Diamond rings, Lamborghinis and drinking champagne for breakfast… welcome to the life of a gap year TEFL teacher… or not.
Whilst teaching English abroad will never make you a millionaire, it is a good way to take an extended gap year (or two) while still finishing up with some cash in your pocket. So, where are the top gap year TEFL destinations, and even more importantly, is TEFL right for you?
Also known as the Land of Smiles, Thailand is a hot favourite on the TEFL trail. The picture perfect beaches, delicious food (yum Pad Thai), friendly locals and hot, hot, hot weather bring in millions of tourists per year – including a huge amount of gap year travellers just like you.
Teaching in Thailand is never going to make you rich, but if you’re okay with living like a (wealthy) local then there are plenty of school-based and private TEFL jobs available. Contracts are fairly easy to pick up once you’re on the road – just get yourself a local phone number and turn up at one of the numerous language academies in a smart suit with your CV and TEFL certificate.
If you’re applying from home and you’re keen to get a job before you go, remember that Thai employers tend to recruit in spring for autumn, and in autumn for spring.
Gap year tip:
Many of the TEFL opportunities in Thailand are in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and in the north of the country, so if you’re looking to work a teaching stint in Thailand during your gap year, make sure you fit this into your travel plans. You can always head to Krabi, Ko Phi Phi, or Ko Lanta on the weekends – yes, we’re serious, tickets run from only £30 return!
Due to strict visa requirements put in place by the Thai government, you’ll need a degree to legally teach English in Thailand.
Relative newbie on the gap year trail? China is massive when it comes to teaching opportunities. In fact, the British Council estimates that there are over 400 million learners of English in China!
Unsurprisingly, this means that teaching gigs exist in both the larger cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and also throughout the smaller provinces. If you do choose to work in a rural area your students are likely to be quite unfamiliar with Western culture and customs and even writing on the board in red pen could result in startled gasps, so make sure you swot up before you go. Chinese employers tend to provide free airfare and accommodation plus a high local salary of £1,000 a month on a 12 month contract. If you’re looking for a shorter term position there are often summer holiday jobs available in English camps – check out hostel notice boards and keep your ear to the ground.
Gap year tip:
If you’re planning on living in Beijing or even just visiting the Great Wall of China, be sure to stay clear of Badaling. It’s swamped with tourists and touts, making it near impossible to get that perfect Facebook cover photo!
When looking for teaching position in China it is important to make sure that you go through a moderated jobs board or a reputable recruitment agency. Some dishonest companies may ask candidates to pay fees throughout the recruitment process, but you should be extremely wary of this. Having to pay to work is never a good starting point and reputable agencies make their money by charging the employers, not the employees!
Also known as the BIG money maker, South Korea is massively popular with second (or third, or fourth) year gappers.
The rent-free living, the good salaries (averaging £1300-£1500 per month) and the fascinating culture are just a few of the reasons why the country has become a firm favourite on the TEFL map. Teaching positions exist countrywide and where you end up really depends on what you’re looking for. You could go for total cultural immersion in a small village or you could teach in the exclusive district of Gangnam, Seoul. It’s worth noting that almost all of the big cities in Korea have a large and supportive expat community, making those days when you’re homesick a little easier to bear.
Gap year travel tip:
Whether you’re living in Korea or just passing through, make sure to go for Galbi (Korean BBQ) with your friends. What’s not to like about sitting around a fire, cooking your own meat and drinking beer all night long, all for less than £5 each – and yeah, that’s including drinks!
Korea is not the place for someone looking to just spend a few months abroad, as almost all contracted positions last for a full 12 months. Bonus: if you do complete the 12 months you’ll get a nice golden handshake (of about £2,000) on your way out of the door!
So… is TEFL right for you?
Let’s face it, despite all the cool destinations, top salaries and cute kids in the world, not everyone’s cut out to be a teacher, so before taking the TEFL leap it’;s important to consider if teaching abroad really is the right choice for you.
There are certain qualities that make someone a natural teacher: optimistism, adaptability, friendliness, enthusiasm, confidence…and luckily most of these qualities already match up with people looking to take a gap year.
But – and this is a big BUT – it’s really important to remember that teaching abroad is not the same as a year-long holiday. Sure, you’ll be able to explore a new culture, travel with your friends and party at the weekends, but you’ll also have a job and a responsibility for a child’s education and future (and depending on where you’re teaching – that child may not have had that many opportunities).
You’ll also have to stay in one location for a minimum of 2 months – so if your idea of the perfect gap year is to wake up somewhere different every day then TEFL probably isn’t right for you. Having said all of that, if you’re still keen to earn some cash, whilst totally immersing yourself in a new culture, then it might just be time to get your TEFL certificate and get out there!