In the past four years, Tunisia has gone from “where’s that?” to “where it’s at” in the Arab world. The Arab Spring of 2011 began in Tunisia and culminated in the establishment of a democratic government there. This feat prompted The Economist to name Tunisia “Country of the Year” in 2014 and earned it much praise from other democracies around the world.
For TEFL teachers interested in Arab culture and current events, then, Tunisia is one of the most interesting choices of countries in which to live and teach. Although it’s situated in a volatile part of the world, Tunisia has managed to escape the violence that plagues so much of the region.
The Tunisian people have taken the momentous changes of the last four years calmly and in their stride. On the Mondays after the three elections of late 2014 there were no riotous celebrations, no massive rallies and no pro-democracy demonstrations. Instead, people went to work or school as usual and hoped, quietly, that the political changes would soon translate into economic development.
Learning English is seen by many Tunisians as a way of preparing themselves for the prosperity they hope to see. The two biggest reasons my students give for wanting to learn English are 1) they hope it will help them get a good/better job, and 2) they hope it will lead to opportunities for study abroad. Business English and Academic English are thus popular specialties among ESL teachers there.
Like a great many teachers, my application to teach in Saudi Arabia was made on a whim. Facing another year of professional uncertainty, my credo was: ‘apply and see what happens’. I was more than a little surprised when within a week, and without any ‘official’ interview I’d been offered a teaching post at the largest female only university in the world on the edge of Riyadh. A year on, after circumnavigating my way through the extensive highs and lows as life as a single woman in KSA I feel that it is time to pass on my experiences, especially as Saudi related advice can be thin on the ground, and rarely constructive; in this area of EFL horror stories abound. Indeed, once I made my decision to go, I struggled to find a single constructive anecdote to guide me, which only added to my anxiety; the reality, however, was not exactly as I’d imagined.
Surabaya is Indonesia’s second most populous city, and is home to several English language schools. Described by Lonely Planet as “a hot and dusty, crowded city with precious little to see”, a description with which I would concur, you may wonder why I have spent almost two years here. Despite the downsides, this is a place where one can experience a real Indonesian city largely untouched by tourism. As a result, the locals see you more as a source of fascination and entertainment than as a cash cow. Travel to Bali or Yogyakarta, and you will be plagued by people harassing you to use their taxi, or buy their products. Often they will walk right up and interrupt you while you are talking to a friend, demanding to know where you are going and waiting impatiently for an answer. It can be very frustrating as one doesn’t want to be rude, yet offering even the most basic politeness in refusal will often lead to more harassment.
No such problem in Surabaya, where the local people have never had tourists to make a living from. They don’t rely on making as much as possible during high season to see them through the rest of the year. Instead when they see a foreigner, they just want to be as friendly as possible, and they are very easily amused. Some find this patronizing, but I find it quite endearing. It is not unusual to be “drive-by Hello Mistered” as I have termed it. You are walking along the street and hear “Hello” behind you followed by “Mister” in front of you as a motorbike whizzes past, its driver looking over his shoulder at you, evidently more concerned with addressing a foreigner than keeping an eye on the road.
1. set up a brilliant ‘teaching English to speakers of other languages’ (TESOL in Vietnam) program;
2. ride a motorbike from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi; and bizarre as it may seem;
3. to take a day trip on a Vietnamese cyclo.
The TESOL in Vietnam goal was achieved a few years ago and I completed a motorbike trip to Hanoi in 2012. It’s the cyclo adventure that has eluded me for the past 8 years – until last weekend!
By Neil Root
Neil Root is a writer and London based English Language teacher with 10 years experience.
As in life, the greatest tool when teaching abroad you have to overcome difficult situations is humour, whether in the classroom or in your free time in that country. There will be times – every teacher working in another country has experienced them – when you feel a little alienated. Laughing and making others laugh can break down barriers and help you integrate quickly. Being able to laugh at yourself is a great advantage.
Taking yourself too seriously as a person in another country, when you don’t have your family, friends and usual social network at hand, only makes your integration into the new culture more difficult. You need to take your teaching and administrative school duties seriously obviously, but you can do it with a smile. Try to remember that you are the visitor and at a social disadvantage – I can remember several instances when humour got me out of situations I didn’t feel comfortable in. In class, I had a hostile student who made cutting comments about western culture, and instead of getting defensive (my first mental reaction), I said, ‘But we gave you Mr Bean!’ The rest of the class laughed, one or two said ‘Mr Bean!’ The difficult student didn’t laugh, but he was then the odd one out, not me. He never troubled me again.
When most people think of Europe you often picture Venice, Barcelona and Paris but Eastern Europe is home to plenty of work, unhampered beauty and heaps of culture! Here are the top five destinations to teach English in Eastern Europe:
As the plane began it’s descent into Noi Bai Airport, Hanoi, my breathing was shallow and my palms sweaty. The ‘fasten your seatbelt’ sign lit up and I gulped. Loudly. No, I am not a nervous flyer. In fact, I quite enjoy flying. No… it was much more terrifying than that.
Making the decision to pack up and move to Vietnam in search of English Teaching work, without ever having actually visited the country (or Asia for that matter), was one of the most nerve-racking things I’ve ever done. Armed with my 150 hours of TEFL training and a copy of my degree certificate, I was hoping for the best… and preparing for the worst.
I had heard mixed reviews about Vietnam: the life threatening traffic, the barbaric practice of eating dog, the unhygienic food and questionable manners of the locals. I needn’t have worried. As true as a lot of this may be, I loved it as soon as I arrived.
Yes, Vietnam takes a little bit of adjusting to and there are certain things which I will never understand. This, however, is all part of its charm and if I could offer one piece of advice to anyone considering Vietnam as a TEFL location, it would be: do it!
The issue with volunteer teaching, though, is the expectation that it will be easy without any training. While an amateur teacher may have a classroom’s best interests at heart, how easy is it to actually throw yourself at the mercy of a group of children and hope that you can impart some worthwhile knowledge?
So, you’ve gained your TEFL qualification and started processing which area of the world you want to start making a difference in, am I right?
If money is not your main desire, but fascinating culture, mind-blowing food, incredible people and insanely confusing political situations are…then Bienvenida Mexico!
From the hot and dusty cartel controlled areas around Nogales and Chihuahua to the surf loving South West of Oaxaca this is a vast and wide land that promises you more than just teaching others English, but learning about yourself.
If you have been looking online and cannot find a job through a reputable website or will not be considered due to being out of the country then the route I have taken (which has proven successful and fun on the way) is just to turn up!
At the airport you are immediately granted a 180 day visa and then you can decide where you want to travel and where you want to try and gain employment.