An extremely long overdue post, but finally, after many requests and questions from various people I decided to compile what can be considered a general overview. I hope that this post will be helpful for those considering to teach in another country. As a disclaimer, I’m not an expert, just merely sharing from my own experience and those that I know. Take no offence here, i’m trying to keep it as real as possible, not sugar coating anything.
For now i’m going to cover questions that I always get asked and a few I consider important. There are millions of blogs, youtube videos and websites out there with TESL/ESL information, feel free to search and crash google, but in all honesty, they are mostly tailored for Americans and/or UK nationals, with the exception of 2 South African male youtube bloggers (can’t remember the names but ask me later). There’s no category for us, we are somewhat in the middle or invisible, which brings me to point no. 1
- Are we native English speakers?
We’ve had this grey cloud over us, always in question about whether we are native speakers or not. To make it simple, if you grew up speaking English as your main language, went to school and university learning through English, and you still speak English, you are a native English speaker. Technically, this is true for MOST South Africans. What people don’t understand is many South Africans grew up bilingual or multilingual, which never discredits you from not being a native speaker of that language. For many people South Africa is also known as Africa, they think Africans speak African, and has no clue that there are about 54 countries in the African continent, also being the 2nd largest continent in the world, each with multiple languages. Our regional dialects confuses many, saying our English is ‘strange’, not taking into account that every country has variations of dialects etc.
2. Education & Qualifications
This one is pretty straightforward, most countries accept a minimum requirement of a university degree and/or a TESL certificate. Now in Asia there could be some places in Thailand or even some remote place in China that can accept someone without a degree. About the TESL certificate, please avoid any online program, all the major cities in South Africa have face to face TESL and CELTA courses. Save up some money and go and take the course either part-time or full-time. I’ve also noticed some companies hiring teachers and offering them a 2-3 week TESL training prior to the start. I’m not familiar with this practice, so go ahead and research this. For qualified teachers, this is a completely different education industry because you can go directly to an international school, doing mainstream school teaching. The curriculum at most international schools are based on UK or US education programs. I don’t have personal experience of this, so again, research if this is your area of interest. Now, many qualified mainstream teachers end up teaching English in other countries because it can be like a walk in the park for them, compared to their workload back at home. For you, becoming an ESL teacher can be convenient, bringing you a lighter job responsibility. I have friends who are international school teachers and let me just say, they work super hard. However, they earn gooooood money.
3. Best benefits
We have awesome vacation time and for the most part you almost never work for 12 months. Remember there is winter, summer, spring and cultural breaks. Whoop Whoop! Wait! If you are working for a government or private school this may apply to you. But if you take a job with a language institute, private language centre then your vacation benefit and working hours change dramatically. Some love this, some hate it. Iv’e had both experiences and realised that I’m a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 girl, give me my weekends, thank you.
Another benefit when working for a school, you get paid on time, privately owned centres stand a chance of running into financial difficulty, especially the new ones. Make sure you have back up money to take care of your debit orders or financial obligations. FOR REAL!! Not the same everywhere, but i’m just saying.
Loads of travelling opportunities, you can do from cheap to expensive, your choice. And in the end, the countries aren’t going anywhere, so don’t feel pressured. Remember why you are there, and if travelling is your goal, make it happen.
Meeting and working with people from all over the world and also side to side with people that you never in your wildest mind imagined. This is my personal favourite because you can truly become a global citizen and really experience a normal life in a different world. Im saying normal because we all create our personal comforts that result in what we call normal. Don’t expect to have a South African lifestyle overseas, then you should stay right where you are. That being said, one beautiful thing about this is i’ve noticed how patriotic South Africans (including myself) have become, we really take so much pride in our country. Also, there are many great friendships and love relationships that develop. My most exciting time is when the plane cruises over the western cape mountains and waters, oh my G! I literally have butterflies in my stomach because its just so breathtaking and its where homeland. (okay, okay). There are many others, but I’ll stop here.
Another one is the option of choosing your lifestyle. You can party hard, light, spend all your money or moderately, be sporadic, become part of a group or whatever. Don’t take yourself so seriously when its your first few months, enjoy the honeymoon phase but do make sure you get out of this phase, haha.
4. Experience or no experience
Schools can request a minimum of 2 years experience, some places gladly accept beginners. Note that this is also based on the type of student you will teach.
If I had time, this would probably be a nice side line to permanent job for me, I think i’d make a pretty great recruiter. The recruiters role is to find you a suitable school and location based on the hiring company’s requests and needs. Sometimes you might fit the profile but after the interview they can change their minds. Don’t get angry, be patient. You will experience sending information, receiving forms and checklists, feeling misunderstood and confused. Try to keep the emotions at bay and stick to the requests. Again, don’t get angry when things change, be patient. Lastly, don’t resign your permanent job until your recruiter sent you some visa related document, contract that is signed or anything else that looks legit. Many people resign and end up waiting for months. I know this from others experience. If you have a great relationship with your manager you can allude to considering a change in environment but don’t confirm that you are leaving next month, YET. Stay in contact with your recruiter, email, whatsapp, wechat, Skype, viper, tango, Facebook, instagram etc. And make sure you have data for voice/video calls when needed, guys this is a big problem because data bundles can fly when you have video calls. Thinking back, I remember a time where I loved visiting Mcdonalds, buy a snack and seat myself nicely in a corner for one hour doing my internet stuff. so play it cool. Some reputable job sites are daveseslcafe, seriousteachers, bayt.com (middle east), TEFL.com to name a few. I haven’t job searched in forever so these are just some names I can think of now. All of my jobs were from Daves. The full process can take from 1 – 4 months, depending on the time of the year you apply, how long it takes for you to gather all your documents, how long it takes the employer to process your initial visa documents and of course your credentials.
Lets start with the resume/CV. Forget about the Life or Social studies teacher’s format (no disrespect) but now is the time to keep everything simple and to the point. My cv has never been more than 3 pages. I keep things very simple and to the point. I don’t provide details of non-teaching jobs because they don’t care about that for now. If you’ve never taught before then you can highlight your key responsibilities, especially if they are transferable. People are interested in what you’re good at, so think really hard before you click submit. Remember, this piece of document represents you, its your main entry.
For South Africans, you need a police clearance certificate which can be obtained easily, you need to get your diplomas certified by the department of education and then apostilled(red seal) by foreign affairs department, 1-2 reference letters from previous employment, sealed academic transcripts, in some places medical examinations, passport/visa photos, start up money for arrival, keep all receipts of every single thing you do, some companies refund. Never send your original certificates or passport, keep it with you until your arrival. This is probably the biggest risk you can take because they can get lost. Use reliable courier services to send documents, don’t worry about the costs, remember you can track the documents online, peace of mind. Your identity document (ID) is for national purposes only, don’t send that. Now is the time to bring out the big green book baby. If you don’t have one, go and apply for one asap. Start by scanning all your certificates, diplomas, reference letters, important documents, email them to yourself and keep it on a separate USB, i said separate, not the one you use everyday. FOR REAL! Remember things get lost, stolen or disappear. back up back up back up. Well at least technology is good these days, but just saying.
7. General work etiquette
Please remember that you are a guest, invited to serve and use your language and teaching skills in another country. Being a teacher is a respected role, whether you work for Disney English or at a university, act as a professional, and as requested by your hiring company. Showing respect in a culturally appropriate way is super important. Even when you see others F up, don’t do the same. From what I know i haven’t heard many horror stories of South Africans and misconduct, I said not many, i didn’t say none. Of course they exist but this is just a gentle reminder. Oh, and your days of sick leave, hahahaha count them as non-existent. Every time I’ve been sick (which is almost never), it was a no pay day. You’ll be lucky if you get paid. They change the policies for foreigners, don’t compare yourself with the native teachers, remember you are a guest.
8. Why questions everywhere you go.
These are very necessary the first month, in your mind. Don’t ask your coworkers why questions that clearly shows the difference between South African culture and their culture. This can be seen as insulting and/or disrespectful. As i said, ask them in your mind, later you will discover why. Instead try, ‘oh, so they sit and eat on the floor’, oh, so everyone eats from the same plate’, just examples.
After reading this post, if you have any questions, feel free to comment here or post on my Facebook blog page, Healthy living in China and I will be more than welcome to respond. There is no stupid question, just ask. If there’s anything you’d like me to talk about, go ahead and message me, i’ll share as much as I can.
Lastly, there are South Africans all over the world, dont worr.
Sorry, no pretty pics this time, promise i’ll add some with the next post.
Good luck, all the best.