A Practical Guide to Teaching English Abroad

Frank and Friendly Advice written by a Retired Teacher-Trainer, Experienced EFL Teacher
& Former Peace Corps Volunteer Living & Working Abroad since 1989

Is appearance important in TEFL?

What about tattoos or piercings?

As discussed in other places on this website, teaching tends to be a more respected occupation overseas than at home.  And, as such, schools often have a strong opinion about your appearance - and how they would like it to be. 

In Western culture, we tend to pride ourselves on the "rebel billionaire" look, and we know that dress and appearance really don't measure the quality of our character.  But . . . in many other cultures - appearance is paramount.

A Cultural Lesson

In Korea, just as one example, a common saying is, "The first impression is everything."  Appearances are critical in many cultures.  When I lived in Africa I would sometimes be surprised to see a man come out of his mud hut wearing a three-piece suit!

Dress nicely and professionally.
It's not difficult and will enhance your opportunities.

Our ideals are often not theirs.  Play along, do what is required.  Wear the slacks and tie.  It is the gateway to so much more.

Tattoos and More

Keep them out of sight.  In some cultures, tattoos are symbols of the yakuza or mafia.  Yes, even in Thailand many local people have tattoos.  But they generally aren't teachers.  As a teacher and as a foreigner - in most cultures/countries you can expect to be closely observed, judged, commented on - and just generally the butt of gossip.  Get used to it, understand it, and deal with it appropriately.

I know for many people showing such things off is a matter of pride and principle.  They feel they should be accepted for who and what they are.  But . . . other cultures don't often have the same idea.  In their country, they would like you to conform to their ideals.  You will, I promise, limit your career and opportunities [in many countries] if you are not discreet. 

As I wrote above: Play along, it is the gateway to so much more.


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