Meet Leejay Heller, an American who has loved traveling from a very young age and started teaching English in Asia and Europe. Graduating during the year 2010 was a difficult time for Leejay as the American economy was going through a great recession. Like many other people who have featured on our blog, Leejay decided to pivot his career. He previously worked in sales and retail before pursuing his English teaching career. While keeping in touch with a good friend during this tough time, Leejay and his friend made a big decision to start teaching English in Asia. He started off his journey with a TESOL course and then furthered his studies with Premier TEFL. Find out where Leejay traveled throughout Asia and where he ended up next.
Tell us about yourself, Leejay! We’d love to know about your background, what drew you to teaching English in the first place?
I am an American. As I often have to explain to people, I was born in New York, I grew up in Southern California. Went to high school in South Florida, went back to Southern California for college, and briefly lived in Chicago before beginning my adventures of teaching English in Asia. As I graduated college in 2010, in the heart of the great recession, a career or jobs in general, seemed to be a low prospect. I was working various off jobs but I kept in touch with a friend from college. He kept telling me about his adventures in teaching English in South America. We eventually decided to teach English in Asia together and decided on taking a TESOL course in Thailand. I also have completed three specialist courses with Premier TEFL, which are Teaching Business English, Teaching IELTS Exam Preparation, and Teaching TOEIC Exam Preparation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Can you tell us about your career previous to teaching? Have you been able to transfer those skills to teaching ESL?
I worked various odd jobs, such as sales and retail before working as an ESL teacher. I will say from my previous life and experiences, I am a passionate performer and public speaker which naturally fits perfectly with teaching English. The most important part is finding a job that actually allows and appreciates you to express yourself in your own unique way as a TEFL teacher. I believe a truly good teacher must be a good performer at heart (acting lessons could help with this). You can have all the knowledge of the world. But if you do not present it interestingly and engagingly, it will not be received well by the students or even be effective in their actual education.
You’re currently teaching abroad in Poland. Awesome! Tell us about your unique journey of working abroad as an ESL teacher.
I started off taking a TESOL course in Phuket, Thailand. It included a 6-month contract. I ended up teaching English at a private school in the Bangkok area. I then taught in Hong Kong for 2 and a half years. Where I taught at places ranging from language centers to private schools. I also taught in Taiwan for a year a half before deciding on moving on to Europe. Emphatically that Taiwan is an amazing country, I can totally see myself returning there, perhaps even settling down one day. One of my best friends said I was a fool for leaving and perhaps he is right. But I wanted to explore more of the world before I decide to settle down anywhere. As people in the ESL world may or may not know, it is often very difficult to get a job, at least as an American. Because they almost always require an EU passport/ EU work visa. I finally found a job that would hire me without it. It is my hope, at least in theory, that I will be able to transfer this work permit/work visa to another job in Europe teaching English.
Can you share three things that only locals know about Poland?
Unfortunately, I will not have much of a chance to explore much of Poland due to COVID-19. However, what I have learned here is that Polish people seem to really like volleyball, their spiced meats (like the famous kielbasa), and will immediately and openly admit that Czech beer is better!
Do you teach young learners, adults, or a mix of both? How do you manage your schedules?
A major reason I took this job is that I finally have the opportunity to teach adults. My current position includes teaching students of all ages. I currently work full time and my schedule constantly fluctuates between days and times, and even online and offline classes due to COVID. But aside from having to teach during a lockdown, a constantly changing and hectic schedule should not be a surprise to anyone who has worked in the ESL world.
What does a typical working day look like for you? Give us a rundown.
As of this writing, I do a hybrid of online and offline classes. I will have either 2 one on one online classes, or 1 long group online classes. Then I will head over to the learning center and teach English to several in-person classes and then go back to my apartment.
What are some challenges that you have faced and how have you overcome them while teaching and traveling? What have you learned for future similar situations?
I have learned from experience that you should try your best to know exactly what is going on, what you will actually be doing, and where you are going. Always read the contract. Stand up for yourself. Always have an exit strategy if needed. It is of course okay to have fun and have that adventurous spirit. But I have also learned the value of self-reliance and to take care of your business, then you can be and feel secure when taking a big risk or jumping without being able to see what is in front of you.
Can you share with us a favorite story or two from your time teaching English overseas?
When I was teaching English in Asia, I will say that having to do my first “visa run” from Thailand to Laos was an interesting experience. Also doing the same thing from Hong Kong to Macau. Hong Kong and Macau are perfect places designed for visa runs. At least with Hong Kong and Macau, they have a ferry and it is very easy.
What’s next for Leejay? Continue doing what you’re doing, travel, and teach online perhaps?
Assuming we are able to escape from the COVID-19 nightmare. I hope that I will be able to keep traveling, keep exploring, and keep teaching. I eventually want to be in a position to teach English entirely online. So that I will have the flexibility to teach and travel at the same time whenever and wherever I want. It is my current goal to end up in a place like New Zealand or Norway and have a family, but who knows what will actually end up being my reality. One truly never knows where the ESL and TEFL teacher world will end up taking you.
Did you find this article about Leejay Heller who changed his career and taught English in Asia useful? If you have any questions please comment in the box below If you want to read more about TEFL teachers changing their careers to pursue an adventurous profession in teaching English. Quresh’s story is a fascinating one! Find Out About Quresh’s Journey of Teaching English in China.
Find Out About Quresh’s Journey of Teaching English in China
Quresh pivoted his career from hospitality to accounting and then to English teaching. So far, Quresh has led an amazing life. From the amazing career choices, he has chosen from the people he has met. He is such an inspiration for all our readers!
Quresh started off by completing our 120-hour Advanced TEFL Course. After receiving his certificate, he decided he wanted to expand his studies more and he completed the 168 Hour Ofqual Regulated Level 5 TEFL Course. Quresh was in the hospitality sector for 14 years. He loved the idea of traveling and working at the same time and thought it was an amazing opportunity for him to see the world while earning a wage. Little did he know, teaching English would be the ideal job for him. Teaching English with Premier TEFL expands your opportunities. Enjoy teaching abroad in the country of your dreams while earning a great wage.
One of the main reasons Quresh decided to become a TEFL teacher was because the pandemic hit at the start of 2020 and he was made redundant from his accountancy job. After this happened, he did research and wanted to find the next best job that would suit him. Considering his love for travel, he did more research about TEFL courses and then came across Premier TEFL’s website. He loved what he saw and completed two TEFL courses. Then he applied for a teaching English job in Changsha, China. He applied for this job independently, but the team at Premier TEFL helped him with his legislation.
Traveling during COVID-19
I think we are all eager to travel because of not being able to travel for nearly a year. But what is grueling us more is not knowing what it is like to travel. TEFL teacher Quresh tells us all about his experiences traveling to China. Quresh being a British man, started off his journey at Heathrow. Here he had to prove he had taken a COVID-19 test with negative results. This test had to be taken within 72 hours of his flight.
What happened when he landed?
He then went from Heathrow to Zurich, Switzerland. When he landed in Zurich he had to fill out an online form as it was his connecting flight to Shanghai, China. He mentions how bizarre the whole traveling experience in China was. When he arrived at Shanghai airport another COVID-19 test was taken. He describes the airport in Shanghai as being apocalyptic. Some of the people surrounding him on the plane were wearing hazmat suits. After the COVID-19 test was taken, Quresh and the other people on his flight were put onto a bus. They were all being taken to a hotel, where they would complete their 14 days of quarantine. Quresh describes the overall experience as being very strange. Here are some blogs about other people’s experiences traveling during COVID-19 that you might be interested in:
We are all eager to travel but are we all as eager to do the 14-day quarantine? I don’t think so. Check out what Quresh had to say about his experiences of quarantine before teaching English in Asia. Quresh was jet-lagged for the first few days of quarantine. This was ideal as he slept for a few days. But it did confuse his sleeping pattern and it took him a while to get back into a good sleeping routine.
What Quresh did to occupy himself for 14 days
What kept him occupied in his hotel room was exercising and reading. When he exercised he didn’t have a massive amount of room but what he could do was a bit of running and skipping. Quresh explains how important it is to keep in contact with friends, family, and the outside world during this time. The 14 days can get very boring. Also, during this time Quresh’s new school kept in contact with him. Food was provided by the hotel three times a day, but Quresh mentions how bland the food can be and how snacks he brought from home kept his palette satisfied. Overall the experience for Quresh was extremely memorable as very few people have gone through this experience. It will be a story that will go down in the history books.
Read the rest of Quresh’s blog and find out how to prepare for an English teaching position while quarantining.