Travel the world with English

Jennifer Griggs

Teaching English can be your passport to travel and work around the world. Jennifer, an experienced English as a foriegn language teacher shares her first hand advice and experiences from teaching in Italy, Turkey and Spain.


Simple as ABCLeave behind the grey skies of the UK and escape to the Tuscan sun. No, this is not another offer from lastminute.com. trying to tempt you away in search of a real summer, or even a retirement funded by your life savings. This is a radical change of employment, country and culture, available to everyone regardless of age, background or profession. Your only requirements are a degree and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) also known as (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) TEFL qualification. However, depending on where you go, these may not always be necessary; outside of Europe and the Middle East, schools value a native English speaker immediately available for work above any additional qualifications.

So who is the typical Teaching English as a Foreign Language teacher? There isn’t one! You'll find recent graduates desperate to avoid the London grind; linguists, the second career mid-30s/40s age group, the lifelong travellers, those happily married to a local and with a good stock of private students, and so one.

There are also many different types of schools and jobs, varying between continents and countries.

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Acquiring a work visa outside the EU can be a frustrating and fruitless experience, that leads many teachers to teach on a tourist visa. If you want to work outside the EU, say Turkey, the elusive work visa may mean travelling to the border every three months to re-stamp your passport with another tourist visa. If you travel on to Bulgaria, border officials are likely to notice yor multiple stamps, so persuading them to give you visa may be a little sticky.

For the teacher with a British or Irish passport, the EU means 27 countries; in theory many don’t require work visas, residency permits or private health insurance to live and work there. Hardly a recent addition to the EU, Italy with its innate distrust of foreigners, still requires a 'permesso di sorgiorno', or a residency permit, that takes considerable time to process. Having worked in Italy for nine months, I've concluded that Italy is a beautiful place to visit, but as a foreigner, a frustrating one to live in. Living near Venice classed me in the eyes of my friends as permanently on holiday. ‘How lovely’ they would say. Well yes, except when you have to work long days of split shifts, and the air conditioning hasn’t been switched on because May is not officially summer and there is nowhere to go to cool off.

Working split shifts is the occupational hazard of TEFL, because unlike working for a state school, the students are the customer and the aim is to keep them happy. If some want to come to lessons until 10pm and others before work, then you have to accommodate them, meaning TEFL teachers work any hours they are needed. Then there are the cancellations; if you are unlucky not to have a contract, then you often don’t get paid for cancelled lessons. I would always spend a long time planning for lessons that didn’t happen and very little time for those that unexpectedly did.

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Living in the north of Italy, I taught mainly bankers and the wives and children of bankers, which meant Business English and exam courses, because Italians love to take exams, and many of my students also loved to cheat in them. Istanbul is a city with a lot of corruption, organized crime and companies trying to educate their workforce in the international language of business. In Istanbul, especially I often wished for some variety and students from outside the business elite, but the average Turkish person doesn’t have the same resources for private language schools. I have found it quite difficult to escape teaching Business English, and I certainly know a lot more about Italian banks and their infrastructures than I could have ever imagined from a career in teaching. ‘

The best way to avoid Business English, if this is not an area of interest, is to teach children. My experience has been the extremes, from motivated and intelligent teenagers who want to learn English to have good job prospects, to the disinterested and lazy whose parents seem to have sent them to English classes to keep them out of trouble.

For anyone thinking of travelling the world with TEFL, remember that the beauty of TEFL is cultural immersion i.e to live as an Italian or a Peruvian, and to realize that the tourist experience is often quite separate to the one you will have if you live and work there. I recommend Susan Griffiths’ book, Teaching English Abroad, absolutely invaluable every step of the way from qualification to your first job.

Good luck! The world is now yours to explore.

Useful websites:

Get qualified: Cambridge ESOL

Job hunting: Tefl.com

If you have any questions about Teaching English abroad, please email Jenny: editor@diversetraveller.com; subject line: TEFL question for Jenny.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Diverse Traveller. Unless otherwise stated the copyright for this article and any accompanying photos belong to the author.