Number one for English language teachers

Australia: Juggling work, travel and play

Steve White offers some tips for living on a shoestring Down-Under.

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I really enjoyed teaching English in Australia and found it a great way to experience a truly massive and amazing country. I'd recommend it to anyone who (like me) can't afford to fund an extended trip around the place but is willing to juggle work and play over the course of a year.

Work can be found in private language schools, teaching a mix of Asian, European, South American, and occasionally African students. These schools are similar to those operating in other English speaking countries, and generally consist of young adult students hoping to improve their English whilst having a good time in Oz. This means that motivation levels can vary widely. Classes range from hard working Cambridge groups and IELTS/EAP students desperate to get into Australian colleges, right through to easy going general English groups with more interest in surf reports than reported speech.

If you're wondering about access to work there's bad and good news depending on your age! Visas are tricky to get, and sponsorship (by employers) is not easily obtainable in the TEFL industry unless you have something special to offer. BUT, if you're under 30 and from a signatory country (including the UK, Ireland, Canada and many others) you can qualify for a 'Working Holiday Visa' (See the Australian Government Website in your country for details). This bit of wallpaper for your passport isn't too expensive and entitles you to work for 1 year (up to three months for each employer you can find).

When armed with a visa, blast all prospective schools with emails and CVs offering your services, and providing you've got a TEFL qualification you should get some positive responses. 

Pay is usually enough to live on comfortably though definitely not extravagantly. I managed to save up travel money during my work stints without starving or staying home every night. The usual rules apply regarding employers - get a contract, check the pay, but remember that there's a steady supply of teachers in the bigger cities so your bargaining power is limited.

I found that some of the bigger schools in particular weren't overly concerned with real teacher development (revolving door employment policies to keep wage costs down) but always paid on time and had good resources. Also, some places only recognise Australian or British Council school teaching experience when it comes to remuneration, but are happy to ask such 'unproven' staff to teach Cambridge or other more demanding classes.

Accommodation is cheap if you're prepared to share a house - check the classified adverts in the local papers. Private residences can also be rented and tend to be of varying quality but uniformly expensive.

When it comes to spending your earnings, you can start to enjoy the benefits the 'lucky country' has to offer: great food, the great outdoors, surf, loads of sports facilities, modern shops etc. Supermarkets are reasonably priced but eating out in Australia is deservedly popular and many places let you BYO (bring your own) alcohol. Loads of pubs and clubs, outgoing people and a lively, original arts scene all mean plenty to see and do.

My own experience was of nice classes and fun school activities (like being paid to take surfing lessons or play beach volleyball with the students). Management varied from friendly and enthusiastic to bureaucratic and dishonest. The bits of independent travel in between work were fantastic, and I even got to know a few Aussies amongst all my fellow tourists. The locals are easy to talk to but speak their minds, so don't always expect polite banter or five-star customer service. On the other hand, they value their leisure time and like to show guests a good time.

As for travelling around and seeing the sights, you've all read the guidebooks, so get out there - if your school runs a social activities programme you might even get paid to do it!

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