Thoughts on TEFL as a job and lifestyle

I know, I know, it’s been a year since I last updated here and you’re wondering what happened or more likely you lost interest about 11.5 months ago and are trying to remember who I am.

Well, this post is going to be half update and half tying up loose ends. My domain name subscription of dreamingofmore.com ends on August 1st and I’m not renewing it.

This essentially means that you can’t type in http://www.dreamingofmore.com after this date and land here because I will no longer own the domain name. However, this place will still exist at its previous address; which unfortunately doesn’t have quite the same ring to it but here it is:

www.nomadictravelandwork.wordpress.com

Secondly, where have we been??? Well, after our trip to Dali to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary we then spent July ‘till December working our butts off to save every last penny we made and so we didn’t do any more travelling during that time. On December 13th we left Kunming, China and flew home via Hong Kong back to the UK.

Shane last day

Our last day at Shane English School

We then spent 3 days in London acclimatising to the time zone change and getting Jack an updated passport as it was due to expire. The first thing I brought was a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate. Sadly there isn’t any in China.

After this, we then travelled down via coach to the south-west to spend a week with my parents and then a week with Jack’s over Christmas and New Year whilst also stocking up on much-needed necessities.

Come January 4th 2016 we then made our way to Bristol airport and were flying out again to get some winter sun in Morocco. We spent about 2.5 weeks split between Marrakech, Essaouira and Casablanca.

It was during our time in Morocco that we finally had a chance to think clearly about what we wanted to do next and so after over 2 years of going on about it, we got the next flight out of Casablanca to Vienna, Austria via Madrid.

Luckily, we were able to buy some thermal coats in Casablanca (although we did get some funny looks) and so we were prepared for the arctic weather in Vienna and found a nice place to stay for a week whilst we did a bit of sightseeing. After a week I was convinced I had been right all along and I was actually an Austrian trapped in an English girl’s body and wanted to make Wien my new home. We decided to take a week in Graz (close to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s home town) and we enjoyed the laid back life whilst I planned an extended stay for us both in Vienna as we decided to look for TEFL work there.

Job Hunting

We stayed in a nice guesthouse I found via AirBnB for about a month whilst looking for TEFL work. Unfortunately, we soon realised that as we didn’t speak German and jobs were very thin on the ground it just didn’t seem like things were going to work out.

So with the aid of TEFL.com we broadened our search to the whole of Europe, which in February effectively left us with Italy and Spain and the odd under-paid freelance positions dotted around Prague and Bratislava. We both simultaneously applied for singular and joint jobs as we were running out of funds and getting desperate with all of our earthly belongings still at my parent’s house in Devon which complicated matters and had me cursing all the travel bloggers that talk about the benefits of travelling light as we were now facing having to do Skype interviews through an IPad and recording demo classes in a guesthouse bedroom.

Eventually, we were in a position where we had several options open to us (though none of them spectacular) and we chose the job with the best salary to hours ratio. Unfortunately, there was only one position though and it was a 4-month gig in Spain with no promises of work through July to September before we could both be taken on.

And that was the best of the bunch believe me!

Spain

So with the job in the bag, we made a quick dash back to the UK and did a 48hr turn around whilst sorting through all of our long-term things as well. Then got on a flight to Madrid, Spain stayed one night and saw nothing before getting up at the crack of dawn for a 3hr train ride down to the desert town of Albacete.

We were met by Jack’s new boss and deposited into a shared house with no Internet for five days whilst we looked for an apartment by night and Jack trained by day. It was exhausting; to say the least.

(I’ll take this opportunity to mention that we had both spent the previous year learning German as we had hoped to end up in either Austria or Germany and so I had no Spanish whatsoever at this point and Jack was beginning to remember his GCSE Spanish from school.)

So, that’s where we’ve been and Albacete is where we are. We’ve been here since the end of February and I’ve just secured a job with the same school starting in mid-September and Jack has been lucky enough to land summer school work with the same company throughout July and he’s got some part time hours over August to keep our heads above water financially.

As we’ve said before, we never do anything by halves and the last year has been pretty crazy. I don’t feel like I’ve had “time off” at all and despite a bit of sightseeing in Vienna and Morocco we spent the majority of our time plotting our next moves and job hunting.

I needed to go to Vienna to get it out of my system and what it made me realise is that it was never about “Vienna” the place; it was about the idea of it. A modern, western city with all that it has to offer. After living through some truly interesting times we both now just want some stability and what I realised I wanted was to relocate somewhere that was a big western city but still held the charm of being somewhere new to explore.

I’ve kept myself busy over the last few months in Spain by working on a variety of projects including starting my own online English business (www.armadaenglish.com), working on improving my health, learning computer coding via codecademy.com and participating in a 9-week job audition for September (yes, really).

We’ve both learnt a lot over the past few years and have decided that this will be our last TEFL job before returning to the UK where Jack intends to start a PGCE and I’m interested in finding work outside of education perhaps in the Tech industry.

Here are my thoughts on TEFL and advice for those considering working abroad.

1. Everyone else doing this has a safety net.

Most of the people that we’ve met doing TEFL seem to have a lot of money and are single or otherwise unattached and in a lot of cases have families that are willing to put them up in their old bedroom upon their return. They even have their friends and families fly half-way across the world just to spend time with them! We have none of that. My personal motto is to only rely on yourself.

So, basically if you don’t have the above it’s still achievable but it’s a lot harder and you may find it difficult to relate to some of the westerners you meet.

2. Teaching English abroad is still a job; it’s not a holiday. Trust me.

When I first told people that we were off to Thailand to teach English I had a lot of people tell me how lucky I was because aside from ignoring the fact that I had worked my ass off for the TEFL certification (whilst planning a wedding and working full time) and been successful in multiple interviews, they seemed to think that I was going on some sort of extended holiday. Ha! If only they knew. I never even walked on a beach until after we left Thailand and we worked from 7:30am to 5:30pm in 30degree heat Monday to Friday teaching kids packed in 50 to a room. It was a real challenge.

3. Your time is not your own

If you’re considering TEFL because you think it will pay your way whilst you travel then think again. For starters you’ll be working all week and expected to make lesson plans, show up to meetings, talk to parents, help out other teachers, organise Christmas, Halloween, Easter and various other holiday-related shows, games, parties, performances and arts and crafts etc. It is a full-time commitment even if your contract says you are “only” teaching 10 classes. You’ll be in all week, if not teaching then your time will be filled with paperwork, training or even just homework monitoring.

If you want to be a teacher it’s a great experience with the opportunity to travel in-country maybe three times a year if you are good at saving money. If you don’t want to be a teacher, or you don’t care about the students then you have no place in the job and would be better off just going on an extended holiday somewhere.

4. Don’t expect to get rich.

TEFL doesn’t pay very well (especially in Europe) and we only managed to save the money we did in China because of having the both of us work full-time and then we saved one salary whilst essentially living like monks all but for a few trips in our second year there.

5. TEFL will awaken you to what the world is really like and you may not like what you see.

We’ve had people scam us, rip us off, tell us that because we’re white we’re rich and so have to pay the “white price”, we’ve had people tell us that the reason why we are treated differently is because of our race or that we should just “get used to it” because “it’s their culture” when someone acts inappropriately or unprofessional towards us. We’ve had a lot of good and a lot of bad experiences during our time abroad and as a result, I’ve learned to like my own country a lot more.

6. You need to plan for the future.

If you do decide to be a TEFL teacher for more than a year, but then decided to return home, then you need to think about your exit strategy. It’s not always as simple as booking a return flight and you may not be eligible for things that you may otherwise take for granted such as access to a GP, benefits like JSA or you may find it difficult to rent an apartment without any recent credit history.

7. Be prepared for the TEFL-lifers

One thing that we have noticed is that despite the opportunities that TEFL can afford someone who is interested in teaching and travel, most teachers seem to stay in one place or one country. We’ve lived in three countries now and on different continents. If you’re able to apply for jobs using Skype then you can relocate at the end of one contract and transition into another country with your new job. You don’t have to stay in China for the rest of your life just because that’s the first country you’ve lived in since leaving home. A lot of people we met made one move and then settled down, it’s not a bad thing of course but there are probably better ways to make money than through TEFL if you just want to emigrate somewhere.

8. TEFL has given us so many stories.

TEFL has enabled us to explore seven countries, see some amazing sights and meet many interesting people. Without TEFL we probably never would have travelled as extensively and we certainly wouldn’t have got to know people from Thailand, China, Vietnam and Spain not to mention the many westerners we’ve made friends with from Australia, England, America, New Zealand and Ireland. For all the bad times there are good times but as with everything in TEFL it’s a life of extremes.

Final thoughts

My final thoughts on TEFL are that it was totally worth it and I recommend it to young 20 something’s who are single and rich or teaching couples (like us) who can make ends meet in Asia quite well by saving one salary. We’ve grown up a lot since 2013 and it’s opened up so many new doors for us. The experiences we’ve had will stay with us forever and this blog is a small window into that.

 

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on TEFL as a job and lifestyle

  1. Brilliant! I totally agree with your list.
    I read an interesting article on Native vs Non-native speakers in Spain and how they are treated here: https://teachinginspainblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/natives-vs-non-natives-our-experience-in-spain/

  2. Nice post! It’s great to see “the other side” of TEFL and travelling/teaching presented in a way that’s kind but realistic. Obviously most websites and bloggers will only share the glamorous experiences. And I’ve never read a post that talks about TEFL couples so I’m also glad for that perspective. I’ll be getting my TEFL cert this winter, but I’m still unsure what I want to do exactly afterwards. But again, I just appreciate the info you’ve shared in this post! 🙂

  3. Hi! How are you doing? I really love your amazing blog it really inspires me a lot that’s why I followed you. I hope to read more beautiful post soon. I can’t wait to see it. I hope we could also be friends. Have a great day ahead!

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