I will never forget the sights, smells, and noises that bombarded by senses when I first stepped foot outside of the airport in Mexico City. I will also never forget the young kid who demanded 300 pesos from me as I sat in a yellow taxi outside of the terminal. He thought he deserved the money because he had been nice enough to slam my taxi door shut. I gave it to him. I do not think I fully appreciated how much 300 pesos was really worth on the streets of Mexico City. After all, I was only 19 when I first stepped foot in a city that had already overwhelmed my senses before my plane had even touched the ground. Fortunately, my foolish decision to pick a random taxi, which in some parts of Mexico City is tantamount to playing Russian roulette, did not cost me anything more than a few extra dollars, and within 10 minutes, I was sitting on a bus that would take me deep into Southern Mexico. Five years and 17 countries later, I still remember that exciting day in Mexico City when I officially stepped out of my comfort zone and dared to take a chance and immerse myself in a culture with which I was not familiar.
I talk with many foreign language students who want to travel and study or teach abroad. Sadly, most of them will never actually leave the country. Most have no idea where to start and the process of finding a school and moving to another country seems too overwhelming. Others are on the verge of leaving the country but someone in the family convinces them that living abroad is too dangerous. Still others are excited about the idea but it seems to them that the financial and educational sacrifices are not worth a stay overseas. It is exhausting for me to think of all of the enthusiastic people that I have talked to who have decided that studying or teaching abroad is just too difficult. It is sad to think of all of the people who I have talked with who wished they had studied abroad when they had the chance. If you have the chance, do not waste it. While it is important to contemplate the potential risks of traveling abroad, sometimes you just have to do it.
I have never used recruiting agencies. In principle, I do not like them. Many of them will take your money as well as the control over where you teach and how much you are paid. People often ask me where I found such good teaching jobs. They assume that I had connections in Mexico and China or that I used a recruiter to help me. In truth, I found my own jobs by doing a simple search on Google and Yahoo. If you do not know where to start, simply pull up your favorite search engine and type in 'Teach English Abroad.' You will be shown listings linking to large websites that recruit teachers as well as small private schools that are seeking to make direct contact with potential teachers. There really is no better way to find teaching jobs than to perform your own search.
Even if you do not know where you want to teach, looking at job opportunities is the best way to learn more about different regions. For example, if you see a school that interests you, look up some information about the location of the school. You should find out about the size of the city, the weather, the nearest embassy, sites in the area, and whatever else you want to know. It is also important to see what others are saying about the school. You can use a search engine to gather all of this information.
I have always preferred to teach in smaller cities and in private schools. The less foreign contact that you have, the more immersed you will become in the culture. If you want to learn Spanish, or any other language, you need to be in an area where you will be forced to use the language. Teaching in a large university can be fun but spending all of your time with people who speak English is not going to help you pick up another language. Choose a location where you feel safe but where you can benefit the most from your experience abroad.
In closing, do not let people convince you that traveling abroad is too dangerous for your own good. Remember that everytime you step out of your front door, you are risking your life. Driving a car on your local highway or taking a jog through your city all involve potential hazards. While it is important to be careful and alert wherever you are, it also important not to let paranoia control your life. Sometimes the best experiences in life require us to step out of our comfort zones and do something that others consider to be crazy. Do not be afraid to follow your heart's desire. Do your research and find the place that is right for you and then just do it and never look back.
Nathan Ryan is webmaster at the Spanish Help Net. He has taught English and Spanish around the world. For more information, visit http://www.nathanryan.com/. This blog can also be found on The Spansish Help Net Website Blog.