Teach English in Montevideo, Uruguay: Alumni Q&A with Adria Baebler

What is your citizenship?

United States

What city and state are you from?
St. Louis, MO

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
December 2013 graduate of Missouri State University with degrees in Spanish and Organizational Communication, TEFL certification.

Have you traveled abroad in the past?

Yes, I spent the spring 2013 semester studying abroad in Seville, Spain. During this time I traveled to Portugal, France, England, and Italy.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?

During my study abroad semester in Spain, I had the opportunity to work as an English language assistant in one of the local secondary schools. I really liked working with non-native English speakers (as well as living in a foreign country!), and I decided to pursue a career in teaching English overseas.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?

Because I already knew Spanish before coming to South America, I don’t remember having too many concerns before moving overseas. Had I been going to a country where I didn’t speak the language, I know I would have been more concerned with finding housing, using transportation, or communicating with locals! With that being said, I think my biggest question was knowing what type of clothing I would need to bring for teaching classes, as well as what materials I should bring for my planning lessons.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?

At this point, I think my family has finally come to terms with the fact that I won’t be living in the United States for the next few years! They’re very supportive of what I do, and constantly remind me to be careful. As for my friends, they all admire that I have the ability to pack up everything and live overseas. Most of them are perfectly content to find jobs after graduation and continue living in St. Louis, so although they always say “your life is awesome!” they know it’s not something they could do.

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
After studying abroad in Seville, Spain, I knew that I wanted to work in a field that allowed me to travel and teach non-native English speakers. After doing a bit of research, I came across the International TEFL Academy’s website online. The company had great reviews from previous students and the website looked very professional, so I started speaking with one of the admissions advisors. One month later I was enrolled for a course!

Teach English in Latin America TEFLWhich TEFL certification course did you take?
I attended a summer 2013 course in Chicago.

How did you like the course?
Loved it! Because I don’t have a background in teaching or education, I specifically wanted to take an in-person course as opposed to an online option. Taking the course in Chicago was one of the best decisions I could have made for my international teaching career. Going to class every day for 4 weeks gave me the opportunity to meet people with similar interests, participate in class discussions with professors, and practice teaching English lessons to real students (non-native English speakers in the Chicago area.) If you’re someone who’s never studied education, I definitely recommend taking it.  You won’t regret it!

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
Because I had experience creating lesson plans and teaching students in Chicago, I came down to Uruguay with the confidence that I would be able to teach any level in any type of setting. I’ve also used a number of resources recommended from the TEFL course, such as English teaching activities, grammar games, and audio or reading websites.

Which country did you decide to teach English in and why?
The Fulbright Scholarship assigned me to teach in Maldonado for the first 4 months, and in Montevideo for the last 4 months. I was fortunate to have been placed in two of Uruguay’s most popular cities. Some people were placed in very rural areas. Between Maldonado and Montevideo, though, I would definitely recommend teaching in Montevideo.

Montevideo has a number of different English teaching schools, as well as more things to do in your free time. Maldonado has 2 English schools, and if you’re not there during the summer to enjoy the beach, there’s not much to do.

Teach English in Uruguay TEFL

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I arrived in March 2014 and will be staying until November 2014 (8 months total).

How did you secure your English teaching job?
Through the Fulbright Scholarship.

What school, company, or program are you working for?
I am currently working in Liceo 25, Cerp del Sur, and for the organization URUTESOL.

How did you get your work visa?
The Fulbright Scholarship took care of the paperwork for me. If you work in a private language school getting a work visa is very easy in Uruguay. It's a small country and they are very open to teachers from around the globe!

Tell us about your English teaching job!
Since the Fulbright Scholarship assigned me to specific teaching locations, I’ve had a very different experience than someone who would move down here and teach at a private language institute.

Under the Fulbright Scholarship, I am currently working with students in the public university, as well as with students in public secondary schools. (I’m pretty sure that unless you have a teaching degree from a Uruguayan university or you have a Fulbright Scholarship, you wouldn’t be allowed to teach in public schools.) To be honest, I think I would enjoy working at a private institution more, since things are very unorganized and chaotic in the public schools. Although I am not crazy about my teaching placements, working in public schools has shown me a very personal, up-close view of the Uruguayan education system, which is something I wouldn’t be able to experience in any other type of setting.

How did you find somewhere to live?
Finding somewhere to live in Montevideo is very simple- just use Airbnb! Housing in Montevideo means that you’ll be renting a room in someone’s house or apartment, and that you’ll more than likely have a few roommates. I currently live with a Uruguayan lady in her late 40s, and I rent her spare bedroom. She works long hours during the day, so I am lucky enough to have the apartment to myself! Some of my other friends living here share apartments with 4-5 people, which seems to be the norm.

Most apartments I looked at during my housing search in Montevideo were very nice. All of them were fully furnished, had a full kitchen, wifi, and washing machine. If your apartment doesn’t have these things, don’t stop looking, you can easily find another location that does!

Get TEFL Certified and Teach English in Uruguay

Finding somewhere to live in the interior (the areas outside of Montevideo) is a completely different story. Using the Internet as a means to grow businesses has not taken off outside of the capital city, so if you are looking for housing in cities such as Paysandú or Salto, you need to ask around by word of mouth or look in the local paper. In addition to renting a room in someone’s apartment, it is also common to rent a remodeled shed in the backyard of someone’s house.

Don’t expect interior housing to have any furnishings, as people are expected to provide their own bed, refrigerator, stove, wifi, towels, and sheets. I had an undesirable experience living in the interior, so I would advise to save yourself the time, stress, and money of moving to somewhere in the interior and just live in Montevideo!

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc.
Uruguay is a very simple, quiet country, and people value the time they get to spend with others. Common cultural activities are sitting around drinking mate (a tea-like drink), walking along the rambla (boardwalk) during nice weather, or going to a park. There’s not much to do in Uruguay, especially during the winter, so you might feel a bit lost if you don’t have a group of friends. Uruguay is very traditional in that almost all businesses are closed on Sundays, and weekends are spent with your family inside the house.

Everyone walks or uses the bus system to get around Montevideo. There is an app for your phone that helps you find which bus you should take in Montevideo. Taxis are also inexpensive.

Uruguayans are very friendly in general, so it isn’t hard meeting people and asking to hang out (this goes for the dating scene as well). I have no personal experience with the latter, but I have a few friends who now have serious boyfriends!

There is an expat community in Montevideo that has their own facebook group and gets together once a month (I think). I’ve only been to one expat meet up, but everyone was nice!

Uruguayan food is very similar to what you will find in Argentina. However, if you like to have a variety of ethnic restaurants to choose from, you won’t find that in Uruguay. Uruguayans like consistency, and at any restaurant throughout the city you’ll find the same menu items: Hamburger, hotdog, milanesa, chivito, pizza with mozzarella cheese, salad, sandwich caliente (hot ham and cheese), and some type of asado (BBQ) dish. Common snacks are alfajores (a type of cookie with dulce de leche) and emapanadas.

Going out in Uruguay usually starts at midnight and goes until 5 am, so be prepared to stay out late! There aren’t any dancing places with American music (that I know of!), so hopefully you like Spanish music/cumbiya. The bars that I’ve been to have been fun and fill up fast, so get there early if you want a seat at a table.

Since Uruguay is so small, traveling around the country never takes more than 6 hours. There are no domestic flights, so you must take a bus if you want to travel. Since Uruguay has a small airport, flights throughout South America will be more expensive than if you were living in Buenos Aires or Brazil.

ESL teacher in Uruguay TEFL

What are your monthly expenses?
Uruguay is the most expensive country in South America, so I haven’t been able to save any money on my small salary. Normal rent in Montevideo will cost around $600/month. There are a few paces you can find for around $500, but they are few and far between.

I normally pay around $300/month in groceries, NOT including eating out or going to bars. If you’re someone who goes out a lot, I’d budget around $200/month for this. Miscellaneous expenses are probably around $10, such as taking the bus, buying materials for your classroom, shopping, or taking taxis.

How would you describe your standard of living?
The standard of living varies throughout Uruguay. In Montevideo you should expect to have basic necessities that you would have in America, such as running water, wifi, a kitchen, and decent apartment. In any city outside of Montevideo, though, you should lower your standards of living. I had a bad housing experience in Maldonado, to the point where I was living at the standards of a third-world country. Living anywhere outside of Montevideo is going to present certain problems with housing, because there are very few furnished apartments or apartments with wifi.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
As the most expensive country in South America, someone in Uruguay needs to make at least $1400/month to get by. The average Uruguayan typically makes around $1400-$2000/month, so you’ll be living like a local!

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
JUST GO! If you want the opportunity to live overseas and travel, teaching abroad is a great career that lets you do both. I always tell people to “travel while you’re young,” because traveling only gets harder the older you get. Teach overseas now while you don’t have the commitments of a full-time job to hold you back… you won’t regret it!

If you’re someone who is looking for a quieter, teach abroad experience, Uruguay is the place for you. If you’re someone who wants a variety of restaurants, cultural activities, big city, and ability to meet other Americans, then I would suggest teaching in Buenos Aires. As I mentioned earlier, Uruguayans spend a lot of time hanging out with each other because there isn’t much to do in the city. If you don’t have a group of friends, then I could understand how the city might seem a bit boring. Although I’ve definitely enjoyed my experience living in Montevideo, I do wish the city had more to offer.


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