Jessica Neal’s Mulan tattoo means more than just her appreciation for strong women: it symbolizes her courage. This confidence has taken her from her native Birmingham, England to across Europe and Asia as a TEFL teacher abroad. Learn more about Jessica and her TEFL journey—which may lead her all the way to Vietnam!
Tell us about your upbringing. Where did you go to school, what did you aspire to be, how did you end up teaching abroad?!
I’ve had an amazing upbringing with all the love and support I could ever ask for. I’ve always been given the freedom to explore the things I wanted to with no judgement; just advice, love, and support. I am the eldest of all my siblings and cousins. This meant that I always knew that I had to be a good role model for them.
I had no doubt that I was going to work in a good job, I just had varying ideas of what that job would be. Throughout my life I’ve wanted to be in the army, be a nurse, a vet, a policewoman, a prison guard, and a psychologist etc. I was never sure exactly what I wanted to do, I just knew that I wanted to work in a job that helped people or animals.
At university I studied Psychology with Criminology, in the hope of becoming a Counselling Psychologist. I believed in this dream throughout my three years studying. However, after university, I then dived into work and applying for a lot of job positions, before realising that it was going to be a lot more harder than I thought it was.
I was also very unhappy in the job I was in. I felt that I needed a break to find myself and make sure that I was following the right career path. Thus, I began looking at travelling. This is when I came across Premier TEFL and realised that I could do both the things I love: travelling and helping people.
I am now 3 months into my journey and I am still the happiest I have ever been. I have found a love for teaching and now, I have identified that my true calling is to travel and teach for as long as I can. Then, I will get qualified as a teacher in the UK and follow on to become an educational psychologist.
What TEFL courses did you complete? What were the three most helpful things that you learned/practiced throughout your TEFL training?
There were many things that I learned when doing my courses. However, the three most helpful things had to be the different levels of language proficiency, lesson planning, and classroom management. These are three key things that will come in very useful when teaching.
You have used your TEFL certificate in multiple places! Give us a high-level overview of your experiences teaching abroad so far.
Romania was my first experience and it was amazing! I learned how much fun you could have with teaching. I learned about the different styles and teaching and classroom management. I also learned how nice it was to build a bond with the students and how just having a conversation with them could make all the difference to their confidence.
In regards to the rest of the experience, I met the most amazing people. We were in such a beautiful location with the most amazing scenery and some nice little restaurants/bars. We had so much fun outside of teaching and then inside of teaching, the fun continued when we would go on hikes, go to the adventure park, play archery, enjoy karaoke, talent shows, and discos. I honestly could not have asked for a better experience, let alone for my first one as well.
Now, I am currently in Thailand. This has been where the fun has continued. We started with orientation where we met all the other teachers from the different provinces. This lasted for 3 days where we had so much fun learning about teaching and getting to know everyone. We also had fun celebrating a long day learning as well with drinks and a bit of karaoke one night. And, if this wasn’t fun enough, many of us decided to carry on the fun in Bangkok and Pattaya. This was amazing.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my experience in Thailand. Then, I got to my province and got settled in at the school and I am in love. The locals and the teachers are friendly and welcoming and the students are amazing and so respectful. I did suffer a little culture shock at first but it wasn’t long before I got over it and I am now in love with their food, their traditions, their values. I do plan on travelling around Asia. However, I will one day come back to Thailand because there really is no place like it. From the excursions to the people, it’s amazing.
What striking similarities do you find in the TEFL classroom between Romania and Thailand?
Romania and Thailand are both very different. However, in the classroom there are things that remain the same. That is the importance of introducing your classroom management technique and enforcing it. Also, the importance of keeping your students interacting and engaged. The more fun and engaging you make it, the more success you’ll get from it.
What differences in the TEFL classroom across countries stand out the most to you?
To be honest, there are not many differences that stand out but one, which is that in Romania the children love to have hugs and you are encouraged to show them affection. However, in Thailand this is not the case but regardless, the students are still very friendly and love chatting to you. Their genuine, big, and warm, smiles are ones which truly brighten up your day.
Describe one persistent problem in your classroom and how you solved it.
Classroom management is a big one. The students are children/young adults at the end of the day. They’re are just like us when we were that age. That doesn’t change because of what country you are in. They will talk and/or lose focus sometimes. It’s also not uncommon to have some students miss class. However, it’s not personal. Think back to when you were that age. It’s just a matter of doing your best and introducing/enforcing those classroom management techniques.
Also, keep the lessons fun/engaging. But just remember, this is just one problem compared to all the students keen to learn and all the satisfaction you get elsewhere. It really is a rewarding job otherwise.
What insider tips do you have for other TEFL teachers considering working in Southeast Asia vs. Europe?
I would definitely say to anyone just be open minded and patient. Think of all the positives and the amazing experience you get to embark on. Also, be curious and make the most out of each adventure.
It would be so easy to just work and stay home because you’re tired but you’re in another country and there is so much to explore and so much fun to be had. From going on adventures, to just having a beer or some food with people after work, do it all. Have fun!!
My journey has just begun. I don’t know for definite what’s next but I have definitely been looking at the job position in Vietnam, which is on Premier TEFL. The position and the country sound amazing, so I can’t wait to see what this brings.
Thank you for taking the time to share your magnificent story with the Premier TEFL community. Happy travels!