“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.”
– Paulo Coelho
Now, isn’t that the truth? And if it isn’t the actual truth, it’s most probably the justification you give your loved ones (and yourself) for wandering the globe year in, year out, in search of TEFL gigs, so, either way, it’s definitely a keeper and possibly worth considering as the quote to add under your digital signature when you write emails to the folks back home.
And, let’s face it – there are times when we get to feel just a little bit smug over our choice of lifestyle. If your provenance is more northerly regions, and you’ve landed a job in hotter climes, then the feel-good moment often arrives when you’re sunning yourself on a sugary-sand beach, whilst it’s pelting down grimy winter rain back home. Need you be reminded that such moments really ought to be accompanied by Instagram and Facebook photographic proof in order to maximize the gloat factor? No, I didn’t think you did.
The Night-Life Beckons
And of course, the fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down; while back home they’re sitting watching Coronation Street, clasping a mug of hot tea to their breasts, and a lousy hot water bottle to look forward to at the end of the evening, you have a balmy evening of exotic entertainment beckoning to you. It’s undeniable – the attractions of a twinkling-in-the-dark foreign city after working hours are multiple, however, it shouldn’t be forgotten that they aren’t entirely without the odd risk to health and wallet.
As a seasoned traveler, you might be tempted to forego the cautious checking and double-checking of your home nation’s foreign office web-site for potential dangers abroad, leaving such caution to the worry-warts who venture nervously abroad for a fortnight once a year. And well you might – after all, you’ve probably been doing the whole globe-trotting malarkey for a long a time, and have managed just fine to stay out of trouble up till now. Add to the equation that teachers are naturally a very sensible bunch, with TEFLers well-known for being particularly judicious, everything I’m about to write probably falls under the heading of ‘bloody obvious’, however, just in case you’re new to the field, or just happen to be that one-in-a-million EFL professionals who does not possess commonsense in industrial quantities, I’m just going to state the bloody obvious.
Let’s start off on a positive note – by day or by night, some of the regions of the planet which your friends and relatives back home might well assume to be very risky, especially these days, are actually safer – in some cases, much safer – than your home town. Concrete example? The UAE was indicated as the nation with the lowest rate of violent crime in the world in the 2014 Social Progress Index, which, even leaving a good bit of a margin for unreported crime, still translates into a place which is far from being riddled with risks. That said, even in the ostensibly safest places on the planet, applying a wee bit of commonsense, especially after dark, is never a bad thing.
Know the Local Culture
Here’s a possible rule of thumb – could you give a half hour talk on the laws, customs and culture, including the religious mores, of your new country? If you can’t, then quite possibly you might not have a total grasp on what will pass as acceptable or even legal behavior. Some tourists spend months swotting up on the do’s and don’ts of the countries they’ll spend barely a few days in; it’s not totally out of place to suggest that, when you arrive in a new country to live and work, spending a little time to form a general idea of how to keep out of trouble before hitting the town isn’t a such a bad idea. Just in case, rather than hitting the town, you ought to be tapping it. Very, very discretely.
There probably isn’t a woman on the planet who hasn’t had it drummed into her since girlhood that the world is a dangerous place, especially after dark, and who consequently doesn’t know the golden rules off by heart: avoid walking close to dark doorways, walk with your keys in one hand and your cell phone in the other, and, safest of all, arrange some sort of buddy system by which a pair or a group of friends keep an eye out for one another, to name but three. All well and good, but if your current social circle in your new country of residence is restricted to the one friendly colleague of your own age-group who you grab lunch with once in a while, the whole buddy system solution might not seem terribly workable.
Rather than wait for the relationship with the pleasant colleague to bloom into full paint-the-town-together buddy-ship, why not make use of one of the social networking sites for ex-pats, such as Internations or Meet-up, with the precise intention of finding some gal-pals with similar interests? Be pro-active in proposing that you all take a bit of care of one another, by arranging lifts, taking turns being the designated driver, taking turns the being stone-cold sober Responsible One, double-checking safe arrivals, etc.
It really, really is worth asking around for a trusted taxi-driver, tried and tested by those who’ve been there longer than you, and who can be counted on to turn up when he’s supposed to, not to rip you off by grossly inflating the fares (not everywhere in the world do taxis have meters), or by taking you on an unnecessary extended version of your trip which you, with that just-arrived look on your face, did not ask for, drives calmly and carefully in a vehicle which does not have tyres ripe for bursting or an engine ready to conk out on a busy motorway, and, if you’re a woman, can be relied upon to keep his hands to himself. You might have to arrange your own social life around his availability to a small degree, but depending on where you are, the alternatives could be pretty dire.
Drinking and Driving
While we’re on the subject of getting around, it’s worth remembering that the penalties for drunk driving vary from country to country, and in some places are extremely severe, even when the alcohol in the blood is only a teeny bit over the established limit. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that in some countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, residents are expected to be totally dry – even just being caught in possession of a bottle of booze can have horrific consequences. Karl Andree will be spending Christmas at home this year, but a couple of months ago, his situation was looking dreadfully bleak. The 74 year-old spent a year in a Saudi jail, and had a 350-lash public flogging on the horizon until British PM David Cameron managed to intercede on his behalf. Many of the other nations with an alcohol ban are not EFL destinations, so not a concern to your average TEFLer, however, a few are – Kuwait, Brunei, Libya and the Emirate of Sharjah (something to keep in mind if you’re living in the UAE and travelling with alcohol in your car).
Punishments around the world for drunk driving can be very severe, whether the nation in question has outlawed alcohol consumption or not. Consider the following examples:
- If you don’t manage to obtain the intervention of your Prime Minister or President, you could face 10 years in a Saudi jail. Plus a public flogging. You also get fined several thousand pounds, but I reckon that would be the least of your worries at that point.
- China has to be one of the biggest TEFLer employers, so huge numbers of colleagues are either working there already or are planning to do so. This country also comes down very heavily on drunk driving, and will mete out life sentences in prison to those injuring others or damaging property through DUI.
- In France (yes, France!) too you can end up in the clinker. Not less than a year behind bars, plus a fine, plus the withdrawal of your driving license for up to three years.
- Not a key TEFL hot-spot, by any means, and I can’t honestly say I’ve met someone who has taught there, but there are TEFL jobs on offer, so it’s definitely worth pointing out that El Salvador has the most severe penalties on the planet for DUI – death by firing squad, even when it’s a first offence.
The sensible thing, of course, is to get clear, detailed, up-to-date information from a reliable source regarding the country you’re staying in, focusing in particular on the limits of alcohol permitted by law (if at all) and the potential penalties you risk facing should you get caught breaking those laws, preferably before a drop too many has clouded your capacity to make wise decisions. While you’re at it, it might be worth double-checking what is and isn’t tolerated even when you aren’t behind the steering wheel of a car. Take Dubai, for example – you can get arrested for making a spectacle of yourself in public whilst under the influence.
Girls, Girls, Girls
Gents, this one is for you. Women nowadays tend to be pretty aware of the hazards of not keeping their eye on their drink, but if you’ve landed a teaching post in South East Asia, even though you may be a big, burly bloke, leaving your drink unattended, or just letting yourself go and getting thoroughly tanked up in the wrong company while in search of a bit of R & R, could turn out to be a huge mistake. Who isn’t aware that girls working for night clubs earn their money by convincing you to buy them mind-bogglingly expensive drinks? Well, maybe some tourists – certainly not worldly, well-travelled TEFLers. What you might not know is that in some places, for example, in Thailand, some of the girls are willing to take it one step further, and will spike your drink, get you thoroughly incapacitated and then clean you out. If you don’t fancy coming to several hours (or days!) later, with your cash and credit cards gone, then take advantage of the fact you’re not trying to cram the fun and games into a week’s holiday, but can afford the luxury of taking your time to get to know which areas and clubs should be avoided like the plague.