“I was starting to feel it was time for something new.”

From Health In The UK to TEFL in China

After fifteen years in the Third Sector, Denise McLeary was bored and keen to travel. When the recession and its inevitable redundancies hit, she took the opportunity to train as a TEFL teacher, and is now happily living and working in China. This is her story.

What work were you doing previously?

I worked in a third-sector organisation as a Health Development worker. I taught food and nutrition, food safety and healthy cooking skills. I also had a second job as a community business start-up advisor for the long-term unemployed.

What are you doing now?

I currently work as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher in Sichuan Province, China.

Why did you change?

I had worked for over 15 years in government funded projects, and I was starting to feel it was time for something new. As my dissatisfaction with the type of work I was doing grew, the economic crisis hit the UK. This led to a raft of third sector funding cuts. Both of the organisations I worked for were badly affected, and I was made redundant.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I had already begun my TEFL training a year before my redundancy was announced, as I had an urge to travel and teaching English seemed a really good way to earn money whilst doing so. When I was made redundant, there was simply no reason not to start using my qualification and go!

Are you happy with the change?

I have never been happier than I am at present. China is an amazing country. I have experienced so many weird and wonderful things, and met some amazing people along the way.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

Obviously I miss my friends and my daughter but it's fairly easy to keep in touch via Facebook or Skype. Other than that I really don’t miss England very much, and I certainly don't miss the stressful life I had there. I went home during the summer of 2012 and can honestly say I have never felt so old. I turned 50 in December, but out in China I feel (and live) so much younger. I have a renewed vitality for life.

How did you go about making the shift?

As I was working long hours, I did my TEFL course on-line with i-to-i. During the online course, I was accepted for an internship in China. After my 5 months internship I was offered a direct contract with my school and I'm still here. In fact the school has just approached me to renew my contract for another year.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible? 

I saved a lot, but was also lucky enough to come into a little money after the death of my father. I also received a small amount of redundancy money.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Learning to live in another culture (especially one so different from your own) can be difficult at first, but I gave it time and soon found my way around.

What help did you get?

The organisation I did my qualification with was a great help. They helped with information on visas, flights and pick-up in China. On arrival in Beijing we had a two week introduction and orientation schedule - including basic Mandarin, Chinese calligraphy and TEFL classroom training. I'm not sure I could have done it alone.

What have you learnt in the process?

I've learnt so many things from this adventure, but I think the biggest lessons have been that you're NEVER too old to try something new, and the only one that can stop you from doing something is yourself! So many of my friends said they wished they were doing what I was about to do, but when I asked them, "Why don't you?", they had no answer. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

That I had done this many years earlier!

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Just do it! Life is too short to be afraid of change. TEFL is a great way to experience other cultures, and it can be so rewarding. The world is out there, folks, and it's waiting for you!

What resources would you recommend to others?

I had a great experience with the organisations I trained with, i-to-i and Teach and Travel China, so if you're considering teaching English in China then definitely look at them. But honestly, I would say that you yourself are the best resource for this kind of work. Experience, maturity and zest for life are the most valuable assets in TEFL.

Find out more about i-to-i in our Retraining Directory.

What lessons could you take from Denise's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below. 

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.