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Teaching English in Arequipa, Peru - Alumni Q&A with Alina Randall
Written by: Alina Randall
Last Updated: February 18, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Master's degree or Higher
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?
Throughout Europe, South Korea, and Thailand in Asia, Ecuador in South America
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I was working full time as an engineer in Chicago; my husband was doing the same. We decided it was time for a change. We were thinking about moving to a different city in the USA, but decided it was the perfect time to try and live abroad. We looked into options to work as engineers abroad, but TEFL had such a great program we decided to give it a try. Teaching was always a back-up career idea, so I figured now was a great time to see how I would fare as a teacher.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
When I left the USA, I didn't have a job lined up yet. I had read that most schools in South America prefer to interview you in person versus online. Using the TEFL Peru Facebook page, I was easily able to set up an interview and job; I actually interviewed while I was traveling through Bolivia. I had also heard about possible power/water outages, so I was a bit concerned with how that would go, but overall it hasn't been a problem.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
Overall, everyone was very supportive. Even my boss and co-workers, while sad to see me leave, agreed that it made a lot of sense for me and fit in well with my personality. My father was a little concerned that I was leaving a well-paid engineering job, but he was generally on board and is coming to visit later this month. My in-laws are more unfamiliar with South America and while they were generally supportive, they don't really understand why we're here.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
Honestly, I didn't look into many other programs or TEFL options. I attended a seminar at a TEFL center that explained the program and offered help every step of the way. They also mentioned that a lot of schools required it. I didn't know much about teaching, so I needed some kind of training. The offer of assistance with the job search and the promise of a well-built alumni network really sold my husband and I on the International TEFL Academy. Also, we were able to complete the online course while we continued working, which was perfect for us.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course
How did you like the course?
The flexibility of the course was the best part. We could complete the assignments at any time during the week or day, as long as they were finished by Sunday. We often spent Saturdays doing homework or research, about 8-10 hours a week total. Also, there are webinars that you can watch at any time; they're recorded. It was easy to find a webinar on the subject we were learning that week and more. Our professor was OK. She just graded the assignments and provided some feedback on them, but it wasn't very helpful. I completed the 20 hours of practicum with a nearby Mexican community center which really helped me to understand how to teach and experience it first-hand. The practicum was very different than what I do every day now, but it was still excellent experience!
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I learned some excellent ideas for in-class activities from the TEFL webinars. The teaching method that I use in class everyday was well explained, and we even had an assignment to create a lesson plan at the end of the course.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Peru in the city of Arequipa. Arequipa is surrounded by several volcanoes and sounded very outdoorsy and active. I was living in Chicago in the USA, but loved spending time hiking, running, and biking, so it sounded like a perfect city. Arequipa is also the second largest city in Peru, and is known for better weather and less pollution than Lima. Peru felt like a country I knew more about, safer than Bolivia, cheaper than Argentina or Chile, and fewer Americans than Ecuador.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I started teaching in Arequipa in August and will continue until Christmas (5 months total). After that I am hoping to explore the country of Colombia and teach there.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
Extreme Learning Center
During which months does your school typically hire?
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.
I live on a tourist VISA, so roughly every 90 days I have to cross the Peruvian border to renew. I don't know the specifics of how long you can stay in Peru over a calendar year. I've been told no more than six months, but I've also met people who have been here longer.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
What is the best way to apply?
Tell us about your English teaching job!
Generally, I teach 3 classes that are 2 hours long, 5 days per week (lesson planning time not included). I usually also teach a kids class on Saturdays for 2.5 hours. The school runs on a monthly cycle, so every month I get a new set of classes and students. Each class has between 4-15 students, high school age or older. The school uses a book and has some basic lesson plans created to help organize your month. Because the classes change every month, we typically have a few days off in-between months and it's easy to take a month off to travel if you'd like. My pay started at around $4USD/hour although it has increased to almost $5 since I arrived. I can't say I save much money. I have enough to live on, and to go out sometimes on weekends, but not much if any is left at the end of the month. I came to Peru with my husband and we both teach, so we probably have an advantage. We rent a room in a house with a shared kitchen, 4 other teachers live here, and we pay about $278/month for rent. My knowledge of English grammar wasn't very good when I first arrived, so the first month or two was a real challenge. Lesson planning and learning all the grammar took a lot of time. However, by the end of the second month, I was a lot more comfortable with the grammar and spent a lot less time planning.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
My husband and I received some contacts from the school of people to rent a room from. We are in a house in the old section of town - really beautiful area, very safe! The owners live upstairs and we and four other teachers live downstairs. The teachers' rooms all have private bathrooms and of course are furnished. Our rooms exit into an open air courtyard which connects to the front door of the building and the shared teacher kitchen. Because it only rains here in January-March, the courtyard is an excellent place to relax and take in the great weather. I'm not sure what happens when it rains. While a challenge to have housemates again, we really enjoy it. The owners are very nice and we have played cards and cooked breakfast with them. The other teachers are great to collaborate with and to complain about classes with!
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Cultural aspects: Personally, I don't notice a huge cultural difference living here or in the USA. However, I am pretty sheltered here. Of course there are differences in the day-to-day life. Peruvians walk much slower for example and it's hard to pass them because the sidewalks are narrow. Environmental regulations are non-existent; trash is not well kept; recycling doesn't exist; no health code that I know of; and the buses create lots of pollution! Life here is very laid back; often students are not on time for class, we missed an announcement about the water being shut off one day because no one thought to tell us. Typically, we have water/electricity/WiFieveryday.
Public transportation: There are buses that are pretty cheap, but we don't know many of the routes so we typically walk everywhere.
Nightlife: There is a street of clubs that the teachers frequent. Arequipa also has a decent bar and restaurant scene, although it's a little out of our price range. It's a busy city and many people are out on Friday-Saturday nights.
Social activities: I would say Arequipa even has a good list of social activities like concerts and shows of all kinds. August is the month to be here, lots of native dance shows and concerts. There was a night of rock sculpting in the main plaza, parades and even big name concerts like Marc Anthony to celebrate the city.
Expat community: I don't know of an expat community, but I haven't looked into that at all.
Dating scene: Some of the teachers are on tinder (dating website), but I'm married so I haven't looked into that either. Overall, most of the teachers here are single so it is a bit of a different group than I hung out with at home.
Travel opportunities: Arequipa is in southern Peru, only a few hours from the coast. It is about a 12 hours bus ride to Cusco, six hours to Puno/Lake Titicaca, six hours to Arica, Chile/the border, and maybe 17 hours on a bus to Lima. Arequipa has an airport, but unless you want to go as far as Lima, I'd suggest a bus. Typically they are pretty safe and cheaper than a plane.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY
What are your monthly expenses?
My husband I live together and share income and expenses. We pay about $278/month for rent (only $185 if you're single) which includes all utilities except gas which is maybe $5 once every month or two (when the gas can for the stove runs out). We aim to only spend $100/month on food, which can be a challenge, especially if we travel at all. My cell phone is about $2/week to recharge. It's a pay as you go, which provides some calls/texts/internet and unlimited WhatsApp which is what I mainly use. There is WiFi at home and at school. Most of the clubs are free to enter, although some charge around $5 to enter. A beer or drink in the clubs is maybe $3-4; we try to avoid it as it's a bit expensive. Beers from a store are much cheaper. Often, we'll buy beer or wine from the store and sit with a group of teachers at someone's house, living cheap.
How would you describe your standard of living?
I would describe my standard of living as really good, very similar to my life in the USA, except on a lower budget. Generally, we are not wanting for anything, except when the WiFi is slow.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
I would say $500 USD (1600 soles) would be the minimum needed for one person per month.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
I would certainly recommend Peru and ELC to teach! When traveling abroad the most important thing is to keep a very open laid back mind. Sometimes, the water or electricity won't work, or your class will open late and you have to scramble to make up some time, or your roommate will be awake and loud until 1 am even though you have 7 am class. You have to be able to grab earplugs and ignore it. You can't let anything rattle you.
Alina is from Chicago and took ITA's Online TEFL Course. She and her husband were engineers before taking the plunge to teach English in Arequipa, Peru.
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