Teaching abroad what is it really like?

Unfortunately, at this current time, everyone’s travel plans across the whole world are limited, or in some cases, shut off completely. Amid the chaos, I hope we don’t forget that the world is still such a wondrous and beautiful place. Once this epidemic clears, we regain our travelling freedom.

What’s even better is that nature will have taken a break from tourism, making it purer than it’s ever been. It’s hard to find a silver lining, in the darkness, but as we are travelers, we must try to focus on some good news that is happening right now in the world; that we can all benefit from, when we spread our wings again…we must not lose our love for the planet or for travel.

I don’t even want to say the word, because it’s all we are hearing on the news, on our social media timelines, let’s just try to forget about it for now. Let’s get excited again!

If you are anything like me, doing research on countries and travel planning still hasn’t stopped. My ‘places to visit’ list has just got postponed that’s all. Nothing is stopping you from still researching into where to go and where to do your TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) focus on the ‘when’ later!

Today,  we have some first-hand information from people who have completed their TEFL and are living their teaching lives abroad. I can go on about these beautiful places all day long, but sometimes it is just nice to hear about the experience for real – the real truth.

Also, something fun to know, despite the current situation we have all found ourselves in, teachers around the world have had to adapt. A lot of teachers now are teaching online, submitting homework through apps, and still powering through. Your teaching possibilities are exciting and it seems, endless…

Debra – 55 year old from Reading, worked in Vietnam

I still remember the day I traveled home from a holiday in Vietnam and thinking “I don’t want to go home”, and I’m sure you have all thought that, at least once in your life.   Well, I felt it and knew this time I needed to do something about it. I sold my house in the UK and traveled back to Vietnam within 3 months of getting back! I made sure it all happened this fast because I knew if I didn’t do it straight away, everyone would try to talk me out of it and say I was crazy, I probably was…

But nevertheless, I listened to my heart and I went. I didn’t just want to live in Vietnam though, I wanted to work. And I knew I would make a great teacher, so I just went and did that too. I completed a TEFL course, and I haven’t looked back since.

I started the course full of nerves and anticipation. Look, I came from a sales and marketing background and so I had all the confidence, but I hadn’t taught English. So I had to work hard, I studied night and day, I took it seriously. There was no way I was going to pay all that money and fail.

The hardest part of the course for me was taking the class on my final day. What I haven’t mentioned yet, was that I actually took my TEFL course alongside my 18-year-old son and I was 52! When he took the class on the final day, I watched him do it, and he was better than me, he was a natural. This filled me with absolute pride-of course!- but immense pressure too!

But we both passed the course with flying colors and started working in a Vietnamese center that next month. I choose to work in an English centre, the hours don’t suit everyone but they suit me. We work from 6pm-9pm weekdays, and  8am-9pm Saturdays and Sundays doing three x, 3-hour classes, with breaks in between, so the weekend after tough, but the weekdays I have all day to enjoy the weather in Saigon and explore the beautiful city.

I remember telling people I would only be away for a year yet three and half years later I am still here. It was definitely the riskiest, yet the best decision I ever made, not just because of the teaching, which I love, but also because of all the countries I’ve visited over the last three years too.

Ella May 29 years old Wokingham, living and working in Athens, Greece

Back in 2010, which sounds like such a long time ago now, I did a 100-hour TEFL course in Ao Luk, Krabi, Thailand which took over 2 and a half months. But like some travelling plans, I stayed a lot longer than I intended, and my teaching life in Thailand ended up being 4 years long!

Whilst in Thailand, I was teaching English, and I taught children from nursery to early secondary school then adults in the evening, my oldest student was 63 years old! The experience of the community I had, was hugely heightened as they were so welcoming, and even sometimes inviting me out for a home-cooked meals and day trips! The language barrier at first was intimidating, but being so quickly immersed into the community, it soon became not so scary and I picked up my Thai along the way conversationally.

With the programme I was on, we were trained in the evenings too, but we did have to write our own lesson plans which is standard practice nowadays. We often delivered lessons in pairs and no day or lesson was the same (which the same can be said for the average day as a Primary school teacher). After completing and passing my course, I took a six-month break in Australia, where I nannied and home taught two children ages one and five. For me, after this, my time in Australia was up and I returned back to Ao Luk. This time I was a trainer to the volunteers (which I was myself) but with free board and food. During these three months, I made valuable connections with headteachers and tutor schools. On the side, I also occasionally did private tutoring sessions to teach English to Thai adults.

I went onto having two, one year contracts with different local nurseries, which was difficult at first with all the paperwork and language barrier, but you always find a way to communicate! I also worked in a small hostel/hotel in the evenings where I was given freeboard. After this, I wanted to take a break from traditional teaching in schools so I went to teach English in a hotel and I really tried to utilise my new TEFL skills in every way I could.

After hearing about the change in the law in Thailand, where foreign teachers needed to have a teaching degree, I decided to return to the UK to do my three-year degree in teaching with art specialism. All whilst having the intention to return to Thailand once I was further qualified. I wanted to open a partnership language school. However, again my travel plans changed, and I actually decided to teach in the UK for two years as a Primary School teacher to gain experience with the new British curriculum. This ended up being a very smart move! As this opened new doors for teaching at a COBIS international school.

Now, I’m teaching in a British International school in the South of Athens, Greece. Teaching abroad has given me more scope to be the teacher I want to be. A teacher who has more time to spend on children, rather than children as numbers with a ridiculous overload of admin (which unfortunately is crippling most British teachers to the point of being burnt out). I have finally found a school where my passion for teaching does not compromise my mental and emotional well being. Furthermore, I’m finally getting the teacher work-life balance. I rarely take work home with me and can enjoy the wonders of what Athens and Greece have to offer.

TEFL is a great way of dipping your toes into teaching and being able to fully immerse yourself in a new culture. Whilst it does not compare with teaching in a British Primary School, it can not be argued that without having done my TEFL, I would not be where I am today. I would heavily suggest doing a TEFL and then a degree in teaching. A degree really gave me the full pedagogy necessary to teach full time, however, the TEFL did also serve me well in the time I spent in Thailand. This way you may open your doors to being offered a very nice offer from an independent school/business as I did!

Trish – 54 year old Ireland, living and working in Vietnam

My TEFL course offered me the opportunity to fulfil a dream I had in my 20’s but didn’t get around to fulfilling until I was in my 50’s; I feel so lucky to of done it. You are never too old to fulfil your dreams and you are certainly never too old to travel. Travelling has no age limits as I’m proving.

Having spent many years in corporate environments, I felt reasonably confident about dealing with groups of people, however, I had no idea how to go about teaching English as a second or foreign language. It is a whole different situation! The students range in age, they can be from four to 64! Class sizes can vary too, from 1:1 tutorials to small groups, right up to large groups of up to 50 students. I don’t think anyone can be naturally prepared for that…

My TEFL course provided me with, the knowledge, the skills and the confidence I needed, to place myself in any teaching environment and to enjoy and embrace every minute of it.

As my son would say, as it had a very positive impact on his life too, a good TEFL course is a “gamechanger”.

Jordan – 23 year old Bristol still working in Vietnam

I took my TEFL at just 19 years old, I decided I wanted to get away from my home town and explore new things; start a new life, it is not a decision I regret! I moved to Saigon, Vietnam and I did my TEFL course. The way of life in Vietnam came naturally to me, I felt at home so quickly and the course I was doing really helped me come out of my shell too. I soaked up the Vietnamese language like a sponge, I thank my age for that. I can now communicate with the locals and my students without any troubles.

Although I was very shy at first, the TEFL course gave me the confidence to stand up and speak in front of hundreds of people. This was just not something I would ever think of doing, now I do it often. The course also gave me everything I needed to conduct English lessons, which I now utilise every day whilst teaching children at an English Centre in Saigon itself, which I just love. I live in a plush apartment and ride a moped around the city. TEFL really did change my life, I have experienced so much and seen so many things, I otherwise would never have seen.

There are many other TEFL success stories online, from English teachers all around the world; the proof really is in the pudding! Keep your researching hats on; be prepared to start your future.

This blog was originally written by Eve Feeney March 2020.


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