Is teaching English in Europe an option? Can my 'itchy feet' take me into working in Africa?

The healthy choice

Q. I am a final-year health science undergraduate, and don't have any specific career in mind. I feel disconsolate about this. I have been considering studying a TEFL course and maybe teaching for a year in Europe. I would also consider Dubai, Japan and China. What is the pay like, and what is the best way to apply?

A. There's nothing wrong with taking a year out to think about what you want to do, and teaching means you will have something tangible to show for your time; it can be a great asset. But it will help to sort out exactly why you are finding it difficult to see a way forward, so that you're not simply facing the same problem in a year's time. Teaching English abroad might actually help, especially if you tailor it to your needs.

Rather than search for jobs by geographical area, you could undertake a basic qualification - the best known are the Cambridge Celta and the Trinity College Tesol Certificate - and see if you can find a job teaching health-service professionals. Try your lecturers, professional bodies in areas you are interested in, local hospitals - anyone who might have contacts abroad and know a school keen to take on someone with a specialist vocabulary. There's huge demand for English teachers abroad, but it's harder to get a well-paid full-time job in a popular city like Barcelona, say. Demand is high in South-east Asia and China. JET (the Japan Exchange and Teaching programme) on www.jet-uk.org is worth a look; work in Japan is well paid.

For advice and information on Tefl courses, try www.cactustefl.com. You will have to apply for jobs yourself, but course providers give advice on this, and providers abroad often have local contacts. For independent advice on other gap-year activities in your field, and a directory of online gap-year services, visit www.gapadvice.org.

Development issues

Q. I have worked in a voluntary sector job for three years and am getting itchy feet. I have a nursing qualification, though I don't want to go back to that. I am also thinking of doing a Masters, or working in Africa, but I have a mortgage to pay!

A. You have two interesting options, or perhaps you could combine them, as if you did take a Masters degree you would not be able to start until the autumn. Work as a health promotion (HP) specialist in the NHS might suit. HP specialists work through nurses, teachers and youth workers to improve health in various ways (see www.nhscareers.nhs.uk and www.promotinghealth.org.uk). They work under a variety of job headings - Public Health Practitioner is one. Most specialist posts need a postgraduate qualification, and those who are used to working directly with the public rather than other professionals are encouraged to apply for project worker posts to help them decide. You could investigate this route by asking your local NHS organisation or Primary Care Trust if they have an HP Unit, and if placements are available.

You can, in parallel, research ways to travel and move on in the development field. If you haven't definitely decided on Africa but think you might like to work there, then rather than make a long-term commitment, you could prepare yourself by doing a work placement as part of an MA in International Development. Many universities offer this with a two-year (part-time) option. This would prepare you for a responsible role and you could aim to become a specialist in an area that really interests you.

Careers adviser: Siobhan Hamilton-Phillips, managing director, Career Psychology.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk

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