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Teaching English in Buenos Aires, Argentina: Q&A with Mikhaila Steenkamp
Written by: Mikhaila Steenkamp
Last Updated: July 19, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Some international travel with friends, family, business, etc.
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Britain, the USA (New York), Australia, Botswana, and Swaziland
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I've known for the longest time that I wanted to LIVE abroad - the world is just so vast and varied, and I wanted to learn from and experience as much of that variety as I could! After working as a high school teacher for two years, I felt like I was finally ready to leave my job and start preparing for grad school... I just needed to have some amazing experiences before starting the next chapter of my life. Since I'm pretty passionate about language and education, ESL teaching abroad just seemed like the perfect 'gap' year!
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Honestly, the process of starting my TEFL course, choosing where to go, and actually going, happened so quickly (like, within three months) that I barely had time to be anything other than stupidly optimistic. I was a bit concerned about finding jobs, though, and having really long workdays. I was also worried about going to a Spanish-speaking country for the first time, and not being able to speak the language. That last one was a pretty valid concern, as it turns out!
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My friends were really excited for me, and quite proud. They're millennials, too: they understand wanderlust! I got the impression that some family members thought I was a bit mad (leaving people who love me for a country where I don't know anyone, leaving a stable job at a good school etc.), but outwardly they were so supportive, and hid their apprehension well.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
The short answer: I just didn't feel adequately prepared to teach abroad. I agonized over which TEFL organization to choose, but ultimately I felt that ITA was the one of the highest quality; it fit my schedule; and would give me the best job opportunities. The fact that there was so much help available from ITA in terms of country guides, Q&As, alumni networks, and career guidance definitely made ITA stand out, too.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course
How did you like the course?
I really enjoyed the course! I was worried that there would be a lot of overlap between my Post-Graduate Certificate in Education and my TEFL course, but I actually found it so valuable and practical. Emily Ricklefs was my instructor, and she gave me such great in-depth feedback and was supportive, approachable and understanding.
My Practicum made me so grateful that I had chosen ITA! My boyfriend lives in New York, and I visited him before coming to Argentina, so I did my Practicum in New York. I spent some hours observing classes at the Rennert Institute in Manhattan, and spent the rest of my practicum hours tutoring students enrolled in ESL programs in Brooklyn. Since I already had experience in front of a class, I wanted to focus on how to practically engage with ESL students and explain language concepts... and the Practicum was perfect for that. I also learned so much about New York, my students, and their respective countries. That was quite amazing, and left no doubt in my mind that teaching abroad was the right choice.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
Techniques, activities and theories of learning that I learned and used in my TEFL assignments still inform my lessons now. ITA also taught me a lot about grammar and how to impart rules and concepts that I had only known implicitly before. My course has made me a better, more confident teacher. It made me a better and more confident job candidate and interviewee too, so it also helped me obtain my current teaching positions in the first place.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Argentina in the city of Buenos Aires. I felt drawn to the color and culture of South America, and Buenos Aires struck me as particularly cosmopolitan and colorful - I figured there would be a lot for me to learn here. I also really wanted to learn Spanish, and tango!
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been here for four months, and plan to stay until the end of the year.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
Two business English institutes - Bespoke English and American Forum. I have private students, too.
During which months does your school typically hire?
Mainly February/ March, but they continue to hire and offer more classes to teach throughout the year.
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
My South African passport allows me to enter Argentina and most other South American countries without a visa.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
What is the best way to apply?
Please include any application resources (website, email, etc.) or other information here:
I found both jobs on Craigslist.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
Hours: Right now I work for 25 hours in total. From Monday to Thursday my day is quite long, starting at 08:30 and ending at at least 19:30, sometimes 21:00... but I have free time in the afternoons, and I only teach one class on Friday morning! I am fortunate in that most of my classes are within a 15-minute walk, so I'm not constantly traveling like some English teachers here.
Type of students: I have one 10-year-old elementary student, but all the rest are adults at various English learning levels. I really enjoy the challenge, and teaching adults is my favorite thing. My students are honestly so lovely, and classes are fun. I'm also learning a thing or two about business, since many of my classes are Business-English focused.
In terms of saving, am just breaking even - but I do spend quite a bit on Spanish and dancing lessons on top of the ordinary monthly expenses, so I am a bad example. There's no official vacation time, but I'm working 'under the table', so there is flexibility when it comes to taking (unpaid) leave.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I found my room on Craigslist. It's in a area called Balvanera... not the trendiest neighborhood itself, but it's very central, and the house is great! I share the house with three or four other roommates... international students and professionals pass in and out all the time, so I've met a lot of very interesting people while living here. Generally there's such a great vibe, and living with other people helps combat potential loneliness.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Social activities: Buenos Aires is a cultural hub, and there is always something happening here! Theaters are everywhere and theater shows are popular, and there are a number of museums, art galleries, and beautiful murals on the streets. It's easy to find live music events and tango shows as well. There are buzzing outdoor markets every weekend, and the the nightlife is really good, too, with lots of bars and clubs to choose from. The clubs only start getting full really late (like, around midnight) and people literally party until the sun comes up. Finally, 'asado's (barbecues) are immensely popular ways of socializing.
One thing that is sometimes difficult for me to deal with is that there isn't a variety of natural landscapes close by. However, there are some beautiful parks all over, and locals can always be spotted just relaxing in parks for hours, with some friends and 'mate'.
Travel opportunities: Also, apparently it's not too difficult or expensive to travel to other countries or other parts of the Argentina. I have only been to Uruguay so far, though. It was so beautiful and peaceful, and only a ferry ride away!
Food: BA is celebrated for its meat... but I'm vegetarian, so I can't comment. The food isn't as flavorful as the food where I'm from, although the wine is great and affordable!
Public transportation: The public transport system is a dream for me. The subway (Subte) is relatively cheap and easy to use - although there are sometimes delays and rush hour is uncomfortable to say the least - and runs until 10 or 11pm. The buses basically run all night, and the city is always full of reliable cabs.
What are your monthly expenses?
In Argentine pesos:
Rent: $6400 (utilities included)
Transport: about $500 I think...
Food and entertainment: the rest (about $7000), which includes my hundreds of lessons.
How would you describe your standard of living?
My standard of living is pretty decent. I mean, I was relying on savings when I started, and I'm not saving money or buying clothes because they're so expensive, but live in a lovely house and can afford to eat out and learn and do interesting things every week.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
It depends on so many factors, but I guess $800 to $1000 (US).
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
I'd say do a fair amount of research to prepare yourself, but don't overthink it. If you come with an open mind, I don't think it would be possible to regret ANY kind of experience like this... so, come with an open mind! And trust yourself! If you want to do it, just do it.
About teaching in Argentina: it's not as easy to get started, and certainly not as lucrative, as ESL teaching is in some other countries. However, I could not have made a better decision than I did coming here! I'd recommend it to anyone who's looking for amazing students, amazing friends, flexible hours, and the kinds of colorful experiences that I was looking for (and found).
Mikhaila, a citizen of South Africa, has known for the longest time that she wanted to LIVE abroad. After working as a high school teacher for two years, she felt like she was finally ready to leave her job and start preparing for grad school... but felt the need to have an amazing experience before starting that next chapter of her life. Being passionate about language and education, getting TEFL certified and teaching English abroad just seemed like the right fit for Mikhaila so she moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to teach Business English.
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