Venezuela is a country where the superlative is commonplace. It has a large landmass, the world’s third longest river, the world’s highest waterfall, and is home to the world’s longest snake, not to mention jaguars, and armadillos. It has great mineral wealth, in the form of oil, and this has led to a thriving economy, much trade with and investment from the US, and, thus, a great demand for English.
Spanish is the official language; however, more than thirty native dialects survive. The population is twenty-seven millions, in a landmass of a shade over three-hundred and fifty thousand square miles. The country is ninety-six percent Roman Catholic.
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. You will, however, need 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. 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!
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 Venezuela. 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. 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 may have to 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.
In general tourist visas are good for two months and can be renewed within Venezuela for up to six months. Most long-stay foreigners make brief trips to Curacao or Trinidad to renew their visas.
Work permits are available on if one’s employer has obtained approval for the candidate from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (DEX), and sent all the necessary papers to the Venezuelan consulate in the candidate’s country of origin. If you intend to go via this route then contact the Venezuelan consulate in your country of origin to get the latest information. The current fee for an application is around $80.
Perhaps the wise job-seeker, in the best of all possible Latin American worlds directs their attention to their visa requirements and entitlements. Americans, for example, benefit from the opportunity of getting a combined work/study permit. For everybody else matters will depend on what your country of origin has fixed up with Venezuela. You can find all about this from your local Venezuelan 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?
Delineated by verdant, forested hills Caracas, the capital, is part vertigo-inspiring skyscrapers, and part shantytown slums. It presents a dizzying array of cultures and potential for life experience. Great nightlife and warm people abound.
Venezuela is resplendent with natural wonders. The Salto Angel falls, at a height of three-thousand, two-hundred and eleven feet are breathtaking, as is the Mochima National Marine Park. There is plenty to see and do in this fine country.
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 its’ 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.
In Caracas check out the English language paper the Daily Journal, which often advertises TESOL jobs. There is good demand for TESOL teachers, and so it is best to be choosy, look for on-the-level employers, get a contract, inspect the teaching materials and facilities, etc. In short, shop around. The well-qualified, and experienced TESOL teacher is very much a viable concern. You don’t have to take the first job that comes your way!
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 the construction of a portfolio 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 body of work. This is best safeguard to both your income, and employment status, the latter of which can be a little fluid with high schools and language institutes.