Being ill is never nice.  Being ill in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and maybe don’t know how to ask for help is really, really tough.  For all those language teachers around the world who have medical conditions that need constant managing, Lily-Anne Young recounts her own experiences and offers her advice for those who, like her, are

Living and Working with Diabetes


Around 8 years ago I was getting really tired and missed a few classes. I put it down to being an idiot and alcohol. (I was living in Poland after all). Several years later there came a time when I was throwing up regularly and feeling exhausted.

By that time I was in the Czech Republic – another country which loves alcohol. After 1 month of drinking 10 litres of water per day and one final morning of not being able to get out of bed I was forced to go to the doctor.

He sent me straight to hospital and they kept me in for 10 days. I was furious until they pointed out that I would have died if I hadn’t been treated.

It turned out I was diabetic. In my innocence I thought it wasn’t a problem until, as mentioned above, they warned me again that I would die very soon if couldn’t control it.

My control now is not perfect but it’s good. I know that a lot of advice is superfluous or seems obvious but here are some simple things. (For the diabetics too).

All diabetics should admit it. We have to live with it but at the same time we can help educate others as well as ourselves. I had a very steep learning curve.

All diabetics should carry sugar or some form of glucose for emergencies. Our staffroom has emergency sugar supplies and all our teachers have had a little training session on how to recognise and deal with hypoglycemic fits. Therefore they know (hopefully) how to react.

One of the biggest questions is whether to tell your students. After all, I am there to help them. Why should they have to help me?

The very simple answer to this is that you must tell your students. If a teacher has a hypo (low sugar) in class the students have to know why and how to help. As well as being bad for the teacher it can really damage your own reputation and whichever school/company you work at. I could suggest that the teacher should control their sugar better but, unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

Personally, I have used my diabetes to help educate my students (and myself) while, at the same time practising listening, vocab, comprehension skills. All of my students are aware that I have to eat in class sometimes or check my sugar. It’s pretty amazing how quickly they become used to me stabbing my finger and grabbing sweets when necessary. J

On a more serious note – healthcare for diabetics is generally lacking in most countries. Working in TEFL can be stressful and that means more volatile sugar levels. I am lucky in that the Czech doctors are providing me with excellent care. Check the healthcare system before you go to a country if you are a diabetic. It is one of the main reasons that I am reluctant to move country.


Lily Anne Young Profile PicLily-Anne Young is a teacher and teacher trainer who has been working in ELT for 13 years.  After doing her CELTA in Budapest, she moved to China and taught in private schools and universities.  After that she moved to Katowice in Poland, and is currently based in Brno, Czech Republic where she does freelance teaching and teacher training, mainly connected with IH ILC Brno.
She was diagnosed as a diabetic type 1 while working in Brno and, after considerable thought decided to publish her experiences with diabetes to try and help raise awareness of what it means for those living and working with the condition.