a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures
The first month in any new environment is tough – getting used to the environment, the culture, the language. London for me was especially tough. It was expensive and daunting. It was cold, and it was summer. I was one of the lucky ones, because I had a couch to sleep on while I found my feet, but it was still hard.
The first thing necessary is, of course, to find a job. I spent days and days on gumtree and tefl.com looking for jobs to apply for. While there were loads of jobs out there, very few schools take the time to get back to you and without any previous language school experience, I wasn’t the best-looking potential employee. After a couple of weeks of a very empty inbox, I decided to stop excessively checking my bank balance and do something about it. So I printed my CV and put my most comfortable shoes on.
And I walked. I know this is a tough option but it has actually worked for me three times in my life, in three different cities, so I will always recommend it. I started in the area I was staying (Clapham), looked up the schools in the area and went knocking on doors. I usually just left my CV with the receptionist; try to time it that students are in classes so this are not so crazy at the reception – if you see crowds of students, just wait 10 minutes and the break is usually over. Then when that area was done (there aren’t that many), I moved to central London and did the same.
It’s amazing how seeing a person behind the CV (a well-dressed, polite person) can make a difference. Or maybe it’s the hard copy of the CV which people are more inclined to look at than an attachment on an email. If you think about it, it makes sense. If they are actually looking for someone (which happens often in language schools), it is much easier to consider someone you have already seen than to put an ad up and get hundreds of weirdos emailing you.
That was the first step. Then there was the phone call. And then the interview. And the happy dance. I won’t lie, I was cocky and thought my four years of Asia had given me a lifetime of experience. Not the first time I was disastrously wrong, and certainly not the last. This time the DoS asked me some pretty tough questions and just when I thought it was all over, I was given a grammar test. Note to job-seekers: make sure your grammar knowledge is up to scratch because you never know when someone will test you on it. Thankfully, the questions I didn’t know I was able to bluff my way out of (“Not sure about that one but I”ll definitely look it up later”) and I was given the job.
10 pounds an hour. I wasn’t going to buy a Porsche anytime soon, but at least I could start to look for a place of my own and move out of my brother’s living room. I could buy Starbucks every day on the way to work and I could go shopping to my heart’s content in Spitalfields.
Oh wait think again.
Most places ask for a month deposit plus the first month’s rent and I was still mourning the cost of my flight and visa costs. If I’m honest, this was the hardest part of the whole UK experience. If you’re not earning pounds, it’s difficult, and it takes some time to earn those pounds. So for the first two months I was wearing out my welcome at my brother’s place and in the third month, when I had found a place to stay, I was so broke I was stealing my housemate’s milk for my tea and I didn’t wash my hair for a while. I worked as many hours as I could and tried to go on as many dates as possible for the free dinners. [Only dinners, mind you. If I’d been offering anything else, I probably wouldn’t have been short of money]. I walked to work come rain or snow and on weekends I would find all the free exhibitions to go to. And I was cold all the time because I couldn’t afford one of those nice coats and had to settle for layering.
It was not easy. I was tired, hungry and probably grumpy all the time. So if you are starting out in a new place, try think of all the hidden costs before you get there (something I’m still not good at) and just remember: