I TEFL, and you can too!
Originally posted on November 7th 2016 on my tumblr.
I was recently at home for my brother’s wedding. This was a joyful and beautiful event that I felt blessed to have the chance to attend when I live on another continent. And as much as I enjoy my new life here in Morocco, it was wonderful to have a brief escape from the constant low-key uncertainty of living in a foreign country and spend a week deep within my comfort zone of a small town and close family.
That said, most weddings are not a small, intimate family affair, and this was no exception. The celebration for my brother and my new sister-in-law naturally included a lot of distant relations, friends of friends, and strangers. This meant that I spent a lot of time explaining that I do, in fact, live and work in Morocco.
Most people were intrigued and a little baffled. “I don’t even know how one would go about finding a job in another country,” said several wedding guests.
So, I thought I’d write a post directed primarily at my fellow Americans about how to find a job overseas. I’ve met health professionals, engineers, entrepreneurs, writers, and even a dancer, all living and working here in Morocco, but I’m going to focus on finding TEFL jobs because that is my own experience. Because of the economic and cultural influence of English-speaking countries, there is a huge demand for English language teachers in most parts of the world. While traveling for a “gap year” or midlife crisis “Eat Pray Love” kind of scenario requires a lot of savings, teaching abroad is a great way to see the world with minimal financial investment. All you need to get started is the cost of the plane ticket and the first month or two of living expenses before begin to receive your salary, and in many countries it’s possible to recover that initial cost over the course of the school year and put money away each month.
Who is qualified to teach English? Ideally, you want to be a native English speaker with a university degree in any subject, plus a certificate in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). The most well-known TEFL certification program was developed in Cambridge, and it’s known as CELTA. Most job listings ask for “CELTA or equivalent.” I did the undergraduate TEFL certificate program at UCF, which fell under “or equivalent” because it was about the same number of instructional hours as the CELTA program.
It’s also useful to have a year or two of teaching experience. Even if you’ve never been a classroom teacher, in your C.V. you can frame volunteering, camp counseling, or tutoring in such a way that employers will consider you. That said, some countries, such as China, have such a high demand for native English teachers that they will hire individuals with no college degree, TEFL certificate, or teaching experience whatsoever. These jobs won’t have the greatest salary or benefits package, but they might provide a year of experience that opens the door to other more lucrative positions in the future.
So if you have a degree, perhaps a TEFL and some teaching experience, $1500-$2000 at your disposal (or less if you only consider jobs that cover your flight and housing expenses), and no mortgage payments or dependent family members or other roots deeply planted here at home, you are ready to apply.
1) Find a job listing that appeals to you.
I like Dave’s ESL Café for job listings. It doesn’t sound legit, but Dave’s is actually the most popular website for TEFL postings. You can also check out TEFL.com. On these websites, you will find hundreds of jobs in dozens of countries. Some are individual schools and companies, while others are recruiters that will connect you with an individual school. If you find a listing that appeals to you, typically it provides an email address where you can apply or ask for more information.
Most jobs ask for your C.V. and a cover letter, and possibly a letter of recommendation or photocopy of your diploma, passport, or other qualifying documents. While not common in the U.S, it’s generally expected to include your photo on your C.V. for international jobs.
Sometimes employers will respond within 48 hours to schedule an interview. Other times, it will be months. I didn’t make the cut the first time I applied for my job here, but the manager kept my C.V. on file. Over the winter when I was teaching Spanish in Virginia, the company had more openings and contacted me for an interview. I began working here in Casablanca almost a year and a half after originally applying.
4) Impress them in an interview.
Skype interviews are the norm for TEFL jobs. Finicky internet connections can make this annoying, but on the plus side, you can wear a nice shirt and blazer and the interviewer will never know your bottom half is in cozy flannel pajamas. Be prepared with some research about the company and about the country where the job is located. Useful things to know include the school/company’s mission statement, the most important cities and political leaders of the country, and the name and conversion rate of the local currency. You’ll sound smart if you ask about the school’s teaching philosophy/methodology, and you’ll sound motivated to fit in with the host country if you ask about the opportunities that might be available to learn the local language.
If your interview earned you an offer, you will probably get a contract to review and sign. Read it carefully, and if possible, ask to speak to a current or former teacher at the school in order to get the inside scoop on what will be expected of you. If the job sounds good, you can start on the visa. Some jobs will take care of the whole visa process for you, while others will expect you to do most of the bureaucratic legwork. In either case, they’ll probably need a lot of documents from you, such as pdfs of your passport, diplomas, health certificate, letters of recommendation, background check, etc. Some or all of these may need to be translated to the local language. This stage can be a headache, but the school or recruiter should be able to guide you through everything.
6) Take a deep breath and click “Buy” on that plane ticket.
If you have a job lined up, all that’s left is to pack up and go. Many TEFL jobs will provide airport pickup, a hotel for your first few days or weeks, and assistance finding long-term accommodation. Some also refund the cost of your airfare. Take advantage of whatever support is offered. Beyond that, it’s a matter of getting on the plane and giving it a shot.
Different people have different priorities, and living abroad isn’t for everyone. Some people have important obligations at home, or simply lack an interest in exploring faraway places when there is plenty to do and see within the local area. But I think a lot of my fellow Americans never consider it because they don’t imagine that it’s possible for them, when in fact, there are so many opportunities in so many different fields.
We often take for granted just how much easier it is for us to travel abroad than for the citizens of most other countries. A U.S. passport is a privilege in itself, one that means I can work in another country and call myself an “expat” and feel like a valued part of the community, instead of getting called a “migrant” and feeling ostracized or being barred from entry in the first place. To anyone with the inclination, I encourage you to take advantage of this privilege, and use it to learn about other people and other countries. It’s counter-intuitive, but I think living abroad is one of the best ways to gain a better understanding of the United States and ourselves.