Embarking on the TEFL Journey

Embarking on the TEFL Journey Featured Image

Earlier this week I hinted that my career might be headed in a new direction. After all, I really haven’t fallen in love with engineering or Corporate America. As a result, I’ve decided to find a way to break out of the cubicle and into something new: Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

Table of Contents

The Truth Comes Out

The next few sections go into depth about what led up to my decision to become TEFL certified. If you’re just interested in the TEFL piece, jump down to the Introducing TEFL section.

Alright, it might come as a shocker to some of you, but I’ve been planning my escape from engineering since about June. There’s just something to be said about coming home drained every day when I used to work twice as hard in college. I just know this isn’t for me, so I’ve decided to make a change.

Unfortunately, change hasn’t come easily. I’ve been ashamed to talk about it because I know how people will react:

  • “You’re leaving your engineering job to do what?!”
  • “What a waste of an education!”
  • “What about your student loans?”
  • “But you make such good money!”

My assumptions about what people would say are not just rooted in fear. Take a look at some of the comments on this video by ENGINEERED TRUTH:


Despite what the American Dream implies, no one wants you to follow your dreams. Conventional wisdom states that your corporate job is what guarantees you a stress free life, so why would you ever give it up on a whim?

I’ll tell you why. As someone who grew up in a household where it was normal for arguments to spur up over finances, I refuse to be motivated by a concept as superficial as money. Instead, I thrive off of experiences and relationships. You know, the part of living that reminds you that you’re alive.

Disclaimer of Privilege

Before I move on, I wanted to touch a bit on privilege since these kind of articles can seem a bit pretentious. After all, I’m fortunate enough to have a forum where I can write about my first world problems from the comfort of my home. Hell, I’m fortunate to have a college degree which has given me the opportunity to enjoy such high pay over the last year. I can’t say the same for most people in my home town.

That much I understand, but is it really so wrong to take advantage of our fundamental right to the pursuit of happiness? While the happiness aspect isn’t guaranteed, I should be able to take a chance without such harsh judgement from my peers. The same judgement that comes from people who make more money than they’ll ever need. Money which is never donated or shared but rather used to perpetuate a materialistic society. Yet, I’m the one taking heat because I plan to take a pay cut in exchange for my inalienable rights. Call me crazy, but you only live once.

Setting My Sights on a PhD

If you’ve been following my website, then you know I’m no stranger to teaching. In fact, I spent about two years as a teaching assistant in college, so it’s likely no surprise that I continue to gravitate toward education.

The closest I’ve gotten to teaching since I left college was last summer. During that time, I had an intern who was interested in learning more about data structures. As a result, we setup weekly lessons to go over different topics. The experience reminded me what it was like to be teaching again, so I decided to pursue it further.

My first move was to start looking into colleges. With my experience, I figured I might be able to get into grad school and eventually become a professor. At that point, I started studying for the GRE and looking into Computer Science PhD programs. As of today, I’ve applied to ten of twelve programs for Fall 2018, and I’ve already been rejected by one of them.

Risky Business

As I’ve written quite a few times on the blog, I work in a rotational program which moves me around the business every six months. Around June, Morgan and I had set our sites on Atlanta. She got a job, but I didn’t. As a result, I was forced to work out a remote role with my previous team. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself getting a role in Atlanta next rotation, so I’ll likely resign.

In this scenario, I’m left with six months without pay before I start in any PhD program. As a precaution, I’ve been saving money like crazy, but what happens if I don’t get into any PhD programs? Even if I do get into a program, what if I don’t get funding? I can’t afford to take out more loans.

To be honest, my GRE scores are on the low end of most of the programs I’m interested in (161Q, 157V, 4.0A), and my undergraduate GPA is nothing to get too excited about (3.55). Beyond that, I have no research experience, and I got C’s in a few of the more important Computer Science courses (Data Structures, Operating Systems, and Artificial Intelligence). With an average acceptance rate between 10%-15%, my odds aren’t looking so hot.

So, I’ve been looking at ways to differentiate myself. I started by reaching out to professors in each of the departments I had applied. My hope was that they might remember my name around decision time. Unfortunately, only about five of them have gotten back to me, and not all of the interactions have been positive. As a result, I’ve been forced to start collecting four leaf clovers.

The Four Leaf Clover: Luck +15
“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” -Dalai Lama XIV

Creating a Backup Plan

Normally, I’m against the idea of creating a backup plan. If you’re passionate about something, you really should be devoting all your energy to it. You can’t be wasting time worrying about failure. You have to succeed because it’s your only option.

However, my scenario is a bit more of a waiting game which leaves my hands tied until February. With a lead time that long, I tend to just sit and worry. To combat the anxiety, I’ve been looking into other options in case my dreams turn sour.

As always, I’ve been looking to this site as an opportunity to make some money. If I keep writing about my experiences, I figure people might start supporting me through Patreon. It’s a pipe dream, but I still have hope.

Instead, I’ve had to be more practical in my planning. Among those plans include tutoring, entrepreneurship, and TEFL. I won’t go into all the details because I have an article coming out soon on my quarter-life crisis, but I figured I’d bring it up.

Introducing TEFL

While I was putting together backup plans, I was reflecting on some of the things that I enjoy doing: traveling, practicing music, writing code, teaching students, playing video games, etc. I spent quite a lot of time thinking about what types of people I like to be around and what gets me out of bed in the morning. Let’s just say that I’ve really gotten to know myself since I started working from home.

I’m not sure what ultimately got me interested in TEFL, but I will say that I spent a lot of time Googling “I hate engineering” and “I need to quit my job.” Somehow this topic led me to Google search “teaching abroad” at 8:06PM on a Saturday night.  The only thing I can find related was a Google search for “how to get paid to travel” two days earlier.

TEFL Search History in Chrome
Proof of the start of my TEFL journey – September 23rd, 2017

Within four days of learning about TEFL, I spoke to an adviser over the phone and made a deposit on their online TEFL certification course. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that kind of money on an impulse, but there’s a first time for everything. Last time I made an impulse buy it was for a FitBit, and I still have one two years later. So, I trust myself.


At this point, I want to take some time to just talk about TEFL and what it can do for your life. Put simply, TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. In other words, it’s English language instruction for people in which English isn’t their primary language.

To become certified, you typically have to go through some coursework and a practicum. However, TEFL certification is not accredited through any one governing body, so requirements can vary. It’s important to pursue a certification through a respected institution. In addition, you will likely need a four-year degree, but the major doesn’t matter.

Morgan and I chose the International TEFL AcademyOpens in a new tab., but there are several choices. With the International TEFL Academy, we get access to various alumni groups and job search guidance. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always appreciated some handholding when it comes to travel.

Career Outcomes

As I’ve already mentioned before, most people will call you crazy for trying to teach abroad. The criticism is only magnified if you hold a degree in something which can make you significantly more money. It seems American culture puts a heavy focus on career building, and many people think an experience like this will derail progress. I disagree.

Nowadays, businesses want global employees. If you can demonstrate that you’re respectful and sensitive to other cultures, you’re golden. An experience like this only raises your chances of nailing an excellent job.

Listen, the career subject is touchy. I know because I lost one of my best friends over it. They seemed to think that building up a career was so important that they were perfectly content working terrible hours for little pay. In fact, they once told me that “chasing a dream should be done in your spare time.” Now that’s inspirational!

Our Motivation

With the rant aside, I’ll just say Morgan and I are interested in TEFL because it will allow us to explore other cultures as a resident rather than a traveler. This is something that I really came to appreciate as a student in the UK, and it’s something I think Morgan has fallen in love with since we’ve moved to Atlanta.

In addition, TEFL gives me an easy transition out of the office and into a mentorship role. I’m not certain that I want to teach kids, but I know that the experience will be invaluable. As Morgan always says, “you need to love what you’re doing to be a teacher.” That said, I refuse to live with the regret of never having gone through with it.

The Waiting Game

Of course, we don’t know where we’ll be a year from now. We could be in Chicago, or we might be in Guangzhou. It really all depends on how February plays out. In the meantime, we wait.

Morgan and I start our class on October 9th, and it runs through December 22nd. If all goes well, we’ll be certified to teach English abroad by Christmas. How’s that for being proactive? If my PhD dreams go down the drain, you can catch Morgan and me on a plane to South Korea where we plan to start our TEFL journey.

And to all the haters, here’s a TED talk for the road:

Some of you might be worried this article is a bit risky. After all, it does blatantly state that I don’t plan to keep my engineering job. That said, I’m not too worried about it. I don’t get many readers at this point, so I think I’m in the clear. The real risk is my big mouth. I promised myself I wouldn’t tell anyone about my applications because I was worried I wouldn’t get in, yet I’ve still managed to spill that information everytime someone asks.

We’ll see what happens.

Jeremy Grifski

Jeremy grew up in a small town where he enjoyed playing soccer and video games, practicing taekwondo, and trading Pokémon cards. Once out of the nest, he pursued a Bachelors in Computer Engineering with a minor in Game Design. After college, he spent about two years writing software for a major engineering company. Then, he earned a master's in Computer Science and Engineering. Today, he pursues a PhD in Engineering Education in order to ultimately land a teaching gig. In his spare time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, playing Overwatch and Phantasy Star Online 2, practicing trombone, watching Penguins hockey, and traveling the world.

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