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Teacher Spotlight: Michelle Carter

Meet Michelle, an alumni of our pilot Destination TEFL program in Vietnam. Below, Michelle discusses her experience in the impressionable city of Ho Chi Minh and touches on many of the reasons why we chose Vietnam to kick off the careers of some of our best TEFL teachers. Thanks, Michelle!


When and where did you complete your TEFL practicum?

I did my practicum in November 2016 in Ho Chi Minh City at YOLA. I was working with an instructor who also taught at the college level. The classes were students aged from 12 to 18.

What made you decide to do Destination TEFL Vietnam?

The opportunity arose when I was about half-way through the course. I was going to work with an ESL teacher in her classroom in August however I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get real-world experience in Asia. I had a vacation planned to Morocco but was able to rebook a different tour in Cambodia and Vietnam that ended two days before the practicum. It felt like it was a sign that I should do it.

For me, working in a different country with students was the best way to prepare me for whatever teaching position I would choose after completing the course. I was also excited about getting the extra hours and thought it would be a difference maker when seeking employment. There were a few hiccups in the pilot program (I provided detailed feedback when it was completed) but I would recommend it to anyone. I know out of the five of us that went, two stayed in Vietnam (1 accepted a position at YOLA). The best practice is in real world scenarios so you got the benefit of knowing what it would be like to live in another country and teach. 


What makes Vietnam special? What was your favorite place in Vietnam?

I choose Vietnam because it had been on my list for a while. I have traveled all over the world and lived in Australia for two years. Because I am older and was looking to do something different, I had the ability to take some time off and check this off my bucket list. I was fortunate to be able to travel in South Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam before I started. I loved Ha Long Bay and Hanoi the most. Partly because the weather was a bit cooler but just the scenery of Ha Long Bay and the vibe I got in Hanoi was special.

What advice do you have for future TEFL students?

It is a great experience. It is a lot of work but it is very rewarding and a wonderful opportunity to live in another country and make a difference in someone's life. Learning English is very beneficial to many language learners and gives them an opportunity to improve their lives.

What will you do next with your TEFL certification?

I'm hoping that I can do some things stateside that will help me get experience using my TEFL certification so when I'm ready, I can teach outside the country.


Benvenuti a Italia!


Nothing-but-une-rve_17185550929_oRome at dusk. Photo by Emmy Ham. 

There are three things that typically come to mind when thinking about Rome: gelato, pizza, and cappuccinos. While there's no denying just how amazing the Italian cuisine is, this city goes way beyond its scrumptious treats!

Rome is characterized by ancient architecture, breathtaking skylines, welcoming, boisterous locals and so much more. Most of all, Rome is a city of unparalleled history. From the Roman Forum, to the Pantheon and all the tiny treasures in between, discovering the story behind its old walls and cobblestoned streets will never fail to amaze you.

CIEE’s Craig Deforest recently spent a month in Rome and brought back sweet tales and ancient anecdotes to share with us all. While he certainly got around to all the famous sites, Craig remembers Rome for something a bit more off the beaten path: its greenspaces.

Greenery around RomeGreen spaces around Rome.

It might come as a surprise to some that despite its size and metropolitan vibes, Rome is home to all kinds of green spaces! You could spend a whole day in the Roman forum, exploring the ancient nooks and crannies, picnicking with a friend, or just soaking up the sun. Sometimes an afterthought, but always a worthwhile is a venture to the Vatican City gardens. Touring these peaceful and gorgeous walkways is a perfect way to spend the afternoon and see the country within a country from the inside out.

If you want to dig even deeper into the city, jump on the metro and head to Villa Torlonia, an estate constructed in the early 1800’s and stands today as a peace and relaxation space for locals and tourists alike. This was by far Craig’s favorite spot in the city, a welcomed reprise from the bustling streets of Rome.  There you can explore the old mansions, little ponds, and beautiful walking grounds.


Perhaps his favorite thing about Rome was something that for some would seem small—the Roman coffee ritual. Every day, he and the CIEE team would leave the office and walk around the corner to a local cafe and stand around the coffee bar. The owners would hand them plates of treats as they sipped espresso and savored the morning. It was a simple, five-minute ritual that encouraged everyone to take a step back from life and what experience what it’s like to live like a Roman.

In addition to the traditional sites and hidden gems within the city, you can easily access just about any part of Italy from Rome. Craig was able to visit Florence, Venice, Bologna, and the Sicily region, the last of which was one of his favorites. Smaller cities like this are what makes Italy so unique—mismatched architecture from centuries of regime change, an ancient volcano, as well as more contemporary features like their balmy beaches and swaying palm trees.

Craig RomeCraig takes Italy! 

 If Craig could offer one piece of advice to anyone visiting or living in Rome, it would be this: don’t try to do everything at once. This is generally a good rule no matter where you are traveling, but really applies well to Rome. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when there’s so much to do, places to see, and treats to eat! His suggestion is to pick a few key things you’d like to see and let the day unfold. The city is very walkable and you’ll likely stumble upon quaint, culture-filled neighborhoods that you normally would not have found if your nose was stuck in a guidebook. So when in Rome, slow down and savor the day.

Oh and eat gelato at least once a day. Maybe twice.

Arrivederci !

Alumni Guest Post: Priscilla Palavicini

Priscilla Palavicini Costa Rica 2917

As a bilingual native Costa Rican, I have always been interested in the idea of language as a tool for understanding. Learning a new language opens up a whole new world of possibilities for travel, work, and education. I know from my own personal experience the opportunities that a new language can afford, particularly if that language is English. I was lucky enough to learn English during my childhood schooling, but I know that many people are not so lucky; when I heard about CIEE’S TEFL certification program, I realized that this was the perfect way to help interested students reach their full potential with fluency in English as a second language.

I greatly appreciated the online format of the TEFL course. As a working professional, I was able to complete the course without taking time away from my full time job; while the course was absorbing at times, I was never too overburdened. Additionally, I think that the online course was a good learning experience for me on an empathetic level; many TEFL students hoping to learn English will be doing so online as well, all while balancing family life and full-time jobs. The online format and structure of the certification course allowed me a glimpse into the experiences of online students, allowing me to better understand their needs and learning styles. Furthermore, I found the interactions with my peers and classmates to be extraordinarily insightful and helpful. The ability to gain multiple points of view and ideas on a range of subjects and methods was invaluable, and it encouraged me to take constructive criticism and to synthesize information in a helpful and enlightening way.

I am very excited to put my TEFL certification to good use and to work with students who are enthusiastic about learning and ambitious about improving themselves. I have already talked to a few different organizations and institutions about joining them as an English teacher and I could not be more enthusiastic about applying what I have learned during this course to the classroom. I would not hesitate to recommend CIEE’s TEFL certification course to other interested educators; I believe it provides the foundation to foster invaluable skills, methods, and experience in teachers and their students alike.

TEFL Priscilla Palavicini 1

Multiculturalism in Portland, Maine

Last week, we welcomed our in-country coordinators to Portland for a week long summit on all things teaching abroad. We had an amazing time showing our foreign friends around our little city, filling our off hours with food, outdoor concerts, lobster boating, picnics in the park, and lots more.

As always with these meetings, our hope is to grow and better the programs that send participants far and wide to partake in culturally immersive and globalizing experiences. While we can’t deny the immense value of living abroad, we would be remiss not to mention the multiculturalism that lives in our own backyard and what we can learn from it being there.

Today we zoom in on the people and places that make Portland one of our favorite cultural hubs in the world, starting with our very own staff! Between our respective international experiences and wide array of nationalities, the CIEE represents dozens of countries and speaks numerous languages.

Sagan  kerry  allyFrom left to right: Kerry in Macedonia, Sagan in Spain, Ally in China

Among the ten team TEFL and Teach Abroad team members alone, we have lived long-term in a whopping 23 different countries and speak eight languages collectively! Our coordinators have brought back tokens of culture from their time living in (deep breath) Denmark, China, Canada, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, Spain, Chile, the Philippines, Palestinian Territories, Egypt, France, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Italy, Mexico, Costa Rica, Macedonia, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, and Peru!

We are also able to converse in Mandarin, Arabic, French, Spanish, English, Russian, Macedonian, or Albanian. And this doesn’t even include our in-country coordinators who were here last week (but that list might be too long for a single blog post)!

Maxine  molly  emmyFrom left to right: Maxine in Ukraine, Molly in Jordan, Emmy in France

Outside of the organization, Portland is home to a growing immigrant population. Did you know Portland has the largest Sudanese immigrant population in the United States? The Portland Press Herald also reported that Central Africans have become the city’s fastest-growing immigrants group. Portland has provided refuge for immigrants and important cultural exchange for locals, sometimes in the form of language groups.

Portland’s public school system plays a leading role in promoting the city’s multiculturalism. The Multilingual and Multicultural Center within Portland Public Schools facilitates language retention and acquisition for non-native English speakers and students learning Arabic, French, Latin, Mandarin, and Spanish. Deering High School showcases their cultural diversity each year with their “Best of Both World” talent show.

Our HQ’s city is also home to a number of language schools and programs. Lyseth Elementary School is steadily growing its Spanish Immersion Program and La Petite Ecole offers a French language program for pre-school and kindergarteners. The Language Exchange also offers language classes and social events in over twelve languages!

Turns out our participants aren’t the only travel and culture addicts here. We are lucky that Portland’s thriving multiculturalism can feed our appetites for cultural immersion by offering language and exchange opportunities. We're also lucky that of all the places we could have ended up in the world, we are all right here in Portland. Cheers to this amazing multicultural hub!

IMG_7438The TEFL and Teach Abroad team (with other CIEE friends!)



My name is Emmy and I am a TAPIF survivor. Ok, that was dramatic. My year teaching abroad in France really was the best time of my life. But it’s no secret that TAPIF can be a logistical nightmare. The good thing about TAPIF is that you save money by not going through a provider. The bad thing is that, well, you don’t have a provider which leaves a lot of TAPIF-ers feeling under-prepared.

As you know, there is sometimes no rhyme or reason for how TAPIF works. I was one of the unlucky assistants who didn’t receive their contract until late summer and quite frankly had no idea if I’d be landing in France on the date written on my plane ticket. I was also one of the majority of assistants who walked into the classroom and felt like a total fish out of water.

I didn’t study education or English as an undergraduate and it was my first time ever in a classroom. How should I know how to teach English?! It’s since occurred to me just how weird it is that one of the requirements to be an English teaching assistant in France is a basic level of French when what would be infinitely more useful is having a basic level of English and specifically English teaching.

Which leads me to two questions that have boggled my mind since I starting working at CIEE two months ago: Why don’t TAPIF participants know about TEFL?! and If TAPIF-ers knew about TEFL, would more of them take it? I know I certainly would have!

In light of my new role on the TEFL team at CIEE and my past experience as a TAPIF English teaching assistant, I am here to fill you in on all things TEFL. Here are some of the common questions I’ve already received from some of you:

What the heck is TEFL?

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a 150-Hour accredited course that certifies you to teach English as a foreign language almost anywhere in the world (almost as in you probably can’t go to North Korea anytime soon). TEFL trains you to take charge as an English assistant and gives the tools and experience needed to establish a strong rapport with students, employers, fellow teachers, and other school administrators.

TEFL, TESOL, TESL, ESL…too many acronyms. What do they all mean?!

I get it, it’s confusing. All of these acronyms are related but each certification prepares you for a different kind of teaching environment. To make a long story short:

TEFL refers to teaching English as a foreign language within a country where English is not a primary or native language. If an institution lists a TESOL or TESL certificate as a prerequisite, you’ll be able to use a TEFL certificate earned with CIEE to fulfill this requirement.

TESL qualifies you to teach English as a second language to those living in a native English-speaking country. This is typically used by those looking to teach English in an English speaking country. As far as France goes, it doesn’t really apply.

TESOL is the umbrella certification includes the overarching concepts of both TEFL and TESL  This is a less specified course, likely more expensive and most commonly taken by those who aren’t quite aren’t sure if they’d like to stay abroad or head home to teach English.

Check out this article and acronym guide to get down to the nitty gritty of these different certs.      

How much does it cost?

The CIEE course fee is $1000 (unless you happened to have studied abroad through CIEE). Keep in mind that all TEFL certification courses should fall right around this price point if they are legitimate, accredited, and well-regarding by English teaching institutions and reviewers. Plus, the certificate never expires. Ever.

Do I have to get certified?

Getting a TEFL certification is not required to work as an English teaching assistant by the French Ministry of Education but could benefit you depending on your career path. For those who are one and done assistants, I would say you don’t really need to get TEFL certified (unless you are entirely freaked out by the idea of being in a classroom for the first time).

For those looking for a longer term stint as an English teacher abroad or at home, this certificate could be the jumpstart you need—especially if you’d like to stay in France and are worried about maxing out your two-year assistantship contract with TAPIF.

How does a TEFL certification work in France?

With a TEFL certificate, you can teach pretty much anywhere in the world. But if you’re looking to stay in France, you’re in luck. France has a pretty sizable English teaching job marketing between public and private schools, language institutions, and private tutoring.

With a certification and direct application to these positions, you’re bound to make some good money (especially compared to the TAPIF stipend). I tutored while I was in France and was able to make 15 euro per hour. If I had the TEFL certification, I would have been authorized to charge even more. You really could make a living off private lessons in France if that’s the route you choose to go!

P.S. Job assistance is included in CIEE’s course fee so if you’re having a hard time navigating the job market, you won’t be left stranded.

What’s the format of the course and could I really do it in France?

CIEE offers 150, 60, and 30 hour TEFL courses. The 150 hour is the one that employers look for but the others are great alternatives if you’re looking to save some cash and/or get a more succinct training before you leave for France.

Completing the 11-week certification in France is totally doable given that assistants only work 12 hours a week and ten of your teaching hours in France could count towards your 20 hours of practicum. If you don’t feel like getting that serious while you’re in France, doing it during the summer months is a great alternative.

* * *

Ok TAPIF friends, that’s all I have for you for now. If you have any more questions or still aren’t sure if TEFL fits into your plan, feel free to reach out and I can put you in touch with the real TEFL gurus over here at CIEE. I hope all of you have amazing years in France and may the arrêté be with you.

Contact me on Facebook (I'm in the 2017-18 TAPIF group - Emmy Ham) or at eham@ciee.org. 


Emmy is a 2016-17 TAPIF alumni who taught for the Academy of Nice in Hyeres, France. She worked in two elementary schools with kids age 6 to 11. Upon her return, Emmy started a working for the CIEE Teach Abroad and TEFL programs as their content marketing intern. She hopes to continue to facilitate teach abroad opportunities for years to come and help TAPIF participants in any way possible!

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