It was the best of classrooms, it was the worst of classrooms. With its snow-capped sierra and arid desert, Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, virgin rainforests and sprawling urban jungles, unimaginable wealth and abject poverty, Colombia is a country of contrasts. Similarly, your time teaching English in Colombia will be punctuated by highs and lows.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed, so this article aims to arm you with the information that will help you accentuate the highs and make the best of the lows.
What’s Granada like?
Granada is a remarkable city. It’s not particularly large (around 240,000 inhabitants) but it’s full of things to see and do. The Alhambra Palace, a Moorish citadel, is the main attraction, but part of the joy of Granada comes from simple pleasures: strolling around the winding streets with the distant sounds of flamenco guitar, meeting friends for a beer and tapas in one of the hundreds of bars scattered around the city, or just gazing at the backdrop of the wonderful Sierra Nevada mountain range.
By Carlos Adampol Galindo (Flickr: San José, Costa Rica) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Back in naivety of my youth I dreamed of working in a paradise of golden beaches and Celeste, cloudless skies where I’d teach English to kids on the beach wearing flip flops and bermudas, then fall asleep against a coconut tree for a siesta at midday. In reality ESL teaching is not quiet like that and working anywhere in the world is still work, however Costa Rica is a magical place to do it and the free time that one has to explore and enjoy the beauty of its treasures, makes up for the time spent in a sweaty classroom with no air conditioning. Fundamentally, it’s Costa Rica’s outstanding natural beauty that has made it one of the world’s prime eco-tourism destinations, with visitors flocking here to hike trails through ancient rain forest, climb active volcanoes or explore the high-altitude cloud forest, home to a multitude of wild and endangered animals. This country needs to be on everyone’s ‘to do’ list.
When I took the CELTA and dared to dream of the many foreign lands I would travel to with my qualification, Saudi Arabia was not on the top of that list. In fact, it wasn’t even in the top ten. That was over three years ago, and still I live in this hot, sandy and conservative country. I’m sure you know about the financial benefits, but what else is there? Why did I stay?
Well, for a start; Saudi is not for everyone. I have seen handfuls of young men and women who have come here and left soon after, or been miserable because they either had misinformed expectations of Saudi Arabia, or had read ‘tax-free’ rather than ‘conservative home of Islam’.
If you are contemplating moving abroad to teach English, and fancy a dose of la vida loca, Spain could be just the place for you; a country with a knack for being ridiculously successful at sport, a dedication to good food and drink, and where to fiesta until the very early hours is the norm not the exception. Add to this a large demand for EFL teachers and Spain is without doubt an excellent location for the EFL teacher.
As you can’t help but be aware, Spain has had a pretty rough deal recently, a huge economic crisis has resulted in scarily large unemployment figures particularly among young people. The generally agreed view among the Spanish is that one way to resolve this crisis is to improve their level of English. Unemployed workers are admirably committing to learning English while they search for work. Likewise employed workers are keen to take English classes to help secure their jobs as are their companies equally committed to providing English classes for their staff. Also the Spanish education system has re-examined the way English is taught and is now very much geared to having native English speakers present in schools. This is a general rule for the whole of Spain, with the highest demand for EFL teachers in Madrid and big cities (with the exception of Barcelona). This explosion of EFL work in Spain over the last few years means not only is it relatively easy to find work but you also have choice over they type of EFL work you want to do.
I loved living and working in Turkey. It is a fascinating country that merges both Western and Eastern cultures which makes life there both more challenging and interesting. I also enjoyed working in both Ankara and Istanbul which are very different from each other.
Ankara is the capital city of Turkey. Most of the jobs for Turks there are civil jobs. As such most people earn the same amount of money. Maybe because of this and because of the type of person who is drawn to working for the government, Ankara even by its own citizens is described as “boring, but easy to live in”. It has good public transportation that normally is not too over-crowded and the standard of living is good. It’s also often possible to live within walking distance to your job.
Most English teaching jobs in Ankara will be in Kizilay. Kizilay is considered the hub of Ankara. It’s where the main bus stop and the subway merge. It is also where quite a few of the government buildings are. Kizilay is also where more of the night life is, so if you like being close to clubs and restaurants it is the place for you. If you don’t want to be in the middle of everything then there are areas such as Dikmen, Kavaklidere, etc. Also, as you look for apartments further away from Kizilay you will find cheaper places to live.
Ampawa, two hours outside Bangkok, is a little-known destination for foreigners, and well worth the trip for its friendly floating market and the giant river prawns cooked to order and delivered to your door by boat.
How do you define the intense assault on your senses that is Thailand?
It is vibrant, crazy, impossibly romantic, quirky, hilarious, spiritual, – and corrupt. There are many countries, which can claim these adjectives as theirs, but in Thailand you get to experience all of them every day, and it is the intensity of this, which makes the country so unique and, for many visitors, unforgettable.
By Leandro Neumann Ciuffo (Happy hour Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
As I flew into Dublin in 2011 after teaching in Japan for 11 years I was naturally excited with the prospects of a new life in my own country. I’m from Northern Ireland and don’t speak Gaelic, but had no fear of culture shock for the first language spoken here is English. Previous visits to the capital city had been as a child to its wonderful zoo and periodic weekend trips from London for friends’ weddings. I was so naïve as I entered a lion’s den of corruption, illegality and unlawfulness.
Near mainland Europe (good for easy relocation to Spain/France when things go all pear shaped) and served by ‘low cost’ airlines (e.g. Ryanair).
So, if you’d like to teach English in Ecuador you must first ask yourself some fairly searching questions…namely are you a beach bum, a mountain lion or a machete wielding jungle explorer? The good news is that Ecuador, despite its small size, is perfectly formed and offers all three distinct terrains for you to call home. What’s more, if you’re a bit of a floozy on all sides as myself, you can easily reach all of these completely distinct landscapes within a few hours’ drive from the monstrous capital city of Quito, neat ey?
From the Amazon to the Galapagos, Ecuador is a country full of natural wonderment and cultural delights. It’s a country that one can fall in love within a week, yet spend a lifetime to understand. One of those rare places whose future looks as fascinating as it’s past. It is of no surprise then that it is somewhere that I would personally recommend as an ideal place to teach English.
Sitting on a plane headed for Shanghai in September 2011 the same thought ran through my head over and over… “Am I totally insane?”. This was quickly followed by another thought, “Well if I don’t like it I will just turn around and come back.” Fortunately for me and my husband we DID like it, something that is proved by the fact that nearly 3 years later we are still there, teaching EFL at a University in China.
Where do you want to work?
For anyone considering this move there are a number of things to be considered carefully. I will try to outline some of the things you might want to weigh up before you embark on an Asian adventure.
Firstly be aware that China is big, very very big. I know we all know this but getting a grasp of the vastness is really hard even when you live there, and it is almost impossible to understand this before you arrive. Therefore, it is advisable to get acquainted with the map and the location at least of the main big cities when looking for a job.