Certification in TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, can help teach abroad… and much more.
Here is one example of how a TEFL course opened doors for travel and a variety of jobs.
Teaching Traveling: Welcome, Tishely. Tell us about your background.
Tishely: Hello! I’m a native New Yorker with roots from Puerto Rico. I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Psychology in 2013 from Baruch College — City University of NY — and then worked in admissions in higher education.
I eventually began working in the career services department and began teaching a course called Professional Career Development. Though I had classroom experience, I had no experience teaching English.
TT: Interesting! So, how did your TEFL and teaching abroad life begin?
T: In May of 2016, I decided to take my first 2-week solo trip abroad. I visited several cities in Mexico’s Yucatan region and fell in love. As the days left in my trip wound down, I kept asking myself “Why can’t this just be my life?”
When I returned to work after my vacation, I was inspired to find out how to maintain a life abroad; what could I do to travel the world AND make an income? Of course, Google responded with “TEFL certification” over and over again.
TT: Ah! Tell us more about TEFL certification.
T: From my return home after vacation, until I departed for a TEFL program in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica in January of 2017, I worked a full-time job and several side gigs to save money for my travels.
My course program was almost $2,000, and I lucked out finding an apartment online for $475/month. I went abroad with about $3,000 total and knew that if I were to run out of money before finding a job, I’d just go back home having traveled and met amazing people for 3 months instead of the 10 months I made it.
I arrived in Manuel Antonio in January of 2017. I was absolutely running away from a terrifying reality in order to live out some dream I had of seeing this beautiful world. However, I had no idea what I was getting myself into enrolling in a TEFL course.
TT: What was your TEFL course in Costa Rica like?
T: Though I was spending 4 weeks on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, the course was 4-weeks of an intense TEFL challenge. you think you know English until you learn it like a second language learner.
It was no easy feat: learning English grammar all over again, learning to prepare lesson plans that were both educational AND fun, plus testing out classroom management strategies. A full week of teaching practice with real English learners made for a complete learning experience.
I later learned that we were challenged during our course because teaching English as a foreign language can truly be a challenging position! Though online TEFL courses can be useful, hands-on preparation like I had is really best for gaining the skills needed.
TT: So true. What jobs did you get after TEFL certification?
Immediately after the course, I didn’t teach English. Instead, I began working for a travel education company as a junior copywriter. I minored in English and Journalism, but never actually considered a writing career.
It was that strange sort of coincidence that happens during travel when you realize that to be at the right place at the right time, you have to travel to the right place.
After about 4 months working in the capital city of San Jose in Costa Rica, I was offered the opportunity to teach English in Cusco, Peru. Again, this was another opportunity that would not have presented itself had I not taken the chance to live abroad and enroll in a TEFL program.
I completed a 1-month teaching contract (extremely unlikely while abroad) in Cusco and got the chance to visit Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, the ruins and brewery of the Sacred Valley, and just experience the day to day life.
After I returned to Costa Rica, I spent another 2 months in the Caribbean and taught English to 3 private clients. I returned home in October of 2018 and landed a position teaching English in a language center, and continued working remotely as a junior copywriter.
I was also offered a higher position in my old company for more pay. I experienced first-hand what it was like to have an employer really value the international experience I’d gained.
TT: Phenomenal. How have your travels impacted you as a person?
T: Of course, traveling and working abroad has impacted me personally as well as professionally. I think lots of Nuyoricans, a term coined for Puerto Ricans born and raised in New York City, go through a bit of an identity crisis.
Since the mid 1900’s, our families began migrating to the mainland, and so we’re at a point where our households are mostly English speaking. My siblings don’t speak Spanish, and my little brother doesn’t even understand it.
Traveling through Latin America has allowed me to develop my Spanish language skills and has made me more confident in my ability to engage in conversations with other Spanish speakers. Traveling has also boosted my confidence in my ability to be independent, problem solve, and navigate my way through unfamiliar territory.
TT: So inspiring. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
T: Traveling and teaching abroad provides amazing opportunities to see the world, jump-start a career, and meet people who could become lifelong friends in minutes.
Whether your TEFL adventure lasts only the 4 short weeks it takes to complete, or evolves into 3 years of continuous work and travel, the investment is absolutely worth it.
If you’re looking to experience Latin America, I would highly recommend Maximo Nivel where I obtained my own TEFL certification. My TEFL course was one of the top three best courses I’ve ever taken, including my college courses.
I chose the Manuel Antonio location in Costa Rica because I’m a beach bum, but they also have locations in Guatemala and Peru.
TT: That’s actually where I did my TEFL course as well (back in 2005) and I still use the skills learned there to this day! Thanks for sharing your story.
Readers, what questions or comments do you have about TEFL certification? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational art. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!
Tuesday 2nd of July 2019
I know it sounds like a cliché but the TEFL course I did, literally changed my life. Not only did it give me new skills but through working at a primary school in south Thailand, my previously stressed out self was unknowingly encouraged by 4yr olds to discover my inner child and start seeing the fun side of life again. A truly unforgettable experience
Tuesday 2nd of July 2019
YES! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience. While course quality varies, my course was also life-changing. A great TEFL certification program is worth every minute!
Sunday 30th of June 2019
Great interview and article. Do you have in the archives, or can there eventually be, an article that compares/contrasts TEFL (TOEFL) and TESL (TOESL) as certification/license programs AND-- if possible-- what states and/or countries "recognize" (or have reciprocity) with the certification/license? Big order... sorry! THANKS!
Sunday 30th of June 2019
I'm working on something like that, but at this point it's not finished! I'd say the big thing to look at is what kind of jobs you want after certification. I'd pinpoint a few and ask those schools/agencies directly which programs they want you to do to prepare. I think you'll find a lot of wiggle room and variation. Best of luck, and let us know what you find! Tishely or other readers -- if you have other thoughts or experiences around specific programs, do feel free to chime in!
Thursday 20th of June 2019
Thank you for providing the opportunity to share my story! Open to any additional questions from readers about completing a TEFL program & teaching English abroad xx