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Ambato, Ecuador English Teaching Q and A with Shannon Etling
Written by: Shannon Etling
Last Updated: July 19, 2021
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF!
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
Hawthorn Woods, Illinois
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?
Puerto Vallarta, México and Nassau, Bahamas
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
In college I was forced to take Spanish classes because of my major, but as I continued I started to develop an appreciation and interest in the language. I learned about many Latin American countries, traditions, and cultural norms through my classes. I wanted to study abroad, but it never happened for me due to various reasons. However, I knew I wanted to travel, see the places I had learned about, improve my Spanish, and live a little outside of my comfort zone.
I wasn't aware that teaching overseas was something available to such a broad population until I saw a flyer about teaching English Abroad at my college, Arizona State University. It wasn't a flyer for International TEFL Academy, but it did plant the idea in my head. From then on I researched and networked trying to find a reputable institution to help me realize my dreams. An old school classmate referred me to International TEFL Academy and from then on I started to write my future.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Finding a job on the ground, which is what has to be done in most Latin American countries.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
I'd have to say there were a myriad of reactions about teaching abroad. My mom was really apprehensive, nervous, and sad at first, but the more I talked about it, the more she warmed up the the idea. I kept her very informed of every step throughout the process and made sure she was included. I think this really helped her to understand the ins and outs of the process and help her feel more comfortable. There were others who thought I was crazy, some that thought I was putting my life in danger, some people that really believed I was someone who could do it, and others that were jealous.
Sometimes people's reactions can make you feel uneasy, but what you have to remember is that you are doing this for you and no one else. Keep yourself focused and motivated, confident and collected, with your eye on the prize. This is what you want to do and no one can talk you out of it.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
A high school classmate referred me to International TEFL Academy, because she was going to take the course as well. I first called in and talked to my admission advisor Cassie. I had a million questions written down and bugged her with them multiple times. She was always friendly, patient, and informative.
After I really started thinking about taking the class, I even went with my mom to see the school and to allow her to ask Cassie any questions she had. This was another great way to make my mom feel comfortable and involved. ITA sounded good, looked good, and were in my price range.
ITA also has a high accreditation, which seemed sound to me, not that I was just signing a line on some website and sending in a payment. I was really going to learn and have the opportunity to put my knowledge to work with real students.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
How did you like the course?
I am not gonna lie, the TEFL course was strenuous and a little tiring because it was 9-5 on weekdays for a month and I was commuting 3-4 hours a day. I must say though, it was definitely worth it. I learned a lot that I wouldn't have known before and don't believe I would have found a job as good as I have, or one at all for that matter, without this certification. The instructors were very knowledgeable and great people. Gosia was a sweetheart, and Jan was a riot. Both have experience in the field and are well educated. We had homework every night and spent a lot of nights doing practicum, or student teaching, after class.
In practicum we got to teach various levels and quantities of students. The students were locals either living in our traveling in Chicago who were trying to improve their English. We had to prepare our lessons based of certain topics, turn in a lesson plan, and teach our class, while being observed by Jan, who then gave us feedback the next day. Although practicum was nerve wracking, especially at first, it was a great experience that really helped me to prepare myself and learn from my mistakes. It was also nice to get the nerves out of the way before traveling to a new country.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
Having the background I received from my TEFL training gave me tools, ways of thinking, confidence, knowledge, and a well-rounded teaching style. Also experience, which is a must to be successful.
TEACHING ABROAD IN AMBATO, ECUADOR
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
5 weeks today! I plan to stay a year.
How did you secure your English teaching job?
I sent out a lot of resumes before coming. Contacted around 30 different schools and language centers. I interviewed over Skype, sent up interviews on the ground via e-mail. I also continued to network on the ground and interview my butt off.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
CEBI Centro Educativo Bilingüe Internacional
How did you get your work visa? If you didn't get a work visa, please elaborate on working under the table without a work visa.
I do have a visa, but not a work visa. It is an intercultural exchange visa. I went to an interview that I thought was a school, but it was an intercultural exchange program. I paid for my visa and in return they did all of the paperwork to get my visa, open a bank account for payment, and obtain an empadramiento, which is my ID here in Ecuador.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
Hours: I am at school M-F from 7:30-2:15, but my hours teaching vary by the day. I usually teach between 40 minutes-4 hours a day. I have other responsibilities, but also have free time to grade and prepare lessons.
Salary: I am paid a $700 a month stipend, before taxes, which comes to about $644 after taxes. $30 is also deducted from my check monthly for insurance, which I am required to have since I am being sponsored by an intercultural exchange. This is one thing I don't really like, because healthcare is so cheap here, but it is just one of those things.
I try to keep myself to a strict budget and track all of my spending. My goal is to save $200 a month to make up for the money it cost me to fly here, and start up costs. So far I am doing very well, but it can be tight. I don't let myself miss out on opportunities because of my budget, I just try to be strict during the week so that money can rollover.
School: I am working for an International Baccalaureate accredited school, meaning they follow an international curriculum. They are also a bilingual school, working to become more bilingual. The Ministry of Education recently changed a lot of the requirements for education in Ecuador, which in turn is forcing further implementation of English in the schools and higher degrees for native teachers.
Students: I teach Séptimo, which is 7th grade, but the equivalent to 6th in the states.
Vacation: We get off for certain holidays both local and nation wide. For instance I will have a 4 day weekend off for Easter, Semana Santa, come tomorrow. My school is also pretty accepting of vacation time as long as there is notice. Pay is not deducted and there are no "real" guidelines set in place. For example, when I took the job I let them know that my mom would be getting married in Florida in June and that I would need a week off. They accepted no problem and thanked me for my notification.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I actually got really lucky with housing. In Ambato, where I live (2 hours South of Quito, the capitol, where I started) it is very hard to find furnished apartments. In most of Latin America, unfurnished means no fridge, no stove, no nada. There is also a girl working at CEBI from Buffalo, New York. Before I took the job, I visited the school and talked with her about all of her experience. She was living in a woman's house that had an extra room. She asked the Señora if it would be ok if I lived there and she okayed it. Therefore, I live in a house with a woman, her son, and Sarah (my roommate).
We pay $150 a month total, which a little expensive, but have our own bathroom, furnished bedrooms, access to any kitchen supplies, cabinet space, washer for our clothes, internet, and the ability to come and go as we please. In this sense, I believe that even though we are paying a little more a month, we have a lot more than we would have anywhere else and the cost equals out. We are able to keep food in the house, get free clean water, wash our clothes, and have any cooking utensils we need.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc. about your country:
Culture: There are many things I really like about the culture here in Ecuador. For the most part people are really friendly and helpful. I have had many new friends go out of their way to help me in many ways, which can be huge when you are somewhere new. Also, families are really close here and stick together. Many people go to their families for advice rather than friends, and tend to spend a lot of time together. Brothers and sisters are close and do a lot for each other. They seem to get along a lot better.
There are also more roots here than there are in the United States. Many things such as cooking, types of food eaten, music, dancing, and tradition have been around for a long time. Men actually dance here, unlike the states, and people really know what they are doing. There is a lot more dancing for fun going on than grinding on each other. I am actually getting pretty good at Salsa as we speak!
Public Transportation: Public transportation is pretty popular, but very cheap. 25 cents each time you get on a bus. There is no way I would have a car here so I take public transport everywhere. Cabs are relatively inexpensive too, but bus is a preferred method for the cost.
Nightlife: I wouldn't say Ecuador is really known for its nightlife, unless you are in a touristy area. There really aren't many people out after dark during the week, but people definitely attend bars on the weekends. The majority of the bars are discotecas, or night clubs, not just bars that you go sit at and have many drink options. Beer and a few mixed drinks are some of your choices. You can buy bottles, however they are pretty expensive because they are imported. Bars cost $5 for entry at most places, which comes with a ticket for a free beer. Bars are fun here though and I love the music and learning to dance salsa. So that is super fun.
Social activities: Socially I try to do a lot of sightseeing and traveling, also lunch meals are very important and large here! So people spend a good amount of time socializing over food.
Food: The food here is really good, but differs by area. In Ambato and Quito, the Sierra region, the meals consist of a lot of carbs, meat, and fruit. The coast has really great Cebiche, seafood, and other types of cuisine. There is a lot of rice here however.
Expat Community: In Quito there are a lot more expats. Where I live now, Ambato, it is much smaller and less popular of a tourist destination. To be honest, besides the Americans I work with, I haven't seen any others here. This is something I kind of enjoy though so I really make friends with locals and immerse myself into the culture. Being able to experience family traditions and interactions is really important to me, as well as improving my Spanish. Now is the time, so I need to use the opportunity I have been lucky to receive. However, before moving here I did join Internations and ExpatBlog, which are expat forums. I asked a lot of questions to expats now living here and it was super helpful. People are really nice, and super willing to give you very detailed answers. One girl I still talk to via email regularly!
Dating Scene: Dating is always possible as Ecuadorian men here are very intrigued by American women. It is also a machismo society. So yes, this is always possible. However, here and everywhere always be careful, because men are able to hide things from you when you are naive to the society and there is a language barrier.
Also, sometimes men will just see you as someone who is here for a short time and just want to have fun. This may be true, but I would definitely recommend spending some time to get to know someone first, or having mutual friends to base decisions off of. Many men here are very polite and complete gentlemen, more so than many in the U.S., they are also sensitive and not afraid to be romantic.
Travel Opportunities: Travel is always possible and easy, by bus, car, cab, plane. The country is small and there is a tremendous amount of biodiversity here. You have the Sierra (mountains), coast, Galapagos Islands, and the jungle. Most places are within 10 hours at the most, or much less. I have visited the jungle, the coast, and live in the Sierra. All are beautiful. It is nice that Ecuador offers so much in such a small place. You will never run out of places to explore!
COME TO ECUADOR!
COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY
What are your monthly expenses?
Rent: I pay a flat $150 a month for living.
Food: Food is pretty cheap. Depending on where you go, a good meal of typical food will cost you around $2.50-$3.00. Food of other influences tends to cost a little more. I try to keep snacks in the house and buy my fruit and bread at fruterías and panaderías rather than the grocery store because it is fresh, local, and much cheaper.
Social: Alcohol is expensive because it is imported, except for the one local beer made here. Most bars/clubs charge an entrance fee of $5, which includes a beer.
Public Transportation: To take a bus is .25 cents per bus, and taxis are a little more expensive. I usually only take a cab when I want to get somewhere fast, or it is later at night. Buses for travel are pretty cheap though. I can get to Quito from Ambato, which is 2.5 hours away for $2.50. It takes a little longer, but it is cost effective.
Communication: I bought a local phone here, which was $60 for the most basic Nokia model around ($20 in the US) because technology is expensive here. However, to make calls you can go to any local tienda to purchase saldo, minutes. You just give them the money and your number and you magically have minutes. $3 usually lasts me a week or so, depending, and a couple times a month there are buy one get one minutes. I canceled my US based phone because it really didn't make sense to keep it, especially monetarily. In order to keep in touch with people in the US I have Facebook, Skype, e-mail, and I pay $3 a month for unlimited calling to cell/landlines in the US via skype.
Travel: Travel is cheap and easy, depending on how you want to do it. Right now, I don't have too much time, but have been traveling almost every weekend. Only thing is it usually goes by pretty quick. I am planning on spending the summer with a much more open schedule though when school is over.
How would you describe your standard of living?
Good for where we are living.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
In Ambato $500-700 a month depending on the person, but I can't speak for Ecuador in general because it varies from city to city.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE TEACHERS IN ECUADOR
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
For someone who is thinking about teaching abroad I would recommend practicing patience and having an open mind.
Yes you are traveling, but you are also moving your life to a whole new place. That being said, it is much more of a "process" then getting on a plane and grabbing a cab to your hotel. Especially in Latin America where almost everything is done once you are here. You have to figure out your visa situation, learn your way around, find a place to live, interview, find a decent job, and many other things. You also have to become accustomed to the way the country functions and try to adjust yourself to that.
The work is worth it in the end and Ecuador is a beautiful country and I am glad I ended up here. I've met many people, and learned a lot. Do not take this advice and let it steer you in the wrong direction. Sometimes some of the most difficult things are the most rewarding. I am done working at the end of June and plan to stay for a while longer, because I like it.
What I am trying to say that it is important to keep in mind when you come to Ecuador, or any country for that matter, that you are not there to change the country, nor can you, but you can alter your way of thinking and become a more accepting, flexible, and well-rounded addition to society as a whole.
A 24-year old that hails from Chicago, Shannon Etling studied Human Communication at Arizona State University. Before graduation, she waited on tables and saved up every dollar earned before moving abroad to Ecuador to teach English.
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