Don’t Become “The English (Teacher) Patient”
The best advice for staying healthy is the same no matter where you’re living: Eat right, sleep well, and get enough exercise.
However, when we’re thrown out of our natural element by going to live abroad, at first it might be tricky to maintain your rhythms in the new culture. For example, you may be used to eating dinner around 6 or 7 p.m., but your new job has you teaching an English class at that time, so instead you opt for fast food on your way home. Or, you usually go on long walks or hikes at home, but now you’re working in a city that seems all concrete at first glance, so, instead of breaking a sweat outside you break open a beer and get to know your coworkers. You may be used to sleeping regular hours, but your new class and social schedule has you up late some nights and up early other mornings.
All of this is to be expected, and so you’ll need to take a mental step back from the excitement of moving to your new place and ask yourself the best way to a healthy lifestyle that incorporates all of the fun newness you’re encountering abroad.
Water, Water, Everywhere…
In addition to the eat, sleep, exercise trifecta, you’ve probably heard this gem of advice before: Don’t drink the water.
That might be true when you’re simply traveling overseas, as your body won’t be used to the bacteria and other things that are in the water. In many places overseas, even the locals don’t drink the water that comes out of the tap, preferring instead to buy bottles of water (like the five-gallon kind found in many offices) and drink that at home. It is often much cheaper overseas than in Western countries.
Another point on H2O: if you’re moving somewhere with a drier or warmer climate than you’re used to, you’ll need to make a special effort to drink more water than you are used to so that you don’t get dehydrated. Many new teachers also find that talking to students during the course of your workday will strain the vocal cords if they don’t drink enough fluids.
To Eat or Not to Eat (the Street Food)
Another facet of expat living often blamed for tummy troubles or other illnesses is street food. However, eating street food is one of the many joys of being an ESL teacher abroad. The thing is, you have to be smart about what you eat, when you eat it, and where you eat it. If you see meats or seafood that have been sitting for a long time in the hot sun and have flies on it—you might not want to risk eating that. But, if you see a well-kept street stall frequented by locals, you’ll probably be fine with the food there. It’s best to only take street food that has been prepared in front of you—like Thailand’s banana pancakes or China’s yang rou chuan (barbecued mutton sticks). If you take a meat dish, make sure that the meat has been on ice before it’s prepared. Observe how well the seller is keeping surfaces clean, and how he or she protects food from hands and hair. Generally speaking if a vendor is doing a brisk business with the locals, the food is probably okay. He doesn’t want his customers to get sick! If they do, he has no business the next day.
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. If you do find yourself feeling ill abroad, don’t think back to this blog post and say, “well Ted said it was OK to eat street food.” There’s always a small risk, and if you find yourself getting ill, then you had better make sure that you get the proper, appropriate treatment for your symptoms. Don’t leave your judgment at home, take it with you.
Ted’s Tips No. 1: Don’t let yourself let a fear of being ill get in the way of enjoying yourself abroad. Wherever you live on Earth, there’s a chance you’ll get sick at some time.
Ted’s Tips No. 2: When you do get sick, you’ll need professional assistance. Make sure you check out the options for medical care available to you before you need it, to save time when you’re not feeling your best. Everyone gets sick at one time or another. It is best to know your options BEFORE you need them.