Voluntary ESL teaching in Asia

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A popular destination for sending voluntary ESL teachers is Asia – so you’ll probably find yourself teaching in one of the Third World countries there. The trainee or novice ESL teacher will encounter a greater cultural shock working in Asia than working in Europe. Thus, before embarking on voluntary ESL teaching in Asia, you should fully familiarize yourself with the country that you intend to work in.

Here are a few things you should be aware of as it concerns religion, cultural habits, and cuisine. Working in Asia, you will meet people from various religions. The major religions that you are most likely to encounter are the following:

Buddhism (Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Bhutan, and Mongolia),

Christianity (the Philippines, East Timor, South Korea, and Vietnam),

Confucianism (China),

Hinduism (India),

Islam (Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh),

Shinto (Japan), and Taoism (China). It is also highly likely that the community in which you will be working will have more than one religious group, for example, Hindus may be living in close proximity to Muslims. There are some cultural habits that you will have to try to come to terms with.

Here’s a small sample. Spitting is very commonplace, especially in China: people spit in the streets, indoors, and even in restaurants. In many parts of Asia, especially Japan, it is customary to remove one’s shoes before entering the house. The nails on the little finger and the thumb are often grown to a length of four or five centimetres: especially in China and Indonesia.

The Japanese love to slurp loudly when eating noodles. When defecating, Asians use squat toilets – but toilet paper is not very common. Finally, Asians like to eat with their mouths open: especially the Chinese.

Rice is the staple food of Asia: and it is eaten with chopsticks; in contrast, people in India often eat with their (right) hands. It is usually served steamed, but it can be eaten as a porridge called congee.

Fish is also very popular, for example,

sushi (“small balls or rolls of vinegar-flavoured cold rice served with a garnish of vegetables, egg, or raw seafood”) and sashimi (“bite-sized pieces of raw fish eaten with soy sauce and wasabi paste”) are very popular Japanese fish dishes.

If you like fruit and are teaching in S.E. Asia, the durian is a fruit that you are likely to sample. Although it is highly prized for its taste, be warned – it has a fetid smell. Apart from the usual beverages, in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and some parts of Thailand – they also drink sugar cane juice.

Don’t forget – research the country you are volunteering to work in BEFORE you take up the post.

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