So you’re about to embark on your journey as a TEFL teacher: you’ve secured a cool job, found some cheap flights, made a checklist for your rucksack, and figured out your visa situation. Congratulations! Now all that’s left is the trickiest part: telling your parents without them totally freaking out.
To be blunt, this is a conversation you need to be well-prepared for. Being prepared will give you confidence in what you’re going to say, which honestly is the key to the whole thing.
First off, remember that you’re telling them, not asking. You’re an adult making an adult decision. Opening with, “I’m thinking of moving to Cambodia. What do you think?” is going to seem like you’re seeking approval as you’re unsure of your decision, and sounding anything less than confident will fail to put their minds at ease.
To help you mobilize for this inevitable discussion, here’s a cheat-sheet of likely responses and how to prepare to answer them:
“It’s too dangerous!”
It’s true that many places you’ll go will lack the safety associated with your hometown—every town in every country has its own inherent risks. However, it is important to realize that millions of people spend every day of their entire lives in these countries. Let them know you’re well-equipped to handle any problems that may pop up. Know what areas are safe, what the local laws are, and what resources you have available. Explain you’ll be registering with your closest embassy, clarify whether or not you’ll need travel insurance, and assure them you know how to contact both local and overseas emergency services.
“But you don’t speak _________.”
While the language barrier is of course a valid concern, this also gives you the opportunity to stress that you’re up for the challenge of totally immersing yourself in a new culture, including the language itself. One of the best ways to learn a new language is by moving to an area where you’ll be forced to use it for even the simplest interactions. Acknowledge that you know it will be difficult at first, but that you intend take the opportunity to learn as much as you possibly can.
“How will we know if you’re okay? What if you get sick/hurt/etc.?”
This one is definitely easier to answer these days than in the past, as modern technology has made communication so much easier. E-mail, Skype, International phone plans—keeping in touch is easy so long as you put in the effort and accommodate the time differences. Even those living off-grid can usually get to an internet café once a month or so. Try to know ahead of time what your most likely means of communication will be, and set up a schedule to call home once you’re settled. Check to see if your recruiter or agency has a system in place. Many request your parents’ information so they can contact them if they need to and some even call just to let them know your plane landed safely.
“When are you going to come home and get a real job?”
Even after teaching TEFL for years, this question will still pop up and will sting a bit each time. For those using TEFL as a means to a gap year or semester abroad, it’s easy to answer the first half and dodge the second. For those looking to teach long-term, it becomes a bit more complicated. Because TEFL teaching is often associated with volunteers & backpackers, many don’t think of it as serious work. Be assured, working as an English teacher IS a real job that takes as much dedication, energy, and hard work as any other, if not more. If you do have long-term goals in the TEFL world, let them know; if not, fall back on the spiel about how great it looks on a resume and how it can be a stepping stone to those “real jobs” you’ve heard so much about.
Lastly, be prepared for the fact that this conversation may not go well; your decision may not ever be fully understood by your family. Keep in mind that even if they disagree with your decision it is likely out of concern—they’re your parents and they only want you to be safe, happy, & successful.