The smallest country in the rugged Andean highlands, Ecuador is home to a diverse array of indigenous cultures, lush rainforests, and mountainous highlands redolent of a lunar landscape. The impressive, well-preserved colonial architecture is not to be missed. Though the country has been stricken by a severe economic crises, it has now adopted the US Dollar as its national currency, and this has brought a measure of stability. The ups and downs of the currency and economy mean little to the TESOL teacher. Wages may seem low, but life is extremely cheap, and a comfortable standard of living is a very achievable goal if you don’t sell yourself short!
The official language is Spanish; however, Quecha, a native dialect is still very much alive. At 109 square miles the country is small; however it is home to a burgeoning population of twelve millions. Ninety percent of the population profess the Roman Catholic faith, with a small minority of other religious denominations.
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. All you’ll need to work there is a TESOL certificate.
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.
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.
Visas and Regulations
‘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 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.
However, if you are game you should be seeking a 12-IX document, which needs to be issued in your country of origin, and can be extended by visiting a neighbouring country, the best bet being Columbia.
Most employers will assist any candidate willing to commit for a reasonable length of time - probably a year - to obtain a cultural exchange visa, normally valid for a year. You will need: two letters attesting good character; a notarised copy of a police report stating that you are not a criminal; a health certificate, including a HIV test; a letter of invitation from an Ecuadorian employer; a letter of financial support from a backer; and last, but not least, a return airline ticket.
Perhaps the wise job-seeker, in the best of all possible Latin American worlds directs their attention to their tourist 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?
Quito, the capital, provides all that you expect from a capital city in terms of services, nightlife, and employment opportunities. If the rugged Andean highlands and equatorial rainforest don’t ring a bell for you then there is, of course, the Galapagos Islands. Isla Bartolome is the principal tourist destination, where you can easily scale the volcano, or at the other end of the scale snorkel with the penguins. An absolute paradise for the nature lover.
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 ([email protected]; 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 ([email protected]; 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!
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.