To TEFL or not to TEFL – Employment Abroad Besides Teaching English
When the idea was first hatched in my head to move to Prague – to downsize, pack up and relocate nearly halfway across the world – the immediate and accompanying thought was ‘how to support myself.’ My friend D who planted the Praha seed in my brain casually assumed that I would teach English. It’s a common and in-command trade to ply in most any non native English speaking countries.
Though I do possess a Bachelor of Arts university degree in English, the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language – also called TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification seemed accepted if not required in most countries looking for teachers. Many of the TEFL schools offered placement assistance upon completion. I didn’t have the time or financial luxury to attend a 4-6 week course since I was working 2 jobs to enable my move. There are also a number of online TEFL certification courses as well. I simply googled ‘TEFL online’ and combed through the listings until I found one that suited my budget at $300. Other online schools went up to $600 or so at the time, four years ago.
I was assigned an online tutor who scored my lessons, and though there was a 6 month expectation of completion it was negotiable. I gamely knocked off usually two lessons per week with my sights set for Prague. However I didn’t complete the course before actually moving here. Upon arrival I was caught up on the pink cloud and whirlwind of my new life, and well, I sort of dropped the ball. I asked for an extention once but couldn’t even complete that. Bad me. Don’t take that example.
However teaching English was not a primary goal for me. I wanted to work in the business sector. And I had already lined myself up with a job from an online ad I’d seen while still in the States. Teaching positions for English schools were competitive, and finding private lessons near impossible for a newly arrived expat. Americans also have the added paperwork that is the work permit. It’s not needed for EU citizens, and I’ve watched so many friends change jobs more fluidly than I could.
The call center that hired me almost as soon as I landed also arranged all the paperwork for and including my work permit. I needed a Czech doctor certified physical, a couple odd-sounding stamps purchased from the post office and affixed to the documents as proof of fee payments, and a criminal check (also recieved at a special window of the post office for a fee of about $1.50). All this took 3 months to complete. I joined the work force happily as I’d had 3 months of exploring and adventuring albeit solo.
Though they had gone through the extensive paperwork process for me, this particular call center had a rotating door of incoming and outgoing employees. I had joined an international, though English speaking, telemarketing group of about 80 strong peddling broadband services to poor souls around the UK who somehow had not yet joined the age of technology. It was tedious and stressful due to weekly quotas and bells rang for each sale.
After a year I applied for a promotion within the organization.
I was transferred to the office behind the electronic key tag door and walls. This was a perceived elite, yet still part of the call center. There I provided customer service rather than cold calling sales annoyance. It was a smaller group, about 20 covering support in Russian, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Czech, Swedish, Hebrew and me for English. After 2 years there the management started to get dodgy, lowering bonuses and increasing expectations, etc. So I bounced.
I ran into a former colleague from the telemarketing job one morning on the metro to work. He was beaming about his position at a financial planning firm that operated in Czech and English. He was making good money, loved the work, and they were hiring. He set me up with an interview, and they were prepared to hire me on the spot. However in Czech Republic one needs to provide an employer with a 2 month notice! I had always thought even the 2 week notice common with most US employers with a tad ludicrous. Yes I can see where a replacement needs to be found, but it just keeps a disinterested nearly former employee hanging around.
The new financial planning position also required that I have a zivnostensky list, basically a private business license to operate as a freelancer. This paper trailing process also took about a month since I had to slide out on my lunch hour or handle things before work. I had to purchase my own health insurance, register to pay social and income taxes, and fill out a complicated 4 page application in Czech. I also had to register my status with the foreign police since the zivno (as we call it) also serves as my work permit, allowing me to renew my visa as needed.
The zivno was ready before my 2-month notice was up. Again, don’t follow my lead on this, but I just stopped showing up to the previous job. My closest colleagues were in on it, and my desk was cleaned out. After a month I received a registered letter informing me that I was fired from the previous job. I had researched the repercussions of my actions, and found out that I would get a letter in my nebulous Czech employment record (does it exist in an office or on a database somewhere? no one has been able to tell me). And said letter could only be applied to the following employment. As my financial planning employer wanted me to quit and join them asap, it was ineffectual.
I worked the financial planning position, as a coordinator, for almost a year. I was again cold calling, this time Czech business owners and managers to persuade them to take an appointment with a consultant (salesman) to manage their personal finances. The zivnostensky list allows employers to save on employee expenses, sometimes including wages. I was working on a straight commission basis, with a minimum wage level salary doled out to me as an advance on future commissions. The whole financial planning scene didn’t sit well with me. Plus the process took up to 6 months for sales revenue to come through.
So I bounced again. The beauty of being a freelancer means giving no notice. I walked in, handed my resignation letter, and walked out. By that time I had arranged another position of Marketing Director for a small IT company based in Prague. I’d met the charming British expat owner in a pub one night with business colleagues. Within a week I had the job. Again the cold calling, this time to IT managers to persuade them to use our company’s data services. After 8 months I still wasn’t quite sure what those services were. The new boss gave me a laptop and mobile and I worked in my kitchen. It was a temporary contract, and eventually we both realized it wasn’t working out.
Next week I start a new position I’m really excited about – teaching English! It’s a preschool with students from 3-5 years old of all nationalities. Funny it’s taken me this long to come full circle to the profession I initially scoffed at. I never finished the TEFL and it doesn’t matter to my new school. Working with my zivno at the school allows me to take home a larger salary as well. I’m already looking forward to my first holiday break.