GoAbroad Interview

Christie Van Tol - Course Coordinator

Christie Van Tol - Course Coordinator

After a stint abroad in Italy while studying for her bachelor's of arts in English, Christie decided to get TEFL certified and moved to Spain for a year to teach English. Years later, Christie now works as the course coordinator for the University of Toronto TEFL Online program, helping others to realize their own dreams of teaching abroad.

Before working for The University of Toronto, you taught English in Spain. How did this experience inspire you to work in the TEFL industry?

Teaching English abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was able to live abroad long term, which meant I had incredible opportunities to discover new cultures, enjoy new and delicious foods, and learn a new language, all while earning a stable income. After my year living in Spain, it was an easy and natural transition for me to work in the TEFL industry, where I could inspire others to take the first steps to teach abroad.

English tutor with student in Madrid, Spain
Teaching a 1:1 English lesson while volunteering in the countryside just outside Madrid, Spain

You worked in the business world for multiple companies before shifting to teaching abroad. What made you decide to make such a big career change?

After I studied abroad in Italy between my third and fourth year of university, I knew without a doubt I wanted to live abroad one day. This was was mainly due to the whirlwind, all-too-short trip around central Europe that followed my studies, which left me wanting more. So, after graduation I began working for a global print-services corporation in administration to start saving to fund my upcoming international move. While working, I began intensively researching and decided that teaching English would be the easiest way for me to live abroad long-term. I made fast work of saving up money for my TEFL certification, visa expenses, and flights over the course of one year and the rest is history!

How does your own international teaching experience help you in your current role?

My international teaching experience is invaluable to my current role. As the course coordinator for the University of Toronto TEFL Online course at Teach Away, I speak with people of all ages and backgrounds hoping to make their dream of teaching, travelling, and living abroad a reality everyday. After moving back to Canada from Spain, I was able to easily translate my international TEFL experience on my resume and soon became an invaluable member of the Teach Away team. I found employers in Canada to view my international experience as an asset, and although I was not seeking another position in teaching, I was able to use my international experience and speak to the challenges (both in and out of the classroom) in my domestic job applications in a way that increased my job prospects.

Girl hiking in northern Spain
Enjoying the view across the Atlantic Ocean during a weekend hike in a nearby seaside town in northern Spain

What sets the University of Toronto TEFL Online course apart from other online TEFL program providers?

In the world of TEFL, your course provider makes all the difference. It is rare to find a TEFL course that was designed by a university with as renowned an international reputation as the University of Toronto. Having a TEFL certification issued from one of the top 20 ranking universities in the world, designed by professors who specialize in foreign language instruction, puts new and experienced TEFL certified teachers a league above their competition when applying for jobs abroad.

The course is entirely online, which means teachers can complete their TEFL certification from anywhere in the world. This makes the course perfect for anyone already living abroad - or far from Canada - and allows those with busy work or study schedules to conveniently complete their TEFL certification online without compromising on quality.

How do you ensure students stay engaged with coursework?

The University of Toronto TEFL Online course is made of up of a collection of highly engaging online content. There are many PDF documents, such as lesson summaries, for students to download, interactive quizzes and on-screen activities for learners to engage with, as well as audio and video contents throughout the course to reinforce the concepts they are learning. The varied online materials in the course ensure that all students remain engaged with their coursework from the beginning of the TEFL course to the final exam.

Girl gathering sea snails on the coast of northern Spain
Gathering sea snails for dinner from the rocks on the rugged Galician coast in the north of Spain

What type of benefits do participants have available to them after certification?

After receiving their TEFL certification from the University of Toronto TEFL Online, graduates will be able to create an account with Teach Away and begin browsing for international teaching jobs abroad. Graduates will also have access to a number of online resources to guide them through the application process, and the option to schedule a personalized consultation call with a TEFL Online representative, such as myself, to guide them in making their teach abroad adventure a successful one.

The TEFL Online and Teach Away staff are there to guide graduates every step of the way.

What do you think the biggest misconception of online TEFL programs is?

The biggest misconception - by far - is that online (or in-person) TEFL courses are accredited. The truth is that there is no global accrediting body that exists to govern the standards of TEFL courses. A TEFL course can seek accreditation from a private accreditor, but not all TEFL courses are held to the same standard. What this means is that no TEFL course is truly accredited. Because TEFL courses are not accredited, anyone can design and sell a TEFL course. It is up to the discretion of those wishing to get TEFL certified to choose a course that will be internationally recognized abroad.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love connecting with prospective students of the TEFL program. Whether it’s online, on the telephone, or in-person, there is nothing better than getting to be part of the ah-ha! moment that comes when someone realizes that their dream of teaching abroad can be a reality. When I can help inexperienced teachers realize that a TEFL certification can qualify them for teaching jobs abroad even though they have no teaching experience, or help licensed teachers realize that a TEFL course can make them a better teacher by giving them the skills they need for the foreign language classroom, that is when I know I am making a difference in the lives of others.

Girl on the beach in Antipaxos, Greece
Enjoying summer vacation on the tiny island of Antipaxos while traveling in Greece

What is your best piece of advice for anyone contemplating earning TEFL certification online?

Choose an online TEFL certification with an international reputation that will be recognized by employers abroad. In other words, take a course that will do the work for you and make you stand out in your international teaching job applications. Choosing an online course like the University of Toronto TEFL Online will guarantee that employers recognized the quality of your certification and training.

Next, keep in mind where you would like to teach. Review teaching job vacancies online in the countries you’re interested in to determine if there are any specific requirements for your TEFL certification, such as a certain number of certification hours.

Finally, choose a course that fits your schedule. Online courses are great because they are often entirely self-paced which means you will be able to complete your certification from home on your own time.