Teaching English Abroad (while parents grow old without us)

parents get older teaching abroad

If you’ve been teaching English abroad for several years already, the reality of watching your parents getting up in years  (from afar) can be a tough one.

And one question may cross your mind:

“Should I return home to spend more time with my parents (who aren’t getting younger)?

(But, this means giving up your TEFL job abroad.)

After all, your parents raised you, taught you and took care of you, do you feel obliged to take care of them as they get older and their health declines?

Obviously, each person’s relationships with his/her parents is at a different level from another’s.

It is much harder for some overseas teachers than others to not see their parents as often as they’d like.

True, technology has made communication better.

We can call our parents anytime for free.

There’s even Skype….

But, video conferencing is NO substitute for a real live visit.

No Sunday dinners with mom and dad, no watching a movie together, no trips to the cottage, or whatever you enjoyed before you went overseas…

For for most of us, I think missing our parents is the most difficult part of teaching overseas.

Sure, we miss certain foods and the comforts of home while living in a foreign country

But,  I think NOT being around our parents (worse yet, our aging parents) is near the top of our lists.

Anybody feel guilty about being a long-term teacher on the other side of the world (with no real plans to head home any time soon)?

I know, I know…

Some teachers are simply estranged from their parents.

Their upbringings weren’t great , or they just don’t get along with their parents anymore.

Whatever the reason, I get it and your relationships are different than others.

Others expats would say, it was the poor economies in their home countries that drove them to teach abroad in the first place.

And ever since they left to go and teach overseas it’s gotten harder to return.

What kind of job could you get back home? Could you live on a lower salary and would you have the job satisfaction you get from teaching?

Yes, it’s true these are some big obstacles to overcome.

But most of use come from well-developed countries with more economic opportunities than our students even have.

Back home the economies of some corporations are bigger than the economies of some of the countries in which we teach in.

So what’s the big deal in returning home and restarting?

Is it that tough to repatriate and find a decent job again? (assuming you want to)

At least you’ll have your family around and you’ll feel more complete, or may be not?

Some teachers overseas would say that if your parent’s health worsens there really isn’t much you can do about it, whether you’re by their side or on the other side of the earth.

Other teachers would counter, that even if they lived back home, they’d still be a plane ride away or a 5 hour drive because of their jobs and families, so it wouldn’t really make a difference in “face time”.

In western culture, it’s acceptable for our aging parents to go into retirement homes, so it’s not like we’d feel guilted into living with them during their twilight years.

Also, they’d be better off in homes that have qualified health workers and services to take care of them, so it’s not like they aren’t getting proper medical treatment and care.

So, do we or don’t we have an obligation to pack up our bags and return home to our elderly parents instead of adding more years abroad?

At the risk of sounding completely depressing, would it NOT be one of your biggest regrets if one of your parents passed away suddenly and you hadn’t seen then in a couple of years because you were teaching English abroad?

I guess, it’s all the more reason to keep in touch regularly with our parents and try to visit them as often as possible, or have them visit you in your host country, provided it’s affordable and they are capable.

At the end of the day, teaching is just a job.

Most of us didn’t get into teaching English overseas because we’d get rich, so let’s not let a job get in the way of what matters most – our families.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that anyone talk themselves into returning home. Don’t get me wrong…

It’s just an anxiety I have definitely felt many times…. and so have others.

Maybe some of us have chosen TEFL because it was an easy entry into a decent paying, glamorous type of work…

At least that was the original draw anyway…

I suppose if you were that concerned about your aging parents you’d save your money and head home and then find a new job.

The flip side, is that some teachers say our home countries, like the US and Canada… just aren’t fun anymore, and wages have gotten lower, the taxes have gotten higher, and the work and bosses are more demanding.

Taking a non-teaching job back home for perhaps less pay and  less job satisfaction can be a hard pill to swallow for most of us.

I’m not sure if giving up our jobs and lifestyles overseas to be home with our aging parents is the right decision.

And, it’s also important to remember that our parents want us to be happy and live our own lives.

I don’t think there is any expectation or animosity towards us because we’ve gone abroad to teach ESL.

Although having us around would be nice and they’d appreciate it.

Especially if they were sick and their health was deteriorating…

We have to ask ourselves… is a TEFL job overseas that valuable and worth hanging onto?

It’s not like you’re the CEO, or the president of a country, or something of that type of responsibility or stature.

We need to keep our jobs in perspective.

Okay… so let’s say you did quit…

You may be missed for a few days by your students.

But, you ARE replaceable

In Asia, living and taking care of one’s elderly parents or spouse’s parents is not a choice it’s a cultural expectation.

Your students and employer would understand your decision.

But what would happen if you left teaching job abroad and decided to return in you 30’s, 40’s or even 50’s?

It may be impossible to get rehired even if you had experience education and skills.

If you stay and teach abroad you could renew every year with your school.

A school that already knows, likes and trust you…

But what if you’re married to a local in the country where you’re teaching?

If your partner’s language skills aren’t good and they can’t find work back in your country.

It could take them years before they could get a residency visa or citizenship.

They may not fit in culturally.

They may not make friends easily.

Bringing your spouse home (just so you can be with your parents)… could create a whole new set of problems for you.

Not to mention your foreign spouse will have to endure the same type of long distance relationship that you’re currently in with your parents.

They may be very close to their parents and it may be tougher on them than you.

Your spouse’s adaptability is a very big consideration.

So, before heading home to be with your parents you need to take your spouse’s needs into consideration.

If you’re lucky enough to have brothers and sisters who live close to your parents, than you may not feel as stressed.

It’s comforting to know that your siblings can take care of your aging parts.

But, how do you think your sibling(s) might feel about this situation?

They may not be pleased at all…

The fact that your living overseas while they’re stuck and responsible for all the affairs of your aging and/or sick parents isn’t fair, is it?

The burden can be tremendous for them.

Doctor visits, medical paperwork and attending to the daily needs of your parents can be a full-time job.

So, we need to consider the feelings of our family members too… in these types of situations.

I think at the end of the day, your culture, the way you were brought up, and your relationship with your parents, determine how you feel about this touchy subject.

I’m sure most of our parents aren’t that far along in years…

So, it’s not an immediate concern.

But it is something to think about as you build your TEFL career, marry a local, have kids, and plant roots overseas.

Have you taught at least a year overseas? Planning on second, or third, or fourth?

Will you go home, eventually, or are you an expat for life?

If you’d like more information about the “parent topic”  there’s a good article from the Huffington Post:

 How to Deal with Aging Parents While You live Abroad.


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