Five Tips For An Enjoyable Time Overseas As A Language Assistant
Whether working as an assistant language teacher in Japan, an auxiliar de conversación in Spain, an assistant de langue in France, or any similar role in other countries, it can be challenging to adapt to life in a new place, with new people, and in a new language. However, there are several ways to get the most out of the experience.
Some of the most difficult things about moving to a new place are not knowing people, not knowing the area, and not knowing 'how things work.' The best way to get around these possible problems is having good contacts.
Networking can begin even before arriving in the country. Good points of contact include: the place of work, local schools which teach one's native language, local organisations, other people who are participating in the same teaching programme, previous participants, facebook groups...
Once arrived, it pays to speak with as many people as possible. We can never know which person may share a hobby, be willing to take an extra passenger to the nearby town where they live, know of someone looking for a flatmate, or even just know of a good bar!
Learn the Lingo With A Language Exchange
It's hard to fully understand and become involved a culture without speaking its language. Learning the language through language exchange offers numerous advantages. It provides opportunities for authentic, one-to-one communication with a native speaker, is based around the learner's specific needs, and it is totally free. In addition, it provides the language assistant with another local contact and, probably, a friend!
All that is required is two people who each want to learn the other's language. For instance, a German who wants to learn Italian, and an Italian who wants to learn German could be partners. They would meet up at least once a week, and spend half of the time working on German, and the other half on Italian. Both parties benefit, hence the term 'exchange.'
Take Up Extra Activities
With some programmes, language assistants can end up with a lot of free time. If they are posted in a small town, and when they don't know anyone, this can be both frustrating and boring. Therefore, it is worth using the time to take up a new hobby, continue with a current one, or learn a new skill. As a side benefit, these kinds of activities allow the language teacher to meet more people and practice speaking the local language.
The extra activities could be joining a basketball team, taking yoga classes, joining a music group, or even giving private language lessons. To find out what is going on in the area, it pays to keep an eye on posters, local websites or classified advertisements, and visit the cultural centre and local sports ground.
Embrace Another Culture
When living within a culture, there isn't much choice about whether or not to experience it, but we can choose whether we embrace it. Some culture shock on arrival is completely understandable, but it can be nice to try to adapt to the new rhythm and customs. Through contacts, and during a language exchange with a local, an assistant language teacher can learn much about their local culture. In fact, it's an opportunity to learn about a culture from someone who belongs to it, as opposed to in books, or through the tv screen. It also allows for more specific discoveries about regional, as opposed to national, culture.
So: eat with teachers, students and friends; try local foods; shop at an outdoor or night market; watch movies from the new culture; and get out in the street for typical festivals.
Learn To Travel Cheaply
For those who are looking to fully enjoy a country, it is necessary to visit several different parts of it. As wages for language assistants are not always high, and because of the sheer number of interesting places out there to be visited, it is advisable to learn to have cheap holidays. While there is no guaranteed formula, there are many helpful tricks.
For a start, plan well in advance, as this often means that transport is cheaper, and there may also be 'earlybird' deals on accommodation. In addition, arriving well-informed ensures that no important attractions will be overlooked.
In terms of accommodation, it is worth looking into options like Couch Surfing, work exchange schemes like Workaway, or simply making friends with people who live in nearby areas... A youth hostelling international card can also come in handy.
Lastly, when visiting a new place, look out for tourist passes, which often cover unlimited public transport, and discounted entry to major tourist attractions.
Teaching one's native language overseas is an enriching opportunity, even more so for those who explore a new culture, country, language, and community. Work hard, play hard, and get involved!