My husband and I are both TEFL teachers. We met abroad – it was the first year teaching abroad for both of us, and we were working in the same school. We lived in China for over two years, teaching at two schools, before moving to Japan where we both specialised and worked for different companies. There are pros and cons to being in a couple when you move to teach English abroad, and from someone who has first-hand experience of it, here is my top advice for making it work.
Pros and Cons
There are upsides and downsides to being in a teaching couple. Some schools actively look for couples to hire – double the teachers for half the work. Others are less inclined to hire couples – often when they’ve had a bad experience, such as a teaching couple breaking up on the job and causing staffing havoc. But if you find a school that is willing to accept you, it can be a great opportunity. Here are a few general pros and cons to consider:
- Pro: Moving to the other side of the world is a scary thing. If you have someone to move with you, it’s far less scary.
- Con: Starting your big adventure with someone by your side can mean you’re less adventurous yourself. Make sure you get the most of your experience, whether you’re with someone or not.
- Pro: It can be difficult to make friends when you move abroad, especially if there are very few English speaking staff. If you move abroad with your partner, this loneliness won’t be a problem.
- Con: If you move abroad as a couple, it’s easy for colleagues to leave you out of social occasions. Combat this by trying to integrate when you arrive, especially by having separate friends
Work, Home and Play Divide
During our second year in China, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I moved in together. We were also working together in the same school, and because we’d move to a new city and didn’t have many friends there, we spent most of our social time together as well. We literally spent all of our time together, 24/7, for a whole year.
Honestly, I don’t think there are that many relationships which can survive that kind of intensity. Having your own space is so important, not to mention your own friends, your own adventures. If you’ve been hired as a couple in the same school and you also live together, there isn’t much you can do about it. However, one thing you do have control over is your social time. Do your best to make separate friends, join social groups, and also just get out and do things on your own. If you spend every minute of the day together, you’ll drive each other insane. Plus, if you spend more social time apart, it will be all the more special when you spend time together.
Don’t Be Each Other’s Boss
This is the golden rule of working together as a couple. There’s nothing so certain to ruin a relationship teaching abroad as one person being the boss over the other. If one of you gets the opportunity for a promotion to Senior Teacher, and that role would mean being superior to your partner, you need to consider which is more important – the career or the relationship. Even if you think you won’t get jealous or feel resentment, you will.
The only situation where this can work within the same workplace is if you work in different departments. For example, if you work in an International School where one person is the head of English as and Additional Language (EAL) and the other is a science teacher, it isn’t as likely to cause friction. If career development is really important to you, work in different schools.
Here are a few other pointers for getting hired as a couple abroad:
- When we say ‘teaching couple’ we tend to think of a romantic relationship, maybe a husband and wife. But don’t forget that you can also teach English as a platonic couple – two friends, two siblings… as long as you’re both qualified and fit the job description, there’s no reason why you can’t apply to teach English abroad with your best friend or big sister.
- Schools that are hiring couples tend to be bigger establishments in large cities – you’re less likely to find a position for both of you at a small independent school is some tiny village. Be realistic about where you’ll end up as a couple, and also in which countries. It’s usually the case that couples have better luck getting hired in Asia.
- Check out when the best hiring seasons are. As a couple, you’ll find it more difficult to get hired together in the low season, so do some research about when schools are most in need of teachers. You’ll also need to be patient – opportunities for couples are harder to find.
- There are websites specifically for couples looking to be hired together, such as workingcouples.com. Use websites like these to get stuck in your job search.
Don’t be put off teaching abroad if you’re a couple. While it’s true that it can be harder to get hired and that there are lots of challenges, it’s certainly rewarding as well. After our year of working/living/socialising together, my then-boyfriend and I made the wise move to teach in different schools, focusing on different demographics. We ended up teaching abroad together for over five years, and I couldn’t begin to list the number of adventures we had, not least of which is the adventure of marriage. Working abroad together isn’t for everyone, but for some couples, it is the challenging, strengthening, adventurous experience that will make your relationship last a lifetime.
About the Author
Celia Jenkins is a TEFL teacher and freelance writer living in the UK. She spent five years teaching English in China and Japan, and now teaches Skype lessons to students around the world. She writes pedagogical articles, travel guides, and stories for children.