Reviewed by Christopher Walker

My adventure in the world of EFL began with the chance discovery of a copy of Susan Griffith’s book Teaching English Abroad. I’m not sure of the exact title, nor the edition, but this must have been in the early noughties, and certainly before I completed my CELTA in 2006. The library’s copy was well-thumbed, and I wondered in how many people’s footsteps I was about to follow.

I remember the book as being a practically-minded one, dealing with issues such as initial teacher training and handling the bureaucracy that comes with living and working abroad; the second half of the book was devoted to a country-by-country guide to teaching English abroad, and I remember poring over this section, notebook and pen to hand, trying to map out my career according to which countries I wanted to visit, and which order I would visit them in (To know how well this worked out for me, it serves to mention here that I’ve been teaching for over 15 years and I’m still in Poland…).

Little was said about why a person might want to live the life of an EFL teacher - I think it was a given that, if you were reading Griffith’s book, you had made that decision already - and if there was anything about career opportunities that led you beyond the classroom, I must have missed them entirely despite multiple readings (If they were there, and thus my treatment of Griffith’s work is unfair, please blame my faulty memory!).

But the thing is, I still hadn’t decided if EFL was for me. That would take many more years, and in my ‘apprenticeship’ I wasted a lot of time by wondering if what I was doing was worth doing, or if I ought not to return to some other line of work. I only began to take the EFL life seriously some six or so years into the game.

What I wanted, without ever knowing it, was to have read Martin Hajek’s excellent More Than a Gap Year Adventure.

This, I believe, is the book that novice teachers - and those still considering taking the plunge - should read. It doesn’t offer a country-by-country breakdown of work in EFL, which is a job best left to Griffith and her team and which, in any case, requires constant updating. Instead, it combines Hajek’s reflections on entering the EFL industry in the first half, and twenty-three essays on life in EFL in the second.

That first half works well to lead the reader to the decision that is right for them - I challenge anyone to read Hajek’s book before taking the CELTA and then to say that EFL is not what they expected. Hajek makes sure that we approach EFL with our eyes open: he lists the disadvantages of EFL teaching in detail before looking at what a person has to gain from becoming a teacher.

I agree with the bulk of what Hajek points out - many schools do not offer a living wage, and the earning potential of EFL is a matter discussed by most who have been in the industry, whether for one month or for a hundred. There are limits to what a teacher can earn, of course - because there are limits to what a student can be convinced to pay for their lessons, and because it is hard to answer a student who, when told that prices are increasing by 25%, wants to know if the lessons will thus be 25% better than before. But there are definitely institutions out there who will gladly pay their teachers far less than they are worth, and Hajek is right to offer guidance so that teachers can avoid such predatory practices.

There is, nonetheless, a slight gap in what Hajek talks about here, and I think, despite his valiant attempts to combat the native-speakerism inherent in much of EFL, you can tell what his background is, his own non-native-speaker origins notwithstanding. To explain what I mean, let me give one example from my own experience as a recruiter for my school: a devout Muslim applied for a vacancy with my school, but was surprised to find that the city where we’re based lacks both a mosque and a halal butcher. Sometimes there are practical reasons why non-native-speaker teachers struggle to gain a foothold in different communities. I imagine that the process of assimilation and acclimatisation is something that all recruiters will consider before hiring a new teacher, and if I was unsure of how well this particular applicant would settle - and, therefore, how long they would last - making a more ‘conservative’ recruitment choice would be the perfectly sensible, albeit slightly unfair, thing to do. The last thing a recruiter wants is to hire somebody and then be looking for their replacement within a month or two. For the recruiter and for the applicant, we enter the territory of the paradox or contradiction - the best case scenario would be for the teacher already to have lived in the country for long enough to know if it suited their needs, but of course to have done so, they would have needed work…

Otherwise, though, Hajek is remarkably transparent - it feels, reading his guide, that he only wants people to join the world of EFL who will take the industry seriously. If I’m right, this is a commendable approach, not only for the teachers involved but also for the schools that they join and, most crucially, the students they teach. This supposition also colours my understanding of the book’s title - not only does it suggest how you could make EFL into more than a Gap year adventure, it suggests that you should never think of EFL as being only a Gap year adventure.

As good as Hajek’s contribution is, the real meat of the book is to be found in the second half, where Hajek hands over to his twenty-three collaborators. Here we find essays written by a veritable who’s-who of modern EFL; there are so many familiar names here that I’m practically on the point of having to recuse myself from writing this review for fear of being accused of bias.

Several of the contributors have written for the IH Journal either recently or over its illustrious history - writers such as Sandy Millin, André Hedlund, Monica Ruda, and Hall Houston - and, speaking with my Editor hat on, I would gladly accept something written by any of the other nineteen writers. The quality is certainly there, and the quality is consistent, I am glad to report.

When I first reached this section, though, I was worried by one particular thought: what difference is there between this book and a typical issue of something like the IH Journal? Well, this book is written for posterity as much as anything, and I imagine that in the year 2030 there will still be a large readership for Hajek’s book. The essays, which look at career development in EFL, will be just as readable and useful in years to come. I’m not saying that this is untrue of articles written for the Journal or for other EFL outlets like Humanising Language Teaching and Modern English Teacher, but old periodicals are never revisited in the way that old books are. The fact that the book is in print as well as available on Kindle also speaks for its potential longevity.

I could talk all day about the essays in Hajek’s book, but that would turn this review into a feature-length text in itself. Let me just say that I was nodding in agreement for the majority of the time, and only found myself shaking my head once. This was in Monica Ruda’s otherwise excellent article, My experience with writing for ELT magazines, where the suggestion is made of using ChatGPT to get the ball rolling on a potential article, especially if you’re suffering from writer’s block. I would urge extreme caution here - once a text has been prepared by AI, it is remarkably difficult to replace everything that is AI-generated, and a lot of outlets have become savvy to the involvement of AI. For example, here at the IH Journal, I now run every single piece I receive through ZeroGPT - it is not the perfect tool for detecting AI-generated texts, as I managed to write a piece so vanilla in execution that ZeroGPT labelled it as 60% AI-derived, but if ZeroGPT is confident about the AI origins of a piece, it’ll be hard to convince me otherwise.

There is so much to like about More Than a Gap Year Adventure, from the quality of the articles, to the scope of the material the book contains, to the diversity of voices that come ringing out loud and clear, that it is quite a struggle for me to find anything I don’t like about the book.

Fortunately, I succeeded in thinking of two faults, though both are minor and easily remedied. This makes me feel better about the potential bias in this review - the biassed tend not to complain!

The first is purely technical in nature. The twenty-three essays are an excellent resource, with many mentioning useful websites and books for the reader to explore. But these are listed in-line with the text; I didn’t want to interrupt my reading of Rachel Tsateri’s The Importance of Post-CELTA Development to look up RefugeeEd, and when I finished her chapter, I was immediately drawn to Joanna Hebel’s Why I Became a Freelancer, and quite forgot that I had meant to read up on Tsateri’s mentions. I’m sure that this material - the links to external sites and further reading - deserve to be revisited at the end of the book, where a second listing of the contributors can be found.

The second concerns cost - and specifically the price of the Kindle version of the book. At $7.99 for the US edition, this seems steep (I should point out that a digital-download pdf version is available at a lower price - see the links below - but the pdf is certainly not formatted for reading on a Kindle. If you plan to read it on your computer, this might be an option worth exploring). The paperback version, which is more expensive still, actually represents the best value for money, for the simple reason that a paperback can be kept on a bookshelf for others to see - and to read. I see libraries wanting to stock this book, and schools too - to motivate novice teachers and to help their staff pick out the best development opportunities from those available (and described in the essay section) as they consider their next step.

So why am I so against a high price for the Kindle version? My reasoning is simple - this is one book but for many audiences, and these audiences will not all be the same. The first audience concerns those who have yet to become teachers; the second concerns those just starting out; and the third concerns those who have been in the classroom just long enough to want to get out without necessarily getting out of EFL entirely.

This is too many audiences to satisfy, and I feel that only those who are not yet teachers will get the most value out of the book.

But value there most certainly is; and as the Director of Studies of a school as well as the Editor of the Journal, I have moved More Than a Gap Year Adventure to the top of my list of resource purchases.

More Than a Gap Year Adventure is available through Amazon:

The digital version can be purchased here: