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A Special Kind of Crazy Teaching English in Latin America
Written by: Rebecca Sirull
Last Updated: February 8, 2021
About one year ago, I hopped on a plane to begin the adventure of a lifetime teaching English abroad. I showed up in a country I had never visited before, where I didn’t know a single person, and didn’t have a job or a place to live. Somehow all the pieces fell into place and I set up a life for myself in Arequipa, Peru. Then, six months later I packed it up and started all over again. I’ve now been living in Bucaramanga, Colombia, for about four months and am loving my second move abroad.
I decided to get TEFL-certified and move to Peru right after I finished my college degree. Like many international English teachers, I wanted to travel the world, see amazing sights, meet new people, and immerse myself in a different culture. I also wasn’t too thrilled to jump into the 9-5 office life that so many of my peers were heading towards. Teaching English seemed like the perfect way to support myself while also exploring a new country.
After I finished my onsite TEFL course in Arequipa, I was excited to accept a teaching job at Extreme Learning Center (the same institute where I got certified). For my first experience teaching English, I was fortunate to work at a school that was highly structured and had an extensive international staff. The institute provided plenty of resources and support, as well as connecting me with an awesome network of teachers from all over the world.
Working at ELC allowed me to hone my skills and develop my own personal style in the classroom, while also learning from the more experienced teachers around me. Over my six months there, I realized a passion for teaching that I had never anticipated. I also met several mentor figures who showed me that living abroad doesn’t need to be a short-term thing.
I had originally planned to teach English for about one year, get the travel bug out of my system, and then come home and start a “real” job. But what I didn’t know was that the travel bug isn’t something you can get out of your system. Once you feed it, it just keeps growing bigger.
After meeting other teachers who had loved their time working in Colombia, I thought why not try it myself. I spent a couple months traveling around the country before settling down in Bucaramanga, a small city near the border of Venezuela with a permanent springtime climate. Just like the first time, this new move meant finding a job and a place to live, not to mention the arduous process of getting a work visa. It meant starting all over from scratch for the second time in a year.
Unlike my first teaching job, my new school had only two other foreign staff members and a much less structured system for leading classes. It was simultaneously intimidating and exhilarating to be given so much freedom in the classroom. While I’ve since grown into the role, I couldn’t help but feel extremely grateful for the guidance I was given at my first school, which allowed me to step into my second job with confidence.
Both of my experiences abroad have been incredibly valuable for quite different reasons. My time in Peru opened my eyes to the possibilities available by teaching English and helped me grow into the teacher I am today. And now working in Colombia, I’ve embraced my autonomy in the classroom and immersed myself more in local life, spending the majority of my time with bumangueses rather than an extensive English-speaking staff.
Above all, my second move felt like an even bigger transition than the first. This was no longer just a momentary pause before heading back to the life I came from. Traveling was my new lifestyle.
Now approaching the one-year mark, I’m at the point where I initially expected to be heading back home. I thought one year would be plenty and there’s no way I would want to stay away longer. Boy, was I wrong.
I’m hoping to stay in Colombia for at least another six months and after that….who knows! With so many potential places to visit, it’s impossible to say exactly where will strike my fancy next. I don’t know for sure that I’ll want to continue this lifestyle forever, but I’m so grateful to have had the resources to try it out and meet people who encourage me to live a life that excites me, whatever that entails.
It takes a special kind of crazy to not only move abroad and take that leap of faith once, but twice. And I couldn’t be happier that I gave it a shot!
A native of Boston & a graduate of Northeastern University, International TEFL Academy alumna, Rebecca Sirull, has taught English abroad in both Peru and Colombia. She also has extensive experience teaching English online. As an ITA Alumni Ambassador, Rebecca has published numerous articles to share her experiences and insights on teaching English abroad with other ITA students looking to expand their horizons.
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