One of the huge benefits of working as an English language teacher is the opportunity to live and work abroad. Not only does it give you a whole new perspective on life, but it also enables you to cultivate friendships with people you may never have met otherwise. Sometimes it’s your colleagues, fellow teachers and adventurers, who become great mates and sometimes it’s your students, especially if you choose to work with adults.
After almost 13 years of teaching, 8 of which have been spent abroad, I now have scores of foreign friends all over the place, along with British friends who have chosen to make their home somewhere other than the UK.
I met my first bona fide foreign friend, Dorte from Norway, at university almost 20 years ago and my visits to her home in Oslo have almost certainly reached double figures by now. I’m currently visiting Spain and staying with one of my best friends, Cath, in Barcelona. We met in a bar in South Korea 12 years ago and have been firm friends ever since. She’s lived here for about 8 years and this is my 6th (or is it my 7th?) visit. Last weekend I was in the south, Almeria, staying with Roger and Sally who ran the school in Melilla (on the northern tip of Africa) where I worked for 6 months in 2008. I hadn’t seen them for 5 years and it was great to hang out again.
I personally think that this is by far the best way to travel and here are my reasons why:
1. You get to spend time with your mates. The majority of my travelling is done alone so I really love it when I can go and stay with a friend and have some quality company for a while. There’s no awkwardness and no long silences because you haven’t seen each other for ages and have loads to talk about. You just want to make the most of the time you have together.
2. Staying with friends is a home away from home. You arrive, you dump your stuff (you might be really lucky and get picked up from the airport) and you sit down and have a drink and a proper catch up. Straight away you’re relaxed and happy. No hassle, no pressure, none of the formalities you get when staying at a hotel. As they like to say in Spanish, “Mi casa es su casa.”
3. Everything is flexible. If they’re working, you borrow a set of keys and you can go off and do your own thing. Maybe meet for lunch later on or just get together in the evenings. There’s no fixed itinerary and you can sleep as late as you want. This makes the whole trip so much more relaxing.
4. You get off the tourist trail. If you’re lucky enough to have friends who’ve lived somewhere for a while and know it like the back of their hands, then you’re going to get to see all the cool stuff that many of the tourists miss out on; the weird bars, the back alleys, the live music, the funkiest street art and best value cafes and restaurants. In cities like Barcelona, this is a huge advantage.
5. You get to visit amazing places for a fraction of the cost. Since becoming a teacher, most of my holidays are planned around visiting friends I haven’t seen for ages and if they live in exotic, far flung locations then so much the better. In 2005 I went to the USA and Costa Rica and stayed with a friend I met while teaching in Korea and an ex-student who I had taught in the UK. In the last two years I have been to the USA again (this time San Francisco, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon), Vietnam, Australia and Norway catching up with friends and making the most of my free accommodation. Next week I’ll be visiting friends in Turkey and for a whole month after that I’ll be staying with friends in Tanzania.
Of course not everyone has friends all over the world, but I’m sure you have mates in your own country who live in a little town you’ve never visited who you haven’t seen for months (or even years). You don’t have to go abroad to appreciate the benefits of staying somewhere different with people whose company you love. And if you do want to go abroad but you’re on a tight budget, then websites like www.couchsurfing.org enable you to visit the places you’ve always wanted to go to without spending loads on accommodation.
I now have friends on every continent apart from Antarctica and am thinking about South America for my next big trip. So if any of my friends in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil are reading this, make up your spare bed and get the kettle on: Vicky’s coming to visit!