What to do on a gap year: TEFL

What to do on a gap year: TEFL

So, you’ve come to a crossroads, a fork in the road, or your desired cliché. It’s decision time - go straight into the world of work? Explore higher education and test your intellectual limits for three, four years? What’s it going to be?

In recent decades, we’ve seen there’s a third way to do things. The gap year has become the butt of jokes in some circles, but for others, it’s a perfect opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do. Though it has been treated with scorn, there’s an academic study on gap years that concludes: “the modern gap year has undergone a major transformation from being a radical activity to a process that shapes new citizens for a global age”. Sounds alright to us!

That “something” is often travel, of course, but why not level up that travelling by imparting vital life skills, potentially earning a wage and making a tangible difference wherever you go?

The gap year is an opportunity to see new cultures and landscapes, sure. For many, though, the possibility of earning a wage is crucial, because there are plenty of us who wouldn’t be able to travel at all if we couldn’t also make a living. 

Yes - we’re talking TEFL on your gap year. While TEFL is - and this can’t be stressed enough - a wonderful career choice and a vocation in many respects, doing it for a year and travelling simultaneously has given any number of TEFL teachers the impetus to say “this is what I want to do with my life”. 

So, while the gap year TEFL experience can be just that - TEFL for a year - it's also how many life-long teachers got their start.

But how’s it done? What do you need?

How to TEFL on your gap year 

If you’ve read this far, your interest has surely piqued. So let’s explore how a TEFL gap year can be achieved; it all starts with that most crucial of things…

Get TEFL certified

You knew this was coming. Getting TEFL certified is the way to get ahead if you want to TEFL on your gap year. Why? It’s simple: if you’re looking for employment, whether it’s voluntary or lucrative, employers just aren’t going to be interested in taking risks. As it is, taking on someone who isn’t adequately trained to teach English as a foreign language is, indeed, a gamble.

There are plenty of great TEFL courses , and we’d suggest that a 120 hour course - whether in person, online or a mixture of both - is the perfect way to get the ball rolling on your TEFL gap year adventure. 120 hours of training is the industry standard, and will get you the attention of decent employers worldwide.

If there’s something specific you want to achieve in English teaching during your gap year, an Advanced TEFL course might be of interest. For example, if you want to help learners with visa applications to English-speaking countries, including asylum seekers and refugees, an exam preparation course would fit the bill. If you want to teach Business English, or classes of young learners, you’re covered there, too.

Whichever route you choose, certification is vital. To really make the most of a TEFL gap year, you can’t go in half-cocked without a proper qualification. 

A woman with her arms outstretched in front of a waterfall

Choose a country 

Choosing a country to TEFL in is, of course, utterly crucial and will decide the kind of experience you have. Ultimately, there’s a big difference in options between doing a TEFL gap year before university age and after.

The kinds of opportunities you have greatly differ, depending on age, but that’s no obstacle for having a great TEFL gap year. If you’re pre-university and under 20, the best options are volunteering or trying out for a classroom assistant programme before heading over. Latin America and Africa are the best options, though the caveat is that you’ll need to save up more before heading across. 

If you're a little older, and are perhaps taking a year out between a degree and the world of work, the options are far more expansive, though there are still some limits. It’s harder to find work teaching English without experience in Europe, for example, though there are great destinations like Italy, Georgia, Germany and Greece where newer TEFL teachers can get started. Having your degree opens up much more of the world. In much of Asia, due to working visa requirements, you’ll need a degree, but experience isn’t always a necessity. 

The same is true of the Middle East, while Latin America is perhaps the best option for those without degrees or experience. For more details on specific nations and their requirements, our at-a-glance country guide will help!

Apply for jobs 

Applying for jobs in the internet age couldn’t be easier. The TEFL Org Jobs Centre is constantly being updated with fantastic opportunities. So, get that CV looked out and cleaned up , customise a cover letter for each job opportunity and hit send. It’s that simple, right?

Well, yes and no. “Yes” because it really can be as straight-forward as applying to jobs before you head abroad, and in a lot of cases, you’ll need an official offer of employment to get a visa. However, for the daring amongst you, plenty of TEFL teachers recommend applying on the ground (depending on individual country's visa rules - in some countries you must apply for a visa before arrival). This is particularly common in Latin America.

That involves getting a nice outfit together, heading out to your ideal destination, and going into brick-and-mortar schools with a perfect application. It might sound risky, and it’s certainly an individual choice, but there are countless TEFL teachers who swear by this method. You’re showing face, you’re making introductions and the next thing you know, you might be teaching a class.

So, there are two schools of thought. If you prefer the security of finding work before you head out, we’ve given you everything you’ll need to get going. Whereas, if you want to do things the old-fashioned way, there’s plenty of merit to that, too. 

5 reasons to TEFL during your gap year

So why, specifically, should you teach English during a gap year? If it’s easy enough to do, surely there are a bunch of reasons why it’s a good idea?

We hear your rhetorical questions and choose to answer them: here are 5 great explanations as to why a TEFL gap year is more than worthwhile.

See the world 

Simply put, TEFL offers you the opportunity to live and work in other countries. Working abroad is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of another country and experience it in a way that a holiday or short trip just can’t quite offer.

If you’re straight out of school, you can find paid teaching work in countries where a degree isn’t a visa requirement. Europe (for EU citizens) and South America are great options if you don’t have your degree yet. If you’re interested in voluntary work then you aren’t limited to these countries as a degree isn’t typically required if you’re working on a voluntary basis.

Our course graduates have gone on to travel all over the world – read their stories .

A map with trinkets on top of it including a watch, passport, compass and sunglasses

Earn money 

Wherever you go for further study, it’s just a universal truth that university can be expensive! 

Building up savings during your gap year before going off to university can help take some of the financial stress off while you’re studying. Yes - you really can take a gap year to explore opportunities and see the world, but it’s even better if you can arrive at uni with a chunk of change to help you through that difficult first year.

What’s great about TEFL is that you can earn money and do some travelling. There’s no need to spend your whole gap year chained to a desk from 9-to-5, so get out there are see the world: it’s waiting for you!

Learn another language

Having other languages isn’t a requisite to teach English abroad but let’s face it - it’s never, ever a bad idea to learn another language. This is particularly valuable if you’re hoping to study languages at university. 

There’s no better way to learn a language than to be immersed in it (as your TEFL course will demonstrate to you), and you’ll be surprised at just how much you can learn by doing everyday tasks like ordering food, shopping for bits and pieces or heading out to pubs and clubs. 

Even if you’re not studying languages at university, there are proven benefits to being a polyglot. It improves your memory, increases your ability to multitask and more!  

Make a difference with voluntary work

If you’re interested in volunteering then, chances are, you’re driven by a desire to do some good in the world.

Voluntary work should, primarily, be beneficial to those you want to help. Sadly, not all volunteer schemes abroad make a positive impact and when volunteers lack the skills required for a project then this can be detrimental. It’s why having a TEFL qualification is so important if you’re hoping to volunteer as an English teacher. Teaching English doesn’t just involve standing in front of a class of students and speaking at them!

Do your research and make an ethical decision. Avoid voluntourism agencies that exist to make a profit and find projects run by reputable charities where the focus is on those who need help.

The TEFL Org co-founder, Jennifer MacKenzie, has this to say about TEFL and voluntourism:

“At TEFL Org we believe that ‘voluntourism’, where people pay to do voluntary work for a short period of time with a travel-type company, is intrinsically wrong and the benefits it brings to international communities can be very limited or in the case of TEFL teachers volunteering in orphanages actually damaging to the local children who the teachers come in touch with. ‘Voluntourism’ is not the same as doing voluntary work for charities and people should always check thoroughly any charity and voluntary work they sign up to do.”

Build your experience and skills 

Teaching English during your gap year will equip you with a wide range of skills that will be useful to you throughout university and beyond. From communication and interpersonal skills, to project management and planning, you’ll learn a lot during a gap year spent teaching English.

Living abroad in itself is a huge opportunity for personal growth. Adjusting to a new culture and supporting yourself for the first time is a real learning experience and will leave you more independent and confident than ever before.

There are so many opportunities with TEFL that extend beyond your gap year. With the qualification and experience already under your belt, you could earn money teaching online throughout the academic year. Or you could spend your summers working in language camps – a great way of earning money over the summer that also allows you to spend time abroad!

By the time you’ve finished university, you would already have the skills and experience to easily find teaching work all over the world. And if you don’t want to pursue teaching as a career after university then you’re still left with a number of desirable transferable skills and an impressive CV.

Find out more with our guide to teaching English abroad or check out our accredited TEFL courses .

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