Teaching Abroad: The TEFL job search begins

Awright, so, yeah, the search for a job teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) abroad has begun. It actually began nearly two weeks ago, but it’s certainly been long enough to figure a few things out.

First, though, I should clarify that I started by focusing on specific regions, namely South America and Southeast Asia. South America, and specifically Chile, was my first pick, though I also looked into Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Argentina. As for Southeast Asia, I focused most of my attentions on Vietnam and Bornean Malaysia.

As you can see, I’ve been somewhat selective with the countries I targeted and, in fact, was even narrower and more specific in my search regarding individual cities and school locations. So, within Chile, I looked primarily to the northern coast, the Lakes District, and Patagonia. With Vietnam, I’m most interested in the northern and central regions of the country, with a few specific cities in mind.

Look, I’ve learned to adapt and find adventure no matter where I go, but I, given that I’ll be living and working there for a minimum of a year, I wanna make sure that I’ll be happy there, that it’ll offer plenty of outdoor activities and opportunities to explore the region. So, yeah, I’m being a tad picky. That said, I’m not married to a single country or region, so I’m keeping options open.

Okay, so what have I learned thus far?


South America

Though South America offers a huge variety of outdoor adventures and cultural discoveries, from boating in the Amazon and hiking in Torres Del Paine to tango lessons in Buenos Aires and homestays on the shores of Lake Titicaca, its TEFL market is a rather tough nut to crack. At least from here, in Montreal.

See, in South America (and, it seems, Latin America as a whole), schools still prefer to interview applicants in person. There are few recruitment agencies operating in South America and the main job boards feature few postings for positions in the region. So, basically, your best bet is to fly down there for a couple weeks and knock on doors, CV in hand. From what I’ve read, seems doing so could lead to an immediate interview and even a job offer before you leave.

Now, I’ve been sending out emails, most cold and directly to schools, and, of over twenty applications, I’ve received only two responses, both in the negative. It’s not to say this approach can’t work—a friend of mine recently landed a job in Bogota, which he applied for from overseas—but it’s simply less likely.

The second obstacle—at least for me—is that TEFL jobs in South America don’t pay very much and rarely offer perks like paid housing or a flight reimbursement. Again, there are exceptions, but for the most part, working in South America doesn’t involve much in the way of savings.

All this to say that, though the possibility still exists, I’ve come to realize that teaching in South America will likely not happen, at least not for this first year. I can always try again once I’ve saved some money elsewhere and can afford the risk of simply showing up without a job and taking a lower-paying gig.


Southeast Asia

So where to go to potentially save money? Vietnam is a good place to start. The country has a booming TEFL market, pays quite well and often includes free housing, and it features an enormous variety of outdoor activities, like kayaking Halong Bay, canyoning around Da Lat, and surfing in Nah Trang and Danang. Add to that the fact that the cost of living is extremely low and you’ve got a recipe for enjoying adventures and saving money.

Thing is, this also means that the demand for TEFL jobs in Vietnam is sky high, so the requirements are also steep. Think your 100 hour TEFL certificate will be enough? Afraid not: many schools require 120 or even 140 hours, while others specify wanting CELTA certification. Got that? Good for you. How about two years previous teaching experience, got that, too? ’Cause many of the more reputable schools require that, too.

Again, it’s not to say getting a TEFL gig in Vietnam is impossible without CELTA and two years’ experience, it just limits your (and my) chances. Once my TEFL certification has been updated to 100 hours (officially, it’s just 60 hours, but as I’ve completed the 40 hour online component, it will be “upgraded” to the full 100), I’ll be applying to a schools in Vietnam, focusing on Hanoi and Haiphong.

As for Malaysia, well, that was a shot in the dark: I just thought it would be pretty cool to live for a year on the island of Borneo and the city of Kuching actually looks fascinating. I applied to the few schools located in the city but haven’t heard anything back. Jobs for the area rarely come up.


Surprises and Advice

Honestly, I though the job search for me would be a cake walk. I’m a native English speaker with a degree in English Literature, experience teaching in South Korea, and 100 hour TEFL certification. I thought they’d be begging to have me, but the market has changed in the last few years; competition is fierce and whereas having TEFL certification was once the exception, it has now become the rule.

If you dream of teaching in South America, consider the possibility of simply visiting your chosen city or cities, explore, make contacts and drop off CVs. Research schools in the city first and try emailing them, letting them know when you’ll be in the area and asking if you could drop by. From what I can tell, just showing up, ready to go, puts you well ahead of even the most qualified teacher applying from the comfort and safety of home.

As for Vietnam, get that TEFL certificate and consider getting CELTA if the country is your dream destination. Get a police check, as well, as this may be required as part of your application (not just after you’ve been interviewed and selected but to be considered for an interview at all).

Me? Well, I’m still hoping one of the applications I sent South America-way might lead to something and, the moment I’ve got a scanned copy of my 100 hour certificate, I’ll be shooting applications out to Vietnam, but I’m also researching China as a possible backup to South America and Southeast Asia. So far, it looks promising and fascinating!

The search continues!