Richard Davie, originally from Scotland, teaches English in Barcelona, Spain. But that was not what he initially set out to do. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a master’s degree in chemistry.
“I hated it,” he said in a video interview. Instead of pursuing a job in his field, Davie decided to travel abroad for summer break.
“Barcelona is a very special place in the summer,” he said. “It’s got a real a spark to it.”
After some time in Spain, he began looking for a job at a bar or a hostel—something to do for the time being.
But, he was lost in the situation, he explained. Davie handed out resumes to local bars and restaurants, searching for a job. At one point, he was sweeping and mopping the floors in the hostel he was staying at in exchange for room and board.
It wasn’t long until he “got this idea,” Davie said. He wanted to teach English as a second language.
“I can do this,” he told himself. Davie did a program in Scotland for teaching English as a second language, and headed to Spain.
When he first arrived in Spain, he didn’t speak Spanish, other than a few words and phrases.
“Fluency is a funny thing,” he said, because while learning a language takes time, it’s an ongoing process. But, when you’re finally able to converse with others in the language you’ve been practicing for so long, Davie said, “It’s a good feeling.”
And now, after spending more than six years in the country, he said, “I can definitely talk in a wide variety of situations.”
Aside from learning the language, Davie explained being in a different country and culture can be difficult sometimes.
“You’d like to be a bit more resourceful,” he said.
The same idea follows when leading a classroom of students. There’s a certain degree of confidence that managing a classroom demands.
Davie said that “student apathy” can be difficult to overcome at first. “It can be frustrating dealing with the same mistakes,” he said. “You have to be very patient, and you have to enjoy interacting with people.”
Having taught in Spain for years and enjoying the work, Davie is the founder and director of studies at TEFL Iberia in Barcelona.
As of now, the biggest demand in Europe for English teachers seems to come from Spain, France and Italy, Davie said. Places with popular tourism attractions have less of a demand for English teachers, because of the high population of people who can speak English. Although, depending on where you want to go, the demand changes and the pay can vary.
“It’s fair,” he said about compensation as an English teacher abroad. “If you have kids and a mortgage then no, if you’re young then yes.”
But, even then, there are still ways to make a decent living teaching English abroad. He said one way to do so would be to present yourself like a business. After going through the certification and gaining experience, you can offer private lessons or go to places with a higher demand for English teachers.
It’s destinations like Japan, South Korea, China or the Middle East that graduates take too, according to James Robinson, an English professor at St. Cloud State.
Last year, around 20 St. Cloud State students went to South Korea for a teaching program that also allowed them to take courses—that were taught in English—at Woosong University for six weeks over the summer, Robinson said. The program set them up with housing and gave them a stipend for the six weeks they were in the country.
SCSU’s programs are largely through the majors, but a nine-week program for teaching English as a second language will be introduced next year. During the program, students take two three-credit courses and go through an internship. They will also have the chance to work in the community in elementary schools for experience.
At TEFL Iberia, training aims to provide “everything [you] need to know to be a good teacher,” Davie said.
Training is full time, going from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. In this time, trainers go through the methodology, strategies for teaching vocabulary, reading and speaking.
Teachers in training have time to observe teachers in classrooms of different sizes, and then there are sessions for critiquing and analyzing the situations. Training lasts about a month.
“There’s such a huge difference from week one to week four,” Davie said, explaining that people come into training with no knowledge of what teaching English as a second language entails. By the time they’re done at the end of the four weeks, Davie said they’re very confident.
Robinson said, “Guess what unemployed graduates from the English-speaking world do?”
They teach English, he said. Some students don’t know what they want to do or they aren’t able to get a job, Robinson explained, so they teach English or join the Peace Corps.
In 1974, Robinson went into the Peace Corps. When he went in, he went through a 10-week orientation process to teach English in South Korea. “It certainly changed my life,” he said about his experience.
“It was pretty much a third world country at that time,” he said. “Believe it or not.”
At that time, he was teaching 65 students in a classroom, and the facilities reflected the need, which seemed great at the time.
Not now. Having traveled to South Korea a few years ago, and he said so much has changed.
“That’s why our American students like to go there, because it’s such a modern society,” he said.
“One of the reasons to do these sorts of things is to go through culture shock and mature,” he said, adding that culture shock hits everybody differently.
At one point while Robinson was abroad, he was working a part-time job. There was an incident at work where he was talked to by management. After what seemed like a resolved situation, Robinson walked off.
“I didn’t realized it until I was 10 steps out the door,” he said. He had been fired and didn’t even know it.
The cultural differences in speech and body language was indirect, compared to other cultures, as to avoid offense.
“His bow was really deep, and his language was very formal,” Robinson said, recalling the situation. “I thought, ‘that was really odd.’”
The miscommunications and failed expectations happen. It’s a part of the game.
However, culture shock isn’t like a giant wave crashing into you. It’s more like small differences that add up, making an impact on your day-to-day activity. You notice everything, and “it’s exhausting,” Robinson said. “It’s an amazing experience.”
For those who are interested in teaching English abroad, Davie offers some advice:
- Look for a program in the city you want to teach in.
- Get good training.
It’s often that programs help their trainees get set up with an apartment, provide advice on how to market yourself, building resumes and find jobs, he said.
- “I would do a better course,” Davie said.
“The course I did was a cheap one in Scotland,” he said, adding that by comparison, where he is today is far from where he started out.
- Let it happen and have fun with it.
“A lot of the people you meet your first year will become your best friends,” he said. “If you talk to people and put yourself out there a bit, good things will happen.”