Other Jobs Abroad: How Does TEFL Stack Up?

I’ve met a fair number of foreigners working in non-TEFL jobs abroad, and while I readily concede that many of those jobs have clear advantages over TEFL, either in the pay, working conditions, security, lower possibility for not being paid, benefits, (you get the picture)…TEFL offers an advantage that can’t be so easily quantified: regular, “personalized” and on-fairly-equal-footing contact with local people. And I think this contact provides some pretty remarkable insight.

I think that plenty of people working abroad in these non-TEFL jobs really don’t have the opportunity to interact with locals as EFL teachers do: Those working for an American school may work with a majority of American as colleagues and students from a wide variety of countries; people working for international organizations may deal with locals but in a business or official context. Those working under the table jobs in hostels or pubs may face a more relaxed work environment, but they will encounter mostly other foreigners. This isn’t bad; anyone can be interesting and any insight valuable – but given the way TEFL falls short in comparison to many other jobs abroad, the contact with locals it facilitates is a huge plus.

I think the modern, learner-focused emphasis in TEFL also enables teachers and students to be on more equal footing, which I think makes the interaction more fun and more interesting. Sometimes the dynamic is hard to figure out , or at least it was for me when nearly all of my students were professional adults older than me: you’re not really friends yet the formality of “business contacts” isn’t there either. But it usually works out somehow.

When I look back at the different places I’ve taught, and try to put some number on how many people I’ve met…I can’t do it. I’m not that good at math. Seriously though, I find it hard to even “guesstimate”, but the figure would be large. TEFL may fall short in some areas, but in this one it’s hard to argue with the idea that it’s in the lead.