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Teaching English Abroad: Because life's too short to not travel
Written by: Degen Hill
Last Updated: July 19, 2021
It's an inevitable point in most people's lives. My name's Degen Hill, a 22 year old college grad from Boise, Idaho. I graduated from Eastern Washington University in December 2011, having spent the past 4 years studying Spanish. Like most college grads, I was growing tired of the question, “So what're you going to do now?” Hell, I had no idea. I had already taught English abroad for 3 months in El Salvador as a volunteer during the summer of 2011 and thought, “I could get paid for this”. I then looked into certifications, realized I had no commitments and registered for a TEFL course in Arequipa, Peru with International TEFL Academy.
To be quite honest, I liked the way 'Arequipa' sounded when pronounced and choosing that city for my TEFL course was, to say the least, random. My parents, as always, were supportive of my decision and my father left me with, “I'll help you out any way I can, unless you get thrown in jail or have lady troubles, then you're on your own.” Thanks Padre.
My friends were even more excited, not only for the possibility of a postcard, but for the many stories I would surely bring back with me. It was a long month and a half counting down my departure, but on February 2nd, 2012, I had finally arrived in the ever so beautiful, “White City” with 2 suitcases and a shit grin on my face.
Two days after my arrival in Peru, our TEFL class began.
We had the most wonderful instructor any ESL teacher in training could ask for; a woman named Ellen who loved the English language. She taught us pedagogy in the morning followed by rigorous grammar exercises in the afternoon. It was a 4 week course of around 120 total hours. We laughed, memorized conditionals, debated about the most successful ESL activities for children and questioned whether using candy as bribes was efficient 'classroom control'. I learned a lot and at the end of the month, proudly accepted my TEFL certification, knowing that memorizing numerous teaching methods had not been in vain.
Life as an English teacher.
I started my first English teaching job at a private institute, 'Extreme English', one of the main English schools here in Arequipa Peru and was immediately hired upon my TEFL course completion.
What initially drew me to the school was the variety of levels and class sizes, which have a maximum capacity of 15. For anyone who hasn't taught children before, anything more than 15 can be 'challenging'. Classes vary by level of English, so for any given month, I could teach children, teenagers, young adults, or adults. We have our own set of books but teachers make their own lesson plans referencing the book as a base guide. Most Peruvians are required to study English as a graduation requirement for the main universities, thus motivating them to learn. I teach 6 hours a day, 18 days a month and love it.
I'm inspired everyday by my students, especially by their courage to answer a question regardless of logic. For example, “How can we work to reduce overpopulation in city centers?” “Charge parents $30 a month per kid, maybe then they won't have as many”. Roberto, I think you're on to something. A lot of people complain about the salary for ESL teachers, but come on, we're teachers. If you want to make money, study medicine.
I see Peru not only as a way to make money, but also to improve my Spanish, meet new people, and a chance to do something different so the next time I see my friends, I'm not sharing quirky anecdotes about my job at the bank.
Why Arequipa? Because everywhere else is just 2nd best. (Postcard idea?!)
Arequipa is a great city and there's lots to do, although it doesn't have a solid expat community. Arequipa is usually chosen as a stopping point by tourists before they head on to Cusco, so there's a good chance of meeting someone and then never seeing them again. The locals are great. Arequipeños are some of the proudest and nicest people I have ever met. Directions, recommendations on the best 'Chifa', Peruvians are always willing to share information about their city. Arequipa is only 2 hours from the beach and a 6 hour bus ride away from Puno, Colca Canyon, and Chile. I travel frequently, sometimes for pleasure and then to Chile for Visa runs.
When you tell someone you 'lived abroad' for a year, it's definitely up for interpretation. “Oh my god, what was it like without electricity?” they'll ask. To which I respond, “Where exactly did you think I was for the past year?”
There's always a lot of variables at play, but I think it's human nature to be curious about the world and to want to see those 'faraway places'. Peru is a solid country, especially for people looking to improve their Spanish. Obviously your experience will vary depending on which city you live in, but Peru never lets you down. It's a culturally rich and overzealously proud country. As a plus, Peruvian food is out of this world. They've got everything from empanadas, to fine Peruvian cuisine, and street food that would put Mexico to shame.
Don't be a tourist of life.
Get certified and then teach in a country where you will not only learn about a new culture, but about yourself as well. I'm aware the last sentence sounds cheesy, but seriously, teaching English abroad has taught me things that no classroom in the states ever could have. For example, what it really means to let go of material goods or the mountain of Spanish slang I have inadvertently picked up through my students and friends.
Living abroad is an adventure.
You really get a sense of what you want vs. need and what you miss and quite frankly, don't. For the record, drinkable water will always be number 1 on my miss list. And I also realize that I don't need 30 soccer jerseys as much as I just want them. As a foreigner in Peru, I spend a lot of time observing, interacting and trying to remember where exactly the line is regarding cultural boundaries. It's a challenge, but for me, that's the adventure. It's the unknown that makes me excited as well as knowing that as soon as I wake up, I am undoubtedly going to learn something new.
The biggest thing that has opened my eyes is the realization of the pure grandeur of the world.
Sometimes I will stop walking, take a deep breath and think, “I can't believe I am in Peru” but then I continue walking with a reassuring feeling that I made the right decision to come here. During my stay in Peru, I have eaten guinea pig, made new friends, traveled to places I had only ever seen in books, and grown as a person.
Peru has changed me, and I wouldn't have expected any less. Being here has reaffirmed for me that teaching English abroad can be a lifestyle, both financially and culturally profitable. Peru is only the start of my ESL adventure and I'm excited for what's to come in the future.
Thanks for the help!
I couldn't have done it without International TEFL Academy and am forever grateful to them for providing such a unique and beneficial experience. I'd like to give a shout-out to Karen Crone over in Student Affairs who is always helpful in providing me information about ESL opportunities around the world. A benefit of ITA are the resources that are shared with graduates, of which I am quite appreciative. I think it goes unsaid, but of course I would suggest International TEFL Academy to anyone who has ever even dreamt about traveling.
Degen is from Boise, Idaho and took ITA's TEFL course in Arequipa, Peru. He then decided to stay in Arequipa and continued teaching English there.
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