For English teachers living abroad as much as anyone else in the working world, your commute to and from the job can take up a significant part of your day. Consequently, it should be an important consideration when looking for a job. I’m delighted to be working where I am now, but one of the most daunting prospects before I started was the journey out of the city to the university which was, at the time, in the middle of nowhere (it is ever more being consumed into the industrial expanses of a rapidly developing Istanbul).
Fortunately, my employers lay on a bus for me which picks me up one minute’s walk from my front doorstep in the morning and drops me off there again in the evening, without any cost. Despite, or perhaps in light of, my good fortune, I thought I’d try to find out how other teachers around the world get to and from work and to what extent it affects their lives. I posed these questions on the ELT World forum.
How long does it take you to get to and form work?
What do you do during the journey and is this a productive use of the time?
Is transport provided for you or do you have to pay up out of your own pocket?
The following replies have been given by teachers working in a variety of situations in many different countries all around the world. While reading, please take the time to consider which sound more appealing to you.
1. How long does it take you to get to and form work?
Some of us have made the decision to live practically next door to where we work:
’30 seconds if I go directly. 2-10 minutes if I go via the corner store.’
‘My commute is about 15 minutes by subway, total costs of 15 US cents each way.’
‘Six minutes, door to door.’
’12 minutes door to door by bike; at least 30 if I’m forced to go by car.’
‘My office is a pleasant (depending on the weather) 10-minute walk or a five-minute drive, dodging students, double-parked cars, etc. to my classroom.’
‘I drive about 15 minutes to work down some nice, country roads in Japan. It would take over an hour by public transport.’
‘My classes in Alicante [are] a 15 minute drive, followed by another 10 minutes looking for a parking space. ‘
’10 minutes by car one-way. 15 minutes by bike or bus.’
Just as I was starting to get upset and think that I was the only one making a huge commute of a morning…
‘My commute is 15 to 45 minutes depending on traffic, unexpected street closings and the water level in the river.’
‘Metro and microbus for a bit over an hour, sometimes an hour and a half. I’m from NJ, so I don’t consider that long. Plus, I’d rather live in the center of Mexico City than the south, where my job is.’
Ah… that sounds more like it. For my part, I live in a nice part of the city and am happy to deal with the journey, especially as I’m able to use it as a productive part of my day. This idea of being able to use your commute time effectively brought me to my next question.
2. What do you do during the journey and is this a productive use of the time?
No matter how long or short your journey, I’d say that there is always something you can take out of it, be it merely getting a bit of exercise or perhaps taking the chance to get a bit of reading done. Here people exemplify how a journey to work can be put to good use.
‘When I drive, I spend the time talking to my wife, who returns the car home. Could be chat about our kid or related matters, dinner plans, or anything else social in our lives. When I ride the bike, I just ride; Gotta be safe. When I take the bus, I try to read some journal article or two. If coworkers are on the bus, we chat about work or home.’
‘I always read on the trip.’
‘Usually I listen to podcasts or music on my ipod in the car. After long commutes in Vancouver, this is so pleasant.’
‘Exercise! Well, it’s short and mild, but you could say productive, I guess.’
‘While the roads may not be too busy, there are plenty of lunatics around… you have to be at your defensive-driving best to avoid getting squashed… or you could end up being shunted sideways into the middle of a roundabout, it’s happened before.’
Sheikh Inal Ovar
‘I enjoy the train journey though, for the opportunity it affords me to draw up over-ambitious lesson plans, misunderstand key language points and make prosaic notes for background essays.’
Look at what time you spend traveling and think about what you could do during that time. This could be an opportunity to do work related tasks or maybe it could become an active part of your leisure time. Just as important as how long you spend traveling is how you travel. As I stated, my commute takes up a fairly sizable chunk of my day but this isn’t time wasted as I’m able to travel from door to door in comfort and get some work done too. An important consideration is how easy it will be to get to and from work, even if it might not take too long.
3. Is transport provided for you or do you have to pay up out of your own pocket?
‘The university bought my bike for me. I’m lucky to live in the Netherlands, where bike ownership is considered a fundamental human right like education and health care.’
‘Paid for by me. There is a campus bus I can use, but I just find using public transportation more convenient.’
‘We do get a transportation allowance, at least those of us who live off campus do. I listen to the crappy English expat radio station on the way. For longer drives, I plug in my ipod, but I don’t bother when it’s such a short drive.’
‘For those who don’t live close, transport to and from work is not provided, but any necessary travel during the day is paid for (for example, to and from a class in an office). This is pretty standard in Ecuador.’
‘Work pays me about $40/month for transportation which covers about 3/4 of a tank of gas, but better than a kick in the teeth. Gas is $1.40/litre where I live in Japan, so about $55/tank.’
‘I’m freelance, so no travel expenses are paid.’
‘I pay for everything, although I think there is a small allowance in my salary for the commute by car. I don’t use the bus often, but if I did, my school would pay for it.’
In certain circumstances, paying your own way will be worth it for the convenience it brings. It’s important to weigh up all the factors; time, convenience and the comfort to get something done on the journey. Consider this example:
‘I strongly recommend that newbies in Ecuador find a job BEFORE finding an apartment- living reasonably close to where you work is a serious quality of life issue. Even if your employer pays for, or provides, transportation, Quito is a city that can take serious time to get around. Keeping the commute short can really improve your life.’
While keeping the commute short might be significant, I would argue that more important is not allowing the time spent traveling to and from work to negatively affect your day.