Teach Abroad vs. Study Abroad

Authored by:
Kaylee S.

Kaylee S.

TRUST ME! You will want to know the difference.

Forget marriage, studying abroad is the ultimate honeymoon. Those of you who have done it know what I mean. You get to live across the world for an entire semester, you make tons of friends from different countries, you take the minimum courseload to maximize your time for traveling, every night can be a weekend in a country that has a drinking age lower than 21, and if your program was anything like mine- your grades in your abroad didn't even matter, because they wouldn't count towards your GPA, so all you had to do was pass. There's a reason for the expression overseas get degrees! 

It's not that teaching abroad isn't another opportunity to be in paradise, I mean, I'm living an endless summer, but it's less of the honeymoon and more like the realization after that oh man, we actually have WORK to make this work. I figured this to an extent going into it, however, I couldn't help but find myself constantly comparing this to my study abroad in the beginning. 

I studied abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand, during the fall 2019 semester. I was lucky enough to find myself in a big group of 12 buddies who I spent every waking moment with. No matter what time of day it was, someone was always down to hang. Whether it was to do homework, watch a movie, cook a big dinner, or plan our next trip, we did everything together. When I finally got released into Thailand after quarantine, that honeymoon hit hard and fast while my new friends and I frolicked around Bangkok. Realizing that always having that big group of people around is not the reality here was definitely the hardest thing for me. 

Another expectation I had coming in was that I'd be traveling every weekend. When I studied abroad, most of us didn't take Friday classes, so it was super convenient to hop on a bus Thursday night and have ourselves three days of adventure. Unfortunately, that's much easier as a student when you get to make your own schedule. In Thailand, we work five days a week, so there isn't much wiggle room on the weekends. We've definitely had our fair share of travels thus far, but it takes a lot more planning and hopes for a three day weekend. However, good things come to those who wait, so when a trip to a new part of the country finally does come around, we certainly appreciate it even more!

There's also just the matter of plain exhaustion. Think back to college, when you could take a full courseload, be a member of six different clubs, pull all-nighters studying, workout at the gym, hold an on-campus job, go out three nights a week, and still be a functioning human. That's not quite the case here. Working is exhausting. Working with kids is exhausting. Working with kids for ten hours a day is exhausting. Working with kids for ten hours a day in this heat is exhausting. Sometimes, with a weekend full of possibilities ahead, all you can possibly see yourself doing is lying in bed. When I was studying abroad, I hated the thought of wasting any minute being alone, or every weekend not seeing something new. I was constantly putting pressure on myself to make the most of every day. Now, three months into teaching abroad, I've come to realize that sometimes making the most means doing the least. When your body is tired, let it rest. Time that is well spent is never time considered wasted.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but even the thought of night life here doesn't spark a craving for cocktails. When I studied abroad, we definietly prioritized our social lives, and I guess I expected Thailand to be the same way, a constant party. Or maybe I'm not getting old, maybe I'm just growing up (ew). I've come to realize that the work I'm doing here is just as important as my desire to travel. My passion for exploration brought me here, but my passion for teaching has helped me stay. Studying abroad was one of the best experiences of my life, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. It gave me so many friendships and fun memories that I'll have forever. Teaching abroad though, has given me that plus a little bit more. Gratitude, awareness, insight, the kind of things that you, as a college student with a plane ticket, don't really seek to find. 

So yeah, I totally judged this all too prematurely in the beginning. I immediately let myself get disappointed that I wasn't having the exact same experience in Thailand as I had in New Zealand. Now I realize, hello! Of course it's going to be different! I came abroad for different reasons. One was to grow my education, and one was to grow my resume, but both helped me grow as a person. To those of you who have studied abroad and are now looking to continue your travels as an educator, this is your sign to do it! You will get to see a new part of the world from the perspective of a citizen living, rather than a student visiting, and who knows? If you let yourself find things worth loving so much, then maybe the honeymoon never really ends after all.

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