Teaching English in Quito, Ecuador: Q&A with Madeline Fitzgerald

What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Chanhassen, Minnesota

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from the University of Iowa, 2014.

Have you traveled abroad in the past?

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Mexico, Jamaica, several countries in Europe, China, and Vietnam.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
My older sister taught English in China for a year with some of her friends before starting her career. Ever since then I knew I wanted to do something similar.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?

Many! Not knowing any Spanish, being really far away from my family and everyone I knew, making friends, finding a job, and immersing myself in a new culture to live in (not just to pass through), were the major ones. Oh, and I had never been a teacher!

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad? 
Everyone very close to me could not have been more supportive. I planned and researched it for a really long time (almost a year), and they listened to me and coached me through my doubts that whole time. Of course some people who didn’t know me that well thought I was nuts, and that does hurt a little when you’re already filled with so much doubt. But I tried to ignore their opinions and focus on the opinions of those who mattered to me.

Teach English in Ecuador TEFL

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I researched many TEFL companies online for weeks and had no idea which direction to go. There are so many and have such a big range of price, preparation, and support. And I really didn’t know what I needed since I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be doing for work. During my first phone call, my advisor, Lauren, walked me through everything and answered every question I could possible have (and I had a lot - I’m a very detailed planner!) I hung up with a great feeling about ITA and knowing that it would give me more assurance and confidence if I invested in my certification, knowing I was the most prepared I could possibly be for teaching abroad.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?
It was intense at first. I was juggling two jobs, beginner Spanish classes, the online course, and it was a lot. But the course definitely gave me an idea of what teaching English could be like. Just like there is a huge range of TEFL programs to choose from, there is a huge range of English schools to choose from to teach at when abroad as well. This course over-prepares you if you end up working at an inexpensive language company that doesn’t really care about providing quality classes to students. However, if you land a job at a better school, one where you are expected to prepare lessons and know backwards and forwards what you are teaching, which is what I’m doing now, this course is perfect.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?

At first, learning the grammar in the TEFL course was overwhelming. English is just natural to us, so we rarely think about why we structure our speech the way we do. However, this is exactly what you have to know when teaching English. Once I got a handle on that (I actually love learning about grammar!), the classroom management part of the course was really helpful. Having never been a teacher, I didn’t know if I would be taken seriously or how the students would behave. Luckily I teach at a very respected school now, so all my students are adults who really want to be there and don’t give me too much trouble.

Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?

My original destination was Viña del Mar, Chile. I taught there for 6 months before moving to Quito, Ecuador, where I have been teaching for 3 months now. I chose Chile at first because I had friends who had lived and worked there and couldn’t say enough great things about it. It is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and so different from anything I’d ever known. However, because of visa issues and because I chose to live in the secondary, smaller teaching market (after Santiago), my life there wasn’t feasible and I had to open up my job search to other countries.

A friend from home, who had been dreaming of moving to South America to teach as well, was able to secure a job with the Fulbright Commission in Quito, Ecuador, at a time when I was feeling really down about my position in Chile. I was ready to take another plunge if it meant feeling stable and busy again, so I asked if her new school needed any more teachers. They did, and urgently, so I packed up and left Chile much sooner than I had hoped I would. But so far, it has been the right decision.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I arrived 3 months ago and am planning to stay another 6-9 months.

What school, company, or program are you working for?
The Fulbright Commission’s English Teaching Program in Quito, Ecuador.

How did you secure your English teaching job? 
As I mentioned, I didn’t have to search for a job in Quito because I was able to land the position through a friend before I arrived. It was a last-minute hire, and the application and interview process lasted just a few days with a lot of Skype meetings and emails.

TEFL Ecuador Fulbright Commission’s English Teaching ProgramHow did you get your work visa?
Fulbright really takes care of its teachers and supports them on Ecuador’s cultural exchange visa for as long as they work for the school. In January 2016, the price of all of the visas increased by about 5 times. The cultural exchange visa that was previously $80 is now about $400. This was a huge shock to the school and me when we found this out at the ministry (it changed the very same day I went to apply!), but they stuck by me and supported me through the entire visa process.

Tell us about your English teaching job!
As the Fulbright Commission of grants and scholarships is very respected and well-known in the US, the Fulbright English Teaching Program in Quito is very respected and well-known in Ecuador. It is an intensive program, and most students are business professionals attending with goals of working or studying in the US, Canada, or another English-speaking country. They are all 18 years or older and generally are very respectful as they pay a lot of money to attend and want to take their ESL education seriously.

Fulbright is a very demanding school, of its students and of its instructors. We work in cycles of 10 weeks, with a 2-week break in between each cycle. I teach 3 classes per day that are 2 hours each, Monday through Thursday. One is in the morning from 7-9, and the other two are from 5-7 and 7-9pm, so I’m free all day if I don’t have to grade or plan lessons. We are paid about $900/month, with opportunities to make extra by coming in Saturdays for student placement exams. We are also provided medical insurance and assistance with making doctor’s appointments or any help we need related to that. I can usually save about $200/month if I don’t go on any big trips.

As I mentioned, there are 2 whole (paid!) weeks between cycles. I went to Peru during the last one, and will go home to the US during the next one. Although we aren’t really able to take days off during the cycle, it’s really nice to have this time to relax and refresh between cycles. We have 3-day weekends most weeks too, so we have plenty of time to get out of the city and see Ecuador.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I was very lucky with my apartment; I found someone to sublease a room from on a Facebook group just a couple of weeks before coming to Quito. I have 2 roommates; one is from the Netherlands and the other is from Ecuador. The apartment is really nice and is in the same neighborhood as my school, which is important because walking a lot in Quito at night can be dangerous.

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

Ecuador is beautiful! You can see so many different things in this tiny country. Almost everything exists here: volcanoes, mountains, exotic jungles, beautiful beaches, and of course the Galapagos Islands. Since everything grows in Ecuador, produce is abundant and really cheap. You can find pretty much everything you need in Quito. There are some really nice malls, supermarkets, and restaurants. One of my favorite things about Quito is how inexpensive meals at tiny Ecuadorian restaurants are; you can order an almuerzo completo, which includes a soup, meat, a huge portion of rice, vegetables, and a juice for $2!

Transportation in Quito is also really inexpensive. The public trolleys and buses are $.25 per ride and taxis are about $1.50 or $2 for short rides. Buses to other cities are very affordable as well. Usually it costs about $1 per hour you are on the bus. You need to be very careful on public transportation though. It is very common for thieves to cut your purse open or reach into your pockets and rob you. There are very sneaky and quick – usually you don’t notice it has happened until later! Walking at night is a risk as well as almost everyone I know who has lived in Quito for at least a few months has been robbed walking at night. I carry almost nothing on me when I have to walk home from work at 9pm, just to be sure. Cabs are a good option, however they have been known to rob passengers as well.

The nightlife in Quito is lively! I live right by la Foch Plaza, which has about 100 bars and clubs of all types. It is popular with foreigners and students. There are more upscale bars and clubs too scattered around the city. Alcohol is not as cheap as you might expect because a lot of it is imported, but there are domestic beers and liquors that are affordable. Since Quito is a big city, there is a good amount of expats living here. They organize many events through Facebook, though I haven’t taken advantage of those yet.

One of the only cultural aspects of Ecuador I have had a difficult time with is how women are treated here. Men have no problem leering or making comments and noises at you on the street, and the way Ecuadorian men treat women in relationships is very machismo and sexist. For this reason I think it would be difficult to date an Ecuadorian, but of course not everyone thinks and behaves this way. Dating is a great way to get to know local places and to learn more about the good parts of the culture!

Get TEFL Certified and teach English in Ecuador

What are your monthly expenses?

-Rent/utilities $250
-Food $150
-Social activities $100
-Transportation $35
-Phone/communication $0-10
-Travel $0-200

How would you describe your standard of living?
Compared to most Ecuadorians, my standard of living in Quito is very good. Besides some inconveniences that come with living in a less-developed country, like frequent power outages, unreliable transportation, and petty theft, I feel generally comfortable and have access to everything I need.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
I strongly recommend teaching abroad to anyone who has even a slight interest in it because it is such a unique and rewarding way to challenge yourself. I have learned so much about myself in the past year that will help me with anything I do when I go back to the US. Not only do you get to experience a new culture, language, and tons of beautiful new places, but teaching English is a very fulfilling and fun job! Your students will look up to you and really appreciate you sharing your knowledge and culture with them.

Ecuador is a fantastic place to teach English. There is so much diversity to see in this little country, and almost every place can be accessed in a weekend trip. The people are warm and welcoming, and the support of other expats is readily available through online and personal networks. Just be prepared for an unstable legal and government system and for some things to be much more expensive than at home.


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