Things I Wish I’d Known: TEFL Digital Nomads During COVID-19

April 25, 2021
digital nomads during covid-19

When some people think of working as a digital nomad, they envision constant gallivanting and sleeping in rundown hostels around the globe, completely independent of location, relying only on a strong Internet connection to complete their work. While that is at times the reality, COVID-19 has changed what it means to be a digital nomad for many teachers. For anyone thinking of becoming a TEFL digital nomad during COVID-19 (or later on), here are some helpful insights from those who have firsthand experience!

ESL teacher from Russia

Vera Baranovskaya

Bridge grad and social media guru Vera Baranovskaya, from Russia, has been teaching English for nearly seven years. She has taught around the globe, in both her home country and South America. She has also used her platform on Instagram to host live English-speaking events and engage with potential students. Below, she shares what she wishes she’d known before becoming a digital nomad and before COVID-19 changed the global landscape.

I wish I’d known…

  • That online classes are just as effective as face-to-face classes.

I’d started traveling before the pandemic began. It was exciting and scary at the same time to start teaching English online, but when I realized what kind of freedom it would give me, I just went all the way from Russia to Chile and then to Colombia. I’m going to Panama next week.

Check out 9 reasons to become an online English teacher.

  • That the work and travel concept is possible!

Let’s be honest, it’s not for everyone. I have to organize my trips, my classes, find a budget accommodation with Internet, work on my school (Idioma Zone), organize my routine while moving every couple of weeks, and try to have some fun from time to time too. But, if you learn how to organize it all, you’ll be blessed to have this kind of life that everyone is dreaming about. It’s totally worth it!

  • To just let it go!

The year 2020 taught me a good lesson: Not everything depends on me. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it’s just not going to happen. What do we do? Move forward! Relax, it’s fine, there are always many other options. Just look around, and try to stay flexible in any situation.

Learn more about Vera’s experience as a global ESL teacher!

ESL teacher

Mari Breedlove

Bridge grad Mari has been teaching English online for several years and has lived in four different countries. She currently resides in a small town in Scotland, just an hour away from Edinburgh. She shares what she wishes she’d known before becoming a digital nomad and experiencing the pandemic.

I wish I’d known…

  • That the more students you have, the harder it is to keep track of bookings.

Like many people, one of my biggest worries when the pandemic began was the effect it would have on me professionally. As things have progressed, my bookings while teaching English online have fluctuated greatly, but all in all, have never been negatively impacted by COVID-19. On the contrary, it has at times proved overwhelming to keep track of the number of students I have booked in a week.

Keep these tips in mind:

1. Stay organized — and make sure you are taking enough time for yourself, as burnout is real when you have the option of working so many hours.

2. Stay up to date on government and school regulations regarding openings and closings of the schools your students attend. This will change the hours your students will take your lessons.

3. Offer group lessons when possible to allow students to pay less for classes and help you retain your income.

Find out more about attracting and retaining students as a freelance online English teacher.

  • That I’d need to stay informed on travel restrictions.

The digital nomad lifestyle has allowed me to see parts of the world I had only ever dreamed of, all while still earning a living and having the added security of a steady income. Teaching English online as a digital nomad has been the thrill and challenge of a lifetime, especially this last year. Over the course of two weeks, I had one of my best months in terms of income in the last year and yet was stranded in Germany for five days with limited Internet because of a faulty COVID-19 test.

There are unforeseen circumstances in every career field, but especially during a pandemic. Now that travel is beginning to become more accessible, remember these tips:

1. Check the COVID testing procedures and guidelines for every single state or country you are traveling to. They do differ, and they will be very time-consuming when not followed correctly!

2. Call ahead to every hotel or hostel you plan to stay at. The pandemic has severely impacted the availability of some technical services. If you can avoid an “Internet emergency,” do so.

3. Never put your “work tools,” like laptops, chargers, etc., in checked baggage. If travel disruptions occur, lost luggage is likely to become part of the nightmare that is delayed travel plans.

Read about how coronavirus has impacted teachers’ TEFL careers.

  • That being flexible as a digital nomad means so much more than just adapting to new surroundings.

More than any other time in history, we have seen firsthand how plans are, most of the time, a wish at best! After a year of dozens of canceled trips and yearly budgets that just didn’t pan out, I have become more flexible than I have ever been. For some digital nomads, their place of living changes with every season, so things like border closures and travel restrictions are not only inconvenient but life-altering.

While teaching English online has been affected by the pandemic, it has been mostly positive in terms of bookings, earning potential, and job security. The changes and restrictions that have become a part of our reality have affected the lifestyle we chose when becoming digital nomads moreso than our ability to perform our English teaching jobs, and that is something to be thankful for. Being flexible is probably the biggest lesson I have learned this last year and the biggest tip I could give someone who is thinking of becoming a TEFL digital nomad during COVID-19 or later on.

Read more about how online English teacher Mari has coped with the pandemic while abroad.

Dreaming of becoming a digital nomad, like Vera and Mari? Read this next: How to Teach English Online as a Digital Nomad.