Laura Blake (BA 2009) talks to some recent Bristol graduates who have worked their way around the world, and shares their tips and advice here.
We’ve all been asked that question in our final year at university: so...what’s next? For many, it’s a question they haven’t got round to answering between tackling a hefty dissertation and revising for upcoming exams; for others, the answer is ‘a gap year’ or perhaps just ‘I need a break’.
One hugely popular way to spend a year out, and one which could take you almost anywhere in the world, is Teaching English as a Foreign Language. In particular, if you’re mindful of the impact of the current economic climate on competition for jobs here in the UK, TEFL offers a great way to scratch the itch to travel while earning a competitive salary.
How do I get started?
It’s not strictly necessary to undertake a formal TEFL or TESOL qualification to find work in a language school - some require only that English is your native language, or are happy if you have a degree - but many employers expect it, so having this under your belt will almost certainly broaden your options.
The most widely accepted qualifications are those accredited by the University of Cambridge (CELTA) and Trinity College, and courses can be undertaken full or part-time, as well as by distance learning. Intensive four-week courses, often residential, are popular in the summer before embarking on your time abroad, and can be found up and down the country - expect to pay around £1,300.
Requirements for teacher selection will vary depending on the popularity of the location as a destination, with the most popular potentially requiring a year’s teaching experience, with others looking for nothing more than being a native speaker. Of course, factors like personality, presentation skills and academic achievements will also be taken into account. Research and choose your location carefully to find the right place for you.
Make sure you’re up to the task of teaching; it’s not easy and you will be expected to put in a lot of work on your own time, as Amy (BA 2009), who is currently teaching in a French university, can tell you: 'As a Lectrice d'Anglais, I’m responsible for conducting oral classes, as well as teaching applied language and cultural language students. At the beginning of the year my colleagues and I had to create a syllabus for each of the year groups we would be teaching, including both oral and comprehension exercises. We’re also responsible for organising English Society events, writing and conducting exams and marking coursework.'
Where can I go?
The question should be where can’t you go; the world really is your oyster.
Close to hand with familiar cultures and languages are European destinations like France, Spain and Italy, but as some of the most popular destinations for graduates from the UK, job perks are often difficult to find, and the cost of living can be relatively high.
Further afield in Asia, destinations like China, Taiwan and Vietnam offer plenty of opportunities, fairly good salaries and a lower cost of living. In Taiwan, for instance, you can expect to earn up to £1,200 a month. With an apartment in the capital, Taipei, coming in at around £80-100 a month, it’s likely that even the most flamboyant spenders will be able to save a significant chunk of their income, while enjoying what Taiwan has to offer, including exhilarating cities and extraordinarily beautiful countryside. Perks of the job in Asia can often include free flights to and from the UK once a year, healthcare and help with finding accommodation.
Of course, if you’re keen to stay at home, TEFL is still a great option for a gap year, with UK salaries averaging between £13,000 - £25,000 in language schools.
What will I get out of it?
Well, aside from a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in an entirely new country and culture, you can hope to add to your own skill set by learning some of the native language. Mandarin, for instance, is hugely useful to anyone looking to work in the business or financial sectors. 'I took French credits while at Bristol, so I like languages,' says Simon (BA 2007). 'So one of my main aims while I'm out here is to gain the highest level of certification in the Japanese language since it's a skill I can always use either in England or Japan.'
Teaching is also a fantastic addition to any graduate’s CV, demonstrating those highly valuable soft-skills which are transferable to any career you might later choose to pursue; adaptability, creativity, motivation and excellent time-management and organisational skills are just some of what you’ll exemplify while teaching abroad.
'I learnt so much about myself and life in China. I'd thoroughly recommend taking the time to do something different or new before going into a longer-term job,' says Joe (BA 2006).
Before you go
Research your visa well in advance. A working visa is often much more difficult to acquire than a holiday visa, and will take longer.
Be mindful of cultural differences; in Taiwan, for instance, the concept of ‘saving face’ prescribes many conversational outcomes, so be wary of taking a verbal agreement as binding.
Getting set up isn’t cheap; set aside up to £1,500 for flights, accommodation and your visa, on top of the cost of any qualifications.
The University will be running its own intensive residential CELTA course in July.
TEFLdaddy provides frank and friendly advice for budding teachers.
The British Council’s English Language Assistantship Programme spans 17 countries from China to Chile.
Teaching English and Living in Taiwan is a good, comprehensive resource.