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Violet_Romer_in_flapper_dress,_LC-DIG-ggbain-12393_crop4…I can’t go on, I can’t go on no more, no!

  • – Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer


There comes a time when every cell in your body is screaming at you to head for the door and to the nearest airport. What do you do? Give in to the feeling and run like hell, or try and stick it out?

The expression ‘doing a runner’ actively enters into your vocabulary usually about the same time you take up your very first TEFL position somewhere very, very far from all that is familiar, which, you will shortly discover, also includes the Western concept of workers’ rights. It’s not unknown for a freshly arrived TEFL teacher to hear, in fact, that the position he or she has just landed, had become available because someone else had ‘done a runner’. This act consists of dispensing entirely with letters of resignation and working one’s notice, but simply heading off into the night in a hastily flagged-down taxi, clutching a suitcase or two containing all one’s worldly possessions and wearing a wild-eyed expression interrupted only by a newly acquired tic.


The reason for your predecessor’s hurried departure doesn’t usually tardy in becoming apparent, and quite possibly you too will be the proud owner of a nice, new tic before the first month is over. On the other hand, you may turn out to be made of tougher stuff altogether, and find that it only requires drinking yourself into a stupor every evening to make it through the days and the nights. Which is great. Truly it is. Unless the over-priced booze starts to take its toll on your liver and/or bank balance, and you end up having to borrow money from your new colleagues in order to eat, in which case, you might be forced to face the reality – it’s not working out for you.


Sake, absinthe, whatever – it can all look very appealing when you’re feeling down.


Making oneself utterly miserable in order to earn a living is, unfortunately, the unavoidable lot of many human beings; the fledgling tic in your right eye could quite easily have been acquired in Manchester or Arkansas, or whichever city you left behind you, starry-eyed at the thought of decent money in an exotic setting. However, back home, at the end of a cruddy working day, chances are you had caring relatives or a set of good mates ready and willing to listen to you letting off steam, to make you a cup of tea, buy you a beer, or to remind you that Mad Men is on the telly later on (let it not be forgotten that, depending on where you end up TEFLing, you might not even be able to rely on having any delightfully brain-numbing decent TV to fill your evenings). More importantly, back home, if your employer really pisses you off, you’ll have various avenues of recourse open to you to protect and to compensate you, whereas where you’re at now it’s quite possible that however rotten a deal you’re being dealt by your employers, there is little, if anything, you can do about it.


TEFLING can mean self-containment to the nth degree



It would be disingenuous to claim that lousy and dishonest employers are to be found only in foreign climes, because nothing could be further from the truth. Likewise, it would be inaccurate to imply that all TEFL jobs will end up making you rue the day you signed the contract. However, the sense of isolation from the emotional and social buffer of family and friends, combined with the deep frustration of having very few legal options open to you, should things not work out as well as you’d hoped, make all the difference between a professional disappointment on your home turf, and one somewhere overseas.


No TEFLer ever went on strike. Ever.


It’s easy to take for granted the laws protecting workers’ rights when you’re a great-great-great-great-great grandchild of the Enlightenment, with a strong sense of individualism in your DNA; it’s understandable not to fully grasp how collectivism, the basis for all the key non-Western TEFL destinations, translates into what you can and cannot expect from an employer-employee relationship, until hit with the reality of not being able to do absolutely anything from a legal stand-point about some grossly unfair event; it’ll be tempting to write off all obstacles you come up against as being down to your employer being less than honest, less than fair, less than decent. The difficult part is trying to figure out if you and your individualistic brain can survive in a collectivist society without damage being done to your physical and mental health, and coming to terms with the simple but harsh reality that, outside of the West, your rights as a worker simply do not have the same weight as they would back home.


On the road again?


Whilst not advocating doing runners as a solution, especially since they leave dirty great holes in your curriculum vitae, it might be worth pondering whether certain foreign countries are really destined to be anything other than potential holiday destinations to you, and whether you might not be happier and healthier sticking to TEFLing in nations which the Enlightenment, well, enlightened, because, at the end of the day, a job which costs you your mental and physical well-being is really not worth it.


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