How Teaching Abroad Taught Me To Skip Work


Personally, I have always had a work/life balance but, like many Americans, the emphasis was on work with “life” coming secondarily, occasionally fitting in but more often getting the short end of the stick.  Taking time off, regardless of the reason, had always been a challenge for me, and taking time off “just because” simply didn’t happen.  That is why it was so important to me that I didn’t go to work on International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8th.

Work life in America (and probably throughout the world) is increasingly stressful.  A study on vacation time has revealed that in 2012, Americans left an average of 9.2 days of vacation unused.  Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and established author, recently wrote this editorial for the New York Times (“Relax! You’ll Be More Productive“), outlining the importance of taking breaks every 90 minutes, enjoying a true lunch break (not on the run or at your desk), and finding time to sleep.  Despite the research, it’s still very much a challenge for most people I know to find time to relax.

When I was teaching English abroad in Ukraine, I enjoyed the benefit of at least 15 holidays each year, some official and some not.  The entire country seemed to shut down each January, providing time for family and friends to get together, reacquaint and reenergize after a long year.  In addition, our school was quarantined two years in a row in February for three weeks each time to avoid prolonging illness.  It allowed time for the sick to heal without falling behind and it also gave additional time for people to relax.

International Women’s Day (March 8th) isn’t a holiday in the United States but it is for many countries around the world.  Having experienced two of these holidays in Ukraine, it’s one that I have personally adopted and really enjoy celebrating.  In a sentence, it’s similar to Valentine’s Day meets Mother’s Day, minus the Hallmark hoopla.  For me, this particular holiday also serves as a reminder of one of my most important lessons learned abroad – that work is important, but I never want it to overshadow family, friends, or my health.

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This post was written by Matthew Clark.