By: Chelsea Johnson
Besides having traveled with my family, my first experience abroad was when I studied in Bilbao, Spain, for a semester of my junior year in college. I loved everything about it, and when I got home, I was itching to go abroad again.
I signed up for a three-week program in Chile through my university and earned a scholarship to participate. After studying abroad twice, I worked for the College of Business promoting education abroad in my peers. I loved encouraging other students to step out of their comfort zone and study abroad, but after a year, I was starting to get a bit envious! After graduating with two degrees and honors in December 2013, it was obvious to me that my next step would be international. Everyone around me in the business school would be joining corporate America, but I started waiting tables to save money and figure out how to get myself on a plane.
So how was I going to get abroad? I didn’t want to pay for a volunteer or internship program. I couldn’t study abroad again. I thought about Peace Corps, but I wasn’t quite ready to commit for that long just yet. As I started doing my research, the words “teaching English” began to pop up everywhere. I thought maybe that was perfect for me, since I speak Spanish, loved being a student, and I’m semi-obsessed with grammar and the English language. I applied for a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Argentina, but it was really competitive and I didn’t make it past the first round. Instead of being disappointed, I realized there were a lot of different paths to get me where I wanted to be. International TEFL Academy had been recommended to me, and as soon as I got in contact with them, I had access to information and support, and all my questions were answered.
Fast forward six months and I had taken the online TEFL class, earned my TEFL certification, and was on my way to teach English in Nicaragua in the city of León. It took me about a month to find a job, and I balanced my time between volunteer teaching and getting paid to teach classes to adults. I always knew that English teaching probably wouldn’t be my career forever, and after a few months of experience, I ended up finding a job that aligned more with my future career goals. Maybe I would have stayed longer if I had found a full-time paid position, and who knows, maybe I will return to teaching English somewhere else in the future. But despite the fact that I’ve moved on from English teaching, I consider it as a vital step in how I got to where I really want to be.
First of all, teaching English was the perfect way for me to get abroad. I did it completely independently (with the help of ITA), and although I started looking for English teaching jobs before I left, it was really helpful to be present in my city in order to find a job. In retrospect, I feel that this was easier than waiting around until I found a job to be able to go abroad. I was able to get on a plane when I wanted to, and didn’t have to go through any job application process while I was still at home.
Also, gaining experience living in Nicaragua helped me get the job I have now. When I started my job with Global Glimpse, an NGO that brings groups of students from the U.S. to Nicaragua for three-week educational programs, I had already been living in Nicaragua for six months. This definitely gave me an edge when applying for the job because I spoke Nicaraguan Spanish and understood the customs, which helps me be a better cultural bridge between my US students and their host country. Also, I was able to start building connections with locals and other foreigners, and by the time I applied for the job, I already had several recommendations put in. Without having moved abroad to teach English, I would never have had these advantages to help me get my current dream job.
Most importantly, I learned so many life-skills from teaching English that are applicable to my career. It requires an immense amount of patience, something that I had to learn and practice as I went through my classes. I learned how to deal with other people and give one-on-one attention as well as managing a larger group at the same time. I learned how to relate to people from different cultures. I learned how to adapt and modify something at the last minute. I learned how to be confident speaking in front of a large group of people.
Not only did I learn all of these skills, but having a TEFL certification has proved useful in my current job as well, because my students give English tutoring, and I am able to support them when they are designing their lesson plans. These are all things that I wouldn’t have without my experience teaching English and that I expect will continue to help me for the rest of my life.
Although teaching English isn’t my future career path, it has proved invaluable to me and I would recommend it to anyone who is unsure of what they want to do. It will surely help you in more ways than you can imagine.
Chelsea is a 24-year old from Colorado with a BS in Business and a BA in Spanish from Colorado State University. After graduating, she got her TEFL certification and moved to Nicaragua, and has been there ever since! Follow her adventures at: chelsvivenica.wordpress.com and read more about her experiences in Nicaragua in Leon, Nicaragua Teaching Q&A With Chelsea Johnson.