I graduated from college in May of 2012. A year before I had graduated I had already set my mind on going somewhere, doing something. Whether it were volunteering, taking a vacation or getting a job, I was going to do something overseas. I hadn't traveled much, but something inside of me was so eager to see the world, to do what I hadn't had the chance to do before. During my last semester at school, I saw a flyer on the wall, in the languages building, about getting certified to teach English abroad. I hadn't even known that it was an option at the time, but it really got my gears turning. Things had become more concrete. I now knew of an option. I had a clue to follow.
I started researching online, and before I knew it, someone had told me that a girl I went to high school with was doing the same in Spain. I put myself in contact with her (man is social media helpful) and asked about what she had to do and how she liked it. I probably bothered her a heck of a lot come to think of it. But hey, I had to know. She told me that she took the course at International TEFL Academy in downtown Chicago and that she liked it and it really helped her. I was from Chicago and was moving back after graduation, so things were looking good for my future abroad. Of course at this point I had already gotten excited and started fantasizing about what my life in a land far, far away would be like, but I had to keep my eyes on the prize. I put myself in contact with International TEFL Academy over the phone. I talked with Cassie Wells, an amazing, super energetic, motivating, and positive young girl who didn't hesitate to answer any of my questions and continued to answer via e-mail. I even went to the office downtown with my mom, who wasn't feeling so sure about the whole thing, to have a good talk about it. I found Cassie to be super honest, she didn't sugar coat anything and told us all about her experience. The deal was done. I'd been sold. Within the next few days I had signed up and put down the payment for the class. Enrolling was super easy and straightforward. I was on my way! If it hadn't been for the friendly staff, especially Cassie, who was willing to go above and beyond (always with a smile) to make my mom and I (mostly my mom) feel comfortable about the whole thing, things could have turned out differently. Not only was she happy to help, but she was patient and hadn't become jaded by so many others asking the same questions I had.
My TEFL class really prepared me for what to expect. I had great teachers, who were foreign, and also had experience teaching abroad. One was Polish and the other was from the Czech Republic. Both had a lot of great advice and had a lot of material and information. They were also patient, knowledgable and fun. We learned things from grammar review to cultural differences in the classroom. The best and most helpful part though was doing our practicum. Teaching for your first time and putting everything you learned in class into action, while being reviewed, can be nerve-racking. So having a somewhat controlled environment with lots of support and feedback was key. Of course I was nervous and uncomfortable at times, but overall my students were great and came from all backgrounds! After a few times you start feeling more confident of your abilities and less awkward. I can't imagine getting thrown into teaching without this kind of buffer.
I'm currently teaching in Vietnam, country #2!. However, I first taught in Ecuador...and ended up staying 2. 5 years! The first time around I did use a lot of the guidance materials to help me with making contact and to know a little bit about what to expect. I also kept in close contact with Christie Koness, the job search guidance counselor. She was great! Also friendly, helpful, and always there. (She and the rest of the ITEFLA staff also have a passion for travel, which makes them very passionate and understanding). We kept in touch for the fun of it after a bit and I even gave her some information about the visa processes and some things I found out along the way, which I thought would be helpful for other students looking to teach in Ecuador. After your first job or country you start to feel more confident, and you network and realize all of the jobs and countries that are out there. You work with like-minded people and finding jobs becomes easier and even more of an adventure. You stop worrying about the little details because you've already proven to yourself you can do it, and the truth is, you can! I also belong to the Ecuador and Vietnam Alumni Network groups on Facebook and check in on them from time to time. I think they are helpful and great to have there just in case, but I personally usually try to find information from co-workers, locals, or other people around me before resorting to the Facebook page. That is just personal preference though, because it does seem like there is a lot of involvement on the pages and that people are more than willing to lend the information they have. Always nice to know you have it there as a safety cushion.
Teaching abroad. There are so many things to say about it! It's exciting, it's confusing, it's rewarding, it's frustrating, it's eye-opening, it's testing. It's everything you could get working in your own country and more. You work and earn money, but you can also explore. Everyday is filled with little challenges to overcome and lots of little surprises. Every moment is new and exciting. The food and flavors, the language, the culture, the music, the transportation, the points of view, activities, ways of doing things. Literally everything. You're living it everyday. So, you are working, but your life doesn't become as monotonous. You can find beauty and a lesson in everything. Just going in to the market and successfully buying something, can leave you walking out with a big smile and puffed-out chest of accomplishment. Just in your immediate area you have adventures and experiences waiting for you. But don't forget you'll have the opportunity to explore the rest of the country, and hopefully even go beyond its boarders to get a taste of something new.
I have now taught abroad in two very different countries, lived in two different continents, and done adventure travel, while there, as well. Both are amazing and offer great opportunities. Do I recommend both of them? Yes, yes, and absolutely yes. Although I advocate travel, I highly suggest teaching abroad. It allows you the chance to really delve into the country, to what it's all about and everything it has to offer. You learn about the geography and the language, you create a life for yourself with so many new friends, both local and foreign. For example, you don't go back forgetting the name of a delicious food you tried, like you could just taking a trip. It's actually the contrary. You go back with a huge list of foods you loved eating and are now missing now that you're gone! More than anything, I think that you get pushed out of your comfort zone and sometimes to your limit. You're definitely tested. Although it could be a potentially uncomfortable and new experience, I believe that these tests, you may not have had the opportunity to "take" while living back home, give you an incomparable amount of growth and life experience, while allowing your mind to completely open and accept all that is happening with and around you. After all, we only get one shot at this thing we call life, we might as well do and see as much as possible while we still can. See you on the other side of the border!