Teaching English as a foreign language can lead to a gap-year experience that lasts a lifetime

By Jessica Moore, The Independent

Forget about speed dating. Those looking for love could do worse than sign up for a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course. “We’re calling it the China love affair,” jokes Vicky Cunningham, senior marketing officer for Bunac, a gap-year provider offering work, teaching and volunteering experiences abroad. “A guy and a girl have just come back from our six-month China programme, doing teaching internships. They met out there and fell head over heels. The girl has now decided to pursue a career in teaching, too, so she’s found love and a career off the back of it.”

While romance is not guaranteed, TEFL boasts a reputable qualification with excellent rates of employment and exciting opportunities to work all over the world. “Teaching English as a foreign language is really popular,” says Cunningham. So Bunac ships those with TEFL qualifications to Cambodia, China, India, Ghana, Peru and South Africa. “All of the projects we offer are constructive, but TEFL is something you have on your CV and, if you’ve put it into practice, a skill you can use again in the future. It’s not just helping out, it’s a hard-and-fast qualification, and you can earn with it.”

What’s more, it’s open to anyone over the age of 18 who speaks fluent English. Honor Baldry, a spokesperson for i-to-i, a UK provider of TEFL courses, says: “There are very few barriers. We say if you can speak English, you can teach English.”

You don’t need previous experience and there isn’t a selection process – just choose a programme and cough up the fees. Choices at i-to-i include a 20-hour classroom course that currently costs £199, 40 hours of online tuition for £139, and a 140-hour combined online and classroom course at £374. “Employers’ requirements vary,” says Baldry. “Some want a certain level of training, others want a degree. Very few look for experience; most will be happy to take a newly qualified TEFL teacher on.”

There are financial benefits, too. “What you get paid depends on where you’re teaching. In Japan, you get about £1,200 a month, but the cost of living is high. Elsewhere, you may only get £500 a month – but living in those places will be far cheaper. In South Korea, salaries are high in comparison to the cost of living, so there might be an opportunity to save while working – but generally, it’s about enjoying yourself and benefiting from the experience, rather than coming home with riches in the bank.”

Baldry adds: “You recoup the cost of the course very quickly and, by having a TEFL certificate, you’ll be more qualified, so you’re likely to earn more and get better jobs in future.”

Chris Evans took a six-month teaching internship with i-to-i, which included a TEFL training of 100 hours online and 20 hours in the classroom, a two-week orientation in Beijing, and a placement at a school in northern China. “My living allowance covered the cost of the course, but I paid for the visas and the flights. The whole experience wasn’t expensive, especially as gap projects go, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Teaching abroad gave me a better understanding of the world.”

TEFL takes all sorts. Cunningham says: “It’s a fairly diligent and conscientious person that decides to do this. It shows a really great amount of independence, confidence and motivation. Most people come back and say that in terms of interview talking points, it gives them a real head start.

“I had never been a fan of giving presentations, but with 21 classes a week in China, each with 40 to 60 students, I soon got used to it,” says Evans. “I had a group presentation in my first week at uni, and no one else could stand up and talk, but I just did it. After six months teaching, it seemed easy.”

As for dating, it’s still going strong. “There were two teaching interns at my school – me and an American guy,” remembers Evans. “He is now marrying a Chinese woman. He’s out there indefinitely, learning Chinese and using TEFL to make money.”


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