Earning your TEFL qualification is, in many ways, a passport to a world of possibilities. Any online search for TEFL jobs will reveal the vast number of locations now open to you. On the one hand, this is incredibly exciting, and it’s easy to while away the hours imagining where your future may lie. On the other hand, the sheer number of locations can be overwhelming, making it difficult to know where to begin.
The main thing to consider at this stage of your planning is this: What is the main purpose of your time at your next destination?
Is your main priority job satisfaction and professional development? If so, you will want to focus your research on the schools you are applying to. What range of classes do they offer? What type of teacher support is offered by management and/or mentor teachers? What opportunities will you have to broaden your skill base? For example, are there in-house training programmes or opportunities to complete TEYL or other internationally recognised certifications? Will you have the chance to teach a range of levels and ages? Do they offer test preparation classes such as IELTS or TOEIC; or other specialist classes such as business English, English for hospitality or intensive courses for students preparing to study abroad? Teachers embarking upon their first contracts may find it easier to teach a narrower range of classes, but once you have a little experience under your belt these can be good ways to enhance your CV.
Another element you may want to consider is whether there are possibilities for career advancement at the school. What structure is in place within the school: are there senior teacher positions that could provide the first step towards management? These factors may be of more concern to you if you intend to stay in your next destination for the medium to long term. Perhaps, at this point in your career, you are not looking to relocate long-term, but to work in your chosen location for a year or less. In this case, the pace and quality of life in your new destination may be of equal or greater concern to you as you consider your options. There are a number of factors that may influence your decision.
A key factor for a lot of people is the balance between their expected TEFL salary and the cost of living in that location. With the former, your best resource is the schools themselves and their job postings. Beyond the basic salary or hourly rate, remember to check what other benefits, if any, they offer. These may include:
- contract completion bonuses;
- paid holiday and/or sick leave;
- housing allowance;
- health insurance;
- visa assistance/reimbursement.
When it comes to the cost of living, there are expat blogs, online discussion groups, and Facebook pages related to this topic in almost every location where TEFL jobs are prevalent. These resources can be invaluable as they include up to date observations by those currently living in your potential destination. Do bear in mind, however, that these estimates are subjective, and will depend upon the lifestyle you are looking to maintain. As a general rule, the closer your intended lifestyle and habits approximate those of the local population, the lower your cost of living will be. If you struggle to imagine life without your home comforts and luxuries, this will often add to your cost of living if such items need to be imported.
Finally, you shouldn’t overlook any ongoing financial commitments in your home country, such as payments for mortgages, cars, student loans or credit cards. When balancing salary and cost of living, remember that while your potential income may afford you a high standard of living in that location, exchange rates and other variables may mean that it doesn’t have significant value abroad. This could limit your ability to pay off debts or make savings.
If you are still finding it difficult to narrow down your options, here are a few more factors that may sway your decision.
- Climate : If you are potentially signing a year-long contract, that sunny beach paradise may seem a great destination during the summer months, but you might want to check whether the winter will bring storms, floods, or extended gloom. Some of my teachers were rather surprised by the rainy season that exists in usually sunny Hoi An.
- Political and Economic Stability: The security situation can change quickly, so make sure to check the most up to date travel advice on your embassy’s website.
- Food: This can have a serious impact on your living and social life, particularly if you have allergies or special dietary requirements.
- Culture: You have probably already read about culture shock and considered how you might adapt. It is worth considering whether the local culture in a potential location will infringe upon elements of your daily life such as your freedom of movement, dress, or social activities. More conservative cultures may place restrictions on the lifestyles of women, LGBTQ, and disabled teachers in particular.
- Entertainment and Hobbies: If you have a passion or hobby that you hope to continue in your new location, it is worth your while checking how realistic this is. If you play football for example, you might want to check whether there are any local clubs you can join. If you regularly go to gigs or concerts, you could look into the local music scene.
Before you make your final decision, take a little self-reflection time and ask yourself the following questions.
- How long can I see myself being apart from family and friends? This will affect both the how far away you are willing to work and the length of contract you are prepared to sign.
- How adaptable am I to new experiences and cultures? This relates back to culture shock and the values of your potential new home. Be honest with yourself about how far you are prepared to step outside your comfort zone.
- Am I more comfortable in an urban or rural environment? While a vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis can offer a great deal of choice and excitement, it may overwhelm those who enjoy a quieter, slower pace of life. Pollution and air quality may also be a consideration. Even if you do opt for a city, you may want to investigate whether there are options for day trips or short overnights that will offer a scenic break from city life.
- What kind of community do I see myself being part of? Are you looking for the support of an established ex-pat community with whom you can bond over shared language, culture and experiences? Or, are you preparing yourself to learn the language and immerse yourself in the local culture. This can make the difference when deciding whether to opt for a more remote location.
- What do I want my work-life balance to be? The hours you will be working will depend upon several factors including the work culture of your new host country, the requirements of the school, and the types of classes you take on. The hours required as part of a full-time teaching contract can vary widely, as can the allowance for time off. Some schools will guarantee two days off per week, while others won’t. Evening and weekend work is common, but there are contracts that offer more usual Monday-Friday teaching hours. These considerations can be particularly important if you are looking to relocate as a couple or family group.
Wherever you end up, enjoy the experience and savour the new-found freedom your TEFL certification has afforded you.