18th July 2017

Where a teaching career can take you: top TESOL destinations

By Bryan Holmes

One of the most rewarding aspects of finishing a Cambridge CELTA or Cert Trinity TESOL is that both are internationally recognized and act as a second passport to live and work around the world. The list of countries you’re able to choose from is almost endless as are the numerous types of teaching jobs. Jobs can include development work, volunteering, or a paid position. But as exciting as that may seem, choosing a place that suits your personality and lifestyle can pose a significant challenge.

Take into account that selecting a place doesn’t just depend on salary. There are myriad considerations to contemplate, such as personal safety, climate and cost of living. Additional factors may include what access is there to an international airport? Do you need a car or do you hire a driver? What modes of public transport does your possible host city provide? What language do you need to learn? There’s an abundance of questions and concerns and in this week’s blog we’ll look at the top destinations where teachers choose to work.

Popular destinations for TEFL teachers

Some of the most popular places to seek employment tend to be East Asia, the Middle East, Western and Eastern Europe. South America is also a popular destination, but generally many posts aren’t paid well especially if you’re a new teacher. Quite a few jobs in South America tend to be voluntary as well. In Asia and the Middle East jobs are usually better paid, where teachers can live a relatively comfortable lifestyle and have opportunities to save.

It’s worth mentioning that salaries vary from country to country and are often dependent on experience and qualifications. Don’t expect to reach the dizzying heights of the pay ladder with just an undergraduate degree and TESOL certificate or minimal experience. For example, most Middle Eastern universities require a Masters in TESOL or Applied Linguistics and a DELTA/Trinity Dip TESOL or equivalent. However, language school work may be readily available and, often times as with universities, the salary is tax free and accommodation is included. However, working in East and South East Asia, teachers are usually responsible for taxes and for their own housing. Some schools or universities may offer an accommodation allowance.

Lifestyle considerations

Having worked in Europe, North Africa, and Asia, I found each experience completely different. I love Europe for many reasons, but a word of advice, residing there is expensive. Taxes, rent, and cost of living are very high so you may not be able to travel back and forth as much as you may like. Also, obtaining a work visa for non-EU citizens is a challenge. However, if you get through those hurdles, the food and art scene, and Europe’s general splendor make up for that in my opinion, though not everyone will agree.

My TESOL experience

The Middle East (Dubai) and North Africa (Tunis) were interesting and well-paid. The students were very motivated which always makes the teaching enjoyable. The weather may put you off as it’s hot for the majority of the year. Some expatriates described living there akin to a luxury expat ghetto (specifically Dubai) while others became bored of endless brunches.  Others struggled with the amount of shopping malls, regulations, and policing. Mind you, those were just opinions. One instructor I met claimed it was the happiest time in their teaching career so again it’s an individual choice. I personally loved living in Tunisia and would do so again. The pay is much lower than in Dubai but I still was able to save and travel about.

Working in Asia, I’ve seen expats love it while others counted down the days till their contract finished. Living conditions can vary greatly in accommodation, pay and contractual terms. Pollution tends quite bad and is often one of the biggest concerns of expats. Although some processes have been put in place to reduce it, there’s still a long way to go. Also, it’s extremely congested. Tokyo, Jakarta, Bangkok to Hong Kong and many other Asian cities have enormous populations. Work life and city pace can be frenetic, almost chaotic. Traffic congestion, neon lighting and noise mixed with different smells can assault the senses. Despite that, there are plenty of isolated places and villages which are tranquil and soothing if you need to escape. I personally believe the most important comfort one should have is your home. No matter where I lived, I’ve always loved my accommodation. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, home was and still is a sanctuary.

Look after yourself

Don’t forget to choose the right employer. You’ll be spending a lot of time at work so best to enjoy it. I’ve seen quite a few jaded teachers who hated their jobs which then affected other aspects of their life. Just remember to take a breath. Living abroad is a privilege, so try to avoid making comparisons and realize things in your new home country are different to lifestyle, culture, and values you may be used to.

You’ll have difficult days when you’re homesick or plainly having a bad day, but remind yourself why you decided to do this. Wherever you’re living, eat a traditional meal, stroll through a street market, or visit a temple or garden. Do something that ignited your initial interest. Lastly, it’s important to take a break. If you can, do a bit of travelling: it’s a good way to freshen things up and it helps you to appreciate where you’re living. Those are a few things I do if I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed or homesick.

So are you ready to set off? Are your bags packed? Have you got your destination in mind?

If you'd like to know more about career development in TESOL, join our upcoming CertTESOL and DipTESOL taster sessions at our TESOL training centre in Hong Kong

Bryan Holmes is teacher trainer and the part time course director for the Trinity CertTESOL English for Asia. His qualifications include the Trinity CertTESOL , MATESOL, and Cambridge DELTA. He has a special interest in phonetics and phonology and has been teaching for 10 years.