GoAbroad Interview

Jen Quirk - Marketing Coordinator

Jen Quirk - Marketing Coordinator

Jen studied abroad in Madrid, Spain during her undergraduate degree, which sparked a lifelong passion for travel. After graduating from university, Jen decided to teach abroad in Seoul, South Korea, to pay off student loans - which also funded a four-month solo backpacking trip across Southeast Asia. She has a love for helping others, especially in their endeavors to teach abroad, so she enjoys connecting with students at TEFL events through her work with University of Toronto TEFL Online.

How has your experience teaching English in South Korea been valuable to you in your current role?

After graduating university, I worked for a small business consultancy, but soon realized I wasn’t ready for a “career” just yet, so I headed to South Korea to teach for a year. I mostly went abroad to teach as a way to do some traveling and as a way to save some money to pay off some of my student debt. Because I knew from the outset that teaching wasn’t a long-term career move for me, I didn’t give ESL certifications much thought. I naively assumed I didn’t need one. I had a single week of training on my arrival in Korea - and then was thrown into the deep end! That first day in the classroom facing my students with no clue what to do next was terrifying.

Girl standing by the river in Seoul, South Korea
Reflecting on my time teaching abroad on my last day in Korea

For the first while, I have to admit that I did struggle with a lot of aspects of the job. I didn’t feel prepared for the foreign language classroom at all. It took a long while - and lots of frustration on my part - to get good at teaching English. All that additional stress was quite overwhelming. When you move abroad to teach, you’ve got so much going on. You’re trying to learn a new language, battling culture shock, and trying to make new friends - all while battling homesickness.

With hindsight, I can see that not completing a TEFL certification first was a mistake on my part. I had to figure things out as I went along and use a lot of my time outside of work trying to plan lessons.

As part of my work with the University of Toronto TEFL Online, I communicate with prospective teachers quite regularly at TEFL events, so it has been really beneficial to be able to draw on some of the common challenges I encountered when teaching abroad for the first time. The happy ending to my teach abroad story is that I can now help teachers avoid the same mistakes I made!

It’s so important to be prepared to actually teach English language learners. I didn’t like that sinking feeling that I was somehow leaving the kids in my classroom down. They deserved a qualified, competent, and prepared teacher.

Foreign teacher in Korea with local students
Time for a final photo with my favorite students after our last lesson together

You’ve been working for the University of Toronto TEFL Online for less than a year. What drew you to join the teach abroad industry in the marketing realm?

I had a wonderful experience teaching abroad in South Korea, and I landed my job with the University of Toronto TEFL Online shortly after I returned from my travels. It was a happy accident that I found a marketing job in the teach abroad industry. I saw the job posting, and I had heard great things about the University of Toronto TEFL Online from some of my coworkers who taught abroad with me, so I jumped to apply for the position!

During your undergraduate studies, you studied abroad in Spain. How do you think international experiences affect students’ long-term goals and the direction of their careers?

Without a doubt, I would highly recommend studying abroad to anyone. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. My time studying abroad in Spain made me more self confident and comfortable working with people of different cultures. The University of Toronto TEFL Online students are from different parts of the world and all walks of life, so my international experience has proved invaluable in my career - both as an ESL teacher as well as marketer in the teach abroad industry.

When I returned home from my time studying abroad, I was also a lot more disciplined and focused on my studies - it was just me, no parents, so I couldn’t rely on anyone but myself to keep me motivated for the first time in my life!

Girl at a Buddhist temple in Indonesia
Visiting a Buddhist temple in Indonesia at the start of my backpacking trip across Southeast Asia

What do you think sets the University of Toronto apart from other TEFL certification providers?

It’s rare to find a TEFL course that helps you tailor your resume towards certain locations or types of ESL teaching jobs abroad - but that’s what the University of Toronto TEFL Online course does. Teachers who take our TEFL certification can opt to specialize in teaching English to Korean speakers, Arabic speakers, and Mandarin speakers - there are even specializations geared towards people looking to teach business English, which is a field that’s exploding in the ESL market right now.

Depending on the country you’re looking to teach in, having a relevant specialization on your application can really strengthen your job prospects. And from a practical standpoint, I wish I’d known that this was an option before I taught in Korea. Teaching is hard work! I muddled through with a mix of trial and error, but with hindsight, it would have been beneficial for me to have a stronger understanding of the challenges that my native Korean speaking students encountered daily in the classroom.

What is the number one benefit of TEFL certification with The University of Toronto TEFL Online?

The fact that our course is recognized internationally means our graduates have a headstart over the competition for teaching jobs abroad. They leave our program with quality training and a certificate from a university that’s trusted by ESL employers abroad. Employers know that the University of Toronto TEFL Online graduates have the essential knowledge and classroom confidence to be great teachers at their schools.

Our TEFL course can really boost your job prospects and change the way employers view your teaching job application - whether you’re a recent graduate or a qualified teacher looking to gain a formal ESL qualification.
Tourist at Mt. Fuji
Having trouble containing my excitement as I climb Mount Fuji for the very first time!

Why do you enjoy working for the University of Toronto TEFL Online?

It may sound like a cliche, but in our own small way we’re helping to create a world where every student experiences the power of a great teacher. Each time a student enrolls in our TEFL program, we’re helping to make their transition to teaching abroad easier - that’s something that inspires me in my role every day!