TEFL teacher shares 20 years’ worth of lessons on teaching and travelling

Kirsten Colquhuon at The Great Wall of China in Beijing. Picture: Supplied

Kirsten Colquhuon at The Great Wall of China in Beijing. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 3, 2024


Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) gave Cape Town resident Kirsten Colquhoun the opportunity to visit 27 countries by the time she was 29 – all while earning an income.

According to the teacher, after graduating with a degree in English and psychology from UCT, she packed her bags and set off for Thailand to begin her globe-trotting adventure, which ultimately influenced the trajectory of her life and career.

“I knew as soon as I started teaching that I wasn’t going to stop, so I just didn’t go back home. Since then, I’ve taught and lived in six countries, including China, Spain, and England. It’s an experience I recommend to everyone,” said Colquhoun.

She now develops curriculum resources and provides teacher training at The TEFL Academy, South Africa’s leading TEFL qualification provider.

Colquhoun said that teaching abroad allowed her to save up and spend the school holidays travelling all over the world, offering a blueprint for local graduates who want to kick-start a career in teaching, or simply take a gap year in 2024.

This is as qualified teachers can expect to earn between R190 and R560 an hour, as well as invaluable work experience.

“Throughout my time overseas, I picked up skills like public speaking and problem-solving, which was great for me professionally. Living and teaching in a foreign country is such an amazing experience for your independence.”

“It shows you how flexible and adaptable you are. That all looks great on your CV; it shows that you’re a go-getter. There’s also the possibility of picking up another language, which is always a beneficial skill,” said Colquhoun.

But her time abroad was not without its challenges. The teacher revealed that she found teaching in some rural areas difficult, since fewer people were likely to speak English.

She added that she also had to overcome her naturally shy and introverted personality to become an effective teacher, which was ultimately an opportunity for personal growth.

“Travel allowed me to become a new person. To be successful in teaching and building a life overseas, I had to discover a side of myself that could handle anything. It helps that, when you’re in a new country, you can be whoever you want to. So, I left that shy, quiet person in Cape Town and became someone who was self-confident,” said Colquhoun.

She has since settled down in Cape Town with her husband and two children and revealed that teaching abroad has significantly impacted her priorities as a mother.

“It planted a seed in me about how I want my children to travel with me. I want to introduce them to different cultures and teach them how to appreciate other people and places. It changed me so fundamentally and I want them to experience it from a much younger age than what I had,” she said.

Colquhoun’s advice to anyone considering taking a TEFL course is to just go for it. “Doing TEFL sets you apart from other people who don’t travel. Be open-minded and flexible. Don’t get too hung up on the details and the possible negatives. Having gone through many kinds of difficult situations myself, I can safely say that whatever happens will be worth it in the end,” she said.