When I started teaching abroad, I don’t think I was particularly “tough”.Sure, I may have been tough in the traditional sense, I’m a big guy and a former college athlete.
But I didn’t have real grit.
I think most people don’t, especially in my generation. We live in a world where everything is easily accessible to us. Where our favorite food, movies, music, books, and anything else we can imagine is readily available at the touch of a button.
To be fair, I’m not taking shots at Millenials (of which I’m included) or Gen Z. Older generations are soft too. It’s why they avoid the difficult issues, why so many stick their heads in the sand whenever it comes time to talk about things like climate change, racial inequality, or gender differences.
I believe true grit isn’t just about working hard (or a John Wayne movie) but is also about working on things that are hard. Fighting the big battles.
I also believe that teaching abroad is one of the best ways a person can develop real grit. Here’s what I mean…
What is Grit (and Why Does it Matter)?
Before I talk about how teaching abroad develops grit, I first want to define what that even means and why it’s so damn important.
Because it is.
Angela Duckworth, in her book titled Grit, defines the term as the passion and perseverance to see through long-term goals.
However, it goes so much deeper than that.
Grit is what separates the truly great from the very good. Grit is the reason “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”.
Grit is the power to achieve anything we set our minds to because we actually have the perseverance to put in the work required.
But why is grit so important? Just look around. Our world is facing unprecedented challenges. In fact, I truly don’t believe that we in the younger generations are soft or lazy. I think we actually understand the gravity of the challenges we face, and it scares us so much that we’d rather watch Netlfix and chill…
The hard truth, though, is that we’re going to have to face these challenges. The longer we put them off, the worse they get. Our parents proved that.
But grit can save us. The passion and perseverance to work on hard problems, to chip away at them relentlessly until they give way. That’s how we do it.
That’s how we overcome.
So how does teaching abroad actually help us to develop grit??
Teaching Abroad Develops Perseverance
Studies on leadership and perseverance show that not only is perseverance developable, one of the best ways to do so is to pursue a difficult yet meaningful goal.
It’s almost like they’re describing teaching abroad!
Because teaching abroad is a lot more difficult than you might think. A lot of teachers I train come over here and initially think teaching abroad going to be one long Instagram story.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Instagram-able moments. Teaching abroad will allow you to see and experience things you never could have imagined, moments that transcend even the ability to capture them in a simple picture or video.
But it’s also hard.
Just a few of the massive challenges I’ve faced in my time abroad include:
- Culture shock
- Paying rent to a landlord who doesn’t speak a word of English
- Living in a 250 square foot apartment with a bucket flush toilet
- Teaching four classes a day to 40+ students who don’t speak ten words of English
- Getting lost in a place where I can’t read any of the signs or ask for help
Now my experience has been (by design) a bit more intense than your average excursion abroad. The truth is, though, that anyone trying to make a living in a different country is going to face massive challenges.
Challenges inexplicable to those who haven’t experienced them.
But these unique challenges also build a unique brand of toughness and resilience. I’ve seen people who, on the surface, seem so ordinary but who can take on challenges that would break most people and simply laugh them off.
And the payoff for overcoming these challenges, for sticking to that difficult goal, is indescribable. A life truly well lived.
Teaching Abroad Helps you Find Your Passion
Passion is also an important aspect of grit.
After all, we can only truly work relentlessly on things that we are passionate about, otherwise burnout is imminent. It is our passion that feeds the seemingly endless fire that we see in the truly great.
But how do we actually find our passion?
School doesn’t teach us how to do it, that’s for damn sure. If it did, our world would look a whole lot different. Our world is gripped by existential uncertainty, full of people who want to do the right thing, but don’t know how to go about doing it.
Teaching abroad allows you to step outside of everything you’ve been conditioned to believe, to start as fresh as is possible in this life, with all of the skills, knowledge, and talents you possess and find yourself in a new light.
I truly believe that’s the key to finding your passion. Looking for it in places that you haven’t yet searched.
In fact, Tony Robbins lists shifting your perspective as his #1 way to find your passion. What bigger perspective shift is there than teaching abroad? (more on that to come!)
Another key is finding new pieces of yourself, strengths and abilities that you may have had all along but were never called on in the life you’ve been living up to this point.
Teaching abroad forces you so far outside of your comfort zone,
Teaching Abroad Deepens Your Perspective
Another aspect of grit is understanding what hard work really means.
The truth is, most people reading this probably come from a position of relative privilege. You have a computer or phone, so you have access to technology. I assume you have a roof over your head and access to a pretty consistent supply of food. You speak English, which means your job prospects are better than most.
Teaching abroad shows you that not everyone is so blessed.
When I was teaching in Wang Nam Yen and living in my 250 square foot apartment (still kind of miss that place) I knew I would eventually move on to bigger and better things. I had a college degree, an American passport, and a can-do attitude.
But there were plenty of people for whom that small apartment was, and always will be home. People who work 80+ hour weeks only to come home and sleep on a comforter on a stone floor.
These weren’t people I saw in a movie or on National Geographic. These are people I ate with, whose children I taught.
It’s a lot harder to be complacent once you’ve met people like that.
Grit is one of the most important traits one can possess in our modern world. The ability to work hard on hard things, to persevere through difficult times, even use them to grow stronger, is incalculable in its value.
Those who possess real grit have the potential to be truly unstoppable and to help change this world into the place we all want it to be.
And one of the best ways to build grit is by teaching abroad.
If you want to step up to the challenge, Destination TEFL is here to help! We will equip you with all of the tools you need to thrive while teaching abroad; to overcome the challenges and build true grit.