Lisa has been an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for almost 15 years. Having lived in Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey and now Spain – she shared her travel stories, moments of culture shock and how life is for an expat on the move.
“I think you get to a point where you spend so much time outside your own country that it starts to become foreign,” said Lisa Page, sitting at a table in the Uruguayan family owned bar – La Cristina in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain.
She cradled her cup of café con leche as she remembered her time in Taiwan. After five years living there she realized she wouldn’t be moving back to Canada.
It had already been seven years since Lisa had packed her bags and moved to Mexico to start her career as an English teacher abroad. After one year teaching in Toronto, her students from Guadalajara convinced Lisa she needed to go. And that was that.
Although Lisa graduated with a BA in Linguistics and a TESOL teaching certification, she remembers it being quite easy for any native speaker at the time to get a job teaching English both in Mexico and Asia.
“It was almost like you showed up somewhere, said you were a native speaker and you got a job,” Lisa said. “Now, its much more competitive.”
Her qualifications lead to her to university teaching job in Guadalajara which ultimately paid $5.00 USD/hour which simply wasn’t cutting it.
“I had just graduated and had student debts,” recalled Lisa. “I needed to pay them and I couldn’t do that working in Mexico.”
She had heard about English teachers earning $40,000-$100,000 USD working in Asia with everything else paid for: housing, flights, etc. So after some online research Lisa had set up a job before jumping on the next plane to Asia. She avoided the more commercial places and went for Taiwan.
Over a period of 10 years she went from dining in the 7/11 – an American chain gas station, which served white bread sandwiches – three nights a week to fulfill a craving for connection to back home to seeing the city of Taipei boom with Western influence. The city was now transformed with coffee shops and Western styled restaurants. The Taipei 101 also was built while Lisa called the city home.
But the biggest shock came when she moved away from Taiwan to the small muslim fishing village of Buyukdere just outside of Istanbul, Turkey.
Lisa had experienced culture shock while visiting family and friends in Canada after being in Taiwan for two years from differences regarding personal space and how simple money transactions took place … would it be cash or card? But this time it was more distinct.
Adapting to Taipei, Lisa got used to the super dense lifestyle of the rapidly growing city along with the pollution. So when her time came to move away from it all in search of something a bit quieter. That’s exactly what she got.
“It really kinda chose us,” shared Lisa about her newfound home in Turkey. With a newly acquired Masters degree in International Education she wasn’t too keen to leave Asia, but knew she needed a change of pace. Lisa wanted to teach adults again and with her background – Masters and 12 years experience – she and her boyfriend decided to make the move once Lisa got a job offer at a university outside Istanbul.
Sometimes life gives you exactly what you want and “you gotta watch what you wish for.”
There were no social obligations, no nightlife, no “constantly on the go” way of life. Life was slower. The locals prayed five times a day and the women walked in the streets wearing hijabs. But the religion wasn’t the biggest culture shock for Lisa.
“It was the conservative factor,” recalled Lisa. “It was the way of thinking that was different. In Asia the thinking is that you carve out your own path and that you’re sort of responsible for your own destiny and your own fate. Where in Turkey that was the exact opposite. They thought that Allah had already carved out their fate for them and that they had no control over their destiny and whatever Allah wanted would just be.”
With this mind set very prevalent in day to day life, Lisa found students in Turkey the hardest to teach during all her years as an ESL teacher.
Lisa found that her students were hard to motivate. Because Insha’Allah (God willing), if they were meant to be a doctor, lawyer, scientist, psychologist – they would become one.
This total shift challenged Lisa while giving her a different understanding for their way of life and culture. She embraced the slower paced lifestyle and passive way of thinking. But after two years, Lisa and her boyfriend decided they needed to continue carving their own path and made the move to Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain in Basque Country where they continue to take the adventure day to day.
For anyone looking to venture into the lifestyle of teaching English abroad, Lisa leaves us with this thought: “Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get what you want. It’s often the best stroke of luck.”