Top 3 ways that teaching English abroad inflates your ego

May 4, 2013

Ah, the life of an expat English teacher.

If you’ve been here a while, you’ve already realized that teaching English in Spain isn’t going to make you a member of the nouvelle riche (try the Middle East or Asia for that).

TEFL isn’t at the top of the totem-pole glamourwise, either. The salary isn’t great. The conditions aren’t always amazing. But it does have certain advantages.

Especially for your ego!

Today: 3 ways that teaching English inflates your ego.

Trust me, I know about it.

1. Chronic Employability. 

I remember when I was a youngster, just after my fateful decision not to go $100,000 into debt for a liberal arts education. I had gotten good grades all through high school and considered myself to be a pretty smart kid.

So why was I getting turned down for jobs at McDonalds?

I spent quite a bit of time during one long hot, Arizona summer pedalling my bike from stripmall to stripmall, applying for jobs. Nobody would have me. I barely even got interviews.

I found myself at 21 years old looking forward to spending life scraping barnacles off the putrid backside of the American dream, earning minimum wage as a telemarketer and selling plasma in order to pay the rent.

When I moved to Spain, I figured I’d be in for more of the same, this time with better architecture.

3 ways that english teaching inflates your ego
If you become an English teacher in Spain, this girl will totally be within your league. (Or her brother, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

After I finished my CELTA course, I resigned myself to hoofing it around Madrid from language school to language school. It was the week before Christmas, and every morning I’d write down a few addresses from the yellow pages before going out into the freezing winter in a borrowed coat. (Remember phone books? Those were the days!)

I was in this for the long haul, but in the end the job search took me 4 days. I thought it must have been sheer good luck at the time, but I later realized it wasn’t.

See, language schools here in Spain are so desperate to put native speakers in front of a class that when their former teacher finally makes it big as an actor or checks into rehab, they hire the next person to walk through the door. And that freezing week at the end of 2004, the next person to walk through the door was me!

Even now, demand seems to outstrip supply where native teachers are concerned.

I call it chronic employability.

As far as I can tell, “unemployed ESL teacher” is a category that simply doesn’t exist. Most of us are partially employed or badly employed (at least at certain times of year) and there aren’t many people getting rich, but it beats selling your plasma back in the States.

2. Overseas adventures

While your friends back home are earning seven times more money than you and microwaving pizza in kitchens bigger than your whole flat, you can take comfort in knowing that while you’re secretly envying their paychecks, they’re secretly envying your adventures.

You know you can go back to the States and regale them with tales of drunken afternoons on Italian beaches or making love in Parisian hotel rooms, while their lives mostly consist of driving from office to shopping center to suburban gated community.

A good memory for many Americans is “Remember that time I found a parking spot right next to the entrance to Walgreens? I didn’t have to walk more than 20 feet that day!”

Meanwhile, over here, you’re falling in love with people with exotic accents, taking weekend trips to beautiful locations, eating some of the world’s best food.

And more…

3. Being the center of attention. 

English Droid has an article called the Diva method which perfectly describes a certain kind of ESL teacher. But let’s face it: being the center of attention can be a lot of fun even if you’re not a diva.

People are paying to listen to you.

It’s amazing!

They go out and earn good money elsewhere, and then pay to listen to you talk. And even if all you’re talking about is your last drunken Saturday night or how difficult it is to find a plumber over a long holiday weekend, they’re sitting there hanging on your every word.

And taking notes!

“Teacher, when you say ‘plumber was lazy incompetent asshole’, why this order in the adjectives?” asks Maria, your personal favorite student.

(If you’re a man, you should know that – for some reason I have yet to discover – a large majority of your students will be women.)

Having a dozen girls gazing at you for an hour and taking notes on everything you say is a somewhat addictive experience…

And one I suspect I’ll never have again, unless I somehow become a rock star or sex symbol later in life.

How has teaching English affected your personality? Let me know in the comments…

See also: Teaching English in Spain is So Glamorous and Social Media Manual for Online Educators. Or maybe, my newer article, Is teaching English for losers? The answer might surprise you…

And a whole lot of other ESL articles over here. Have fun!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. I taught English for years in Madrid and agree with everything you wrote (even though it’s been over 20 years since I worked there).
    I disagree, however, with this: “a good memory for many Americans is “Remember that time I found a parking spot right next to the entrance to Walgreens? I didn’t have to walk more than 20 feet that day!”” Neither my life, nor those of most people I know, look like this. My kitchen is modestly-sized and my primary forms of transport are biking, driving, and yes, walking.

    1. Hi Sally!

      I love making wild generalizations, and I don’t expect them to apply to everybody. Finding a good parking spot was a big deal for people when I was growing up!

      In any case, I bet Madrid was a lot different 20 years ago than it is now. It’s changed a lot even since I arrived in ’04.

      Thanks for commenting!

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