Published on December 31st, 2010


A True "Minimalist" Dream Job

So once the basic “Plan” was decided (i.e. blow this dear U.S. of A. popsicle stand and move lock, stock ‘n barrel to some distant corner of the world to live and teach EFL), ’twas time to “put up or shut up” so to speak. To “swiss-cheese” the many chores and changes needed to get me from Point A (my comfy life here in my beloved Seattle) to Point B (some g-forsaken corner of the globe, as yet to be precisely determined).

For starters, I needed to learn more about just what teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language – teaching English in a foreign land) was all about. So I set about researching the requirements for most countries ’round the globe (some require little but a native English tongue) and determined that I already had a few aces in hand (i.e. the native tongue plus a couple of degrees).

Still… as I don’t have a clue HOW to teach my native language, I’m not foolish enough to think I can simply take on a classroom full of eager Asian faces without at least SOME modicum of EFL teaching training. Oh sure, I can blather all right. But explain WHY one says “should have blathered” vs. “will be blathering”? Uh, that’s another story altogether.

Dizzying Assortment of EFL Training Choices…

Thus I began investigating the many (confusing) options for EFL training. Turns out there’s TONS of “online” programs promising to make me a crack EFL teacher in just a few digital lessons (in exchange for a couple few hundred bucks of course). But it didn’t take long to figure out (via lurking in EFL forums amid newbie and veteran folk alike, presently working in the EFL field around the world ) that such sketchy online “certificates” would prove utterly useless/a waste of money in preparing me to face that sea of eager Asian faces. And besides, clearly the PTB of the global EFL set (the recruiters/school administrators, etc.) aren’t exactly idiots, and can recognize a duck when they see a duck.

Best Bet: The CELTA (the Gold Standard)

I mean shoot, even I can see that I can’t possibly teach English without some hands-on lessons. No way can I presume to be a “teacher” (much less expect to get paid for it), without some serious training. And thus – long story short, I decided to invest in the very best EFL training out there. I’ve opted to go for the gold standard – the universally revered “CELTA” (Certificate in English Language Training to Adults), fully accredited by none less than Cambridge University. It’s a full-time, month-long course that’s offered in various locales around the world. I could take it in San Francisco for instance, but… better yet, I can likewise take it in Thailand or Vietnam. The course runs around $1,500 mind you, but that would seem a small investment to make in my future career as a perpetual expat. In short, with the CELTA in my pocket and my two degrees in hand, I should be able to easily find however much EFL work I like, most anywhere I roam.

So the “Plan” is beginning to fall into place now. While I’m not yet sure of my dates, I’ve now decided precisely where I’ll take the CELTA. More Googling (goodness, but whatever did we travelers DO without it!) produced a host of places to enroll in the course including Saigon, Hanoi, Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai. But it was the latter site (International House’s CELTA center at Chiang Mai) that verily took my breath away in its beauty and tranquility.

Don’t get me wrong, normally I’d be happy in some hostel somewhere. But the word on the street is that the CELTA course is extremely intensive, taking most every bit of time and energy 24/7 for a month straight to pass the rigorous training. So I figure why jeopardize my success in completing the course given that I’ll already be coping with adapting to life in a strange new land? And the cost – while I could no doubt easily feed and house myself more cheaply in Chiang Mai – the cost of full room and board for the month at Nugent Waterside comes out to just $27/day. So I’ve decided to splurge. For a good deal less than it costs me to live here in Seattle for a month, I’m going to treat myself to a month of relative luxury whilst I hunker down to conquer the CELTA.

Meanwhile, Itchin’ to Get Started…

But meanwhile, the CELTA course is still months away and I was already itching to dip my toes into the EFL pond. So I Googled some more – this time for local ESL (English as a Second Language – teaching English here in the U.S.) volunteer options. Surely what with Seattle’s vibrant international populace, some stray non-profit could use a dedicated volunteer for a few hours each week.

Turns out, I found quite a few choices, and soon I was playing sidekick as a teacher’s aide for a dear group of refugees (hailing from a veritable UN of nations: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burma, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal) learning their first few words of English. The goal of the course at the Greenbridge Center is to prep new refugees for getting jobs. And while the curriculum focuses on job-related skills such as filling out a job application, mock interviews, and on-site visits to local hotels, warehouses, and restaurants (to preview just what housekeeping, dishwasher, busboy, etc. jobs are all about), it is painfully obvious that the first and foremost need is to help these newcomers gain a grasp of speaking and understanding the very basics of English.

Understandably, most of the students were initially painfully shy and reluctant to speak a single word. But it’s been 4 months now and it’s amazing how far they’ve come. We’re now able to converse in simple sentences, and some have even “graduated” by getting their first job! Needless to say, I am most gratified to play a small part in helping these folks get a start on “The American Dream”.

The American Dream:

Indeed, one of my most touching moments as a newbie volunteer ESL teacher was one afternoon when I initiated a simple discussion on “What is your dream job?”. Asking each student in turn, some stated that they hoped some day to become a nurse or a teacher. Both doable with hard work and persistence I said. But it was the response of one earnest young man that all but brought a tear to my eye. Asked “What is your dream job, Klow Reh?”, he eagerly replied “I hope to be a BUSBOY!”

Perhaps the retelling of the story is a case of “you needed to be there”, but suffice that – amid the sea of American opulence which surrounds me (where iPads abound and not one, but two cars per family are the norm) – here sat the quintessential “Give me your tired, your poor…” who’s greatest wish is to become a simple busboy and be a part of the American Dream.

Talk about “minimalism”. Those of us who (by sheer luck of the DNA draw) happen to have been born in the U.S. (as opposed to being born to a mother in some thatched hut in Mozambique for example), and thus grew up naturally speaking English, and naturally got a decent education – leading naturally to a good job, and thus to the laptop we peck on, and the coveted U.S. passport we flash to flit hither and yon ’round the globe. Uh, we of such incredible luck and blessings – we could surely take a lesson from the humble aspirations of a young Burmese ESL student (soon to be BUSBOY!) like Klow Reh.

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

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