Sibylla Archdale Kalid interviews Richard Davie, founder of TEFL Iberia, about his decision to work abroad.
Distressing to the point of being taboo, the question ‘Do you have any plans for after you graduate?’ is enough to tell a first year from a fourth year, from the expression of mounting panic – or manic laughter – that will appear on the face of the latter. Few near-graduates can see beyond the end of the summer, and even less have a concrete plan for the rest of their working lives.
It might, however, be an easier question to answer if it involved simply making a choice about where in the world you want to be. Most students would consider working abroad a summer or gap year prospect at best, perhaps organised through organisations like Global Vision Internaional (GVI), which offer short term internships and volunteering positions abroad. These sorts of positions give you something to talk about in interviews, but they still drop you back into the UK employment market when they are over.
Alternatively, you can choose not to return. Richard Davie, founder of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Iberia, graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2008 and spent some time on the carousel of language schools and teacher training jobs, but decided they weren’t up to scratch: “I was working for a company that ran its own TEFL course but it was unprofessional, disorganised and chaotic. I just had a moment where I thought, ‘I could do this better’. So that’s how TEFL Iberia was born.”
The media has been flapping about the rise of the young entrepreneur for a while now, but it is one step further to up sticks and set up a business in a second language. Richard, however, is encouragingly blasé about the process. “They say Spain is one of the hardest countries to set up a business, but it wasn’t too bad. It’s a case of ‘easy when you know how’. You just have to prepare yourself to stand in the wrong queue, be in the wrong building, not bring a certain document, etc., but after a few trips to the tax and social security office you can be set up!”
Situated in Barcelona, round the corner from Gaudi’s quirky ‘La Pedrera’, TEFL Iberia trains graduates to teach English and find work in Spain. Since its inception in 2012, TEFL Iberia has been ranked as one of the top TEFL courses in the world – impressive, considering the extent of TEFL worldwide.
Despite this, TEFL Iberia had a fairly inauspicious start. “It just happened naturally”, Richard insisted, “I found my final two years of uni particularly tough and it was just a desire to be free, enjoy the sun and have no responsibilities. It was a choice between Barcelona and Berlin; Barcelona won as it has the weather and the beach.”
It is a choice most students holed up in crumbling Edinburgh flats would be delighted to have to make. In fact, increasing numbers of new graduates are making it. An article in The Guardian last year heralded the ‘exodus’ of young Londoners fleeing extortionate rent prices for a cheaper – and hipper – future in Berlin. Those who spoke to The Guardian were in consensus that there is ‘just more time’ in the relaxed German capital, and architect Scott van Looy told the newspaper, “there’s a sense of people doing things for themselves, for all the right reasons. In London, it’s office work, bars, sleep, repeat.”
Of courses, comments like these are specific to the whirligig that is the London careers ladder, and do not speak for the rest of the country. But they do pay testament to the perception that there are places in Europe that have a much healthier attitude to work than the UK. In itself, that can make adapting difficult: “Trying to get things done can be tricky”, Richard said, “Especially paying taxes, dealing with bureaucracy, any sort of official administration. There is no sense of urgency and you just have to accept that it’ll get done when it gets done.”
Despite his relaxed attitude, Richard concedes that, “I maybe took the decision to start a business a little lightly. Just because you’re good at something (teaching English in my case) doesn’t mean you’d be good at running a business – you need to be the manager, accountant, salesperson, marketer, cleaner, receptionist, everything.” The elephant in the room when it comes to foreign travel, however, was less of a problem than you might expect: “I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish when I first arrived, just ‘hola’ and ‘gracias’. I think if you want to work for a Spanish company you’d definitely need a good grasp of Spanish, but the fact that you are a native English speaker is a big plus.”
Although the idea of working in a cocoon of Spanish heat and languor sounds idyllic, the attitude towards graduate employment within Spain is more problematic: “I don’t have much experience with this”, Richard said, “but there is a pervading feeling that you can only get a decent job if you have an enchufe (contact/ connection), and amiguismo (‘cronyism’) is a big problem, so some people don’t bother trying as they think they are wasting their time.”
There is another catch. Richard graduated eight years ago, just as the financial crisis was hitting. Current graduates are looking onto a very different Europe, one where career decisions may not simply come down to a choice between sun or hipster bars. Richard, however, is optimistic. “I think I’ve only ever been involved in business in ‘hard’ times and don’t have a reference to compare it to. Even in bad times people see English speaking skills as a means to further themselves or even move abroad, so the demand is always there.”
It is unlikely, however, that all career paths were left as unblighted by the global financial crisis. Nevertheless, what Richard’s experience shows is that in straightened economic times unemployed graduates are even more likely to search overseas. A report by the Hydrogen Group showed that 48 per cent of Generation Y – those born in the 1980s and 1990s – were willing to move abroad, a huge increase from the age 40s to 60s bracket. Part of this probably comes down to an age of increased connectivity and cheap air travel, making foreign travel far less daunting than it was for older generations, but it probably also owes a lot to a climate that calls for increased resourcefulness – an ethos that is echoed by Richard.
“I’d say don’t buy into the rat race and don’t be in a hurry to start a career. Even if your foreign adventure doesn’t work out you still have the rest of your life to work. As for work ethic, I really believe in DIY and creating your own good luck. Nobody’s going to do it for you.”
Richard Davie is the founder of TEFL Iberia, training graduates in teaching English as a foreign language and then helping them to find work in Spain. http://www.tefl-iberia.com/