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To be on the ground in Peru is to stand amidst layer upon layer of great, and very different civilizations. Whether one considers the glittering skyscrapers of today, the well-preserved architecture of the conquistadors, or the legacy left by the Incas atop Machu Picchu, it is hard not to come away deeply impressed. The Peruvian Andes are amongst the most beautiful and most breathtaking on the Andean range, and are a magnet for climbers from around the world. The political troubles that plagued Lima with guerrilla activity now seem to be set firmly in the past.
Official languages include Spanish, and Quecha and Aymara - indigenous tongues. Eighty-one percent of the population is Roman Catholic, with six percent Protestant, and remainder ‘other’. The population of twenty-seven millions has plenty or room to roam in the half a million square miles of the landmass.
There is a huge drive on to learn English, with many employees being confronted with the ultimatum that they learn English within three months or get fired. Sometimes companies provide assistance in this department, often they do not.
Hence, there are many opportunities and, as ever, persistence pays dividends, and you really do not have to take the first job that comes your way.
There is certainly no requirement for a PGCE or an undergraduate degree in Peru, but some schools may need you to have a little teaching experience. You will need a TESOL qualification.
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. Commensurately, these people are paying for the privilege, and will expect a respectable, well-turned out, professional teacher. Another thing to be aware of is that because Latin languages are inflected, students will naturally have a much higher awareness of grammar than English-speakers. Be on your metal, and prepare well. You don’t want to have your knowledge of tenses tested by your students, who learned them all by heart before they were ten!
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.
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 Peru. With this said, ‘naturalisation’ - ie 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 Peru. 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 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.
You will need to have all your papers - certificates, etc - notarised and in order. Beware of going down the garden path of ‘fines’ during your application. For ‘fine’ read ‘bribe’. If you find yourself going falling into this route, you would be best advised just to pull out and carry on using a tourist visa.
It is also advisable to pay tax. You can get a tax number with a tourist visa, and paying a modicum of tax can save you having bothersome experiences such as being deported.
Perhaps the wise job-seeker, in the best of all possible Peruvian worlds directs their attention to their visa requirements and entitlements. This will depend on what your country of origin has fixed up with Peru. 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?
Most TESOL teachers simply find that it’s all a bit too much, and work on a tourist visa.
Despite being rather polluted, and situated on Peru’s desert coastline, Lima is an economic magnet attracting migrant workers from all over the country. It is home to fascinating museums, and boasts great nightlife, fabulous architecture, and truly warm, friendly people.
Cuzco is the continents oldest, continuously inhabited city on the continent. Once the capital of the Inca empire, the Quechua-speaking inhabitants, crowd into a town delineated by ancient Inca walls. A big draw for anybody touring Latin America with a view to finding out more about its history.
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.
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; firstname.lastname@example.org; 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 (email@example.com; www.samexplo.org )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 (firstname.lastname@example.org; www.amity.org) are active in Latin America, offering nine-month placements.
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!
One thing to watch out for in Peru is making a deal. A deal is not a deal unless it is in writing. It is wise to reiterate arrangements several times over, making it quite clear what your expectations are. It’s a seller’s market for TESOL teachers, and if you don’t feel like you are being treated right, don’t be shy about moving on.
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.
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