TEFL is often seen as a job for the young and adventurous. Advertising for courses and employment usually display enticing photographs of energetic escapades in far off places, or smiling Gen Zers surrounded by even smaller Zers. Certainly that is the media’s perception of the situation. If you are asking the question “Am I too old to do a TEFL teaching stint?” however, then the answer is probably a resounding “No!”
Pondering this question means that you understand the level of disruption TEFL teaching will have on your daily routine, on your teaching practice and on yourself, your own body, mind and spirit. Awareness, though, is the first step toward change and the awareness that you already possess, as evidenced by the question you have asked yourself, proves that you are able and indeed on the way to doing something new if you so choose.
Teaching English in a foreign country requires many things however youth and perhaps inexperience are not two of them. What it does require is an open-mindedness, a view of the world that does not discount other ways of thinking and perceiving, and does not insist that one way of knowing or doing is superior to another. This also requires humility, an admission that you still have things in life to learn and a humbleness that you may have to learn how to live and ‘get things done’ all over again in this new environment. Or that ‘getting things done’ means something different where you are now or has a different time frame than the one you are used to to get said things done!
It requires an acceptance of the fact that you are “not in Kansas anymore” (and certainly you would have to be of a certain age to understand that reference!) including accepting the fact that you will not be able to access all of the ‘comforts of home’ and an acceptance of the things that you cannot change despite your desperate desire to do so. This does not mean that you do not try to make improvements where you can. Go your hardest and make as much noise about something if you see that it should be changed, just know that you will probably not win all of these battles and be aware that probably nor should you.
It requires wisdom, and with wisdom often coming with age, it could be argued that you are perhaps better placed than the younger generation to know where and when to voice your ideas and teach and where and when to listen to others and learn.
Of course there are practicalities to consider when teaching overseas as well. If you have a medical condition that will need attending to whilst you are away you will need to ensure that you have health insurance, either from your home country or from the institution that you will be working for, or that the required medical costs there are something that you can cover yourself. And you will need to look into what your insurance, if you have it, will cover and what it will not.
It’s always a good idea if possible to have a health check-up, medical and dental, before you travel so you hopefully won’t have any issues when you are newly arrived. Once you are settled in you will be able to look for a provider and certainly asking the people you work with for recommendations is advised as some countries don’t have a lot of health care provider information online, or if it is there, it may not be in a language you understand.
Also be aware that different countries have different experiences and views of mental health issues and you may not find the same services on offer as the ones you may have been able to access at home.
Finally, make sure that you have enough medication (if you take it) for the time that you will be away, or ensure that you are able to easily obtain it abroad. Different countries will have different laws and regulations about what a prescription medication is and there ease of access.
As you can see from the above, the ability or capacity to teach internationally is more about character than age. It takes courage to leave everything behind and move to another country not knowing for certain what will happen. Tolerance for uncertainty therefore is another quality that will stand you in good stead as a TEFL teacher.
Teaching in another country will probably not be the same to what you are used to. These differences may include such things as the length of the school day, student dress code, the presence of religion in school, school commencement age, moral education, and the existence of rote learning. If you are able to be flexible and adaptable to these, along with all of the other changes, and open and willing to learn, you are on your way to becoming a great TEFL teacher, age regardless.
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