My name is Svetlana, a former marketing assistant from Russia. While studying at university, I decided to do the practical thing and major in economics. After graduation, I was immediately offered the marketing assistant position with a decent salary. I was excited to finally get my life started. Except it wasn’t at all what I was expecting
My typical day included waking up at 6 AM and getting to the office by 8:30 AM. Sometimes earlier for the 8 AM meetings that were held every Tuesday, even though my boss didn’t show up until 8:15 or later. I pounded coffee at all hours of the day just to counteract the effects of a sleepless night worrying about the latest ads and their conversion rates. I was constantly paranoid that I’d be let go like so many others who’d come before me.
Those sleepless nights left me yearning for a distraction from my own life. Then one night, I came across the Instagram page of a friend I’d gone to school with. His photos of the beautiful beaches and wild jungles had me longing for an adventure of my own. I reached out to him to see what he was up to; did he become an overnight millionaire and spend his days traveling to picture-perfect destinations? No.
Instead, he told me he’d completed a TEFL certification course in Costa Rica. He was in the process of looking for a job teaching English. Not only that, but he was receiving support from his TEFL instructor in putting together his resume and applying for positions. I began to wonder, was that something I could do too? None of us were native English speakers, so how was it possible? He immediately put me in touch with a Maximo Nivel TEFL travel advisor.
I spoke to a few different travel advisors for more information, but they could sense the hesitancy in me. They offered to get me in touch with other non-native speakers who’ve completed the program and after speaking with about 3 prior students, I was sold. I took an oral English exam over the phone, and they confirmed I a was fluent, non-native English speaker. This status qualified me to participate in the program and find work as an English teacher when I completed the course.
My parents were horrified when they found out I left my job, and even more so when they learned of my plan to study for a TEFL certificate in a country with a 9 hour time difference from my own. But I was eager to trade in Moscow’s blistering cold January for the endless sunshine in Costa Rica. It was dry season, and the sun shone every day. I went to my TEFL class Monday-Friday from 9 AM – 5 PM and then took surfing lessons in the evening.
The 4-week TEFL course was split into focus topics for each week; lesson planning, teaching strategies & classroom management, English grammar, and assessment/job search. Ironically, I had a much easier time during grammar week than the native speakers. Being an ESL student myself, I had already learned the break-down of the English grammatical structures whereas my native counterparts could only simply explain it as “it just sounds right!”. I knew this gave me an advantage in being able to not only teach English but also to relate to my students.
After successfully completing my course, I was a bit unsure about how to secure a job. The last week focused on creating our international resumes, scouting opportunities, and resources, and deciding on the best location for us to work. Though I was able to participate in the course as a non-native, I would have the hardest time landing a job.
Many language centers strictly hire native speakers because that’s who their clients are expecting to learn English from. I don’t have a standard English or American accent, I’m not as familiar with the culture as a native would be, and idioms and expressions don’t come as easily to me. I had to be strategic about my next move.
Audra, my TEFL instructor gave me some insight into the countries that are most likely to hire non-native speakers. In fact, she even connected me to one of her past graduates – a local Costa Rican participant – who left the country and found work in Brazil as an English instructor.
I scheduled a Skype call and I was on a flight to Brazil the following week. There is a large expat community in Brazil, many who were from South and Central America, and teaching English as non-native English speakers. Requirements for non-native English teachers include a degree, a TEFL certification, and a 100% score on a simple grammar test.
Through my newfound friends I was able to quickly get an interview with the director of a small language center and was offered a 9-month teaching contract in São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil.
As my teaching contract is about to end, I am reflecting on all I’ve learned over the last few months in Brazil; how to manage a demanding schedule, implementing creative lesson planning techniques for enthusiastic students, Portuguese lessons and samba dancing. I met an amazing community of English teachers who boosted my confidence when I felt discouraged after a rough day and helped me to become a better English teacher. But I’m ready for the next chapter.
As I write this, I’m looking at flights to another faraway land. I’m ready for a new adventure, a new challenge, and a new time zone. Since I gained my teaching experience in Brazil, I feel confident that I can manage the more advanced challenge in Asia.
As a non-native English speaker, I’ve proven that it’s possible to be acknowledged for your hard work, dedication, and relatability to ESL students, and I’m proud to call myself a successful non-native English teacher.