How easy is it to work in TEFL and be vegan? As easy as avocado on toast! Forget the side salads and breads, the options for vegans around the world are expanding every day, and with the global number of vegans showing rapid increase in recent years, following a plant-based diet, even when you’re abroad, is becoming ever-easier.
“I think food, culture, people and landscape are all absolutely inseparable”
I can’t help but agree with Anthony Bourdain here, certainly in feeling that food is a hugely significant part of any travel experience. So while TEFL is a career choice, a job that can quickly become a passion, for many EFL teachers there is an underlying love for travel and exploration that first draws them towards the ever-changing scenery of teaching English abroad. High up on the agenda for many when exploring any new place and culture in their TEFL journey is getting to grips with the local food, and in some cases, navigating the local vegan options!
Here are some tips to help vegans who want to go and teach English abroad:
- Get to grips with some key phrases in the local language. Learn the words for common meat and dairy products so that you can spot them on a menu, and practise ordering dishes ‘without cheese/butter/eggs’ so that you feel confident to do this in a restaurant without getting yourself into a knot.
- Shop in the markets. Find out what fruits and vegetables are local and seasonal, and experiment with them. This will push you to find out more about your new home and its food culture, while trying out some new recipes along the way.
- Experiment. Be adventurous and step away from the tried and tested dishes you stuck to back home or in your last country and instead embrace the culinary traditions and speciality dishes of the local area, while having fun figuring out the vegan alternatives along the way.
- Do your research and seek out local vegan or vegetarian restaurants. Most vegetarian restaurants will happily tweak dishes to make them vegan, and you’re likely to meet some likeminded people to exchange tips and tricks with while you’re there.
- Talk to your colleagues, especially local staff and others who’ve lived in the area a while. They might well know of some good shops or restaurants that they can recommend, or be able to help you navigate the difference between oat milk and rice milk in L2.
- Be open about being vegan. You don’t need to wear a T-shirt proclaiming your vegan identity, or start every sentence with ‘Well, as you know I’m vegan and…’, but if your colleagues know about your plant-based preferences then this removes any risk of causing offence when you turn down and offer of someone’s delicious looking homemade cookies for the third time! And speaking of baking, if you make a mean vegan banana bread or a delicious dairy-free brownie, why not bring some in for your colleagues to try? You never know who you might inspire.
- Explore. Use your veganism as an excuse for some food tourism and get to know other parts of your new home. A weekend in Rome organised around visiting vegan restaurants? A trip to Warsaw to explore the vegan district? Go for it! It’s as good an excuse as any to visit a new place
- Take up batch cooking. Often TEFL leads to long days, sometimes with split shifts, so making sure you’ve got some balanced meals prepared for the week ahead can really help to keep your health up and your costs down. Plus, when your colleagues see the amazing lunch options you’re bringing in to the staff kitchen, you’ll be doing your bit to share the positives of a plant-based diet!
- Remember you’ve made a choice that others might not always fully understand or agree with. In the EFL classroom, our learners are often curious about their teachers and they get to know much more about them than was ever the case with us and our own teachers back at school. At some point, your plant-based preferences might come up and there’s no reason to hide these, with many learners often being genuinely curious about your choices and the reasons behind them. In situations like this though, remember that it’s often natural inquisitiveness that leads learners to ask questions, but there’ll be times where language level means it’s difficult for them to approach this conversation in as clear and sensitive a way as they, and you, might want to. Equally, just like anyone you meet, your learners can come from very different backgrounds, perspectives and points of view and it isn’t your place as their English teacher to try and change this. Sure, be open and answer questions if students want to ask them, but don’t be the reason the school is getting phone calls from parents because an entire class of eight year olds have begun boycotting meat and dairy overnight.
And any last essentials for a vegan teacher in the world of TEFL?
- Vitamins vitamins vitamins. If you’re eating a balanced plant-based diet then you should be meeting the vast majority of your body’s vitamin needs without too much extra thought or effort. But if you’re someone who takes B12 supplements, or usually incorporates fortified milks and yoghurts into their diet, you’ll need to consider how you’re going to keep this up in your new environment. Whether this means hunting out a supermarket with a good range of non-dairy milks, finding a local health food shop or placing a few bulk orders online, prioritise making sure your body is getting everything that it needs.
- Plan ahead. Just like back home, there’ll be times when you can’t easily lay your hands on a suitable vegan option, but don’t let that cloud your day. A hearty breakfast, a packed lunch or a bag full of snacks will keep your body fuelled and your mind worry-free to enjoy your weekend day trip to the full.
- Have fun… who knows what new-found food passions and exciting recipes you might discover through trying new things!
 Bourdain, A (2014) ‘My First Trip to Vietnam Changed My Life’ Available at: https://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2014-09-26/anthony-bourdain-my-first-trip-to-vietnam-changed-my-life Accessed on 01.10.19