In honor of my own American exile, here's an interview with a guy who actually started teaching in America, did a few years overseas, and then resumed life in academia. He is also a writer and keeps a website at www.celtic-badger.com.
How long have you been teaching?
I started teaching in the fall of 1979, so this shall be my 36th year in the profession.
Where have you taught?
I have taught at colleges and universities in South Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas and Illinois. I have taught middle school in Wisconsin and Illinois. As far as overseas goes, I taught in Japan for five years and in Saudi Arabia for one year.
Which places have you liked the most and the least?
The five years I spent in Japan were the best years of my life. The wages were good and there were plenty of privates for the picking. I loved going to Tokyo to hang-out. I saw George Harrison and Eric Clapton in concert there in 1990 or 91. I saw Buster Douglas knock-out Mike Tyson at the Big Egg. I was with the same lovely woman for the entire five years I was there. I wasn’t wild about the magic kingdom. The money was good but the place was dull and the culture meant nothing to me. I made it through a 1 year contract and that’s about it. It was a dog year: seven years for one. In the USA, I’m the happiest in South Carolina.
I loved Japan and the Japanese people but I thought they were very dull and unimaginative as students. I actually preferred the Saudi students because they were talkative and they had this goofball sense of humor. I remember students staying up all night during Ramadan and then sleeping in class. I was spat on and choked in KSA, but I liked the students overall. Over here I like the southern students from South Carolina and Texas more than the snotty and wise aleck students from the Midwest.
What kind of qualifications do you have?
My B.A and M.A degrees are in Communication. I also had a state of Wisconsin Teachers’ Certification. By the time I had gone overseas, I had about 10 years of teaching under my belt. The Celta wasn’t necessary for me to have on my resume when I was hired to work in Japan or Saudi Arabia. Now it appears to be a must in the ESL-EFL field. I have actually thought about taking a 3 month and 120 hour program here in South Carolina to have it in case I wanted to go back to English teaching after I retire.
How's your quality of life compared to your wages?
I am very happy with my quality of life right now. I have been teaching at a community college here in South Carolina for the past ten years. I make a good salary and I have the rank of Associate Professor. In two years I’ll be promoted to a full professorship which is not bad for a blue collar kid from a factory town. I also spend a great deal of time on my writing projects. I have essays, stories and reviews published on-line and with several glossy magazines. It took me a few years to actually re-adjust to the USA, but I now am back in touch with my roots.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m 61 and I hope to continue to teach here until I’m 66. I’d like to retire back to Wisconsin and just write. I suppose teaching English overseas is still in my blood, for I still check-out the job boards at Dave’s ESL to see what’s available. I have always wanted to teach in Eastern Europe and I suppose Poland is my first choice. I’m not of Polish ancestry but I guess I’m comfortable with the fact that they’re Catholics. I don’t think Americans can get visa all that easily in Europe anymore because of the European Union. I probably too old to be hired on for any decent job. To be honest about it, I don’t have the physical and mental toughness any more to adapt to a foreign land.
Do you recommend the ESL-EFL route to young Americans?
In my many years of teaching here in the States I only recall two students expressing an interest in teaching overseas. One ended up teaching in Costa Rica and New Zealand: she loved every minute of it. The other expressed an interest in Japan and Russia so I gave him two books by English Teacher X. He decided to go to China. Yes, I’d highly recommend it to the right type of person. Many people probably shouldn’t even try it, for they’ll be miserable or throw in the towel too quickly. I also would caution a person to make it a 1 to 5 year gig. I know some people score big in the field by starting their own school or by working for a big university. However, I think most lifers aren’t all that happy with themselves or their work after a certain point. I also would recommend to an American not to over-estimate or under-estimate our country, or to over-estimate or under-estimate any other country. You’re still an American and you should grow old and die in your native land.
Is there anything you would have done differently with your ESL career?
Not really. Six years was just about the right amount of time for me personally. I made very good money during those years overseas. More importantly, I traveled extensively: maybe I visited about two dozen countries. However, now I’m more than satisfied to be a ‘stay-at-home-pair of shoes.’ My idea of paradise is no longer an airport, a suitcase and a tour guide book. I also met all sorts of people from all over the world. I learned how to live with diversity before it became fashionable. I have become very capable at defusing obnoxious people who want to argue about politics or religion. Has anybody else ever noticed that many English teachers are closet social workers, aspiring crusaders and failed diplomats?