TEFL – Part I: The Questions to Ask

These are my opinions and based on my personal experience.

This is a very convoluted topic and it confuses many when they first start researching teaching English abroad. I will simplify it for you over a series of posts titled “TEFL”.

You decided, “I’m going to move abroad and teach English.” You want to take a gap year after graduating from college or, like me, you decided that now is the time to start traveling and seeing more of the world. Now what? What is the next step? Whatever your circumstance, no matter your age, moving to another country where you may or may not speak the language can be a frightening proposition. To add to the language barrier is the fact that you may not have any friends or family in-country, no support. On top of all of that, you will more than likely be spending a year away from home!

Never fear and welcome to my blog! Deciding to leave your life behind and move to a foreign country is no light task. It takes dedication, passion, persistence, patience, and of course organization. It’s an exciting yet difficult decision but the adventure you will have will change your life for the better.

Let’s begin!

I will start with your reason for wanting to teach English. Think of it, have it in the front of your mind while you read through this post. It plays a huge factor in deciding if this is truly for you or not. Despite wanting to go abroad, it may not actually be the best time and there is also the possibility that it might not be for you. Really dig deep and figure out if this is the right decision because not only will moving to a foreign country affect your entire life and that of your family and friends, but it will also affect the lives of those you come in contact with while living in your final destination (especially the children you teach).

Reader: What made you want to teach English abroad? or What makes you want to teach English abroad?
(Answer in the comments below)

Moving to a new country without being prepared for the culture shock, not having the right mindset to truly immerse yourself in a new environment and way of life, and not being prepared to actually teach (yes, you have to teach), will be a horrible time for you. The time commitment is a big one so if you aren’t prepared to spend a year of your life teaching, don’t do it. I’m not trying to dissuade you from leaving and following your dreams and goals but I definitely want you to be prepared for the journey ahead. It’s not an easy one.

I previously taught English in the Republic of Georgia in the Fall of 2011. I included some pictures above so you can get a glimpse of what life was like. It was HARD! At the same time, it was also extremely rewarding and fun. I made some amazing friends that I still keep in contact with today. I never experienced living in a developing country, or anywhere abroad for that matter. Coupled with not having a support group in Georgia, I was lost for a few months when I first arrived and had to find my way. Once I did, it was a life changing experience.

I found too often that a lot of my colleagues in Georgia didn’t actually want to teach. They were more interested in vacationing and enjoying themselves in a new country. A lot of them forgot, as did I at one point, that I was there to help Georgian children learn English. I was there to teach. I was also there to learn more about the culture and people, as well as teach them about American culture and people. It’s an easy thing to forget. One can get so wrapped up in the adventure that they forget the purpose of the adventure. Have an unselfish reason for teaching English to start with and then build from there.

Which brings me to my next point, where do you want to go? Have you thought of the country in which you would like to teach? I chose Georgia because I felt like getting away from everything I knew and experiencing a place that I had never heard of or a culture I’ve never been exposed to. My main decision was that I wanted to help children in need. I knew that I could have an impact in Georgia and that it would be an experience for the ages. It truly was. Here are some things to consider when choosing where you want to go:

  • Do you speak the language already or are you prepared to at least learn the basics?
  • Have you researched the local cultural and societal norms: are you able to accept those and live by them (to a point) while in-country? This is a big one.
  • What is your reason for wanting to move to your chosen country? What will it offer you and what will you offer it? It’s definitely give and take.
  • What do you know about actually living in your chosen country? As I said above, research their culture, society, political climate, economy, living situations for foreigners, social life for your age group, and the teaching environment for TEFL.
  • Are you financially prepared to either take a pay cut and/or have the savings to restart your life once you arrive? Think of start up costs for living arrangements, visa fees, airline tickets, cell phone fees, etc.

This list can go on forever but these are the main points I wanted to make. While I was in Georgia, many of my colleagues didn’t consider these points and they had a miserable time, myself included. Only after I did some research was I able to understand how to navigate my life in Georgia. It helped tremendously. I started to reach out to other English teachers and expats that lived in larger cities (through networking) and asked all of the questions I had. I made friends as quickly as I could to create my support group as well as my travel group (which is the best part). I made a TON of local friends who really helped me settle in and I used them to learn the local language as well.

Please do yourself a favor and consider all of the above before diving right into the process of teaching English and moving abroad. Your reason for wanting to teach in the first place will effect you throughout your time away from home. Doing your due diligence before you get to your chosen country will also help you in transitioning from your old life to your new one. All of this will determine where you teach and what qualifications to get in order to succeed. I will cover qualifications and training in my next post.

Something else to consider: are you from a native English speaking country? A lot of positions to teach require that you be from the following countries: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States or South Africa. This doesn’t mean you are completely barred from teaching English though. For some inspiration, check out this blog post by shuanibarnes, anything is possible if you really want it! Do you speak multiple languages fluently? Look for teaching positions in one of those language within your chosen country. There are opportunities everywhere if you look for them. Back to my post.

Out of all the reasons you can teach English, one of the main reasons should be to contribute to a foreign society and help children to actually learn a new language. If this isn’t one of your reasons, you shouldn’t go. Save yourself the pain and anguish of having to teach, as well as the children who are expecting and who need to learn English, from your lack of commitment and passion. I say pain and anguish because teaching any language is hard (there is lesson planning, possibly working with a co-teacher, classroom management, student discipline, work hours and work culture) and to do everything required of you takes dedication, a passion for teaching, patience, and persistence with your students. You have to deal with all of that on top of trying to acclimate to a new country and people.

Teaching English isn’t a vacation or a constant party, it’s a job and for some a career. It can be very rewarding and the travel aspect of living in another country can be phenomenal (I traveled to 5 different countries while living in Georgia). Your students futures may depend on learning English. Please take this initial assessment seriously before deciding that this is the right path. If you have already considered the above points and you still have the drive, passion, and commitment to proceed, read my next post!

– Alexanio


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