Boasting high desert at one extreme, and low glaciers at another, this slim country is a natural wonder full of geysers, mountains, beaches and volcanoes. A breathtakingly beautiful country, and a paradise to the adventurer’s adventurer. You could take all of this away, and yet the extraordinary economic growth which the country has experienced during the 21st century would make it a place to catch the TESOL teachers eye. Five percent unemployment combined with outside investment, mainly from the US, make this a dynamic and fascinating place to work.
The principal language is Spanish, though there are several native idioms in use. The country is eighty-seven percent Roman Catholic, ten-percent Protestant, with one-percent Jewish. The population is sixteen millions, and with a landmass of seven-hundred and fifty square miles.
Quite unlike Europe, for those wishing to teach in a state or private school, there is not the requirement for a PGCE or an undergraduate degree. Nor is there a requirement for two years’ teaching experience. A TESOL certificate will do just fine.
With language institutes you can, in the main, expect to find yourself teaching those who work in business or tourism, less so those doing it just for fun. This ‘needs-driven’ market makes for sharp, well-motivated students. Don’t expect to find people dozing at the back of the class.
Because of the huge variety of standards in education you can expect a commensurately patchy student body. Some will have very little experience; however, others, privately educated, will have many years experience in studying English.
Latin American students are amongst those most highly and warmly spoken of by experienced TESOL teachers. Expect fun, great enthusiasm, but don’t be surprised if nobody shows up if there is a major sporting event in the offing.
Visas and Regulations
For those with a need of a hobby, a full-time occupation, and/or a passion for the Kafkaesque, then by all means make an essay at getting a work permit in a Latin American country. With this said, ‘naturalisation’ - i.e. the legal right to work and reside, which is strictly necessary in, say the EU or the US and Canada, is not paid much attention to in Latin America. For all practical purposes, you do not really need a work permit to work, and….. you will not get a work permit unless you have a job, and will not get that kind of job unless you have a work permit. Your application for this rare device must be made in your country of origin, and since language schools do not, as a rule, recruit abroad - they want to see you in the flesh before offering a contract - your chances of becoming legally ‘naturalised’ are mighty slim. Indeed, if you have a particular attachment to a particular country, then you would be far better advised to contract a marriage of convenience! The hard work, fall-out, mucking around cannot, surely, be more than applying for a work permit.
Perhaps the wise job-seeker, in the best of all possible Latin American worlds directs their attention to their visa requirements and entitlements. This will depend on what your country of origin has fixed up with the host country. You can find all about this from your local embassy. Think about also what you have to do to renew your visa. All the way back home, or does a cross-border trip do nicely? How many times can you renew your tourist visa?
Santiago, the capital, has all the hustle and bustle of a thriving, cosmopolitan metropolis - the slick face of one of Latin America’s most thriving economies. There is great wealth, and great poverty. The difference between the two can be quite striking.
Pucón is famous for its great lake, its active volcano, and the availability of just about every outdoor sport imaginable. A small town, but attractive none the less. Valparaíso, on the other hand, or ‘Valpro’ for short, is a man-made wonder, full of beautiful architecture, and shortly to be made a Unesco world heritage site.
Getting a Job
A modicum of preparation prior to setting out will pay dividends. Think of not one country in South America, but the whole continent. You may end up moving around quite a bit once you hit this part of the world. Hence, it is a very good idea to contact all of the Latin American embassies in your country of origin, enquiring about teaching and visas, and see what you get back. You will find that you have a nice big file folder of leads and information, but will vary from country of origin to country of origin, Latin American embassy to Latin American embassy.
Like most Latin American countries jobs are mostly gained on-the-spot. Hence you will need a letter of introduction, in Spanish, your resume or CV translated accordingly, plus a translation of your transcripts and certificates. But there are judgement calls to be made. You don’t want to use any old Spanish - Venezuelan Spanish will appear idiosyncratic and strange in Argentina. The best bet if you can is to use Castillian - Spanish as spoken in Spain. This is seen as the mother tongue, universally comprehended, and carries style, weight and considerable currency throughout Latin America.
Equally, hone or acquire those language skills. Latin America is not the Costa del Sol in Spain with it’s huge, English-speaking tourist industry. Do not expect English to be widely spoken or in use. For all practical purposes a little bit of Spanish can go an awfully long way in determining both your employability, and the quality of your experience.
There are avenues which can be utilised to gain a placement prior to setting out. Most US TESOL schools have close ties with one or more Latin American countries. The Language and Training Group of the British Council arranges for ‘language assistants’ to be placed for one academic year, though applicants must be 20-30 years of age, with at least ‘A’ level Spanish. The Association of American Schools in South America (AASSA, 14750 NW77 Court, Suite 210, Miami Lakes, FL 33016; [email protected]; www.aassa.com ), acts as a recruitment agent. Candidates must pay $25 to register, then the placement fee is $300, normally reimbursed by employers. The South American Explorers keeps lists of schools which employ English language teachers, and maintain a database of volunteers. They charge $50 a year for membership, with a $10 premium added to non US members to cover the cost of postage. Amity Volunteer Teachers Abroad ([email protected]; www.amity.org) are active in Latin America, offering nine-month placements.
In Chile, driven by business, there is enthusiasm, from the top down, for learning English. Hence the policy Programa Ingles Abre Puertas put in place by the government. This has reduced the age at which children begin learning English, set standards for teachers and the taught alike, and placed the official seal of approval on learning English being a very good thing indeed. A good local contact is the prestigious Instituto Chileno-Britanico de Cultura (Santa Lucia 124, Santiago), which has schools in many cities. It houses a joint library incorporating the British Council’s Resource Library for Teachers.
For many, getting a job will mean knocking on doors - hence, the need for those translated documents, helped, hopefully, by a smattering of polite Spanish. Local telephone directories detail universities, schools and language institutes, etc, which are often only too willing to interview candidates. Highly-qualified, and more importantly, well-turned-out, organised and enthusiastic teachers are in short supply. If they like you they will most certainly find some teaching for you!
Hence, one of the best and most realistic propositions is to build a working life based around constructing a curriculum a few hours here and a few hours there, bearing mind that revenue from ‘privates’ can double a teacher’s income, one should always be on the lookout for private students, whatever one’s employment or visa status. The market for those wanting private tuition or conversation practice is huge, and potentially very lucrative, therefore, not be neglected. Give yourself time to build a portfolio of work. This is best safeguard to both your income, and employment status, the latter of which can be highly fluid with schools and language institutes.