I cannot believe my time at the International TEFL Academy came and went so quickly! That was the fastest four weeks of my life. As I sit here gathering my thoughts about my experience, let me tell you- post class blues are a real thing!
Class met Monday through Friday, 9:30am to 5:30pm, from January 8th to February 2nd. Observations and practicum teaching kept us on campus until after 8:00pm at least two nights a week (often three)! We were responsible for creating lesson plans, reading textbook chapters, and taking chapter quizzes in addition to teaching real classes to English language learners. The schedule was intense, but manageable.
My classmates are what kept me sane. After the shock of the first week wore off, the eleven of us began to confide in and lean on one another. We developed a rare camaraderie I’ve only experienced a few other times in my life. They taught me just as much about teaching, traveling and life as the teachers did.
Soon, our class will cover the globe with graduates heading to South Korea, Spain, Germany, France, Tunisia, Argentina, Mexico, Thailand and Egypt!
In an effort to cope with missing everyone at ITA, I’ve complied tips from my experience at the International TEFL Academy in Chicago.
Where to Stay
Despite warnings from ITA admissions advisors about the distance, I chose to stay with my mom in Downers Grove, Illinois, a suburb about 30 miles southwest of International TEFL Academy. Luckily, the one and a half hour commute went smoothly- most days.
Several of my classmates lived near the school, a few found affordable local accommodations, several crashed with friends nearby and one commuted from Indiana everyday! (Please note that a commute of 45 minutes or less is ideal but anything up to two hours isn’t impossible! ITA advisors will strongly discourage longer commutes and so do I, but if it’s your only option, it’s possible.)
If I was to do it all over again, I would choose one of the following accommodations:
Urban Holiday Lofts
Urban Holiday Lofts is located in Wicker park, a trendy neighborhood full of shops, bars and restaurants. This hostel offers dormitory style rooms as well as private rooms. The commute to International TEFL Academy is less than 30 minutes by bus. I suppose if it isn’t the middle of winter, the 2.5 mile walk could be a nice option as well! Two of my classmates stayed here and loved it!
Airbnb Anywhere off the Brown Line
The International TEFL Academy is located one block from the Diversey stop on the Brown Line. The Brown Line, in it’s entirety, runs through what I would describe as bougie and safe neighborhoods. Lake View and Wrigleyville can be a bit on the pricier side but I have found rooms in Lincoln Park and for less than $40 a night. Any place you find off the Brown Line that fits your budget will suite your needs for this course.
Chicago Public Transit
After a month of commuting from the suburbs to the north side of Chicago, I’ve learned a thing or two about Chicago’s transit system! First things first, if you are going to use public transit in Chicago, (and I highly recommend that you do- it’s awesome) download the VENTRA APP and purchase a VENTRA CARD at any CTA train station, participating retail locations (such as Jewel-Osco), online or by phone. Once you have the Ventra Card, register it on the Ventra App. You will need the card to board the trains and busses so hold on to it!
The “L” (CTA Trains)
The “L” is Chicago’s inner city mass transit train system. It gets its name because most of the train lines are “elevated” above the city (although a few do run underground). Each of the 8 train lines has a color name- Red, Blue, Brown, Green, Orange, Purple, Pink, Yellow.
BRÜ Chicago, a cafe in Wicker Park (not far from the Urban Holiday Lofts) offers smoothies named after “L” lines. The “Brown Line,” a chocolate, Banana and espresso smoothie, is bomb!
The Chicago Transit Authority runs buses (routes 1-206) throughout the city. Bus route 76 Diversey runs the closest to the International TEFL Academy.
Metra trains are large suburban commuter trains that run between four downtown Chicago train stations and the surrounding Chicago suburbs.
Pace runs buses (routes 208 and above) throughout the Chicago suburbs. Many routes connect with CTA transit and Metra trains within the city limits.
South Shore Trains
The South Shore Train line is an interurban commuter train that runs between Chicago Millennium Station and South Bend, Indiana. I would have never believed commuting from Indiana to Chicago every day was possible until I met someone who did it!
If you plan on using CTA transit 3 or more times a day, the 3-day or 7-day CTA pass will save you money. If not, paying for each ride individually will be cheaper. All CTA train, CTA bus, Metra train and Pace bus tickets can be purchased on the Ventra App.
To purchase South Shore Line tickets, download the South Shore Line mobile app.
Best Coffee Near International TEFL Academy
Department of Coffee and Social Affairs
The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is a coffee shop on the corner of Diversey and Halsted- a 3 minute walk from ITA. With a quiet and cozy atmosphere, it’s a great spot for lesson planning!
La Colombe is a coffee shop located a block from the Armitage station on the Brown Line, only an 8 minute commute from International TEFL Academy. A fellow classmate stopped here everyday on his way to class. I ran into him one morning on the “L” and decided to tag along on his coffee run- the coffee lived up to its hype!
Best Food Near International TEFL Academy
Berries & Batter
I strolled into Berries & Batter one morning after searching “breakfast near me” on my phone. I ordered an omelet and hash browns to go. So good! When I told my classmate who lives in the area where I went he said “that place is known to be one of the best brunch spots in town!” I would have to agree! Thanks Google!
Pizza & Poke
Pizza & Poke is only a few doors down from ITA. At first glance it’s an odd combo. I thought the poke part of the business plan was the after thought, but I was wrong! It was originally going to be just a poke place but since the kitchen already had a brick pizza oven when they moved in, the owners got creative. The marinade on the poke is on point and the pizza by the slice is perfect for a quick, cheap bite!
Broken English Taco Pub is an 8 minute walk from ITA. With a vibrant atmosphere, delicious tacos, and even better margarita specials, it was the perfect spot to enjoy our last lunch together as a class!
Best Bars Near International TEFL Academy
Durkins is the Steelers Bar about a block from ITA. I always find it odd for bars to rep other sports teams in a sports centric city like Chicago but hey, Durkins pulls it off. They’ve got cheap pitchers of beer, good music, and it’s only a block or two from ITA.
Mad River Bar & Grille
Mad River Bar & Grille is a five minute walk from ITA. The place is huge but manages to get packed later in the evening or when any major Chicago sporting event is on tv. On our last night of practicum our whole class ventured over for a celebratory drink!
Harold Washington Library
The Harold Washington Library is a gem hiding in plain sight. I have been drawn to the unique exterior of this building since I was a kid, but up until taking this course, I had no clue what was inside of it! Located in the Loop, this massive red brick building, caped with an ornate green roof, is home to a 9 story public library! There is a room on the 7th floor designated to TEFL materials. From the International TEFL Academy you can take the Brown Line to the Harold Washington Library- State/Van Buren Station. This library should be a must see on your next trip to Chicago, even if you have no academic reason for visiting, it’s that cool!
On a final note, the best advise I can give you is: befriend your classmates! They will make the experience so much richer! Earning my TEFL certification, surrounded by fellow world travelers, all while getting further acquainted with Chicago, couldn’t have been more ideal. I’m still not sure if, when or where I’ll teach English while I travel but at least I have a way to support myself while traveling longterm!
*Nasdrave= Cheers in Bulgarian. One of the teachers is Bulgarian and she is awesome!