International TEFL Academy Alumni Articles, Stories and Adventures
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Before I considered teaching English abroad, I never gave Taiwan much thought. I knew it was a small island off the coast of China where things were manufactured and then shipped all over the world (a lot of slot machines—who knew?), but that was really the shallow extent of my familiarity. Not until I read an article on Taiwan by International TEFL Academy that underscored its general awesomeness and financial opportunities as a teacher did I seriously consider moving here for a year.
There are numerous things that quickly become a regular occurrence for expats – locals staring without any shame or guilt, getting asked repeatedly in various grammatically incorrect forms of “Where are you from?” and having to enunciate everything are just some examples. One that I find humorous, and much more ubiquitous than most locals realize, is when I share an anecdote with someone, highlighting something out of the ordinary and they respond with a laugh, “It’s (insert country name here)! It’s crazy here!” In Rome, when I mentioned to my landlady that I couldn’t believe you had to buy stamps from the convenience store and not the post office, she chuckled, “Welcome to Italy!” After I saw a hare running across the street in Moscow, my students shrugged it off with a grin, “It's Russia! Anything can happen!” The only country where I have legitimately felt that the statement held substantial worth was in India.
One day in my Business English lesson, an adult student asked me, “Miss, what’s the difference between a mugger, carjacker, smuggler, burglar, kidnapper, thief, pickpocket and robber?” After what seemed like the longest pause of my career, with an awkward blank grin on my face, I spat out the best answer I could come up with off the top of my head. Afterwards, I couldn’t stop trying to pinpoint the finer distinctions between those, and pondering WHY I didn’t know how to explain it. It was really quite simple – most people don’t have to be so acutely aware of their own language since it is learned passively. For many teachers that I’ve met, a huge challenge in entering the TEFL world was learning the meta-language and rules to English grammar since we picked it up inherently. Language awareness as well as cultural awareness have become the two largest factors in my learning experience abroad.
In my TEFL course, one of my instructors liked to harp on us every time we used “yep” instead of “yes”. We couldn’t see what the big deal was, but sure enough, one lesson, a 6-year-old student of mine parroted back to me “Holy cow!” - I then realized the full power of constant exposure on an impressionable mind. This doesn’t just apply to younger learners – in an adult class, I once made a passing joke about having “a bajillion” things in my purse. A few minutes later, after we had changed subjects, one of the students raised her hand and asked with grave concern, “Miss, how many zeros are in a bajillion?” Needless to say, I watch what I say a lot more now than when I first began teaching abroad.
“There is never a good time,” they always say. It’s a cliché but true statement, for so many situations in someone’s life- for example, breaking up with a significant other, moving homes or quitting a job. In my case, I was confronted with completely changing my career path and uprooting my life halfway around the world.
Making the decision to do what I’m doing now didn’t happen overnight. I was in contact with TEFL for a good 4-5 months before I finally decided to take the plunge and become certified to teach English as a foreign language. 1000 dollars and one 4-month certification course later, I boarded a Scandinavian Air flight through Oslo to my old haunt, Frankfurt am Main, to try my hand at teaching English to non-native speakers.
Sitting on the stoop of my soon to be Italian apartment, I surveyed my new neighborhood and attempted to sort out my bearings. Within the span of four hours, I left Budapest, flew into Milan, hopped on a train to Florence and hailed a taxi to my new home. I was meant to meet my landlord, Maurizio, at 11am to get into the apartment and it was now 1pm. Just as I was about to search for a café with wifi, a vespa screeches to a stop right in front of me and my name is being called out from underneath a shiny helmet. “Amelia! Amelia! Ciao cara, come stai? Tutto bene?” This was followed with a warm greeting of a kiss on each cheek and a hug as if we have known each other for years. Oh Maurizio. He is the quintessential Italian man. Short, perfectly plump, almost bald, with round black-framed glasses, and a welcoming smile. This kind little man carried my enormous suitcase up two flights of very steep stairs and welcomed me to my apartment – all in Italian. I learned two important things that morning: how to tell a taxi driver my address and the meaning of Italian Time.
I flew over the whole city the night I got in. Being lit up with bright reds and yellows the view was breathtaking.
In the weeks leading up to my departure to Lima, this had become the obligatory response from friends, family, my doctor, the clerk at the grocery store, and pretty much anyone else I told about teaching English in Peru.
As I sat in my powerless apartment in the “fancy” district of Lima, Peru, I began to contemplate my new life as an English Teacher in Latin America.
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