Atlas Sliced Tells Us About Teaching Abroad

THANK YOU so much for participating in the Google+ Hangout last night. You gals are awesome. It’s posted on my site right here:

Getting TEFL Certified in Peru and Teaching English in Korea

If you had asked me at my university graduation where I would be and what I would be doing at couple years later, I would have never guessed teaching English in South Korea.

I thought for sure that I’d be in an office somewhere working for a nonprofit or a PR firm. In fact, I did get a job at a public relations firm but decided it wasn’t the right fit. Having grown up with parents who took me on exotic vacations, my desire to travel became too powerful, as I sat in my cubicle daydreaming of faraway places. So, I quit my job, took out some money from my savings account, and bought a one-way ticket to Cusco, Peru.

My initial plan was to volunteer in Peru. I helped paint a battered women’s shelter and took care of kids at a rural daycare. I loved it. Additionally, while there, I learned that my volunteer organization (Maximo Nivel) was a language institute and offered a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certification program. After learning more about the program, I enrolled.

I thought to myself, “What better way to see the world than to teach and travel?” Teaching would be a great way to fund my adventures and explore different countries.

The TEFL certification program was an intense, 150-hour, four-week program. There were 11 people in the class, and we had superb instructors. We even taught practice lessons to real English students.

Sometimes the best things in life come when you’re not expecting them. This was the case for me at Maximo Nivel. However, if you’re looking for a good TEFL program, here are some of my top tips.

1) Take a look at what people have to say. Personal reviews are important. Do some online sleuthing and ask around.

2) Do an on-site course vs. an online course if you can. On-site courses are more expensive, but they are more conducive to learning. Also, in an on-site course, you’ll build relationships with your instructors and your peers. These connections might help you score a job later on.

3) Do a course that is 100 hours or more. Many schools prefer to hire teachers who have taken courses that are over 100 hours. It shows that you have spent more time training.

I’d also like to point out a few advantages of being TEFL certified. Let me make this clear. You can get a teaching job without a TEFL certification. But, here is why I advocate for getting one.

  • You’ll get more job offers and have more of a selection to choose from.
  • You’ll be exposed to different teaching resources and techniques, both on and off line.
  • You’ll learn how to write an international resume.
  • Your salary will be higher.

Now, you might be wondering where South Korea comes into play. After realizing that South Korea was a huge hub for English teachers and that the benefits were fantastic, I applied to teach English there through a recruiting firm. There are hundreds of different recruiting firms, each with different reputations, so make sure you do your research.

I ended up in Gangnam (just like the song from Psy) at a hagwon (private school) and experienced big time culture shock at work. The problem was that I didn’t do enough research on both the culture and the school. I thought I’d get proper training sessions and instructions on how to teach. This definitely didn’t happen. I was just given some books and told to teach the material to some four year-olds who had no clue what I was saying. I was at a loss for what to do considering the TEFL techniques I learned were mainly for adults. It was one of the toughest transitions of my life.

What can you do to avoid this situation? You’re in luck. Here’s some advice for finding the right school for you and adjusting to a new life abroad.

1) Talk to a lot of teachers beforehand who are the same gender as you. Men and women are treated differently in Korea. I faced a lot of sexism my first year there. Ask to talk to at least three teachers who work at your school. Keep in mind that the teachers they put you in touch with are the teachers who will probably say good things, which leads me to my next tip.

2) Stalk. Yep, I said it. When you hear about a potential school, do a Google Blog search and look for people who have worked there on LinkedIn. I have been stalked by potential teachers and always give them candid responses both through email and over video chat. Chances are most people are friendly and won’t mind talking to you about their experiences abroad.

3) When you arrive at your new city, join expat groups, visit expat bars, and connect with fellow teachers to exchange ideas on adjusting to the culture.

4) Explore. A new country is like a playground. Get out there and taste the local food, ride on public transportation, visit parks, and get lost!

Adventuring into new territory wasn’t easy at first. Despite being overwhelmed in the beginning, living abroad was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. I not only met some incredible people, but I also learned more about myself as a person than any other time in my life. Being a global citizen opened my eyes to the vast beauty of the world and its habitants.

To anyone thinking about living abroad, do it. It will change your life for the better.

Wellness Wednesday: Intellectually Enhance the How & Why of Travel

The debated official number of how many independent recognized countries exist in the world is anywhere between 189 to 196. For the sake of my point, let’s say there are more than 180. That’s quite a lot! Each of them has their own unique culture, flavor, foods, and people. I don’t know about you, but in my lifetime, I’m hoping to see the same number of countries as the length of my hopefully long life!

I’ve always been fascinated about how each country I’ve been to has had a different impact on me. What’s even more interesting is that, while I’d done international travel prior to studying abroad, being overseas during college fundamentally changed how I desired to experience foreign countries in a much deeper cultural way. Subsequently, it then changed the types of fulfillment I craved in my international trips. Once you’ve been truly immersed in a culture and it’s people, you are no longer having the surface-level touristy drive-through experience that you would normally have if you only scratched the surface of a location for 1-2 weeks. Once you’ve walked the streets with the locals, lived in their city, learned how to make their food, and spoken their language – you my friends – will develop such a thirst for the “real deal” authentic experiences that cultures have to offer instead of staying within the confines of vacation packages you read about in magazines.

With that being said, I hope your study abroad experience creates within you a huge thirst and desire to see different cultures in a deeper way. While it’s wonderful to do the fun and exciting things that Fromers or Lonely Planet recommends activity wise, and I more than encourage you to do those things, what if you thought to yourself about what deeper culture experiences you could add on as well? I challenge you to ask yourself the following question: what do I want to experience in this country and what do I need to do to feel like I saw the best of it before I come home?

After experiencing expat living, you’ll find that you may want to use your study abroad experience as a template for how you want to experience future travel escapades. You’re not just seeing a new place; you’re expanding your worldview of how others experience life. Maybe prior to study abroad when you were planning to go somewhere, the activities in the forefront of your mind were based on popularized main destinations you heard about from peers. There’s nothing wrong with these! But now, I encourage you to think about having trips where you can create memories that are so vivid and authentic that you’ll be able to recall images that ignited all five of your senses at once.  By doing this, you’re doing more than just visiting a place; you’re having a deeper psychological understanding of that location.

I realize that what I’m telling you may be an amorphous concept, but I have a solution for that! Any time you go on future international trips, try to have a coupling of not only general tourists attractions (i.e. the must see stuff, cultural historic landmarks, local athletics, tours, etc.), but also challenge yourself to do a little research of off-the-beaten-path local cultural things you can do too. Ask yourself, “if I really want to experience the true culture of this place, what/where/and who do I need to see it with?” You may be surprised with the cool answers you come up with.

I can personally attest to this advice I’m giving you. Looking back, I am intensely happy that I took the initiative to go on an excursion to Nicaragua to a local village where they made pottery by hand as their town’s main source of revenue, when I spoke to local Maori people in the south island of New Zealand, and sat in a Buddhist temple in silence for hours in Seoul, South Korea. I experienced such a deeper sense of emotional and intellectual fulfillment in each of those countries. I wish this for all of you as well! Remember the words of the famous French writer and historian, Hilaire Belloc. “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.”