Dress for Success in TEFL

Lookin’ Good?

I often get the question ‘Is appearance important in TEFL?’

People seem to forget that TEFL is a job, it is an industry – it is not something that was created just for English speaking Westerners to take a break, party and have fun for a year or two.

Appearance is very important!

Tattoos and piercings

The whole “rebel” look is quite popular in Western countries. Even though we might do the rebel-style tattoo piercing thing, we know that what’s on the outside can’t be compared to the true character inside, but in many other cultures appearance is of great significance and can easily make or break your opportunities.

Schools usually have strong opinions about your appearance and how they would like it to be as teaching tends to be a highly respected occupation overseas.  Much more respected than in America, the UK or similar countries.

A Culture Lesson

A common saying in Korea is “The first impression is everything”. While I lived in Africa I would sometimes be surprised to see a man, wearing a three-piece suit, coming out of his mud hut. In Korea, Africa and many parts of the world appearances are very important.

Just take note, the Korean saying was not “The first impression is important”.  They say it is everything!

You will make a good impression if you dress in a neat, nice and professional way. It will better your opportunities.

What goes in one culture does not necessarily go in another – so play along, do what is expected, try to fit in – it may not be the same as your ideals, it may not be your style, but dressing and grooming yourself for the part will pay off in the end.

Tattoos and more

Keep your tattoos out of sight; think before you show the ink. In your country and culture it might be a matter of pride and principal, but in some other cultures tattoos have negative connotations and are mainly seen as symbols of yakuza or the mafia.

In Thailand many locals have tattoos.  Foreign teachers often observe this as a go ahead to get a tattoo, but remember…those locals with the tattoos most likely aren’t teachers.  And if they are, they keep their tattoos out of sight when on the job.

You will be a foreigner in a foreign land. You will stand out from the local people. You can expect to be closely observed, judged, a gossip-topic and commented on. It will most likely happen, so prepare yourself, get used to it, understand it and deal with it in a proper way.

You will find yourself surrounded by different cultures with different ideals. When living abroad it is usually expected that you adapt to the country’s local ideals – failing to do so will limit your career and opportunities.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Play along and open the doors to so much more.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.   Observe how the local people dress for the job you want and dress accordingly. Dress for Success . . . it is the same as back home.

Teaching Internships in China



Author: Ted

Semi-retired EFL teacher/teacher-trainer working and living abroad since 1989 in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.