Chalkboard is i-to-i's TEFL community.
It is currently still in testing phase which could mean you find the odd bug!
Q: What is i-to-i Chalkboard? A: It's the online community of TEFL specialists
The shine of The Pearl of the Indian may have been dulled slightly by recent events, but it remains an excellent place to teach if you can find paid work.
When a little gem is thrown into the ocean it’ll always outshine ordinary rocks, whatever their size. For a small island, Sri Lanka is certainly worth more than its weight in sand, as the great explorer Marco Polo once famously acclaimed when he described it as the "finest island of its size in all the world".
Offering tropical beach life balanced with a bustling culture, even the shortest of visits to the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ will melt any traveller’s heart, so getting the opportunity to live on this idyllic archipelago for a longer period of time is your chance to enact that dream of escaping to paradise. But what else can this tropical kaleidoscope offer the avid English teacher looking for a memorable experience? Let’s dig a little deeper to find out...
For such a beautiful country rich in history, Sri Lanka is surprisingly unspoilt by tourists. But had you been a fly on a palm tree and witnessed the island’s turmoil over the past few decades, you would understand why. The ongoing civil war that has pained the tear-drop shaped island since the 1970’s puts many travellers off. The fact that this conflict (caused by militant organisation the Tamil Tigers demanding an independent northern state) detracts visitors is really a blessing in disguise, as travelling to such an untouched paradise provides the opportunity to experience a culture unspoiled by commercial influences.
That said, tourism has picked up over recent years with Europeans cottoning on to the fact that you can escape to the sunshine during Europe’s winter months and experience a whole lot more.
As you’d expect in a land of contrasts which offers anything from fun beachside water sports to the challenge of hiking up its rolling hills, there are plenty of things to see and do to keep even the most avid adventurer amused, while the cosmopolitan cities of Kandy and Galle are highly recommended.
You’ll find Sri Lankans are, on the whole, very friendly and hospital people who will make an effort to welcome you to their country. Although, if you are used to getting things done in a hurry, you’ll need to learn to chill out a bit because the laid-back culture means there is no rush to get things done! Take it all in your stride, do things the local way and you’ll settle in fine.
The standard of English speaking in Sri Lanka is pretty poor, with only around 10% of the population able to speak English competently. However the government has a mission to increase this figure, which presents a very positive future for English teachers here, particularly in the voluntary sector. Locals who can’t speak English are sadly cast aside, so will really benefit from learning your language.
On the plus side there is a demand for English teachers in Sri Lanka, but the downside is few students can afford to pay for private English classes, resulting in an unstructured network of private English schools.
As much as the Sri Lankan government is pushing to increase English learning, the island’s underdeveloped teaching infrastructure means paid teaching work in private schools is harder to come by and the majority of teaching opportunities in Sri Lanka are voluntary. So if you’re looking for a firmer chance of securing paid teaching work, it’s worth considering further afield destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei or Vietnam and Cambodia, where there is a growing demand for English teachers.
If you’re intent on teaching in Sri Lanka, get yourself out there by advertising your services for private tuition in local newspapers such as ‘The Island’ and the ‘Daily News’ to boost your chances of getting a paid teaching job. Remember - you’ll stand a better chance of finding work if you’re content not to be paid, as there's a high number of volunteer opportunities through volunteer organisations such as i-to-i.
If you do manage to get paid teaching work, you’ll find salaries are very low in comparison to wages in the UK and USA, so it’s strongly advisable to take some money with you.
Although living costs are relatively cheap compared to wages, you’ll often be asked to pay for your rent a year in advance, making it even more essential to stash some cash before you go.
Staying with a host family is a great opportunity to enjoy a genuinely cultural experience, but be prepared to live without creature comforts. The very fact that you’re travelling means you want to try something new, so this different way of living should enhance your experience.
When it comes to finding somewhere to stay, you need to be savvy about where you choose. This really is vital. Any peace talks between the Tamil Tigers and the government aren’t yet a green light for you to roam wherever you wish, because the fact remains that much of the country is still off-limits to travellers. Northern and eastern areas are best avoided and so too is the beautiful but dangerous Jaffna Peninsula. The bustling capital of Colombo and thriving southern tourist resorts attract a higher amount of theft and violent crime aimed towards visitors, so keep your wits about you if you travel to these areas.
The south-west corner of Sri Lanka is, however, as safe as it’s ever been. While the tourism industry grows on this beautiful island, the rest of the country is likely to be open to tourists in the not-so-distant future.
Before you travel to Sri Lanka, it’s a wise idea to get further advice from the Foreign Office.