The Loneliness of the Long Distance Teacher

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time – years actually. Finally, here in the airport with time to kill and waiting for my flight “home” to Canada, I have the time and motivation.

Teaching English as a “profession” and living in multiple foreign countries has so many advantages. We hear about them and read about them all the time. The cultural differences, sites of interest, the exotic local appeal, new experiences and stimulations. However, there is a dark side to this “adventure”, the dark side of being away from home and loved ones.

Career EFL teachers are in a constant state of divorce from their own family and friends. We feel guilty for being away as our parents get old (at least I do), for missing family gatherings, from being estranged from “our self”. We feel like a leaf adrift on a big lake. This is the downside of being a long distance teacher.

It isn’t talked about much but remains there behind the scenes as we go about our lives in foreign countries.

I’m leaving Korea today, in a few hours. Been here for 5 years and truly, all things being equal, I’d stay here the rest of my life, if not for my family. Lots of negatives to life in Korea but that’s par for any course. I had a great job, lots of freedom to develop as I wanted professionally, was / am well respected. Why not stay? Well, finally I had to do the right thing and “be home”. My parents are still healthy and well but I owe it to them to spend time in their later years, to be there. I’m not saying that is a call everyone need nor should make. But it is my own call. Still, my point remains. Us EFL itinerant teachers traveling the world have to deal with this kind of personal backdrop. The pay can never compensate for this.

You don’t read too many bloggers writing about this “thing” we all feel. This estrangement and displacement we feel. I’ve felt it and on this afternoon, pushed by the divided emotions of departure, declare it. It is a lot easier with technology, the internet, skype etc…. but still it doesn’t dent this iron strong feeling.

I guess that is life, bittersweet. There is sadness and happiness in all experiences. The sadness of leaving and the happiness of arriving. It is for us teachers to manage it all, the best we can. Let us struggle towards paradise, each in our own way, as “long distance teachers”.

photo courtesy Allan1952 on
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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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5 Responses

  1. You said it David. Enjoy being back home!

  2. ddeubel says:

    Thanks Nick, I will! Right now in Vancouver being a tourist and will hop on the cross Canada train on Sunday. Just hanging and getting reacquainted with “home and native land”.

    More reports coming – right now feel like an anthropologist from Mars.

  3. Alex Case says:

    Great post on something that is, as you say, very much ignored. Maybe we don’t want to think and talk about it! My Japanese in-laws made me promise to go and visit my folks at least twice a year, but if I really did that I think I’d have to move home to avoid the cost and flights with crying baby.

    Are you still going to be teaching?

  4. ddeubel says:


    Yeah, we all go through it in our own fashion/way, if we stay in this biz more than a few years.

    Oh yeah, it’s in my blood. However until Jan. just want to stay on the farm and spend quality time with the folks. After Jan. will hopefully do more online in TEFL training and continue working and consulting with a few sites online. I keep telling myself I won’t have a “regular” classroom again but deep inside I’m skeptical. We get used to that “being” that comes from our involvement with students face to face. I’d love to create a situation where I could start a school in a needed place, if I do return. Haiti, Moldova, who knows….

    Yeah, we say that flying makes things easy but it sure isn’t cheap nor easy to manage in our schedules… Had a crying baby on our flight and kept positive – children are so sensitive and it isn’t natural to be 10,000 feet up!

  5. Alex Case says:

    I quite enjoy other people’s crying babies. It’s my own I find stressful!

    Good luck kicking that teaching addiction

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