What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
Twin Cities, Minnesota
How old are you?
Where are you teaching English abroad?
I taught English in Colombia.
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I previously taught ESL to Mexican immigrants in my college town. During that time, I grew to love teaching and working with people from different countries and cultures. That experience led me to study abroad in Mexico for a year, which ultimately pushed me to pursue another means of living abroad after college. Teaching and living abroad seemed like the perfect combination, so I went for it!
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I was concerned that I wasn't qualified enough to teach since I hadn't studied to be a teacher and I hadn't yet taken the TEFL course. These fears soon subsided as I got to know my students better and implemented some of the techniques I learned in my TEFL course into my classes. Another concern about living abroad is missing home. That being said, living abroad is a once in a lifetime experience that I was lucky to have, so I learned to embrace every minute of it.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
Everyone was very supportive of my decision! Some people expressed their concerns about me living in Bogotá, a huge metropolitan city in the country of Colombia. Although there were times where I felt unsafe, the locals, my coworkers, and my program always supported me and gave me good tips I needed to know to stay safe in the city.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I decided to get a TEFL certificate because I never had formal training in teaching English. Although I taught my own ESL class for three years during college, I learned how to teach only through that experience. I knew International TEFL Academy had a good reputation, and a friend recommended them to me, so I decided to finally get my certification in order to become a better teacher and be more confident in my teaching skills.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course
How did you like the course?
I loved the TEFL course through ITA! It was well-paced, engaging, and very practical! The instructor gave useful feedback, and it was easy to see how passionate he was about this field of work. The tasks and practicum are very reasonable and good resources to save for future classes. My favorite part about the online course was the online webinars hosted by alumni and teachers. The webinars were particularly fun and allowed us students to speak with other teachers and learn from their experiences in the classroom.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
Although I learned about what does and doesn't work in the classroom through personal experience, the ITA TEFL course opened my eyes to other teaching and classroom management techniques that I had never thought to use before. While taking the course, I was able to start applying some of these techniques in my own classroom. The course helped me both refine some of my existing teaching skills and implement new techniques that enhanced my classes greatly.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Colombia in the city of Bogotá. I tutored a Colombian student while I was studying abroad in Mexico, and she told me all about Colombia--a country I had never been to before--and convinced me that I needed to go and see it for myself. Colombia is an absolutely beautiful country with mostly clear Spanish (depending on the region) and some of the friendliest people in the world. I decided to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant and got placed in the capital city of Bogotá.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I taught in Colombia for 10 months. Although I've returned to the U.S. now, I hope to return to Colombia in the future.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
During which months does your school typically hire?
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
Fulbright helped me with the visa process. The program provided me with all the necessary documents to apply for the visa. Fulbright also helped us get our "cédulas" (ID cards) when we arrived in the country.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
What is the best way to apply?
Many universities in the U.S. have a designated staff person who helps with Fulbright applications. I recommend getting in contact with this person in order to start get the application process rolling. Otherwise, the application is done all online through Fulbright's website.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
As an English Teaching Assistant, I did many different types of jobs! During the first semester, I created and taught a B1-level English class open to professors at the university in which I was teaching. I also private tutored deans, professors, and other university staff throughout the year. One of my more unique experiences came from hosting online conversation clubs and weekly cultural presentations for the online licensure students each night. Lastly, I assisted in English classrooms and occasionally helped students practice speaking skills outside of the classroom.
I worked about 30 hours per week, but part of that work included time spent teaching through a program called "Proyecto Intergeneracional" (Intergenerational Project). Through this project, I volunteer taught a small group of Afro-Colombians located in Tumaco, Colombia, via Skype. I love teaching true beginners, so teaching these students was a fun experience. Fulbright was kind enough to grant us 15 vacation days in addition to school holidays and winter break. With this vacation time, I was able to take longer weekend trips and also save up some days to visit my parents in Costa Rica and spend my birthday in Cuba.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I booked an Airbnb by my university for my first week. I ended up staying there for a month since the room was open and the host offered the room to me. After about a month, I decided to move to a different neighborhood closer to public transportation. I found that room on a Facebook page dedicated to finding rooms for rent in Bogotá. I lived with three Colombians who were all from the Atlantic coast of the country.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Colombia is a diverse country in nearly all aspects! Each region of the country has its special dishes, accent, climate, and culture. Bogotá was a good place to live in because of its central location, "neutral" accent (according to some Colombians), expat community, and abundance of activities and events. Bogotá has a whole neighborhood dedicated to restaurants, bars, and clubs, so the nightlife is very much so alive and well in this capital city! Being a big city, Bogotá is also host to many expats and international restaurants. The city always has some kind of cultural events going on, whether that's language exchanges or showings of French films.
One of my favorite parts of living in Bogotá was the proximity to parks, hiking trails, and nature. The city itself could sometimes get a little overwhelming. Just like most other big cities, there's lots of traffic and pollution. The good news is that Bogotá is nestled in the Andes mountains and has gorgeous hikes in many of the little towns just outside of the city.
Finally, Bogotá is an excellent city to live in for easy access to nearly all regions of the country. Colombia is much bigger and more diverse than I initially thought, so even though I'm not a huge city person, I was very happy to have been placed in Bogotá in the end. Because of the international airport and expansive bus stations, I was able to travel (easily and cheaply) to many different regions of Colombia and to three other Latin American countries during my year abroad.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY
What are your monthly expenses?
Rent/utilities: $120 per month
Food: Lunch at my university was about ~$2. In general, I spent about $50 to $80 per month on groceries and eating out.
Social activities: $50
Transportation: $20 - $60 (depending on if I took weekend trips by bus) Phone/communication: $15
Travel: $50 - $350
How would you describe your standard of living?
I had a pretty high standard of living in Bogotá. Even though my rent was fairly cheap for Bogotá, I lived in a middle-class apartment complex right by public transportation. Food is also easy to find at a very cheap price. The plethora of fresh (and exotic!) fruits and vegetables was amazing. Everything was very affordable!
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
To live comfortably in Bogotá, I would recommend at least $500 per month. I earned $700 per month and was able to live very well and even set aside some money each month for weekend trips and longer trips.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
My advice is to go into the experience with little expectations and an open mind. My experience was not quite what I imagined it to be, but in the end I am so happy I had the experience I did. Living abroad can be challenging, but being flexible (with everything from my job to my housing situation), contributed a lot to my personal happiness and overall positive experience in the country. I would 100% recommend teaching in Colombia! There's a huge market for teaching English there, and the country itself is stunning.
For more on Laura's adventures, check on her blog: https://onepasoadelante.wordpress.com