece of words into my traveling expositions. But, I have to agree that when it comes to traveling it brings forth stories that are chuck full of rich experiences; and could be translated into writing.

  • Timothy Philippart says:

    How does one find these teaching positions?

    • Stephen A says:

      There are many websites and even recruiting agencies that will help you find a job based on your travel and work preferences.

      For example, ESL Cafe has International, Japan, and Korea ESL job listings.

      A recruiter I used in the past was Footprints Recruiting. They have jobs all over the place.

  • Randi says:

    While this is true … I think there should be a caveat here.

    Depending on the job you get, it might become *harder* to work, not easier.

    I’m teaching in Siberia right now, and my job takes about 28 contact hours a week, plus extra for preparation, staff meetings, etc. Furthermore, these hours are split up so that there’s extra commute time — and my best writing times are often taken up with classes. Not only that, but it’s also hard to get involved in the life of the community when you’re working the times everyone else is free.

    If anyone’s interested in teaching abroad and writing, please pay close attention to the job’s working conditions before you go.

  • Stephen A says:

    I’ve read a few books by expat writers in my host country.

    One was a fantasy action novel that turned out pretty well IMO.
    Another was a memoir of how his manic-depression got out of control and he almost got killed running on the expressway. It wasn’t good at all and the author got many negative reviews. I hope he edited it and published it since the plot was OK.

  • FrankieTrees says:

    BEFORE YOU CAN TEACH YOU HAVE TO LEARN.

    Living abroad is a learning experience. And with enough of it and if it’s an emersion experience, you will learn the need to communicate becomes a key to sanity. And if you are like me you will find the means to do that. After awhile I learned it was about culture , mine and theirs . And that in itself becomes a deep learning experience. According to the depth of communication one needs comes your proficiency.

    When I got to Guatemala in the early 70’s I was young and unafraid. I also was the spokesperson for the group.That ‘group’ consisted of 4 hippies, myself included. We were on an adventure. Footloose and fancy free, we had neither a destination nor a schedule… and that translated as an answer to the destination blank on the tourist visa as Sin Rumbo. And thats how I learned Spanish. It is known as the emersion technique.You learn it as you need it.
    From there it was pure survival oriented. The trips to the markets needed the basics; I want..you have…how much…. thereby learning the names of fruits and veggies by pointing. Most tourists barely get that far.

    Eventually (40+ years) I was married to a Mexican lady and living in Mexico and working as head of the foreign language department in Small but elite private school.

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