I will never forget lugging a briefcase packed with teaching books, seriously the thing must have weighed fifty pounds, through the airport in Newark, NJ to LAX to Tokyo to Shanghai to Beijing.
I’m tired just writing that sentence. Imagine how it felt dragging that thing around, and it did not have wheels. All that muscling and lugging of stuff I didn’t even need.
You see, when I went overseas to teach, I didn’t really know what I would need. I had been told that internet access was unreliable and sometimes unavailable. I had no idea what resources I would have at my American school in East Asia where I would be teaching ESL. And I assumed I could get nothing in the surrounding markets. So I brought books, and lots of them. But they weren’t really what I needed. It turned out that internet access was adequate. I really didn’t need much supplemental material for my classroom. And I managed okay with what I had on hand.
Were I to make the same trip today, I would leave that briefcase, or at least its contents, in favor of some more useful items. If you’re planning a trip overseas to teach, here are some suggestions on what to take with you.
Five Things You Should Make Room to Pack
This may seem like a silly item to list, but reward stickers are actually some of the most valuable items you can bring with you overseas. Not that you won’t be able to find stickers where you’re going. Most likely you will be able to find all the star and smiley face stickers you can use. But what you won’t find are reward stickers in English. You know what I mean, those little gems that say things like great job, way to go, you’re the best, superstar, etc. Since you’ll be teaching English, you’ll want to have stickers in English to put on papers, and the best way to make sure you have what you need is to bring them yourself. How many you will need depends on how long you are going to be teaching overseas, what age group you’ll be teaching, and how often you like to put those types of things on papers. I was teaching second and third grade, and I love to give a boost whenever I can, so I used plenty of stickers. I supplemented my “Way to Go” stickers with what I could find there, but I wished more than once that I had brought some of those stickers rather than the books that ended up just sitting on my bookshelf. Besides, what is easier to pack than a bunch of stickers?
In some cultures, gift giving is an important social interaction. An expectation, even. Without giving gifts to colleagues, friends, and others, you can inadvertently commit some serious social faux pas. But why bring gifts when you can buy them there? It’s a valid question. One of the most interesting and unique items you can give overseas is something with ties to your homeland. I know some of the most memorable and cherished gifts I have gotten from international students are items with ties to their cultures – fans, sake cups, origami book marks, etc. These items remind me of the students who gave them to me because they so clearly represent these students’ home cultures. You would do well to aim for something similar when you plan gifts for your students and colleagues. If you can find portable items with ties to your home culture, the recipients will value them far more than if you buy gifts at the local department store. Think about bringing things like keychains, magnets, bookmarks, anything with English writing, and other small portable items that travel well. Depending on where you are going and what role gift giving plays in that culture will influence how many gift items you need, but it’s always better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. Also, plan for special occasions when you might want to give everyone in your class a gift, such as Christmas or Chinese New Year. Consider ordering some personalized pencils from a retailer and pack them ready to give out when needed. You will certainly be able to find appropriate gift items where you will be teaching, so limit the ones you bring to those that have cultural significance and/or English writing.
This one can be tricky, especially if you want to avoid a fifty pound carry on, but it might be worth it to put a few magazines in your bag if you have the room. There are several reasons English magazines can come in handy in the classroom, and you probably have a better idea than I do how you will use magazines if based on your past teaching experiences. You might use them for reading assignments or research, and if you’re lucky your school library will have a collection that you can borrow from for those purposes. But everyone knows that magazines come in useful in lots of other ways, too. I have often used ads for writing prompts or to define unfamiliar words. You might also have students cut words or headlines from magazines to use for other in class activities. And of course, reading articles and marking unfamiliar vocabulary is always a great go to activity, not to mention setting some out for your classroom library. For some of these activities, copies work, but for others you will want to have the magazines on hand. Bringing your own is not essential, but it might be worth it to grab one or two for your plane ride and keep them for your classroom.
Okay, you aren’t exactly going to throw your imagination in your carry on, but it’s important to have the right attitude when travelling overseas. I brought all those books just to find that I didn’t really need them, and I didn’t need them because I found that I could make a lot of my own materials to use in class. No matter what kind of resources are available in your school, whether at home or overseas, you will very likely make a habit of creating your own worksheets to use in class. You can even create your own picture dictionary type pages, and it’s even easier to do if your drawing skills go beyond mine (I am the queen of the stick figure). Yes, things will probably be faster or less complicated if you can use worksheets that someone else has already designed and created, and often you will be able to do that thanks to the great number of resources online, particularly on Busy Teacher. And when you are limiting yourself to a fifty pound suitcase and a carryon, every bit of space counts. If you make sure you bring your can-do attitude into your classroom, you will be able to create almost anything you need, and you will save yourself the trouble of bringing all those items with you. So be aware before you travel that you may need to get out your scissors and put together something that fits just right with what you are teaching.
Some Things That Remind You of Home
It is hard to pick up and move to another country, even in our great age of global culture and free information. So make a little room to bring one or two special items that you have around your place now. Seeing them either in your classroom or at your home every day might be the little boost you need when you are feeling down, and believe me those down days come whether you want them to or not. So take a little something special for yourself, a knickknack, a picture, a favorite coffee mug, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
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