The TEFL Dream

By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience

The TEFL Dream

By Rennett Stowe from USA (Trunk Bay Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There are many reasons why people choose to teach English abroad, and the adverts enticing teachers away from home all plug more or less the same thing; cheaper cost of living, fun, enhance your career, beautiful beaches, the best time in your life and a chance to travel.

What is it really like?

I remember my first experience of living abroad in Italy, I was in a small town, and I shared a flat with two other teachers.  We were all on a high for the first couple of months trying to ignore the fact that we only had one day off, had lots of evening classes, and there were often timetable changes. We would often arrive home late most evenings tired and hungry. Then, the homesickness began to take root, in time with the heavy rains that hit the region. The dream had been definitely dampened.

I am currently working in China, where I am happy, but it has its challenges. I have to deal with different teaching practices. Although I am learning to speak Mandarin, there is still a great language and cultural barrier. If you work for private language schools you should be prepared for fewer days off. In addition, the temperature drops to -28 degrees in the winter where I teach, that may drive someone insane who is anxious for warmer weather!  However, in my case it’s rarely the weather that gets me down.

You could end up living in a place where there is no thriving ex-pat community, which you could use for support.  Although, not having an ex-pat community is not necessarily a bad thing; your language skills should go thought the roof! Smaller things become harder such as going to the bank, going to the supermarket, eating in a restaurant, these things can give you a buzz when it all goes well, but when there is a communication breakdown that can ruin your day and add to the feeling of cultural isolation.  These small things can compound stress, so it’s important even in a foreign country to have a life outside your work, even if that means just going to the gym.

All set to go?

I am not trying to put anyone off from the TEFL adventure, but from my experience, you need to keep in mind why you are in your new country, which could range from learning a new language, saving money or experiencing a new culture. Always keep that focus and you will find the daily struggles may not get you down as much. It is not necessarily that the grass is greener, it’s just another shade of green.

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One Response to “The TEFL Dream”

  1. Bianca
    March 29, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    China’s a big place and there will be lots of different schools and colleges there with different priorities in what they want from teachers. Some just want a foreign face, some want a masters degree, some want someone who will follow a particular methodology. However, if you are going to get a TEFL teaching qualification, the ones which traditionally open the most doors are the CELTA and Trinity certificates. Not everyone in China will have heard of them (see what I wrote above about it being a big place!), but many of the best employers will like to see them on a candidate’s application.

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