• Jocelyn Hellested

Taking the Leap and Starting my International TEFL Journey

Updated: Mar 29

Have you ever had someone tell you that you can’t do something and immediately you want to do that thing more? It can be discouraging but how you react to disappointing news can be enlightening. Do you throw in the towel and move on or do you accept the timing is off and it’s time to buckle down and try, try again? The latter is how I felt after receiving my rejection letter from the Fulbright Committee; a government organization that sponsors Americans to teach and do research abroad. Teaching abroad in a Spanish speaking country was what I visualized myself doing after college graduation; at the time I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else…To read in an email that it was no longer a possibility was crushing. Without my permission, the pause button had been pushed on my dream and the course I had imagined my life taking after graduation had to be reevaluated.


Fast forward a couple of months later and I decided to apply to the Peace Corps and committed to the idea of teaching English in Panama. Second times the charm right? Or is that not how the expression goes? Slap in the face number two came the August after graduation. Despite what I thought was a dazzling collection of experiences abroad and teaching English, the Peace Corps was not impressed. Luckily while I had been waiting to hear a response from the Peace Corps I had begun my search for a “real” adult job and found work as a site coordinator for an after school program in the city of Rochester. Although my dream was delayed, I took on a role that still allowed me to work with youth and taught me a mountain of valuable skills that I would carry with me where ever I went. I was developing a career in youth development and my work was appreciated, however, at the back of my head there was a nagging thought that the sand in the hourglass was quickly passing and if I didn’t take advantage of the flexibility and time I had now to travel, when would I?


Life has a funny way of getting ahead of you and one’s desires easily become buried by day to day stresses, bills, and building financial security. I was restless at work and unfulfilled as I searched for new opportunities. Reading job description after job description I either felt unqualified or uninterested. I’d think about applying for a position and then stop and ask myself if I’d be happier in this new position or if I was attracted merely by the pay increase. What would actually make me feel challenged and excited? The answer came during a phone call with my boyfriend as he was traveling in South East Asia.


“You know, there are a lot of people who travel and teach English online to support themselves.” My ears perked as he continued, “We spend so much of our life working, it’d be nice if we could do it in a cool place and see more of the world.”


My mind began to race as I thought of all the potential places we could go; Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, the possibilities were endless. I paused for a moment before asking,


“so…are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting? Because if you are insinuating that we work remotely and travel together I need to know you are serious before I jump to conclusions”.


He was serious. Bucket list item number three “become fluent in at least two languages” and item four “apply and earn a Fulbright or something similar” suddenly seemed like realistic opportunities.


It wasn’t totally out of the question to reapply for a Fulbright or the Peace Corps but I wasn’t set on leaving my Latin American teaching status up to a committee of unknown faces. Third times the charm but with the support of my family and a travel buddy, I was going to make this happen and leave it out of the hands of structured organizations.

It’s all too easy to succumb to the comfortable world that we know and understand and let go of one's younger aspirations. And if you are happy and content in the world you’ve created for yourself, congratulations, keep living that life! However, if you have a recurring thought or dream that keeps tapping you on the shoulder I think you should take the time to turn around and have an honest conversation with yourself about what you want out of life. Not everyone’s dream is to travel and work abroad but I think it’s important to follow whatever brings you a sense of joy. Even if you don’t know exactly what that thing is yet, listen to your body, pay attention to moments when you feel as if you could jump out of your skin with excitement or are so focused and engaged you lose all sense of time. It’s in those moments that you learn a lot about yourself and what direction your life should go in. And maybe you’ve tried to do that particular thing once, twice, maybe even three times unsuccessfully but there’s a reason it keeps coming back to you and there’s a reason you can’t forget it. If it didn’t happen in the past, trust that the timing just wasn’t right and there’s still a chance for the future. My advice? Follow that feeling, listen to what your body is telling you and never settle.


Are you ready to take the leap and begin traveling and teaching? Do you have questions or are looking for some guidance? Let's connect! Send me a personal message or follow me on Instagram @Teaching_Nomad24 for teaching and travel tips.




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