Teaching English Abroad: Insights from a TEFL Fellow at the American University in Cairo

Nov 18, 2016
Apply for a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Fellowship at the American University in Cairo
Apply for a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Fellowship at the American University in Cairo

The Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Fellowship at the American University in Cairo is a fully funded, two-year master’s degree program for students looking to gain language teaching experience. Fellowships are offered through the Department of English Language Instruction at AUC, where fellows teach eight hours of English per week while pursuing an advanced degree. The graduate fellowship includes a tuition fee waiver, a monthly stipend, accommodation and one-way home travel. We interviewed Rebekah Trefilova, 2013 TEFL Fellow, about what attracted her to this program and what tips she has for prospective applicants.

1. What inspired you to apply for the TEFL Fellowship at the American University in Cairo (AUC)?

Prior to applying, I had worked as an EFL teacher for four years in Asia (South Korea, China, and Japan). I learned invaluable lessons from the practice of teaching but knew that this was no substitute for the professional guidance and theoretical knowledge which comes with an advanced degree.  By pursuing my Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language (MATESOL), I felt that I was committing to my profession.

2. What were some of the advantages of pursuing a Master’s degree in TEFL in AU in Cairo, as opposed to similar programs in the U.S. and abroad?

I was initially attracted to both AUC and TEFL fellowship largely due to its location. Although I earned my TEFL certificate in Egypt, I had limited contact with students from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region or whose first language was Arabic. I wanted to diversify my experience and increase my chances of working in the region post-graduation. Additionally, the TEFL fellowship requires the fellow to teach in the university’s Intensive English Program (IEP) which is usually an opportunity only open to those who have already earned their MATESOL. Both experiences, working in MENA and an in an IEP, are invaluable to the recent graduates once they enter the job market.

What I did not anticipate was the degree of warmth that comes from entering this program. I was fully supported by my classmates, my instructors, my administrators, as well as my IEP students. The program at AUC is like no other. As a graduate student, I had access to unique events and lectures that come from living in an ancient, cosmopolitan city. One of the most exciting events is the annual International Day where students and faculty sell handicrafts, offer snacks, and host cultural events unique to their respective nationalities and cultures. This event highlights the great diversity found in both the AUC student body and faculty. As a TEFL Fellow, be prepared to question your values as both a person and educator.

As a teacher, there are a variety of opportunities to meaningfully fulfill your practicum hours whether teaching the AUC facility workers at the New Campus or refugees at St. Andrew’s Refugee Services. In hindsight, even the challenges that stemmed from attending AUC directly after the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 taught me important lessons in resilience and flexibility.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Fellowship at the American University in Cairo
TEFL Fellow Rebekah Trefilova (in sunglasses) with her students at the American University in Cairo

3. What tips would you give others applying to the TEFL Fellowship?

While I was never privy to the criteria used to select TEFL Fellows, reflecting on my experiences and those of other Fellows, I believe that the AUC MATESOL program seeks individuals who demonstrate strong personal and academic interest in the discipline. While it is helpful to come with an undergraduate background in education or linguistics, many Fellows hold degrees and work experiences outside these two disciplines. In fact, fresh perspectives are welcomed. I highly recommend interested applicants to pursue volunteer opportunities which allow them to teach, particularly in ESL.

Also, applicants should be open to an experience that will be both challenging and reflective. Egypt is undergoing profound political and economic change; thus, potential candidates should thoroughly research the current situation as well as assess if they have the resiliency to work and study in an environment often filled with uncertainty. Be prepared for hard work, even on “easy” days, as it can be difficult to balance the demands of teaching with the demands of coursework. AUC TEFL Fellows can take pride in the knowledge that they leave the program well-equipped to face the challenges of their profession.

Rebekah Trefilova earned her MATESOL at the American University of Cairo as a TEFL fellow in 2013. She’s had the pleasure of teaching in a variety of countries including China, Egypt, Japan, Mauritania, Russia, and South Korea. Currently, she works at the University of the Pacific as the Assistant Director of ESL Services.

© Victoria Johnson 2016, all rights reserved.