While teaching in a comfortable, secure and privileged position at a respected school in South Africa I came to find myself terribly unhappy with my situation. Yes, I was a teacher and I was impacting the lives of our future generations but really, I could quit and the very next day there would be something just as qualified as me ready to take my place.
I didn't feel that my life had purpose or that what I was doing in my career was fulfilling me or the greater humanity. That all changed with the decision to move to rural Bhutan where I would teach in a village for a year, to jungle Costa Rica with only dusty dirt roads and now to middle-of-nowhere Vietnam (I live in Quang Ngai, which is by no means a travel destination). These rural, off the beaten path teaching placements have given me the best experiences of my life. Here's why you too should consider teaching in the less commercial destinations:
1. You're more likely to secure a job
Obviously everyone wants to go to the major cities for the nightlife, western food and expat community and this is where most teachers apply. It creates a lot of competition and choosing a placement that's in a smaller or less known town will make it more likely to get an interview and secure a job.
2. You can save more money
In all of my teaching positions abroad I've been situated a fair distance from any kind of major city. The places I chose also had little access to activities and entertainment that I would normally spend money on back home, and there weren't many malls or shops to buy clothes or products that I used to think I needed. Living where I am in Vietnam now, there literally isn't anything to spend my money on so I just save it.
3. You get to experience the real culture
It's easy to gravitate to what you know and what is comfortable when you're surrounded by expats and people you would normally relate to, people you have things in common with. What is really great about teaching out of the major cities is that you are forced to immerse yourself in where you are, with the locals from that area. You get invited to events that you never would have gotten to see were you stuck in a foreigner bubble.
4. You get (even further) out of your comfort zone
This is my favourite part and I think I may now be addicted to that niggling uncomfortable feeling you get when you have no idea whats going on. Its so thrilling for me! I also have enough experience now to know that it soon passes and everything feels normal again after a short while. Being in a place where very little English is spoken, where you have to learn things that are just a given in your own country, really makes you learn so much about yourself. Yes, just being in a new country is enough for this, but the impact is even greater if you push it further into a more rural area. This little area just outside of your comfort zone is where all the magic happens. Its where you grow and blossom.
5. You have a chance to make a greater impact
This is what I was talking about earlier, being back in South Africa with a replacement ready whenever I were to leave. This was definitely not the case in my overseas positions where it can be really challenging to find someone willing to "rough it". Teaching in these areas matters. Your work in these rural places is really valued and it is shown by the community.
If you're a qualified teacher, or even have a TESL certification, I encourage you to look into placements that are off the beaten path. It doesn't have to be in a rural Himalayan village, but it could be a smaller town a few hours away from the capital cities. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.