ESL: Your Second Passport
Jun 12, 2023
Road trips

ESL: Your Second Passport

ZinaidaSopina / Shutterstock

“I think of it as your second passport,” he said with a smirk, his voice bright with the confidence that only a person who feels he has conquered the world has. And, to be honest, I believed him. Angus, my first friend upon moving abroad and host while I underwent a 4-week intensive TEFL certification course, seemed to have everything that I wanted from life: flexible working hours, enough money to support himself and his interests, a carefree attitude toward his working life, and a downtown flat in one of the most spectacular cities in the world, Barcelona, Spain.

“People around the world will invite, house, and pay you,” he continued, “to do something that comes completely natural to you. Think about that. It´s as if youve had the key to the entire world right in your pocket the whole time.”

He was referring, of course, to speaking English.

It sounded too good to be true. Coming from a 45-50 hour work week in America, I had come to accept that “work” would always be the tolerable nightmare I felt it was: inhuman office environments, long hours staring at the clock at the corner of my computer screen, and seemingly endless, unchallenging tasks like compiling expense reports and re-organizing files. Hell, I had done it for years to pay my way through my college education. I never thought it would change. ? never thought I´d end up teaching small, manageable classes of non-English speakers a few days a week, and living a more independant, more enjoyable, and happier life than I ever did in America.

All my favorite stories begin with a necessity that pushes the hero in another direction. And so it was for me, as well: I wanted something new, something strange, something that would shake my beliefs about the possibilities I saw in the world around me and the limitations I imposed on myself. Something to wake me up from the delirium that had descended upon me in the past year. So that was it: I decided to jump a plane. Decided to try to live and work in another country. Not one in particular. Just one that had a radically different culture from my own.

I set out with about 500 bucks left in my pocket, and currently own the eighth floor of an apartment complex in Eastern Turkey.

Thank the internet. Here’s what I did:

Step 1

Find a TEFL certification course. Most private language schools these days are looking for three things: a university degree, a willingness to live in their country and overcome the cultural differences, and a recognized TEFL certificate. But be discriminating and willing to pay a little bit more—all TEFL degrees are not equal. Trinity and CELTA are high quality programs and are becoming almost universally recognized. I can say that what seperated me high and above the other teachers applying for my position was my TEFL degree. The investment of money and time has paid off in less than two months. And if youve never taught English before (or never taught before,) its essential: the in-class, real teaching experience is an excellent confidence builder.

Step 2

Find a job. The foreign location (and supplied resources) of the Trinity program I enrolled in allowed me to meet people, expand my contacts, and plot my next destination. Sending out my CV to a series of language schools caught the attention of a newly opened one in the heart of Adana, Turkey. They offered me a place to live, flexible working hours, and a livable salary. I packed my bags.

To romanticize about this job would be foolish. Like any job, it has its ups and downs: ungrateful, disruptive students and large class sizes, long hours planning lessons that fall completely flat, and attempts to explain to bosses the American concept of one´s “private life.” But the highs outweigh the lows, in my opinion. I’m currenting typing up this article from my lakeside balcony view. The entire city streches out below me—and sometimes, when I wake up and look out over the skyline, I feel like a prince surveying the lands he rules over.

Yesterday, I stood inside one of the most beautiful mosques in the country, staring wide-eyed at the patterns etched into the domes that make up the ceiling. Then I stood atop a two-thousand year old stone bridge that remained from Roman times. Tomorrow, I´m planning to hop the first bus that comes along heading for the downtown area, explore the small shops, and try out some of the new Turkish phrases Ive been trying to memorize with the owners.

I could write endlessly about the unbelievable hospitality I´ve received here (shop merchants who invite me for tea and introduce me to their daughters,) the curious cultural differences that have shocked and entralled me (masses of people ritualistically sacrificing sheep,) and the utter delight of spending a month in a country which—upon arrivng—I spoke not ONE word of the language besides “Yes.” Two months later, by some miricle, I found myself discussing my favorite American guitarists with a poster vendor on the street.

Life has never felt more strange, open to possibility, and like an ever-unfolding adventure.

My friend Angus was right: English, your second passport, can take you there.

Sean Michael Kiely is is a US Citizen who recently ran away from home to work for a private language school in Adana, Turkey. He loves meeting new people and discussing animals, animated films, and the psychology of Sigmund Freud. He often wonders whether or not the real Bob Dylan actually died in a motorcycle accident in 1966.