How My TEFL Certificate Made Me a Global Navigator Program Leader in China

Authored by:
Jennifer R.

Jennifer R.

When I graduated from The University of South Florida in May 2015, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had studied Mandarin Chinese in college and spent a summer studying abroad at Qingdao University in China, but I wasn’t sure how to connect my personal and educational experiences in China to my professional life. Holding a BA in Psychology, the connection did not seem too obvious or readily attainable.

While scouring the Internet for ways to work in China, I came across CIEE’s Teach in China program. That same day, I applied to teach in China with CIEE. I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted; I didn’t study education or have any prior teaching experience. However, a week or two later, I received an unforgettable email offering me a year-long teaching position at Chongqing Vocational College of Transportation in Chongqing, China.

Me and my co-teachers with some of the English Club members at our college in Chongqing

I was absolutely ecstatic! Although I had never taught English before, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and try something new. I figured that I would realize what my next steps should be in life by taking on the international adventure of a lifetime and learning about myself in the process.

Because I did not have any prior English-teaching or tutoring experience, I decided to get TEFL certified with CIEE to prepare me for teaching in China. After 130-hours of online coursework and a 20-hour practicum of teaching online English conversation classes to adults from all over the world, I felt ready to hop on the plane and into the classroom.

Taking selfies with students after class was always fun!

I taught in China from October 2015 - July 2016. My time teaching in China helped me to learn a lot about Chinese culture and grow personally and professionally. From living and traveling in China for 10 months, I realized just how much cultural and linguistic diversity exists within the country. I became fascinated by the differences between all the languages and cultural groups in all the different provinces of China. I swore to myself that I would keep coming back to new cities and provinces to experience as much of those differences as possible.

A look at the beautiful Fenghuang County in Hunan Province

I loved my experience teaching in China so much that I decided to do it again. This time, I wanted to challenge myself and experience life in a country and culture that I had never experienced before. I re-applied to CIEE to their Teach in Thailand program and was offered an English instructor position at Eastern Technological College (E.TECH) in Chonburi, Thailand. At my job in Thailand, I had much more professional freedom and responsibility. In addition to teaching, I was given the opportunity to develop new English curricula and improve existing curricula, design and implement teacher training sessions, and plan and put on a semesterly English Camp that our students loved. All of these experiences allowed me to greatly expand my skills as an English-teaching professional.

My technical college in Thailand, E.TECH, was regarded as one of the best in the country. As such, we had access to a lot of resources that made my job as a teacher much easier. Not only that, but our school was able to develop international exchange programs with other technical colleges in Indonesia, Malaysia, and (now) China and to host important events that were open to the public, including Thai religious ceremonies, Thai cultural celebrations, and concerts from well-known Thai bands and singers. Having access to so many Thai celebrations and ceremonies helped me to develop a deeper appreciation for and understanding of Thai culture.

Students from our college performing Thai dance at the Thai Mother's Day celebration
Eating fresh seafood on our staff weekend trip to Chanthaburi Province 
Students presenting hand-made flower bouquets to us teachers to honor us on Wai Khru Day (Teacher Appreciation Day)

The director of the International Language Institute (my supervisor) told me that, when making her final hiring decisions, she chose to hire me because of my 150-hour TEFL certification and previous year-long in-classroom English teaching experience in China. So, for anyone thinking of teaching English for more than one year or teaching English in more than one country, I highly recommend a TEFL certification to make you stand out from the crowd!

My co-teachers and I with exchange students from Indonesia who came to our college
Me with some of my favorite students in Thailand!

After teaching in Thailand, my TEFL certification brought me to my current adventure: being a full-time graduate student in an MA in Applied Linguistics & TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program. As a graduate student, I hold a TA position as a Spanish and Mandarin Chinese tutor in our World Language Department’s tutoring lab. I always enjoyed being a foreign language tutor, but I wanted to challenge myself more as a professional by making the transition from tutoring to teaching foreign languages (Spanish or Mandarin) rather than just teaching my native language (English). Remembering my drive to explore China’s distinct cultural and linguistic spheres, I started looking for opportunities to teach Mandarin first.

After a little Google searching, I found myself on the CIEE Global Navigator Program Leader page. I soon discovered that I could share my passion and enthusiasm for Mandarin and Chinese culture with high school students from around the U.S. interested in going to China to study the language. Not only that, but CIEE would compensate me for all program-related travel costs. It sounded like a dream come true!

At first, I thought it was all a little TOO good to be true. I get to travel to China, help students study Mandarin, take them into the community to speak the language with locals, and go on cultural excursions with them...FOR FREE? Plus, I get paid a stipend on top of that? There’s no way!

Sure enough, it all turned out to be true! That’s exactly what I did in Summer 2018. I had the privilege of leading two high school summer abroad programs in two different sessions: the Building a Sustainable Mega City program in Beijing and the Chinese Language & Culture program in Nanjing. Both programs were incredible and so much fun to work on! My fellow program leaders, site directors, and all my students in China inspired me to work hard to become the best foreign language educator possible.

Me with the CIEE Nanjing site staff and my fellow program leaders on the Chinese Language & Culture Program 
Me with the students from the Building a Sustainable Mega City Program - Beijing, China - Session 1 - Summer 2018

To continue my journey to become a better foreign language teacher, I re-applied to work as a Global Navigator Program Leader in Summer 2019. This upcoming summer, I will return to China to work on the Chinese Language & Culture program in Nanjing as well as the new Global Entrepreneurship program in Shanghai. I am excited to work with some of the same program leaders and site directors with whom I worked and built strong bonds last summer, and I am even more excited to meet my new students from all over the U.S.!

Chinese Language & Culture Program - Nanjing, China - Session 2 - Summer 2018

When I first got my TEFL certificate, I had no idea where it would take me. Looking back on the past 3-4 years, I can honestly say that my TEFL certificate brought me around the world and to a language-teaching career that I absolutely love.

For anyone on the fence about whether to get TEFL certified, my advice is JUST DO IT! As you can see from my story, you never know what path it will lead you down in life. 

For anyone interested in finding out more about the Global Navigator Program Leader position in countries all over the world, just click this link!



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