Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I had a job lined up in China, teaching English to children on the western outskirts of Beijing. It fell through when the government refused me a visa, presumably because of my background in journalism. God, I was heartbroken when the school emailed me the news. But you don’t want to hear about a grown man crying.

I started to look further afield and what I found was not encouraging. If I couldn’t go to China I’d check out Korea, which is also desperate for EFL teachers. Or at least it was. Now, from what I’ve read, it’s flooded with them, and as a newbie in his early 40s I‘d be at a distinct disadvantage. Apparently what they go for are good-looking young people with American accents: three attributes I can’t fake.

I’d studied TEFL in part because I thought Asia was going to usurp the West economically. Well, it turns out that plenty of other people have had the same idea. Officially - and this is almost certainly an underestimate - nearly 10% of the US workforce is unemployed at the moment. A significant number of them are heading to Asia to teach English, which isn’t going to do much for wage rates.

I thought about getting a year’s experience in Europe but didn’t fancy earning a pittance. Realistically that just leaves South America, which I plan to explore several years from now. Maybe the TEFL certificate will come in handy then. As I’ve often said, it’s another string to my bow. But my heart’s not in it at the moment, so I’m going back to London to resume my career in journalism.

I’m delighted, actually, which is odd considering how miserable I was the last time I lived there. Look at it this way, though: I’ve recharged my batteries, secured a freelance position subbing a business magazine for three weeks of every month and, with the additional work I plan to do, I’ll be able to save quite a bit of money for the next few years. In tough economic times, that last point is important to me.

Maybe I’m retreating to my comfort zone. The six hours of teaching I did on the one-month CELTA course in Poland last year were certainly rewarding, and brought out interpersonal skills I rarely get to use when I’m sitting behind a computer screen. When the course ended - before I got distracted by a health scare that turned out to be nothing and a six-month trip around Asia - I remember looking forward with enthusiasm to starting a new career. So yeah, maybe I’m making a mistake.

But I don’t think I am, to be honest. Because I’m keen to plug myself back into the capital’s vibrant and diverse culture, rediscover its theatre scene, buy a Cineworld cinema pass, expand my skills through evening classes, get stuck into a magazine that I think is going to interest me enormously and earn enough money to pay for future international slacking.

I’m just glad to be working, frankly.