Teaching Tips Tuesday: How to Balance Work and Play while Teaching English Abroad

Teaching Tips Tuesday: How to Balance Work and Play while Teaching English Abroad

Deciding to teach abroad in Myanmar eight months ago was one of the best decisions I ever made. Teaching English seemed like a fun and achievable way for me to foster my travel bug and I wasn’t wrong! Since leaving home, I’ve been able to travel around Asia, meet incredible people, and eat some delicious food. It really has been quite the adventure. 

That being said, there have definitely been moments here when I felt frustrated with my job or uneasy being so far away from home. I’ve found that to help cope with these feelings, it’s imperative to have a fulfilling work/life balance. Teaching is of course a huge part of your journey living abroad, but it’s equally important to fill your time with adventure and things you loved to do at home.

Below is a list of six ways to create a healthy balance of your work life and your free time so that you can make the most of your teaching abroad experience:

Be flexible, in and out of the classroom

One very important thing I’ve learned living between Myanmar and Vietnam for seven months is that things change all the time. Classes will get canceled, you’ll be asked to cover someone else’s class last minute, people will send you the wrong schedule, locations change, kids won’t respond well to your lesson plan… The list goes on.

Simply put, you have to be ready to adapt.

Ali Haymes teaching English to novice nuns in Myanmar.

I’ve learned the hard way that trying to control all these situations just leads to more stress and anxiety. It can definitely be frustrating when things don’t go as planned or you don’t feel prepared, but this is all part of the charm of living in Asia.

Once I learned to accept that things constantly change and that nothing is ever as organized as you may hope it will be, teaching here became much more enjoyable. If you’re flexible in your schedule and in your mindset (and always have extra games to play in class), you’ll be able to lead a much happier life abroad.

An empty classroom in Vietnam.

Take a break

Being a teacher abroad you will quickly find that there is an abundance of teaching positions available. You’ll constantly be offered new jobs and cover classes. This can be a great source of additional income! But, you can always say, “No.”

It’s great to have the option to fill your time with more classes, especially if you’re hoping to save up some money. But, I’ve found it equally as important to remember that you aren’t solely here to teach. You aren’t obligated to teach on your day off or to pick up that early morning class on Sundays. You can take a break. Giving myself this freedom has really allowed me to enjoy the time that I do teach even more.

A scenic view of Vietnam.

Find your spot

One thing I think can be helpful in a positive work/life balance is finding different spaces for these two worlds. Hanoi in particular has an incredible coffee culture, there’s a cafe almost every other store front. Finding a place where you can only lesson plan and do work can be very beneficial.

I’ve found a couple cafes where I often go and sit with my laptop for a few hours, lesson plan, blog, and get brunch. I’ve also found some cafes where I go to just enjoy being outside and have some fresh juice, maybe read a book. Having these spaces outside of home is very helpful to ease your mind and create a healthy balance of how much you work each day.

I can go to a cafe knowing that I will work for a little bit and then I can be done and enjoy the rest of the day, or I can go to the place knowing that I’m taking a break from work. Whether I’m going for work or to relax, setting aside this time has been a great benefit to organizing my free time.

At a cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Connect with other teachers

Connecting with other teachers is not only a great way to ease yourself into life abroad, but it can also help you balance and blend your work and free time. While it’s great to have separate spaces for where you work and where you relax as mentioned above, in some cases, mixing the two can also help you feel more at home while living abroad. It’s quite easy to connect with other teachers in Myanmar and Vietnam, and I’m sure equally as simple on any Greenheart Travel program!

You will be surrounded by lots of other people having very similar experiences to you and this can be used to your advantage. Fellow teachers will likely become your dear, dear friends while living abroad. These can be people you go to if you have a difficult student in your class, or people you go to if you are feeling homesick. You can talk to your fellow teachers about what games work and don’t work in your classes, or you can plan weekend trips together.

Living and interacting with other teachers outside of work has been greatly rewarding for me in this sense. Being able to have a great connection to so many teachers has helped me through tough times at work, and also been a great emotional support while I’ve been here.

A group of teachers exercising together in Yangon, Myanmar.

Make time for your passions

This is one of the most crucial things you can do while living abroad. Create a perfect balance of work and play. While teaching can be fun and it’s an excellent way to contribute to a society while also supporting yourself in another country, it may not be everyone’s passion. As such, it’s important to also fill your time with things you would enjoy doing at home.

For example, I’ve found a yoga studio in my neighborhood that also offers aerial classes, something I did growing up in Chicago. It has been so wonderful to be able to take an aerial class in the morning before my lessons in the evening. This helps me relax before class and not get too stressed about lesson planning. It has also helped me meet more expats and teachers to connect with! If you work evenings and weekends as many people in Vietnam do, it’s especially easy to fill your days with your hobbies and then work in the evenings, creating a nice mix of working and relaxing.

Ali doing aerial yoga in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Get out of the city

My last recommendation to have a full life teaching English abroad is to get out of the city you’re placed in. Living in Yangon, Hanoi, or somewhere equally as busy can get a bit overwhelming. It’s wonderful to have so many amenities around you, but the crazy traffic, crowded streets, and pollution can take a toll on your well being. And sometimes this can have a negative effect on your teaching ability and how you feel in the classroom.

Taking a day or two to get away from it all can be rejuvenating and make you feel ready to take on teaching with a whole new attitude. Luckily, there are incredible mountains and gorgeous landscapes to explore only a few hours outside of Hanoi, and many other cities in Southeast Asia. Especially if you are feeling overwhelmed in the city, taking a short trip can be a perfect way to gain some perspective and feel ready to jump back into the classroom.

A vibrant street view in Yangon, Myanmar.


Greenheart Travler, Ali Haymes, taught English in Myanmar through Greenheart Travel for three months, before venturing off on her own to find a teaching position in Vietnam. Follow along on her Southeast Asian adventures!

Looking for more advice? Head to our teaching tips page!

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