Interview with Christina Romeo, Peru Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

My name is Christina. I’m 25 years old and was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada in the United States.

What is your education level and background?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Public Relations with a Minor in Spanish.

I worked for a short amount of time in Public Relations/Sales, and quickly realized it was not the career path I wanted to pursue. I started working as a Substitute Teacher in hopes to find a new career to pursue. I absolutely loved being in a classroom, and with that I decided I wanted to work towards becoming a teacher full-time.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

2017 was the first year I had ever left the United States. But, this year I’ve traveled to Costa Rica, Peru, and Bolivia.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

Traveling outside of my home country was something I always dreamed of doing. Forever curious, I always felt the desire to have an authentic experience living abroad where I’d be forced to speak a different language, try food unique to its country, expose myself to new trains of thought, challenge my beliefs, and learn about a new culture through meeting new people and exploring. Going on a vacation to a foreign country for a short amount of time, only to return home to my daily grind wouldn’t suffice. I never had the opportunity to study abroad in college, and as I was about to graduate realized my dreams of traveling hadn’t been accomplished. My desire to leave the country and explore the world was stronger than ever.

I started working a “big girl” job that would have set me up for a career in Public Relations and Sales, even though I knew it wasn’t getting me any closer to pursuing my dream of traveling long-term. As I became more and more unhappy pursuing a career that I wasn’t actually passionate about, I researched ways I could travel for an extended period of time without needing to sell an organ or come from a trust fund. I read stories online of people like me who quit the jobs they didn’t truly care about, and pursued TEFL as a career and a way to both travel, live abroad, and help people learn a useful skill in the process. After being inspired by their stories, I set a goal for myself and decided earning a TEFL certificate could be my personal ticket to anywhere in the world. I quit my “big girl” job and began working as a Substitute Teacher, and quickly realized how much I enjoyed being in a classroom. Doing this only made me more motivated to pursue a career teaching English abroad. Everything finally felt like it was falling into place.

What did you want to personally achieve with this experience, and have you succeeded?

Moving to Peru was the first time I had left the United States. It was also the first time I would be living outside of my home state. I had always wanted to live abroad to experience life in a foreign country from day-to-day life, as well as through the eyes of a traveler. There’s so much to see, experience and learn outside of your home country. With that, I felt living as an ex-pat would allow me to experience the culture from a unique perspective. You’re not quite a local, but not exactly a tourist. I feel I was able to assimilate with Peruvian culture on a day-to-day basis, but also travel throughout the country and participate in local festivities with the same excitement and curiosity as a tourist.

Being that living in Peru was my first time living far away from my family and close friends, I wanted to gain more independence and learn to trust myself more. Traveling and living abroad comes with waves of challenges, whether it be language barriers, power outages and ice cold showers, missing people and comforts of home, or getting serious food poisoning from sketchy street food. As cliché as it sounds, any challenges I’ve faced have only given me a stronger sense of self and have shown me where my true strengths are. You learn to be resourceful and to truly advocate for yourself, your wants, and needs.

I wanted to make connections with a variety of people from different places with different backgrounds. To me, human connection in the greatest thing a person can have.  I’m extremely grateful to say I feel I was able to make lasting friendships and connections in my time here. My co-workers, my students, as well as the people I’ve made friends with on long bus rides or in hostels all hold a special place in my heart. I feel like I have heartstrings connecting me to people all over the world now, and look forward to reconnecting with them in the future.

Did you apply for the program with a friend or on your own?

I applied alone.

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

I didn’t know anyone who had taught abroad before me.

What were some of your concerns before you began teaching abroad?

I was most concerned about language barriers and money. Although my Spanish was decent, I worried I would have problems communicating. I worked hard to save before coming abroad, but I knew TEFL trainers didn’t make a ton of money. My biggest concern was having enough money for bare necessities and still being able to travel and enjoy Peru. I was also very concerned about finding a job immediately. I wanted to find a job as soon as possible so that I didn’t blow through my savings and be unemployed. I also knew I would miss my family, friends, and cat while away.

However, I quickly adjusted to speaking Spanish on a daily basis. I found my job while I was still completing the TEFL course. Peru is also a very affordable country. My teacher salary, as well as my savings, allowed me to live comfortably as well as enjoy my time in Cusco and other parts of Peru. Also, thanks to FaceTime and social media, I never felt too far away from my loved ones back at home.

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

What made you decide to do a TEFL course and choose TEFL Heaven?

Although I had prior experience working in education, I knew that I would need a TEFL certificate in order to get a good job teaching abroad. After researching many different options online and reading reviews, I felt TEFL Heaven was reputable, trustworthy, and a great option.

What made you choose a face-to-face TEFL course over other options?

I consider myself a haptic learner. I learn best through physical activity and face-to-face interaction. I also enjoy being in a classroom. I felt I would learn more, gain more, and be more well trained completing the course in person rather than online. My course also took place in a gorgeous beach town. Who wouldn’t want to overlook the beach during class and go swimming in the waves when you’re done for the day?

Which TEFL program did you do?

I completed my TEFL course in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

The TEFL Course was equally as challenging as it was rewarding. Our TEFL instructor was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Relearning English grammar, being exposed to so much information, and working to develop your skills and style as a teacher all at once can be very overwhelming. However, our TEFL instructor made coming to class every day so enjoyable. She was available to talk things through whenever someone needed extra help. I looked forward to what we would learn every day.

The material was taught in a very dynamic way, and the class was very well structured. I was amazed at how much I absorbed and learned in only a month. Being able to apply what we learned through practical teaching hours was also a very valuable aspect of the course. It allowed us to have excellent practice in a classroom under the guidance of our instructor, as well as interact with locals.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

I felt confident in my teaching abilities and very well prepared at the end of the course. I started working only 2 weeks after finishing the course, and I felt at ease in the classroom on my first day. Having practical teaching experience through the course really helped me to feel well prepared, and I feel it was the most valuable aspect of the TEFL course.

How long have you been teaching in Peru and how long do you plan to stay?

I have been teaching in Cusco, Peru for about five and a half months, and will be here for one more month.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

I was very concerned about finding a job. I was nervous I would complete the TEFL course and then be forced to come home because I was unemployed and out of money. However, my experience was quite opposite. I learned of job opportunities in Cusco, Peru while I was still completing the TEFL course through my instructor. She gave me the contact information of a language institute in Cusco, and shortly after reaching out to them, I had two Skype interviews and was offered the job while still completing my TEFL course.  

What does a typical working week look like for you?

I currently teach 7 classes for about 35 hours each week. Like many language institutes, I work a split schedule. Many of our clients have careers, families and busy lives outside of learning English. With that, our institute offers classes in the early morning and in the late afternoon to accommodate their schedules. I begin at 7:00 am, and will teach 3 classes from 7:00am -10:00am. I then have a break in the afternoon and return to work at 4:00 and will teach from 4:00pm -9:00pm.

During my afternoon break, I normally spend about an hour of that time lesson planning. The rest of my time I spend with friends, run errands, do chores around the house, or nap. Although it was difficult to adjust to at first, I’ve come to really enjoy the split schedule. It allows you to accomplish so much in one day.

What age group or range to you teach?

My students are adults ranging from 18-50. I also teach one class of “jovenes” or teenagers who are 12-16.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

Each student has his or her own goal and motivation for learning English. Many of my students are learning English to advance in their careers. Many work in tourism, hospitality, or the service industry. However, I’ve had many students who are also doctors, lawyers, engineers, and even stay at home parents who want to challenge themselves and develop a new skill. Some want to learn English to sweet talk tourists, or to study at the University level in English speaking countries.

Regardless of what their goal is, I love that I can help and be a part of them achieving that goal. Being bilingual can change the trajectory of their lives and the lives of their families by allowing them to get better, higher paying jobs. With that, I’m extremely grateful that I can act as a liaison between my students and accomplishing their dreams and goals. Seeing them progress is such an indescribable feeling as well. I feel like a proud parent when their skills improve, or when I can tell they’re truly absorbing the new information.

How did you get your work visa?

My employer helped me with visas.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?

I used a local newspaper to find the apartment I live in. There are several advertisements for apartments and homes for rent and for sale in the local newspaper. I spent one morning making phone calls to set up appointments to view different apartments for rent. After one day of going on appointments, I found the apartment I live in now.

It was a relatively easy process. However, I had only been in Cusco for about 2 days when I started looking for apartments. With that, I was not completely familiar with neighborhoods and struggled a little bit to find the locations of apartments I had made appointments to see. Other than that, it was simple.

The apartment I live in came fully furnished with the exception of some kitchen appliances, and is about a 15-minute walk from work. It’s comfortable, safe, and has been enjoyable.

COUNTRY INSIGHT

Peru is a beautiful country with an incredible culture and a rich history. Living in Cusco allows you to experience a variety of what Peru has to offer. Cusco has a rich nightlife with a ton of nightclubs, delicious food, and good happy hours at decent prices. Many restaurants offer their own “menu” which includes a drink, soup, salad, entrée and dessert for about $2-$5. However, if you’re into more outdoor activities, you can explore ancient Incan ruins and visit “Sacsayhuaman”,“Cristo Blanco” and “Templo de la Luna” in a 30 minute hike from the Main Plaza.

What I love the most about living in Cusco is how easy and inexpensive it is to take day trips to different parts of Peru. For example, the Sacred Valley is only about 1-2 hours from Cusco. For about $5, you can take a 3-hour bus ride to Lares and enjoy hot springs for the day. Rainbow Mountain and Ausaungate Mountain are about 3 hours from Cusco. The possibilities are endless. Another great thing about Cusco is how readily available and affordable taxis are.

Throughout the entire month of June, Cusco celebrates Inti Raymi, and Corpus Cristi, which means every day there is a different parade or celebration taking place. Street Vendors sell the traditional dish “Chiruchu “, which includes guinea pig (very commonly eaten in Cusco), chicken, corn, cheese, seaweed, fish eggs, and bread. On a daily basis, it is common to find street vendors selling Anticuchos, fried yucca, and many other delectable dishes all for a decent price. The local food is absolutely delicious, and there is such a variety of restaurants, you can absolutely find anything to satisfy your cravings here, and all for a decent price.  

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: $115

Food: $120-$140 (including grocery shopping and eating out)

Other bills: $20-$25 for gas, water, and electricity

Social life: $80

Transportation: $20-$30 on taxis and bus rides 

Phone: $10

Would you say you are able to live comfortably on your monthly salary?

Yes. Peru is affordable, especially if you cook and eat at home and walk when possible instead of taking a taxi or bus. However, I still recommend having some savings if you plan on traveling and exploring the country. The salary is great for paying for your bills and for necessities, but as for traveling and extras, I recommend coming abroad with some savings.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

What advice would you give someone thinking about teaching abroad, and would you recommend teaching English in Peru?

Don’t let fear prevent you from moving and living abroad! Many people tried to scare me out of teaching abroad, and I’m so happy I ignored them. Don’t second-guess yourself. Do what you need to do to make it happen, because it’s absolutely worth it. Teaching abroad has taught me so much about others, and myself, and has allowed me to both explore a new country while really being immersed in the culture.

Teaching English as a foreign language is amazingly fun. Be prepared to work hard, but know that it is what you make it, and have fun with it! The relationships you make with your students, and the skills you’re teaching them can significantly change their lives and yours as well.

Be open to every experience. I’ve felt that in my time in Peru, I’ve experienced both incredible highs and lows. However, each experience has been incredibly authentic and has put so much into perspective. It’s taught me that living simply creates so much more peace. It has taught me how important the relationships you build with those around you have an impact on your time here. It’s taught me to advocate for myself, and to trust myself when everything seems to go wrong. Also, I highly recommend teaching in Peru! It is a beautiful country with so much to see, do and learn about.

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