What is TEFL Tourism?

tefl tourism

As many of you will know, I recently completed my PhD– whoop whoop! What many of you might not know, however, is what I was actually writing about for three years!

Through my PhD research I introduced a new concept- TEFL tourism (How many of you can say you’ve done that, huh?).

My inspiration stemmed from my time (albeit it rather short) working as a TEFL teacher in Thailand. A qualified and experienced Travel and Tourism Lecturer at the time, I had a slightly different perspective of the TEFL experience than my colleagues who had no prior teaching experience.

tefl tourism

I spent two years doing my PGCE, where we learned about learning styles, differentiation, summative and formative assessment, effective planning, behaviour management and teaching administration to name but a few. In my lessons I was expected to incorporate employability skills, literacy and numeracy. My classes had to suit the visual, kinaesthetic and auditory learners and I whilst doing all of these I had to keep on top of my mountain of paperwork, conduct parents evenings, organise enrichment activities and ensure students achieved high grades in accordance with the requirements set by the awarding bodies. Whoah, I feel exhausted just thinking about it all!

So I’m sure that you can appreciate my bewilderment at the expectations I encountered when I started working as a TEFL teacher in Thailand. Curriculums were written by teachers (who often had little more than a 40 hour TEFL qualification and had no prior knowledge of the students’ level of English) over an evening beer in the local bar. The same with assessments. There was no behaviour management, literally none, whatsoever. The kids were impeccably behaved. You taught the same thing to every class regardless of age, level or ability. There was no formal structure to lessons, no starter activities, no plenaries, no differentiation. In fact, the majority of your time was taken up by playing games with the students. I will never feel the same about ‘what’s the time Mr wolf’ or ‘duck duck goose’.

tefl tourism

Now my intention here is by no means to belittle TEFL teaching overseas, rather to simply highlight the differences between perception and expectation. Whilst I noted these inherent differences from day one in the Thai classroom, many of my colleagues faced this realisation on their return to their home country when they commenced their British, American or Australian teacher training programmes.

It was this difference, however, that sparked my interest in the subject. To me, teaching English as a foreign language was not a career choice. Rather, it appeared to be, for many, a way to fund the travelling experience or to live in the exotic paradise that is Thailand. The inherent contradiction of work and leisure in this regard fascinated me, and so the inspiration for my PhD was born.

So, in answer to the question ‘what is TEFL tourism?’, I can tell you that it is essentially the experience of teaching English overseas, whilst partaking in a substantial amount of tourism-based activities. Through my research I also created a formal definition of a TEFL tourist phenomenon, which is-

‘A person who travels outside of their usual environment to teach English as a foreign language, whose role shifts between tourist, educator and educatee at various points in their trip’ (Stainton, 2017)

For more information about TEFL tourism and to read more of my research you can take a look at some of my recent publications.