Choose the job, not the destination: An alternate TEFL plan

One of the most fun parts about embarking on a teaching English adventure, whether you’re a seasoned pro looking for their fifth destination, or a total beginner, is choosing where to go.

This can be done by blindfolding yourself and throwing a dart at a map, playing ‘name a country beginning with…’ with your friends, or reading out lists of countries to your mum and choosing the one that gets the most terrified reaction. But, what if we told you that experience suggests that the destination is what should come second?

Now there are caveats to this – there will be some destinations that you’ll want to avoid for various reasons, and some that you’ll be more inclined towards. For example, if you’re more of a ‘cold person’ then you’re not likely to choose Oman or Thailand as your favoured destinations. That’s fine, you can select by continent or broad geographic region (e.g. Europe, Middle East).

The thing is though, that TEFL is a global game, and a numbers game. There are plenty of jobs all over, and plenty of excellent employers. They might not all be hiring at the same time though, and there are also a lot of less-than-ideal jobs available too.

Our approach is to choose the job first, and the destination second. Let me kick you two different scenarios for example:

1. A job by the beach in Thailand
– Weekend and evening hours
– No professional development or training
– Oversized classes, stressful management, and unresponsive HR

2. A job in the city in Thailand
– Weekday hours
– Progression opportunities and training available
– Reasonably sized classes, good resources, and nice working environment

It’s not difficult to see that you can get to the beach at the weekend or on your holidays – but you can’t make your class sizes smaller, create training opportunities that don’t exist, or improve HR processes. In this case, it’s likely that you’ll have a much better experience choosing job 2, even if it’s not your dream destination.

Of course, we all want Scenario 3, which is that you find the exact job you want in the exact destination you want, but in the real-world, this doesn’t often happen. Let’s consider one more situation, which would you choose?

1. A job teaching at a newly established international school in Mongolia, with good resources, a well developed campus, progression opportunities, and a reasonable salary and days off.

2. A job at a language school in Bali which offers you limited hours but is right by a national park and a bar with $2 beers.

A somewhat unrealistic example of things to choose between, but you see our point. Option 2 is going to be fun for a while, but in the end you’ll probably be wasting time. You could do it for a year, but then after that you’ll likely be going for something closer to Option 1.

Destinations do matter, but there is something that you’ll learn to love and to hate everywhere. If you have an open mind, you’ll find things that you like about living in most cultures. One thing’s for certain though – if you choose a job that doesn’t offer you anything but a bit of cash, you’ll quickly feel demotivated, even if you’re in a dream location. It sounds difficult to believe, but this is the real-life experience that we’ve heard from many teachers of all different levels and experiences around the world – ‘it was great at first, but…’

It’s also important to remember that every contract you take you should be trying to do something a little bit different. This could include building on your previous jobs by taking on more responsibility, or teaching a different age range or type of English. Becoming well-rounded is the key to having more maneuverability and a wider range of options.

And don’t forget destination disappointment. This is a very real phenomenon in which people look up the photos that the website provides, the photos that you see on elsewhere online, and create a mental image of what a place is like to live. It should come as no surprise to you that this is often unrealistic, and even in the best places there are a host of things that make it less-than-perfect. Going to a place that you haven’t had your heart set on leaves you open, with less room for disappointment and a more healthy attitude of discovery, rather than trying to manage your expectations when you realise that even in a beach destination there might be air pollution and mosquitoes, not to mention stomach issues, to contend with.

To reiterate, if there’s a place that you really want to go, then start looking there. But don’t be afraid to cast a wide net and see what comes up – think about the job and what it’ll do for you and whether there is a good balance between liveability and the role itself. It’s always good to be flexible, be open, and don’t get stuck on one destination. Be like water, my friend!