By Todd Persaud
One of the biggest transitions I ever had to go through was the experience of transitioning from school to the workforce. Both have entirely different mentalities. And for the first timer, it can be imposing, daunting, sometimes scary, like starting your own business when you’ve never worked a day in your life.
If you’re especially young and not used to having to proven yourself to other people, then sometimes you might feel like your ego has taken a hit and that you’re not being validated as a human. I know this sounds very touch-feely but, we all have egos that need to be fed like the goldfish you forgot to feed and killed in elementary school.
The University system does give you lessons about the workforce, although you have to often extrapolate them since they’re usually buried beneath the surface and aren’t always obvious to see. In terms of an actual direct message about the job market, the most you ever get is a few seminars, maybe a resume-writing workshop, and the basic message that you’ll have a credential and you’ll be able to work.
However, no one ever actually teaches you sales skills or how to sell yourself and your worth and the skills you bring and your personality, let alone how to remove yourself from thinking in the first person singular and transitioning toward thinking about others’ needs.
When you enter the job market and you find yourself unemployed, living in your parents’ basement and you don’t know what to do, that’s when it hits you: “Oh my God. I never really thought about this. I never really thought about what I really wanted. And I never really thought about the people that I wanted to be working with and sharing my life’s work with.” But there’s good news: You can do this now AND get paid. Who says you can’t make a good business out of your indecisiveness? Just ask your waiter if he wants to be in the film business, his answer will most likely be yes but he just hasn’t moved out of his comfort zone. Sieze the day!
When I first graduated, I wasn’t employed, I didn’t know where to go. I got a number of rejections. I must have applied to maybe 300 jobs and nothing really happened until I started looking at teach English. I had been volunteering as an English teacher at my local library and also at the international center in New York City, and I figured I could parlay what I’ve been doing already into a potential opening for service that I can provide to some kind of school. Maybe I could be like a substitute teacher or maybe I could teach overseas.
I’d always wanted to travel. So, it wasn’t until I did some searching on my own and I saw on websites these advertisements for TEFL degrees. And I read more about them. And I read from these websites that with a TEFL degree, you could be placed in a job right away. And that was the only thing that I was thinking about at the time. It was how fast I could get some cash coming in. I mean, I had bills to pay. I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be on my own.
And so, the first job that I was ever able to procure was as an English teacher in private schools in Mexico, and then later in the public and private school system in South Korea. The only way that I was going to really be able to figure this out for myself was by reading a lot and by reaching out to different people asking questions. What I really needed to be doing was to be transitioning my brain to the job force and to figure out what it was all about.
I could just focus on myself in a foreign country because English wasn’t the predominant language there. So, the great thing about teaching overseas, and being surrounded by non-English speakers, was that it gave me nothing but my own thoughts. Which further fostered self-reliance. Although one should never choose an occupation just because of the income, the income was nice to have while I thought about the bigger and wider picture of what I wanted. This was just one of the perks of building an English-teaching career.
The industry for teaching English is pretty expansive as well. There are many schools for many different types of people. Some for the gap year kid. Some for the career teacher. Some for the tourists. I mean, there are so many different types of programs that you could be connected with.
Actually getting your first gig overseas tends to be pretty easy to do, given that there are billions of people who want to learn English and where English is kind of the lingua franca of the entire world. The opportunity is immense.
Keep in mind that with rare exception, you can’t have it all or else you’ll be wandering about. With every journey, there’s a sacrifice. So, what you decide to do in one area, you give up in another. For example, I decided to teach overseas, so that did end up reducing some of the connections or contacts I could have built in New York. My time overseas represents years that could’ve been spent networking and connecting to build a life in the United States. I didn’t want this for myself.
Many years have gone by where I have not seen my parents in person, but that was the choice I made, that was a choice I felt I needed to make. So, these are all kinds of things that you need to take into consideration about what your values are.
Eventually though, you do have to take action because money loves speed and money loves action. So, you can’t be meditating all the time or reflecting slowly, the way a lone philosopher in an ivory tower does in the workforce. And sometimes maybe just a shotgun approach will really serve you best because rarely is life a linear path.
The point is not to dwell and watch life go by. Take action, preferably where you’ll start to get some cash flow. The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Industry is especially accommodating to graduates, because there are EFL jobs for all kinds of people—for people who have never worked, for people who have worked; for people who just want to tour a country; and for people who want to make English teaching a career. As each business has its own mission, so does each school, and you can find one that accommodates wherever you are in your journey.
English teaching really helped me. It helped me get my bearings and come back to a place that I could recognize as uniquely my own. It helped me build experience and it helped me figure out some things that I enjoyed and some things that it turned out I didn’t enjoy.
If you’re considering working overseas and creating a portfolio of experiences, either for the United States or for building a life abroad, the resources are at your fingertips. You just have to take action and grab them.