When it finally comes time to make the choice of where in this vast and exciting world that you want to work, I have a very specific way of choosing my next location. What I do is think of a number of places that for whatever reason have piqued my interest. I try and imagine living in those places. The place that is hardest to imagine tends to be the place that I choose.
The first time I followed this was when I moved to Alaska for a summer to work with horses. I heard about the job and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t picture myself there. The visions in my head when I tried to drum up images were just glaciers and grizzlies. So I went and had an amazing adventure that changed my very being. My memories are vivid and clear.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
TEFL is an adventure, and you can bet I followed the above advice when choosing Vietnam as my first TEFL destination. Having said that, maybe you’re a more practical sort of person, and I think that’s admirable. Read on for some practical considerations when choosing your TEFL destination.
(Or, if you want my personal list of top places to teach, download the pdf by clicking on the button below.)
Serious Things To Consider
Your financial situation is an important thing to think about, both in terms of preparation and in terms of lifestyle. You’re going to have to get yourself set up wherever it is you are going. This is going to include a plane ticket, a few months rent until you get your first paycheck and, depending on your personality, money for going out and experiencing your new home. The amount of money that you will need for this varies largely on the country/city that you choose. To help with this, simply Google cost of living in your country of choice and it will help guide you with this.
Then, there is the amount that you hope to be able to make while working. Most TEFL jobs will allow you to live a good life, travel and save. Having said that, what type of lifestyle are you hoping to have? Do you hope to save or pay off debt while working? If so, you’ll need to choose a country where the pay is decent and the cost of living low.
Teachers who come to Hanoi, Vietnam make, on average, about 2,000 USD per month. You can live a pretty good life going out to eat most days, traveling and living in a nice house or apartment for less than 1,000 USD. Now I compare this with Santiago Chile where rent was higher, restaurants were expensive and I had a hard time making more than 1,000 USD per month. I had a great time in both locations, but money did drastically affect my life.
The job market is also very different in different locations. Not to say that there aren’t exceptions, but in general, it’s easier to find a job where you will ONLY be teaching adults in European countries. I know very few people, especially in their first year of teaching, who were able to find these types of jobs in Asia. Are you open to teaching different levels and ages or do you have a very specific type of TEFL teaching in mind? This is also something to think about when choosing a country.
Likewise, no matter how much money you are making, you need to decide how important it is for you to have the modern conveniences that you might be used to. Do you need to have a great internet connection at all times? Do you need to have access to a variety of western food options?
“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” -Jack Kerouac
Transportation fits within this section. It is something that many people don’t think about when choosing a place to work, but which has a large effect on their day to day life. Are you comfortable navigating your way through a massive transit system? Can you see yourself getting around by motorbike? The best way to think through this is to try and speak with people who live in a place you are considering.
Language also plays a large role in your enjoyment of a place. I’ve met quite a few people who get annoyed by the low level of English in the country where they are working. It seems odd to me as this is obviously why TEFL teachers are able to find gainful employment. If everyone spoke excellent English, what would we be doing…
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” John Steinbeck
Still, learning new languages isn’t for everyone, and some people feel uncomfortable not being able to express themselves as completely as they could at home. There will be some level of this discomfort in any foreign country, though the degree of the language barrier is very different in different locations. For me, this language barrier is part of the fun and adventure of our shared occupation, but not everyone feels this way.
Don’t Get Too Serious
Alright, so you’ve made your parents proud by doing a bit of responsible research regarding finances and how you will be able to survive in the foreign country of your choice. Well done (*insert applause here*). Now it’s time consider the fun stuff. This is an adventure after all. What is it that you want to get out of your time teaching abroad?
Not to brag, but I’m writing this post on the beach in a sleepy little town in Vietnam listening to the waves gently massage the sand. My school is a short bicycle ride away from here. The food and coffee in this region are amazing. These things are important to me. They make me happy and despite any difficulties my previous day may have had, surrounded by this place that I love they wash away and dissipate just like the foam on those waves. What’s important to you?
Earlier I mentioned language as a challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity. After a year or two in a country, if you work at it, you could have a pretty good grasp of the local language. This is why Latin America and European countries are often popular TEFL destinations. No, you won’t make as much money, but it’s a great immersive way to learn or improve a language. You know, Spanish is spoken in thirty-two countries…
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” -Aldous Huxley
It’s also an amazing way to learn about a new culture. If you travel through a place and see the sights, you may come away with some great experiences and a few notions (likely misguided) about the local culture. By living in a place, making real relationships with locals, sharing in a country’s fate you will learn more than you could possibly imagine. Oddly, what you may learn about the most is yourself.
“I truly believe that travel broadens the mind.” -Stephen Merchant
Lastly, one thing to consider when choosing a place is its proximity to other places that you’d like to travel to. You’ll likely end up with a job that has a lot of holidays, and you’re going to want to be sure that you take full advantage of them. Look at your nearest airline hub and research the cost of flights to nearby locations. That, or try and place yourself somewhere that is a quick train ride from other places you want to go.
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” -Lao Tzu
This could be a new career for you or this could be a one or two year adventure. I can offer suggestions, but it’s really up to you to think about what you want out of your experience. The world is an exciting and amazing place that you are about to discover more fully. Try to keep an open mind and a good attitude and wherever you choose, you’re going to have a blast.