A Brief Summary of my 2 Year Journey Teaching English Abroad

Blogger English teacher with whiteboard and map with flight route from New Zealand to Japan to UK to Poland

From feeling totally lost with my career direction as a new graduate to where I am now, here’s what got me into teaching English and how.

CONTENTS: Jump to any part here ↓

How i got started

As a kind of lost-soul after high school, I took the standard route of going straight to university to study business. Needless to say I felt pretty uninspired and unmotivated for most of those 4 years, which made one thing clear for me; I would not be happy continuing on this path and had to find something more exciting to do! 

Luckily at university I did enjoy a fantastic year abroad and made the most of other exchanges and trips which taught me a lot about myself and how much I love travelling, culture and languages.

My study abroad year in Innsbruck, Austria <3

Upon graduating in 2018, the whole teach English abroad concept was growing in popularity and popping up on the internet more and more. Which obviously caught my attention. As someone who never considered being a teacher, the more I thought about it the more I realised my personality and interests could really be an ideal fit for this kind of job! I signed up for the Level 5 TEFL Course (168 hrs) which included 20 classroom hours with plans to work in East Asia as I had never been there before and wanted a real adventure.

the TEFL course

The course itself was super straight-forward. Being mostly online with interactive modules, videos, exercises, and regular quizzes to check your progress it’s pretty interesting and gives you a general overview of the industry. 

Of course, it goes a bit deeper into the actual structure of the English language as most of us native speakers (especially those with no language experience of their own) don’t know why we use certain tenses and the different grammatical terms essential for teaching English. 

Learning how to make an effective teaching plan was also a critical part of the course as it’s not uncommon for potential employers to ask you to make a teaching plan for a specific kind of student as part of their interview and selection process.

Finally, I would recommend taking a course with the in-house hours as it stands out a little more on your CV and is generally a really fun weekend. I was able to meet a bunch of like minded people in my local city each with their own goals and purpose for taking the course. You also learn lots of fun classroom activities and exercises for students of different ages and levels which isn’t on the online course.

Moving to Japan

Okayama, Japan

I flew to Japan with my Mum around April 2019 which was nice as I’m usually on my own when flying overseas. We enjoyed a few days in Osaka together staying in a nice, but tiny hotel room. She left the day before the start of my training week, and I can safely say I felt so on edge that day, with thoughts of “what am I doing here?!” feeling a bit alone and vulnerable in this big scary world. I like to keep a diary journal to write my thoughts on interesting days or exciting moments in my life, and that day I wrote,

Diary journal of first few days in Japan and preparing for the teacher training week

Fortunately the training week was a success with around 8 other teachers who were in similar situations to myself from England, America and South Africa. That lasted 5 days, then Saturday was moving day to my new home in Okayama! The company organised a nice studio apartment for me 10 mins walking from the school so I just had to book the train and get my things there. My first working day was Sunday so it was a crazy week indeed!

Life in Japan

Generally my life was pretty easy in Japan. My working day started around 1pm and finished 9pm so good if you’re a morning person (which I wasn’t at the time!) There was lots to do in the prefecture of Okayama and surrounding prefectures (Tottori, Kagawa, Hiroshima) and although the nightlife was nothing like the bright lights of Tokyo, there were plenty of nice bars and a few good options for night clubs on Friday and Saturday night.

Day Trips from Okayama (Naoshima, Itsukushima, Himeji)

 Unfortunately, one of the biggest downsides to my job was that I worked weekends when we started earlier at 8am so only managed to have a handful of fun nights out while I was there. Furthermore as the school was open 7 days a week, most teachers had different days off which made it difficult to plan day trips together. And as we weren’t allowed to meet students in our free time it was difficult to make friends there (joining hobby clubs wasn’t easy due to the language barrier). A combination of these 3 things was pretty much why I decided to leave after a year.

Moving Back to Europe (during COVID-19)

With plans to spend the month of May travelling around Japan before leaving, including 2 weeks with one of my Scottish besties, safe to say I was super gutted when the coronavirus became the global pandemic that it still is today, 1 year later! I had to cancel those plans obviously and took a very empty and relaxed flight back to the UK.

Things were so stressful upon arriving in London. Compared to Japan the atmosphere seemed so tense and kinda hostile. I had to ‘quarantine’ there for 2 weeks (although I was not checked on or even asked for my quarantine address at the airport) then stayed with relatives for a couple months.

Why Poland?

I decided to continue with my English teaching but in a European country as it was closer to home and would be easier to connect and make friends with locals.

But, “Why Poland?”, I hear you ask! Well, as I hadn’t lost my sense of adventure and didn’t want to take the more familiar option of choosing somewhere like Spain, Italy, etc. I noticed the high demand for teachers in the more central-eastern European countries like Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine which I had never ventured before.

Poland stood out as a great option as I found it featured on more and more recommended travel lists and has been growing as a popular tourist destination substantially these past 5 years. Especially as a Christmas holiday to experience the ultimate festive Winter which is something I really wanted to do after spending the previous 4 years’ Christmases in the sun in New Zealand and Australia.

Summer Camp in Poland

Having secured my next job to start in September I had a few months free. And despite the lockdown, I had to organise something for myself in the meantime as you can only spend so long living with relatives before you are potentially overstaying your welcome or coming across as lazy and unable to look after themself.

Luckily it was around July-August when restrictions were easing up in parts of Europe and English immersion camps, popular all over Europe for kids in their Summer holidays, were still going ahead. I applied to volunteer for a month of Summer camps in Poland straight away which was super easy and SO. MUCH. FUN.

English Summer Camp in Poland (Mazury & Kielce)

 I couldn’t recommend doing this enough if you have a Summer free. A post specifically on my camp experience is coming soon. However for now, read a couple of my diary entries about it:

Diary journal of English Summer Camp experience a a volunteer in Poland with Angloville

Settling in Poland

September soon came around and another training week loomed ahead. Here’s another entry from my diary journal which sums how things were around this time:

Diary Journal of first impressions moving to Poland

My teaching job in Gliwice

Working in the small city of Gliwice for an ‘extracurricular’ private English school for kids and adults my lesson schedule is pretty varied and is currently comprised of 50% online lessons and 50% face-to-face. Every day is different, but generally it looks something like this…

6am: Get up, make coffee, check blog and emails.

7am: First lesson online (business english)

Before 12pm: I could have up to 3 x 40 minute lessons either in school (5 minute walk away) or online

1-3pm: Have lunch and prepare any kids/teens classes for the afternoon

4-6pm: 1x kids/teens class lesson (1 hr, with up to 8 students) and 1x online 1-to-1 lesson

6pm: Adult evening class at school (no preparation required)

7:30pm: Come home, work out, dinner and relax.

This off and on schedule is not for everyone, but I really like it as it mixes things up a bit and feels less like a weekly grind job to me.

Day to Day Life

As for the general day to day, it’s pretty relaxed. When I arrived, late Summer 2020, the weather was amazing (who knew Poland had such hot Summers!?), covid restrictions were mostly lifted so I enjoyed a couple months of local attractions, going out for drinks, and meeting new people at intercultural and expat events. I started Polish lessons and felt like it was really going to be an interesting year.

Gliwice, Poland (Palmhouse, Market Square, Radio Tower)

However since the second lockdown wave from November I have spent most weekends in the flat doing typical lockdown hobbies like cooking/baking, crocheting, and working on my blog. But the ultimate disappointment came in December when I realised all the Christmas markets and festivities I had come here for were all going to be cancelled. Obviously none of this could have been avoided though, so no regrets!

Future teaching plans

As the global pandemic and lockdowns have really affected my ability to fully embrace Poland, I haven’t become as attached as I might have been otherwise. The past year has shown how uncertain the current times are and have motivated me to try working as an independent English teacher online at the end of my Polish contract this Summer. That way I will be able to work anywhere I please with my own students, which will give me even more freedom and flexibility with my weekly schedule.

Which brings us to today!

Thanks to all my free time recently, due to the lockdown and my flexible working schedule, I was able to start this blog as a place to share my experiences, give advice, and other insights into trying to follow a life of purpose. I have got so much to talk about; from teaching, expat life, manifestation, and of course, following your passions in life so please subscribe (in the sidebar →) to get notified of any new posts and leave a comment for any questions you have or something you’d like to hear more about. 

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Hi! I'm Robyn, a Scottish girl who has been embracing and enjoying life abroad since 2014 through work, study and volunteering opportunities!

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