Thankmas Day Eighteen: Thank you Sophie

Today’s Thankmas is dedicated to my cousin Sophie (though technically she is my aunt, but she is way too young to call her aunt!) not only because she is fun, awesome and one of the few people in Cyprus I can talk in English with, but I wouldn’t have coped that well (or at all) on my CELTA and more importantly, I wouldn’t have been where I am today, as in teaching full time in another country, without her advice, help and encouragement.

A day after my grandpa died I had to teach my second assessed lesson, on Mongolian horse racing (of all things!). I woke up that morning with bright red eyes, I’d cried my eyes out the night before trying to come in terms with the cruel reality that I wasn’t going to see my beloved pappou Costa alive again (I’m tearing up now just thinking about it). Every time I thought of him I couldn’t stop sobbing (more on that here).

How was I going to actually stand in front of people and manage not to cry, let alone teach them?? Sophie’s advice was what got me through not only that lesson but the rest of the month.

‘Remember, teachers are really actors’.

To be able to control my emotions and not burst into tears every time I thought of my grandpa or someone asked me if I was OK I convinced myself I was a great actress. That’s exactly what I did each and every single time until the very end. I still do this today when I’m about to walk into a classroom and I’m exhausted or sad but I don’t want my students to be affected by my mood.

When I moved back to Cyprus (for what it was going to be for a few months but I got itchy feet so I only stayed a month) Sophie recommended me to a great local language school, who offered me a part-time job almost straight away. Working there was what made me realise I wanted to give it a proper go and try my luck somewhere I could get a varied experience, away from ‘home’, whatever that is. I’m so confused now that I moved away from the UK, I don’t know where home’s anymore but that’s another story!

So thank you dear, thank you for everything. Without realising, you probably played the most pivotal role in what is turning to be one of my life’s greatest adventures!

See you next week!



Thankmas Day Seventeen: Thank you Fiona and Jonny

Doing and actually getting an A on my CELTA (relevant post here) was undoubtedly one of my most memorable and probably the biggest highlight of the year and I wouldn’t have managed to finish it, let alone achieve the highest grade without my classmates”, I wrote yesterday.

But there are two so very important people I would certainly not have done the CELTA (let alone get an A) without, my CELTA tutors, Jonny and Fiona.

I posted about it before and from conversations I had with fellow teachers, I feel I was lucky to have such great tutors.

They were not just incredible teachers themselves (I observed them both delivering interesting, interactive, informative lessons so naturally they made it look easy, but trust me, it is not!) but amazing teacher trainers too. Our input sessions with them were always fun and varied, they managed to grab our attention every single time and we learned a lot from them (with some exceptions towards the end of the course when we were all exhausted and our attention span shrank significantly). Two superb professionals, who though quite different in their teaching methods and personalities, they are a match made in heaven.

What made a huge difference for me was their understanding, kindness and above all, empathy, a rare trait nowadays.

I cried in front of both of them on week one after I informed them my grandpa had died and they not only offered me a break if I had felt I needed it, but they checked up on me making sure I was OK.

They also helped me manage my anxiety which reached ridiculous levels during my CELTA- I haven’t felt that stressed teaching as a professional and I’ve been working with a large number of students, nothing beats CELTA-induced stress I guess-, especially Fiona. She had a way of bringing me back to the moment and somehow making me forget about stress even for a while.

I shared a special moment with each I won’t share, they are both quite personal , but I’ll never forget.

I’ll never forget as well that they believed in me enough to push me for that A grade. They didn’t have to do it, they took a risk and I’m over the moon I didn’t disappoint them.

So thank you Jonny and Fiona. Thank you for your advice and nurturing, your empathy and kindness, your love for that you do, your honesty (God I miss a no bull***t Fiona chat!), for believing in me and for all your hard work.

I wish I’d have spent more time with you, there’s so much more I could have learned!


Thankmas Day Sixteen: Thank you CELTA classmates

Doing and actually getting an A on my CELTA (you can check out relevant post here) was undoubtedly one of my most memorable and probably the biggest highlight of the year and I wouldn’t have managed to finish it, let alone achieve the highest grade without my classmates.

The (full time) CELTA experience is so unique and intense, it brings people very close very fast, at least that’s what happened with us. It’s hard not to when you spend most of the day, every day for a month together and you see each other at their worst, stressed, tired and emotional.

We looked after another, comforted each other, read each other’s assignments, lesson plans, helped with cutting, glueing, offered food, got coffee, had a laugh, a cry, long chats, we did it all.

I still remember the hug Carolina gave me when I told her my grandpa had died, the sandwich Darren offered me just before my last TP, since I was so stressed I hadn’t eaten all day, the coffee I desperately needed and Elliot got me when I was running late for my lesson planning session and I had barely slept the night before, laughs to the point I almost peed myself with Sonia, deep conversations on life with Monalisa, Shalala’s look, she could always read my emotions, (I’ll never forget on our last day when we just looked at each other and we both started crying) Fatima’s spicy dates I snacked on for days, Ralph’s bright red face the first time he made a sarcastic joke and Anoushka’s brilliantly still unspoilt enthusiasm (ah to be 21 again!).

So thank you everyone, I would have quit on week one if it weren’t for you.

I hope you are all doing well in your new and not new jobs and lives. Maybe one day we’ll meet again but even if we don’t, we will always have that strong, special bond of August 2019 in Cambridge.


Thankmas Day Fifteen: Thank you Mary

My biggest worry when I moved to Cambridge for a month to do my CELTA was accommodation.

Cambridge is expensive and I couldn’t afford a BnB (or AirBnb) near the college for a month and I didn’t want to live in the centre and commute every day so I opted for the homestay option (staying with a family, though luckily in my case the host’s children had grown up and moved out) the college offered which included breakfast and dinner. But I was terrified. I’ve been living on my own for the last three years (minus a 6 month break in which I lived with a flatmate I did not get along with) and I had knots in my stomach even thinking about living with someone else again.

On a hot, sunny day, the 25th of July, I met Mary, my host, for the first time. She didn’t say much before she grabbed my luggage to clean the wheels and asked me to take my shoes off. I wasn’t sure what to expect after that first encounter.

But Mary turned out to be an incredible host. She didn’t speak much English, though we always somehow managed to communicate, she was wonderfully weird, hanging out bedsheets to dry on the staircase, wearing a plastic bag on her head to keep the fish smell away and I loved her to bits.

She made delicious albeit always ‘with a Chinese flavour’ food every day for all her guests, she would serve dinner for me in her own private kitchen when it was too noisy in the other room because she knew I needed peace and quiet (she’d even tell others to keep it quiet when the levels of noise were too high), she brought me fruit and other treats when I was stuck in my room for hours working on lesson plans, she did my washing and made me feel comfortable and well looked after.

My CELTA experience was definitely one of my 2019 highlights and Mary was huge part of it.

I would have probably worn the same dirty clothes and starved for a month if it wasn’t for Mary. So thank you Mary! I miss your delicious cooking and your sweet laughter!


How I got Grade A on my CELTA

Now in terms of possible outcomes, most students get a Pass, some get Grade B and very few (usually experienced teachers) get an A. I think you’ll do very well”, I remember Jonny telling me at my CELTA interview.

I had zero previous experience, I didn’t have much time to do any pre-reading and I hadn’t studied for anything for years, so I definitely did not expect or aimed for an A, but I somehow managed to do it.

Does it matter? You may ask.

Not really, I don’t think. It looks good on your CV and it seems to impress recruiters (at least the ones I’ve had interviews with so far), so it might give you a slight advantage, especially if you are newly qualified as I am, but as long as you have the CELTA, the grade doesn’t really matter. It’s tough enough getting the qualification and everyone who has done it knows that!

How did you do it? One might wonder.

Surprise, surprise, there is no recipe. Even if I were to describe you in every single detail what I did, I bet you it wouldn’t work for everyone. So unfortunately I can’t do that. What I can give you is some guidelines and advice to help you achieve an A (no guarantees) based on my experience.

  1. Avoid distractions. Do the full-time variant and away from home if you can. It helps if all you concentrate on is the CELTA. It’s exhausting, physically and mentally but I functioned significantly better focusing only on my course. For me the course actually helped as a distraction from dealing with the sudden death of my grandpa and other life situations.
  2. Listen to your tutors. It’s a no-brainer really. But listen carefully, take in as much as physically possible and actively take part during input sessions. I was craving for a challenge after years in a repetitive, dull job and my brain worked like a sponge and I followed their instructions and guidance religiously.
  3. Work on the feedback your tutors and classmates give you on your teaching. Probably the most important one. Every single time I took their suggestions and feedback on board and I improved after every Teaching Practice (TP).
  4. Help each other. OK, this you can’t control. Your classmates might not be that friendly or helpful but our group was pretty amazing. We helped each other with everything, checking each other’s handouts, reading each other’s assignments, even little things like getting coffee for each other. I wouldn’t have done it without them. Honestly.
  5. Trust yourself. This is a tough one, but in order to get Grade A you need to demonstrate you can work independently, plan and deliver a lesson with minimal guidance (for the last two TPs the only ‘guidance’ I got was nodding). When Fiona, during our second tutoring session, asked me why I was being ‘modest’ when scoring myself as ‘to standard’ for most and a couple of ‘below standard’ of a long list of competences (the ones you are being assessed on your CELTA), I wasn’t really being modest. I thought I was doing OK but I didn’t really believe I was ‘above standard’. I didn’t know what the standard was so I had no idea how I was doing. After that session I did my best, not because I was desperate to get Grade A, but not to let Fiona and Jonny down, who believed in me and gave me the chance to go for a higher grade. I didn’t care about the grade, I cared about them, so I had to believe in and trust myself, particularly for those last two TPs.
  6. Pay attention to detail. Don’t rush into doing your assignments or planning a lesson. Do it carefully and take everything you learn into account. Otherwise you won’t produce quality work and I promise you, you will have to resubmit at least one or two assignments. The reason I didn’t have to resubmit any was due to my overthinking and excruciatingly painful need to keep working and working on something (and probably all the years of studying at uni). Thank God for deadlines.
  7. Be creative. With your lesson plans, your handouts, your PPTs. If you just follow the book to every single detail and not improvise, use other resources, design your own exercises, not only you won’t get an A, you won’t make a great teacher either.
  8. Get to know your students, keep them engaged and interested. You can design the best, most fun, amazing lessons in the world but it means nothing unless you deliver them well. How? Learn your students’ names and personalities, use their first names, ‘read’ the situation, if they look bored or disinterested or baffled, change your lesson plan. For me it was easy, I love chatting to people, getting to know them and I’m good at observing and noticing others reactions. If you don’t care about your students you won’t last long in this job!

So these are my top 8 tips, based on my experience. Some of it may not be easy to follow, not everyone finds it easy to be creative, perceptive (that’s down to personality) or write an assignment (that’s down to experience and I had plenty in academia) and you may not get Grade A even if you follow my advice, but I promise you, you will at least get the most out of this uniquely painful, rewarding and at points surreal experience.


Following my dreams (just need to find out what they are) Chapter 1: Cambridge

Saturday morning, 27th of July.

I’m sitting at an old, antique desk in my room in Cambridge. It’s cloudy and raining but I don’t mind for once. I needed the break from the heat. This country was not built for any temperature higher than 25 degrees.

Can I sleep in Your Brain comes up on my little Bluetooth speaker. I just finished my notes for my first teaching exercise on Monday and finally have some free time to sit down and write about all of this. It’s been too long.

A million and one thoughts in my mind I’m not quite sure where to begin.

Today is my grandpa’s birthday. He turned 83. But this time I can’t call him like I do every year. He is at a nursing home. Now my uncle’s recovering from a major operation, my auntie can’t look after both of them.

“He won’t even recognise you”, my mum messaged when I asked how I can contact him. “His dementia is taking over more day by day”. She sent me a picture I took of him and myself a few years ago. A classic mum habit. I told her off not because I was annoyed this time but because it makes me sad. I remember everything about that picture, his excitement when I asked for a selfie, laughing whilst taking it, asking me where to look and afterwards chatting about me splitting with my ex of 7 years.

“Are you happy? That’s all that matters” pappou Costas said then and smiled.

Tears came streaming down my face thinking of that day. (A few hours later my mum messaged me to give my aunt a call. She was with my grandpa. I called and wished him happy birthday. He recognised me at the beginning but not for the whole duration of the two minute phone call. I could feel his confusion every time he went quiet. At some point he asked me when I’ll go back to Cyprus like he always does and then the next minute he forgot what he was talking about. I promised I go see him as soon as I’m in Cyprus. He said he might leave by then. I choked up. I hope he meant the nursing home. He is slipping away from us…)

I tried hard not to cry last week saying goodbye to my Southampton friends and life, it didn’t feel like goodbye, my brain still struggles to understand what is happening. It feels I’m on a break and I’ll return back to Southampton any minute now.

I don’t think I’ll realise any time soon. One thing is for sure, I will miss so many people, friends I’ve known for years and friends I’ve only just met, because that’s life. It never stops, you meet people and make friends all the time. Thank you to everyone who came to my leaving celebrations (and they were MANY) or made the time to see me before I left.

I will miss every single one of you and all the little special connections I have with each.

Now I’m crying about everything. But I feel good. These are not sad tears. These are cathartic tears, letting everything out and finally hitting the reset button.

Last month feels like a blur. Friends’ birthday celebrations, after work drinks, Graduation week, the stress of dealing with removal companies, getting rid of furniture, cleaning, throwing out things. It was fun, bittersweet, exhausting.

I’ve been living in Cambridge for about three days now and I’m surprised how well I adjusted from living on my own to living with a house full of people (minus a few sleepless nights because of the strong anxiety and heat cocktail mix).

My hostess Mary is wonderfully weird. Though she’s lived in the UK for 28 years, her accent is so strong I struggle to understand her at times but she is adorable. Her cooking is amazing. She won’t let me do my own washing, it’s been years since someone else washed my clothes.

She wears a plastic bag on her head when she makes fish to keep the smell away (I chuckled when I walked into the kitchen for some water and saw her wearing the bag, she then told me to rush so I don’t smell like fish either), she hangs the bed sheets off the staircase to dry faster, unintentionally creating a little fort I found too amusing, and she randomly knocks on my door to ask for help with translation or to give me treats. I haven’t tasted melon that sweet since the last time I was in Cyprus.

My room is small but perfectly formed. Clean with all the essentials. The bathroom is sparkling clean and I only share it with one other. There are two kitchens, both huge, especially the guests one. I’m glad I opted for the host family option (though it’s just Mary, her adult children don’t live here, so thankfully no toddlers are running around screaming off their head), though I worry I’ll soon miss living on my own. It will happen eventually.

On Thursday, when the temperature outside hit 38 degrees, I decided I’d go out to explore Cambridge a little bit, since my course was to start the following day and I may not get the chance to do much wandering when I have homework. ‘I lived in Cyprus for 22 years after all, I can take some heat, if I get to live in a hot country from January, this could be my daily reality’ I told myself.

I’m glad I did (though I can’t remember the last time I sweat that much it felt like peeing myself). Cambridge is gorgeous, there is so much to see and do and a couple of friends already suggested places I’d love to go before I leave the city at the end of August.

Yesterday I had my first day of CELTA teacher training class. It was intense, exhausting but incredibly fun. Going to college, buying stationery, finally using my brain again, felt rejuvenating, even just after a day.

Most of the studying I did throughout my life (and I’ve done a lot, from degrees, to qualifications, diplomas etc), in only few occasions I cared enough to actively participate in the classroom. With this one I wouldn’t shut up. The perks of being a mature student or maybe in my case, finally being confident comfortable enough with myself to not worry too much about what others think.

Fiona, our tutor who ran the session on the day, is amazing (I hope Jonny is as good, though it will be tough to beat Fiona).

My classmates are all very beautifully different and unique, a wonderfully diverse bunch. Some travelled from their home countries, Bangladesh, India, Azerbaijan, Spain just to do this course, others are semi-retired and doing it for fun or to follow their partner to Colombia (ah young love). I’ll write about the course separately when I get the time.

I oddly felt more British even than the British in the group. I guess I’ve lived here for too long. And to think I worried I might find it hard with my accent and everything doing this course.

I worry I’ll struggle in Cyprus. And I worry about so many other things,- Will my stuff make it Cyprus? Will I get my deposit back? Will I manage to keep up with the amount of studying required? Will I make it to Chris’s wedding? What if my uncle or grandpa die and I don’t get to see them again? What if I’m not good enough for anything else and this is a huge mistake? – But I need to stop worrying. There’s nothing I can do about any of this and choosing to leave the comfortable but dull 9 to 5 life means there will be a lot more to worry about.

For now I’ll work hard to get my qualification and enjoy every moment in Cambridge.

Here’s to new beginnings.


Teaching English abroad- Step 1: Getting qualified.

Ever since my big news a few weeks ago a couple of you asked me about the course I’m planning to do and how to get into teaching English abroad, so I thought I’d document my experience, every step of the way as I live it, to hopefully help others considering doing something similar. So this post is about…

Step 1: Getting a relevant qualification

You have a few options when it comes to getting a relevant TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification.

a) Do I need one?

If you are a teacher or a native speaker you may be able to land a TEFL job with no qualification whatsoever, but opportunities would be more limited, and that also means (especially if you have no teaching experience) you might end up in a foreign country alone with no clue on how to even begin teaching English.

b) What about online courses?

There is a huge number of TEFL courses out there (and too much information, it can be very confusing). Online, classroom, combined, cheap, expensive e.g.

A short online, relatively cheap course is a good option if you are only looking to refresh your Grammar knowledge, learn more about teaching in general as well as teaching English as a foreign language. Some of them are recognised by various regulatory bodies but some countries only accept one of the two classroom based, internationally recognised or equivalent qualifications, Cambridge CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL. With these two diplomas you will also be qualified to teach English for academic purposes (pre-sessional English courses) at UK universities.

c) CELTA or CertTESOL?

CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is
provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment through authorised Cambridge English Teaching Qualification centres and CertTESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) is awarded by Trinity College London. When it comes to choosing between the two, I’m not sure myself whether one might be slightly better than the other, the content is very similar, but after some research I did, it seems CELTA is better known and that may open more doors for me (and if you decide to apply for funding, the Advanced Learner Loan covers the majority of the tuition fees charged for CELTA at most colleges but only partially for CertTESOL, more on that below).

Both CELTA and CertTESOL are level 5 qualifications, offered full-time, part-time and online but face-to-face assessed teaching as the practical element is what separates them from the rest. The full-time variant is a month long-9am-to-5:30pm-five days a week, intense course whereas the duration varies when it comes to part time options, from 3 months up to a year, depending on the training provider.

I opted for the month long, intense one. It’s a great challenge and you are done in four weeks. Though that will be your life for those four weeks. No time for anything else. You are pre-warned by EVERYONE who has already done it and the course trainer.

When deciding where to apply, make sure you check the training providers offering them are accredited (for CELTA you can check here and for CertTESOL here)

d) Any funding available?

For both CELTA and CertTESOL you can apply for an Advanced Learner Loan(ALL) at specific providers, which will cover your tuition fees up to £811 for CerTESOL, that may not cover the tuition fee and £1417 for CELTA which is what most providers charge for it (list here for CELTA and here for TESOL). Oh by the way, there is a long list of qualifications you can get an ALL for! All details about the loan, repayment terms etc here.

e) What’s the application process like?

Applying was a bit scary for me, since I haven’t applied for any course for a long, long time and my self-confidence levels are running a bit low lately, but it wasn’t half as bad as I thought it’d be.

I applied at Cambridge Regional College, so what I’ll describe is their application process but it’s very similar to most of other providers.

Pre-Interview task. Part of the application (in addition to the usual personal and education information) is a pre-interview task mainly consisting of grammar, syntax questions and ways you’d teach various English language related items. See examples here. I was allowed to use books and the internet for my answers.

-The interview. I was very nervous on the day, I was terrified I’d be asked a million grammar questions on the spot, but it wasn’t that bad at all. Jonny, the course trainer and interviewer was very sweet and put me at ease straight away.

I was offered a Skype interview, it would have been a nightmare getting to Cambridge at 10am, so I spent a tenner to get a chair for the dining table (I could have sat on the sofa, but in my head it seemed unprofessional), an unhealthy amount of time deciding where to set the table, where to put the chair and so on (of course the overthinking took over).

I woke up early, had breakfast, did my make-up, put a nice semi-formal top on (I kept reminding myself this was not a job interview but it’s hard to get out of that mentality), got a cushion and my blanket to keep my feet warm and made a cuppa. All set!

After introducing ourselves and talking a bit about my background and the reasons I wanted to do the course, we then went over my pre-interview task answers, to make sure my level was English was adequate. There was also a short 15 minute interview exercise, with a couple of questions, similar to the ones on the pre-interview task.

He then told me more about what the course entails, the units we’ll cover, that teaching starts from day two and the fact I won’t have any social life for a month. What I got from what Jonny and some of my friends and colleagues who’ve done the course, as mentioned earlier, is that it will be intense, time and life consuming for four weeks but also rewarding.

‘It was tough, but so worth it!’ every single person who’s done it told me.

The main purpose of the interview is not to check your Grammar or vocabulary skills (the trainer has to check your level of English is satisfactory, but they don’t expect anyone to be an expert and know every single rule or exception). It’s for them to make sure you are applying for the right reasons and you are aware of the intensity of the course and for you to understand what’s about and whether you are prepared to take it on.

The interview concluded with Jonny offering me a place, explaining what the next steps will be and sending me a book recommendation list and a pre-course task, so I can start preparing.

That’s what I’m about to start now. Any questions or advice, comment below!