Advice from an Alum: 10 Tips for Getting Your TEFL Certification Abroad

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In January, I completed a TEFL certification abroad in Prague, Czech Republic with TEFL Worldwide Prague. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was also the most fun and the most rewarding experience I have ever had. I learned a lot about myself and A LOT about TEFL training abroad. Let’s just say, any preconceptions I had about what a TEFL certificate course is actually like were very quickly shattered (in the best way). 

Erin smiling on balcony of the astronomy tower at Klementinum with Prague Castle in the distance

You’re not getting TEFL certified abroad for the Insta posts, but views like this never hurt. 

While I had a great time and learned a lot, and now can tell you the difference between the first, second, and third conditionals (don’t even get me started on zero conditional), I feel like I could've had an even better, more productive, and more satisfying experience if I had a clearer picture of what my day-to-day life would actually look like. Which brings us here. This article.

These are a few things I wish I’d known before embarking on this adventure. Do as I say, not as I do/did, friends. Hopefully these tips will help you rock the heck out of your TEFL courses abroad! 

Why get your TEFL certification abroad rather than at home?

Aside from the obvious reason *ahem* BEING ABROAD... there is one key advantage to going overseas to get TEFL certified. And no, it’s not “getting to travel on the weekends,” let’s just get that out of the way now. Drumroll please…

The best reason to study TEFL abroad is...

It puts you in the best position to get a teaching job right out of the gate. You’re already in-country, you know how to get around, you’ve established your new normal, and it’s easy to put feelers out for a teaching job and meet for that quick cup of coffee or last minute in-person interview. 

When it comes to teaching jobs abroad, things move pretty quickly! There’s quite a bit of turnover and so a lot of schools have last minute openings and need to fill those positions fast. It’s not unusual to apply for a job, get a call five minutes later to schedule an interview for the next day (or even just have a phone interview), and then have an offer to start teaching on Monday.

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The inside scoop on getting your TEFL certification abroad: 10 tips

Buckle up. These are my top tips to help you get your TEFL certification abroad with fewer hiccups than I encountered.

1. You’ll be balancing culture shock amidst a pretty big workload. Srry. 

Depending on the length of your program (most are one month, 120 hour TEFL courses abroad), there won’t be a ton of time to adjust to your new city and time zone. When you’re not in class as a TEFL student, you’ll be in class teaching, and when you’re not at school, you’re at home lesson planning and working on assignments. So, in the midst of juggling culture shock and classwork, there’s not a whole lot of time in there to you know—take a much-needed nap, explore to your heart’s content, feel super connected to your host country and city, etc. etc. 

It will be overwhelming, especially because it goes by so fast. Breathe. Take a little extra time for self-care when you can. Drink plenty of water. Get enough sleep. Don’t freak out at the grocery store, even though we all know that interacting with cashiers is scary enough without a language barrier. Know that you’re doing something amazing. The discomfort of culture shock will pass, you’ll get the hang of your schedule and workload, and soon you’ll be so dialed in, you barely remember a time before your TEFL programs abroad!

people walking across the Charles Bridge, Prague

My relationship status with Charles Bridge is “it’s complicated”—come for the views of the Vltava, don’t stay because it’s too crowded.

2. All those weekend trips you planned? You’re going to have to reschedule them. 

I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but anyone selling that you have time to travel during TEFL programs abroad has led you astray. You will be in class from at least 9:00 am - 6:00 pm Monday thru Friday and when you’re not in class, you’re preparing for class. If you want to be a successful TEFL teacher, you’ve got to learn to make sacrifices. TEFL training abroad is an excellent lesson in self-discipline and self-motivation. You will be a better teacher—and probably person—for it, trust me. And, you won’t run yourself ragged trying to “do it all” in four weeks! 

If you make the time before or after your course, you will absolutely have time to explore! However, if you’re planning more than a day trip on a weekend and think you can make your way down your wanderlust wish-list of nearby countries, start canceling your hostel bookings now.

3. Get ahead as much as you can week one.

Week one is the light week. You’re being eased into the course and just starting off teaching English lessons. It’s out of the frying pan and into the inferno, but that first week is less inferno and more like a medium-boil. Take advantage of this! 

Just like at university, part of your first day is more of an orientation/syllabus day. You’re going over the ins and outs of your schedule, assignments, observations, quizzes and exams, all that juicy stuff. You’ll know what’s due and when, and likely have access to the assignment instructions/grading rubrics that first day. I’m not saying you have to do all your coursework that first week, but things start to pick up really quickly while you get your TEFL certification abroad, so the more work you do up front means less stress later on in the course (when bigger and bigger projects are due). 

Plus, the earlier you start on things, the more time you have to check in with your instructors and get their feedback. That way, you’re turning in your best work and taking full advantage of their experience / knowledge of teaching English as a second language. 

Old Town & the Charles Bridge across the Vltava river

The views from adjacent bridges are 👌

4. You’ll have a really diverse group of classmates. Take the time to get to know them! 

People decide to study TEFL abroad for a variety of reasons. You’ll meet recent graduates looking to travel a little and explore different options before deciding to settle in their career, mid-career professionals looking for a change of scenery and pace, and people from all over the world looking for a new adventure. Get to know them! Grab a drink after class. Make a plan to eat lunch together. 

It is really easy to get stuck in your own bubble and routine: Wake up, go to class, eat lunch while frantically lesson planning, teach, go home, lesson plan some more, sleep, and repeat. But, you should make time to hang out with your fellow TEFL-ers. They’re a great resource for help with lesson planning and working on course material. Plus, making new future-teacher friends is a big part of the whole experience of earning your TEFL certification abroad. You walk away with your teaching certificate and a whole new group of teacher friends! Whether you stay in your TEFL host country/city to teach or scatter the far reaches of the globe, you’ll always have these people who went through this experience with you. It’s really special. 

5. Copy your instructors until you find your own teaching style.

I truly believe this is the secret to any TEFL certification course, not just TEFL training abroad. Imitate your instructors. Copy their sample lesson plans and make them fit your specific materials. Will it feel really weird and unnatural? Probably, at first. Is it going to be how you teach forever? Definitely not. But, for now, you’re here to make the grade and learn a new skill. Work smarter, not harder, and eventually you’ll be able to add your own rhythm and style to all of your lesson plans. This just serves as the base.

Remember: Your instructors have waaaaaaay more experience than you. They know what’s up—especially when it comes to teaching ESL students in your host country. To be a successful teacher, you’ve gotta learn the basics first and then you can add your own spin in your own classroom. 

Not only will this help you lesson plan more effectively, but you’ll teach more effectively, too! Rather than stress sweat through your special teaching sweater, you can rest easier knowing that all you have to do is follow their model. You’re not reinventing the wheel here! 

Erin & friend Taya at the John Lennon Wall, Prague

Get that prof pic in front of the John Lennon wall. ‘Cuz you gotta. ☮️✌️

6. Write everything out. Just do it. Trust me. 

This is another TEFL trade secret that shouldn’t even really be a secret. Take notes on everything you discuss in class, sure, but what I’m really getting at here is you should write out your lesson plan like a script. Every TEFL certification course and instructor may have a different preferred lesson plan format, but the more detailed you can be up front, the less frazzled you’ll feel in the classroom. Scripts help you stay focused during presentations; though cumbersome up front, they make the big debut a little less stressful and can get you through those “imagine everyone in their underwear” moments.

7. You’ll want to go out. Stay in to lesson plan (at least once) instead.

Ahhh, this is the great struggle when you study TEFL abroad. You’re in an exciting new place! With new friends! You! Want! To! Have! Fun! And you should have fun. You should go out with your TEFL classmates—either for a drink, to explore your host city, or both! I bet you feel a big BUT coming on...

But, remember why you’re here. You’re here getting your TEFL certification abroad. That is your first priority. So—at least once—when you just want to go out and hit the local bar scene with your buds, opt to stay in and get a little work done instead. In the long-run, you’ll feel a lot better about it AND you skip the potential hangover. You might not think that one Saturday in won’t make a difference, but it does. Get ahead on lesson planning and assignments now so that way you can go out next weekend!

8. Take advantage of job info sessions and resume workshops

Throughout your course, you’ll probably have extra opportunities outside of class to work on your resume and start looking into the job market in your host city (or wherever you want to teach next). Take advantage of these extra sessions. You might feel a little fried, like your brain literally cannot hold anymore information. You might be thinking “I’m not even certified yet, I can’t possibly think about applying for jobs or re-formatting my resume.” That’s fair, but if you’re serious about teaching English abroad, you need to start thinking about this stuff sooner rather than later! 

You should start putting your resume and a general cover letter together while you have your instructors to consult and get feedback from. They’ve been doing this a long time and have great insight into the process and what schools look for, plus have tons of connections to help you find a job. They’re not putting on these extra information sessions just for fun. They’re for your benefit, so go to them! Ask questions! Get answers! Start preparing for a very serious job hunt. 

9. Graduating feels like… 

YOU FREAKING DID IT. Completing TEFL training abroad will be the longest month of your life while also being over in the blink of an eye. You’ve just accomplished something HUGE and that is worth celebrating. You know that one weekend you stayed in instead of going out? Well, TEFL graduation is where you make up for that lost time. Your TEFL program will coordinate a night out with your fellow classmates and instructors and any alumni still in town to toast to your great accomplishment and future as an ESL teacher! 

It’s a little bittersweet, Vitamin C  is (probably) playing in the background, and you start saying your goodbyes. But, this is also such a joyous celebration. Here’s to you! 

10. You don’t have to know a second language, but it will help… a lot. 

You don’t have to speak a second language or even your host country’s language to be a successful ESL teacher. Buuuuuuuuuuut, in my experience, reflecting on my own personal endeavors towards learning a foreign language helped me a lot. 

While I didn’t  speak a lick of Czech in Prague, my experiences learning French in undergrad helped me better empathize with my students and even craft my own lesson plans. It was really easy to see how the structure of an English lesson followed the structure of my French lessons. Not to mention, you’re more tuned into the struggles and needs of your students because you’ve been in their shoes before! 

If you haven’t taken up a second language, again, you don’t have to, but I recommend it! Plus, learning the local language will make getting around your host country that much easier. 

Next steps to TEFL courses abroad

TEFL Worldwide Prague January 2018 graduating class with certificates

Look friends, I told you you’d be in an article! Cheers to the first TEFL Worldwide Prague class of 2018! 👋🍻

After that brief reality check, you might be feeling overwhelmed. Don’t be! You can do this, and we’re here to help. Here’s a mini crash course in getting ready for TEFL training abroad. Read up, and you’ll be ready to go. 

Next thing you know, you’ll be a total TEFL pro! 

Dude, just get your TEFL certification abroad 

You will never regret doing your TEFL training abroad. It seems scary, and it might be easier to get TEFL certified in your home country or online, but it’s worth it to take the leap and board that plane. Bookmark this article to come back to later as you start to FREAK OUT about this next amazing chapter. Remember to take good notes. You got this. I believe in you. 

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