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A New Life - Teaching English in Valparaiso, Chile
Written by: Kent Nancollas
Last Updated: April 22, 2021
Passing through customs we stepped into our new life – one that wasn’t supposed to start for another few years. Left behind were those who couldn’t imagine themselves living abroad, in front of us the excitement of meeting the unknown head-on.
But it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Our plan was to travel after we retired. However life sometimes throws a curve ball at you and like many, mine was losing my job. I chose to leave behind a lucrative career in the software industry and teach English. After three months of on-line coursework at International TEFL Academy I earned my TEFL certificate. Jessica, my instructor in Chicago, did a masterful job of preparing the class for our teaching futures. Now I was ready to begin my new career as a professor (teacher).
Riding towards our new home in Viña del Mar (known as Viña by locals) I was flooded with thoughts about the uncertainties we faced. A hotel room was reserved for two weeks. In that time we needed to find and lease a furnished apartment, apply for work visas and obtain a temporary RUT number which is the Chilean equivalent of a U.S. Social Security number.
Balancing the unknown of our new life was 'the dream of living in a coastal city for the first time. We were trading in the blazing hot Phoenix summers for sea breezes and a climate similar to San Francisco. With a population of 200,000, Viña is large enough to have all the conveniences we want. Modern homes, large grocery stores, a mall, and quality health care; yet small enough to have a farmers market filled with fresh locally grown produce. In the summer months the town swells with tourists seeking its white sandy beaches. In winter the Viña is home to university students from all corners of Chile.
As Santiago faded in the mirror, the air was swept clean with ocean breezes. As the modern freeway led us through hills filled with oak trees and yellow grass dried by the summer heat and by lush green valleys filled with vineyards, I was struck by the similarities to Northern California’s wine country. Roadside signs beckoned us to pull-over and taste carefully crafted wines. Those would wait for another day.
Hotel check-in was a breeze and my limited Spanish speaking skills were not a problem. As with any modern hotel, instructions to access the hotel Wi-Fi were given which confirmed my research that Chile is a modern country with many of the same conveniences found in the U.S.
So how hard was it to find a teaching position? While we were able to find teaching positions before we arrived, this was somewhat unusual. If you have teaching credentials, are persistent and send out many resumes you might be able to get a job before you arrive as we were. However the vast majority of teachers enter the country on a 90 day tourist visa, find a job and then switch to a temporary resident visa. Just don’t allow the naysayers to get in the way of your success and you’ll do fine.
English teaching positions in Chile are plentiful due to a thriving economy that boasts the largest number of international agreements of any country in South America. Most teachers are recent graduates often teaching for the first time. Older teachers are often wanted because of the respect for age and experience. Poor Spanish skills aren’t a problem because many classes do not allow Spanish to be spoken. In my case I teach advanced levels where Spanish proficiency is rarely needed.
Instructors typically teach four or five hours a day and are paid around $1,000 USD a month which takes care of the essentials. If you want additional income you can always tutor private students or take a second teaching job. Fast internet connections also provide remote work opportunities.
For the last seven months I’ve been teaching cadets at the Chilean Naval Academy. English classes are mandatory and language proficiency is required for graduation. It has been a positive experience shared with a staff of English teachers from the U.S. and Europe. Together we come from seven nations – Belgium, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Scotland, Great Britain and the United States. We have shared many experiences together and have forged tight bonds with each other. We have formed a truly international community.
The academy’s location is absolutely stunning. It sits on a point at the beginning of the Valparaiso harbor. On one side of the point we watch ships entering and leaving the harbor and on the other side waves crash into the rocks below. Looking east you see the snow-capped Andes. Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas towers over the landscape in the distance. Valparaiso’s iconic and brilliantly painted homes sit on the hills surrounding the harbor. Daily I see why the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda chose to make his home here. With all the magnificent views, it’s hard to have a bad day on the point.
Staying in touch with family and friends back home has been easy with e-mail and Skype. Yes, we may miss a celebration or two back home but we have created our own in our new country. Birthdays, end of semesters and exams are all celebrated with our new friends. We have new holidays and customs to learn.
So far we have traveled to Easter Island, Machu Picchu and have trips planned to Iguazu Falls and Southern Chile later this year. Life is good and I’ve never regretted my decision to ignore the naysayers and move to Chile to teach English.
I am following the maxim, “Life is not over until you say it is.”
Kent made the life-altering decision to teach English abroad after being laid off from a technical career when he was 58. He says that he's close to retirement – but not quite there – and wanted to do something more rewarding and aligned with his passions. So, Kent and his life partner, Rae Ann, chose to combine their love of travel and education by teaching English as a second language in Valparaiso, Chile.
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