GoAbroad Interview

Ashley Houston - Admissions Advisor

Ashley Houston - Admissions Advisor

Ashley brings years of international education experience to her role as Admissions Advisor at International TEFL Academy. Having volunteer taught in Costa Rica without any training or experience during college, she has a keen sense of why TEFL certification is so necessary for teaching English abroad. Ashley loves helping adventure seekers ages 18-70 learn about the world of TEFL and discover new opportunities abroad through teaching English.

You’ve been involved in the field of international education for a while now. What inspired you to pursue a career in the field?

I’m one of the rarities in the field that has known they wanted to work in international education since elementary school and stuck with it. I started learning languages through immersion programming from age 9 onward. It started out as a way to keep my precociousness entertained during the summer, and turned into a deep rooted love of languages and cultures, and a curiosity to see and learn more. I’ve been lucky to work for a university, program provider, start up company, and travel resource over the last several years. They’ve each provided unique and fruitful experiences that have led me to my perfect fit role at International TEFL Academy. There’s not a huge line between personal and professional life for me. 

teachers and students celebrate Halloween
ITA staff and students celebrate Halloween
Helping more people have access to meaningful travel is my passion, and teaching English abroad is one of the best options out there when it comes to reciprocity, finances, and full immersion.

How did you get connected to International TEFL Academy?

I was lucky to meet our Founder, Bruce Jones, at a NAFSA Annual Conference a few years back. We were both at a session on entrepreneurship and ended up chatting with a few other folks afterward. The field of International Education is small, and since then, we’ve run into one another at many other events and outings. When I moved to Chicago for another job in the field, he was immediate in offering up ideas of fun things to do and introducing me to new people. That’s exactly how he runs ITA; he truly cares about each employee and every student we’re helping get abroad. I’m so proud to be a part of this company and everything he has worked so hard to achieve so that others can have these incredible life-changing experiences abroad.

International TEFL Academy staff
International TEFL Academy staff meeting

What inspires you most in your daily work for International TEFL Academy?

Talking to prospective students. Each one brings such different life experiences, goals, challenges, and mindsets. I love hearing what has drawn them to the idea of teaching English abroad and then actually watching them get TEFL certified and doing it. As big as the teach abroad market is, I truly feel like I’m making an impact by helping to advise these folks on the importance of being well-trained and certified, and guiding them to what parts of the world might be the best fit for them. It’s truly a job where we get to help change lives and really watch it happen over time, and that is constant inspiration.

You developed a love for languages at an early age. How do use your own language learning experience to make participants’ experience even more successful?

I talked to students about language often. I get the question, “Do I need to speak the local language before teaching abroad?” all the time. While it’s certainly not a prerequisite and there’s no expectations from schools abroad that their English teachers speak the local language, it can be an immense asset. Making sure to fully immerse your ESL students in English is one thing, but moving overseas and starting a life is another when you don’t speak the language. Even if it’s starting out with learning a few key phrases to get by, taking a language class abroad or exchanging private tutoring will help leaps and bounds when it comes to assimilating, building community, and networking abroad. I share with my students why language learning is important to me and what it has enabled me to do abroad, but really it’s up to them to figure out how big of a role they want it to play in their time overseas.

Why do you think TEFL certification is becoming more and more valuable in the world today?

With increased globalization, the need to communicate effectively across cultures is vital. A German businessman and Japanese businessman are not going to communicate in their respective languages while doing business, but rather a common tongue, English. If we look at somewhere like China, 300 million Chinese are learning English. That’s around the same size as the entire U.S. population, and that’s one country along. Many of these language learners are being taught by non-native English speakers with little to no training. Becoming TEFL certified provides the world with more trained educators to help assist in this high-demand market, and also gives people the irreplaceable experience of living overseas and developing many intercultural skills they can bring back.

Woman wears Croatian masquerade mask
Fun at the ITA office: Ashley dons a mask brought back by Founder, Bruce Jones, from a recent trip to Croatia

Your career has taken you across the country, and the world, inspiring people to see the world in meaningful ways. What do you enjoy most about working for the International TEFL Academy?

The company culture, bar none. We work hard, and we play hard too. What has been created at ITA is something I’ve never seen before. Each and everyone is fully committed to serving our students, overriding the status quo, and constantly learning. It’s a place that you wake up and want to come into every day and can never imagine leaving. We put a lot of time, energy, and heart into what we do for our students, but we’re also a giant family. We do A LOT together: international travel, sports events, charity, crafting, camping, and who knows what’s next. We value learning from one another and knowing that we all have a voice, perspective, and experience that will be heard. I could go on and on. It’s really quite a magical place.

How do you use your own experience to guide participants in their TEFL journey?

How don’t I use it? My background in language and culture, study abroad experiences, travel to almost 40 countries, and work in various sectors of this field provides stories upon stories to share with students. Travel and teaching English abroad isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. There are challenges, ups and downs, barriers, and breakdowns. Relating to both the potential successes and struggles of the experience is necessary for both expectation setting and candor in my conversations with students. Teaching English abroad is life changing for a reason: working and living overseas will test your limits, make you reflect upon yourself, your life, and the world around you. It will also create some of the most tightly knit relationships, sacred memories, and adventurous experiences if you let it. My experiences aren’t going to be that of others necessarily, but it’s fun to share with students what it really feels like to do this. It’s a big decision, and one I don’t expect them to be taking lightly.

What is your best piece of advice for future TEFL teachers?

  1. THE most important: be as open-minded and flexible as possible. That goes for any traveler, but is so vital in the work of teaching English abroad.
  2. Do your research! There are a lot of scams out there and it’s important to understand what a quality, accredited certification entails and what a quality job at a school abroad looks like. Talk to an advisor, learn about your options, and educate yourself!
fans celebrate Cubs winning the World Series
ITA staff celebrate the Cubs winning the World Series

After completing their program, what can International TEFL Academy graduates look forward to?

International TEFL Academy grads can expect the most thorough job search guidance I’ve seen in this field. Our Student Affairs team are experts in this and we provide our graduates lifetime support--from one-on-one resume/cover letter review to interview coaching, planning for the job search, and even reviewing contracts! Plus, our massive job search guidance manual and school finder, which lists over 10,000 private language schools, vetted recruiters, government programs, and summer camp options around the job.

What are you looking forward to in 2017?

We practice what we preach at ITA and we always try to stay on top of new teaching markets and how the industry is changing and growing. As such, we’re heading to Eastern Europe as a company in March 2017 to assess the various markets and enjoy fulfilling some of our own continued wanderlust--after all, we’re avid travelers and adventure seekers ourselves!