If you are working as an English teacher in a foreign country there are often several cultural lifestyle differences and habits that you should be aware of. Something as simple as patting a student on the head may cause offence in another country. In order to save any embarrassment it is best to fully research the acceptable and unacceptable behaviours for the country you will be teaching in. This article looks at the main current cultural taboos for Thailand, Taiwan and Korea.
The author of this article, Virginia has worked all over the globe as an English teacher. She is now a freelance proofreader for Cambridge Proofreading.
In Thailand the feet are considered the lowest and filthiest part of the body. You should never show the soles of your feet to someone or use your feet to point at anyone or anything. This is also applies in the street, you should never step over sleeping animals as it can cause offence. While the feet are the lowest part, the Thais consider the head to be the highest and most sacred part of the body as they believe this is where you spirit resides. So you should never pat a student on the head, and do not crouch down next to any of your students so that your head is lower than theirs.
You should avoid discussing anything about the Monarchy. The Thais are extremely fond of their king and any remarks or discussions about him could be accidently come across as negative and this would be extremely insulting for the Thais. Not only is it disrespectful but it can also result in a fine or prison sentence so be careful! The same applies to any issue regarding national security.
Most Thais are Buddhist and many schools require that you are conservatively dressed. Of course the school you are working for will be able to advise you on the appropriate clothing to wear.
Smile as much as you can! Thais are generally very smiley, happy people, so try to smile during your class.
In Korea you should be very careful about the topics you talk about in class, always avoid discussing any political matter, family matters and do not talk about North Korea and South Koreas relationship.
Do not point at any of your students with your finger, this is considered to be rude.
Another thing is to be very discreet when blowing your nose. Do not do it in class, instead leave the room and do it outside if possible.
Male teachers should avoid extending their hands to any females. Instead a simple nod of the head is acceptable.
Always avoid discussing any issues relating to politics or Taiwan's relationship with Mainland China, as this can cause serious offence.
Taiwanese people really appreciate a lot of personal space, so be sure to give them this while you are talking face to face with someone in the classroom.
Never openly criticize a student. If you need to have a word with a student about something it is always best to do it in private.
Remember that these are the most common types of things that may cause offence. If you are teaching in a particularly remote area of one of these countries then there may be additional things not listed above that you should be aware of.