Finding a TEFL gig is easy. Graduates of the TEFL Institute of Ireland are given 24/7 job placement support, and beyond that there is networking and job boards and good old fashioned knocking on doors. You will find a job. The real challenge is choosing a job that merges the experience abroad you’ve been dreaming of with the reality of who you are. And that often comes down to choosing between city life and country life.
It is Friday night and you are people watching from a sidewalk cafe on Khao San Road, Bangkok’s famed backpacker district. Street vendors are hawking their wares. The colors are outrageous. The air smells of Pad Thai, chilis, exotic fruit and when the wind blows wrong garbage too. You are soon joined by a group of fellow teachers, though you come from different places you started this journey together and that has bonded you forever. A fire dancer twirls his flames in the middle of the street. In the distance a single spire of the Grand Palace rises above the madness. This is your new normal.
The Fantasy and Reality of The Big City:
Most new TEFL graduates go into big city gigs expecting to make loads of local friends and quickly assimilate into their new romantic existence. But that is unlikely to happen, at least not right away. It is human nature to find comfort in the familiar. You will likely make fast friends with the other teachers in your program and other expats in the city, of which there will be many; restaurant owners, yoga instructors, digital nomads, a whole community of English speakers living far away just like you. Then you will make local friends (of the English speaking variety) and the door will open a little wider. And eventually if you learn the local language and stick around long enough to build trust you will be allowed to assimilate on a truly local level. Go. Have a kickass adventure with your fellow expats. Just understand that if you want to truly be a part of The Big City it is going to take time.
It is Saturday morning and the thin air is biting cold. You were never an early riser, loathed it in fact, but living high in the Bolivian Andes has a way of shaking up a person’s routine. You are in the local market surrounded by stout women selling fruit, bread, quinoa and cuy. You feel a tug on the leg of your pants and look down to see one of your students with a beaming smile on her face. She wants you to meet her family and drags you quickly through the market. Her mother greets you in Quechua a language you don’t understand, then with an embarrassed giggle switches to Spanish a language you barely understand. Your student is bouncing with anticipation now. She knew this would happen. She begins to translate. You let yourself go. You allow this little person whom you adore as much as she adores you to guide you into a world very few outsiders have ever seen.
The Fantasy and Reality of the Little Village:
Many new TEFL graduates gravitate toward village opportunities because they believe it will be a more authentic experience. The REAL Thailand, Chile, Japan, China, Mexico (and so on) is in the small towns and villages! But think of your own home country; is its heart, its truth only in the countryside? You will certainly get a closer view of local life working in a little village. Everyone will know your name and where you came from. You will be asked a million personal questions. And your reactions to common things will be studied. Spicy food? A dusty football pitch? An ox cart blocking a muddy road? What do you think Teacher? What do you say? There is something really beautiful about experiencing the world from this rarely seen vantage point BUT remember that this is a job. You are going to be in that little village for months at a time and it won’t always be charming. There will be no cinemas or concerts. The WIFI will suck. Food cravings will gnaw. And you will get lonely. Go. Embrace life in the little village, but before you do rub some dirt on that idealized image.
The gleaming metropolis, the quaint town in the middle of nowhere; both are great and neither is perfect. But the choice in the end is easy–it is about you. Think about your personality and the little things that make you happy. Think about what you ultimately want out of your new career. And remember that you are forever unstuck. You are a TEFL graduate! You’ve already joined the ranks of the brave and unusual! If the city is too big, or the village is too small, choose again–wander until you find your own just right.