Alicia WszelakiIf you’re like many people, you’re probably wondering how you can travel the world, make a difference, and still make a living. One way is teaching English overseas. A way to start is completing a TEFL certificate program, which focuses on the development of effective and innovative teaching methods for an international classroom.

Alicia Wszelaki completed the TESL/TEFL program at SDSU’s American Language Institute (ALI), which offers the added benefit of helping graduates find jobs overseas. Wszelaki traveled the globe teaching English, and shares her experiences here.

The Program
The program teaches you how to be a teacher. They prepare you to go someplace where you are a foreigner and now you have to become a part of that culture. So the program goes over not only the essentials of how to teach students a language, but also how to be a part of and respect that culture. You learn methodologies about teaching and you go through a lot of the theories. This helps you not only in the classroom, but also outside the classroom since you’re communicating everywhere you go. I recommend the program at ALI to anybody thinking of changing their career because it gives you a chance to change yourself too, to challenge yourself. The program builds a lot of confidence in people. Before I took it, I was totally afraid to speak in front of a group of people. It became my vehicle to change my life.

Best Candidates for Success
I think the program is a great opportunity for somebody who is willing to take a challenge and willing to step out of their safety role. The program can be for everyone. And I think, in general, if someone is looking into the program, they already have what it takes to go because they’ve already thought about it. Somewhere the seed has been planted and they have what it takes to do it.

Change Your Life
I feel like I started again. I felt like I was going to school for the first time and I really wanted to be there. It empowered me to go out and do something different. Those four weeks really changed my perspective and gave me a lot of confidence. I think that’s the main thing. I think the program gives you confidence because I’ve never taught before. They give you everything that you need; all of the tools. In the morning, you’re in the classroom, then in the afternoon you are in another classroom where you’re actually watching a teacher firsthand and you are interacting with the international community.

Proudest Moment
I was teaching in Japan. I had a group of about 30 kindergartners. Teaching kindergartners involves a lot of songs and activities. There was one girl that would sit in the back of the room and stare at me. She didn’t sing a word, she didn’t clap her hands, she didn’t do “head, shoulders, knees and toes”; nothing. I didn’t know how to break through. Then one day the girl was screaming at the top of her lungs. Every single word that I ever taught in the class – every single word to every single song, and doing all the motions. I was like, “Wow, everybody gets it when they’re ready to get it.”

I still keep in touch with some of the other teachers from Poland and my old boss from Japan – she helps me translate some of my Japanese videos. I have constant contact with them, and I consider them some of my best friends.

Just do it. It’s a bit scary to change your life, to say I’m going to leave everything behind and try this without having a safety net. It’s so easy once you do it. People want everything answered for them when they go abroad and start teaching. And sometimes you just can’t do that because everybody is going to have a different experience. Answers will come when you get there. Put yourself out there and everything will come to you. I encourage anybody to try the program, because even if you never leave the country, the program gives you tools to being a successful communicator. In our country, you still have to work with international people, so even if you don’t step outside or get a stamp in your passport, the program still makes you change.

The ALI is an SDSU Research Foundation project.