Interview with Laura Hayes, Peru Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

Hey! My name is Laura, I am 24 years old, and I am from the United States.

What is your education level and background?

I graduated with my Bachelors of Social Work degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2015. Over the years I have alternated between social work jobs (working for residential treatment centers, community based behavioral health programs, and even wilderness therapy, all with adolescents) and working as a barista at coffee shops. This had been a relatively good balance for me thus far, but I was craving more travel time!

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

Before going to Costa Rica, I had traveled several other times. I went on a traveling study abroad program with my university back in 2012 where we traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. This experience is definitely what gave me my unquenchable thirst for travel. Since then I have been to Mexico, Spain, and Morocco solely for vacations and the desire to see different cultures while taking it easy with family and friends for short amounts of time. Now I am living in Cusco, Peru for the next 6 months teaching English.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

I have been searching for opportunities to sustain myself abroad for quite some time now. It was difficult for me to find a program that seemed reasonably priced and that guaranteed safety and a paid teaching position. When I found TEFL Heaven I could tell that they were a trustworthy source to connect me with a school that could guarantee to pay me for my work. When I found this program and had a gap in my career, this seemed like the perfect time to go teach abroad.

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

I personally wanted to travel to different countries to experience different points of view on life. I wanted to broaden my mind to what the idea of normal is for different people in the world. Another main goal for me was to learn Spanish. This was why I specifically chose to teach in a Latin American country. These were my main goals when setting out to take the TEFL Course. Now that I have finished it and have started teaching; however, my goals have expanded to also actually wanting to improve my skills when teaching. I did not really view this as a main goal when I started, but now that I have started teaching, I actually really enjoy what I do and would love to improve in whatever ways I can.

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

I applied to the program with a friend from childhood. We had not lived in the same place since high school, but when we both had gaps in our careers at the same time, we definitely chose to make plans to travel together, as we had been wanting to do for quite some time. It has been such a great idea traveling with her! It is much easier to motivate yourself to go out and experience all that you can when you are in a new place when you have a friend with similar goals that will always be wanting to go with you! There were times that I was invited to events by locals. I would have been nervous going out with people I didn’t know very well to places that were also unfamiliar. But with my best friend, I felt safe and excited for all of the newness and it has been incredible!

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

Yes!! I have had several close friends teach at the same local school in Nicaragua. One woman found out about the school from just doing research and traveling around the area prior to applying for the job. After working there for six months, she came back and told a couple of my other friends about how great her experience was there and how much the school needed help. In response, my other two friends decided to go teach down there as well! Their experience; however, ended poorly and the school was not thriving anymore. Because of this, I decided to do my own research into different schools or programs that were hiring teachers in Latin America. I specifically looked for places that would provide a livable salary and that could also promise to have a reasonable amount of stability and professionalism.

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

After finding my program through TEFL Heaven, I honestly did not have very many concerns. This program already seemed much more professional than programs some of my other friends had gone through so I did not worry over safety or enjoyment. My main, and only real concern was definitely money. I only had to wait a week after finishing my TEFL course before starting my job, but after all of the initial payments that were necessary, I was very low on funds. The initial fees included the TEFL course fee, the price of the host family (rent and 2 meals a day for a month), the first plane ticket to Costa Rica (where I took my course) and another plane ticket to wherever I would get a job (in my case it ended up being to Peru), travel health insurance, shots before leaving the United States, and leisure money for eating lunch and doing anything fun or touristy. This was definitely the most concerning thing for me, but what I realized is that if you want something badly enough you will find a way to make it work. And so I have. And I have enjoyed myself immensely because of that risk that I took! Don’t be afraid! Just do what you can to make it work for yourself! You won’t regret it!

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

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

I decided to do a TEFL course because after doing some personal research, I was able to conclude that this is one of the best ways to sustain yourself financially while traveling. I had heard from other travelers that I had talked to that this was a great way to make money and still really enjoy yourself while experiencing a new place. When you are a teacher, you are able to talk to locals all day and hear their insight if you wish. I chose TEFL Heaven because they were able to provide me with the promises that I needed to hear before getting on a plane and flying to another country. They promised me safety and a guaranteed job with reasonable pay after I finished my course. All of these promises were fulfilled and I feel great about using TEFL Heaven.

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

I know myself and I know that I am not the type of person who would do well taking online courses. I definitely need face-to-face interaction while learning new things. I had heard of the option of taking a TEFL Course back home in the United States, but why would I do that when I could take my course on the beach in Costa Rica!? Since I had the choice of taking my course for around the same price in either country, I chose to take it in a new country.  

Which TEFL program did you do?

I took my TEFL Program in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. They have a TEFL Program offered every single month at their institute. They have great instructors who teach you just about everything you need to know while keeping the course fun and entertaining. They also offer Spanish classes at the training centre that you can sign up for if this is something that interests you. Other fun things they have at the institute are salsa classes and cooking classes, which are entirely free! They bring in students for you to practice teaching so you can get a good idea of what your teaching experience will be like. The team also connected me with the job I have now and provided me with assistance writing my CV. I strongly recommend them!

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

One of the main things I enjoyed about my course was my instructor, Audra. She was fun and knowledgeable and taught us TEFL like we would be expected to teach English. Her style was personable yet organized. The things about the course that I found most helpful were observing other teachers while they taught and practicing teaching myself. There is an entire week of the course (the practical teaching week) dedicated just to you practicing your time management, lesson planning, and implementation in the classroom. This was by far the most beneficial week of the course. Another thing that I enjoyed was how close I got to the other people who were in my TEFL course. We would spend time together every day exploring, going to the beach, or getting lunch. This made the course so much more fun! We became like a little family.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

After taking my TEFL course I felt very prepared to begin teaching. My course definitely prepared me very well and I was actually itching to get started. We had a substantial amount of review on English grammar and plenty of practice planning and teaching. I couldn’t wait to get started with my own classes!

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

I have been teaching in Peru for almost a month now and I have been loving it! My contract here is for 6 months and I plan to fulfill that before moving on to potentially teach English somewhere else.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

I secured a teaching job through the team in Costa Rica. They provided me with CV/Resume and job finding assistance. I actually ended up taking a job that was offered to me  in Cusco, Peru.

What type of school or organisation do you work for?

I work for one of the largest language institutes in the entire city of Cusco. There are around 2,000 English learners at the school and around 25 English teachers. There is a great community at the institute here. On a soccer game day, you will see students and teachers alike all piled into the main café focused in on a small TV wildly cheering on Peru. Upstairs, once a week you will find homemade guacamole and free salsa dancing classes. The institute is open on weekends as well offering free wifi, coffee, and tea for anyone who chooses to spend their time there. It a very welcoming and collaborative environment.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

I work Monday through Friday on a split schedule. This means that I have morning classes and night classes with a long break in the middle of the day. I teach six classes right now and have the opportunity to teach more if I wanted to. I get to school around 6:45 every morning and then teach two classes. I then have a break from 9 AM to 4 PM every day where I can grocery shop, take a nap, cook, do yoga, take Spanish classes, lesson plan or whatever else I want to do with my time. I then go back to school from 4 PM to 9 PM and teach 4 more classes. The schedule is fairly exhausting to be honest, but the work is really fun!

What age group or range to you teach?

All teachers at the institute I work for are required to teach one class of jovenes (teenagers). In this class the age ranges from 11 to 17 years old. The other five classes I teach are with adults. The ages of these people ranges from 17 to 50 or so, with most of my students being between 17 and 35 years old.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

My favorite thing about teaching my students is building rapport and getting to know them. You will get really close to some of your students. Last week I was invited to a birthday party for one of my students! They are so sweet and really do appreciate what you do for them every day. They are all so different and have so many interesting stories that they want to share with you. I love when we get into discussions about cultural differences or politics and they really open up and share their opinions. I will learn some Spanish from speaking with my students as well, even though the classes are taught in English. Learning Spanish is one of my main goals so any Spanish I can soak up, I will!

How did you get your work visa?

In Peru, it is actually not required to have a work visa. You can get a travellers visa that lasts up to six months, which fulfills the length of my stay. It is important when entering a different country to have proof of exit back to your home country. This is the most important thing (after always having your passport, of course)! Also, be sure to keep your stamped immigration form! When leaving Mexico City I had a big problem with this. I had lost my stamped immigration form for some silly reason and they gave me an incredibly hard time trying to leave their country. After paying them some pesos, everything was worked out but this was some stress that I definitely would have chosen to avoid. As long as you have your documentation ready, you will be just fine!

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

In Cusco, there is a local paper called La Rueda with a listing of all of the available apartments. I got a copy of this, made a script for myself in Spanish, and then began calling different apartments. I also spent time just walking around neighborhoods and looking for apartments that had signs saying they were for rent. Other great resources were the other teachers at my school. There were plenty of people in this community that had been here longer than I had and had ideas of places that might be available or of people who may need roommates. I found a place to live in a beautiful location that was reasonably priced within a week of looking.  

COUNTRY INSIGHT - PERU

In Cusco, Peru, people are very laid back in every aspect except traffic. The traffic here may seem crazy at first, but it really is an organized system! People drive very quickly, do not stay in their lanes, and will get extremely close to other cars and to people walking. Don’t worry! They won’t hit you! And they will always honk as their way to communicate when they are close to you. The food here mostly consists of potatoes and rice, but trust me when I say it is not as bland as it sounds! The food is deliciously spiced and you will find many incredible soups and don’t forget about empanadas (deep fried meat pies)! There is great fresh juice everywhere. They will just squeeze it into a plastic bag, throw a straw in it, and you are good to go with your portable juice! They enjoy meat but it is by no means difficult to find delicious vegetarian meals just about anywhere you go in the city. I have been getting around either by walking or by Taxis (which are very cheap!). The bus system here is a little messy (packed with people, buses may not be on time, etc.), but they are cheap and go just about everywhere. Right near here, you can get to Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, and many other beautiful tourist locations. There are tons of hiking spots and things to do in the city as well (markets, movies, bars, even an escape room!). The city of Cusco has many backpackers coming through which definitely has an effect on the culture. The bars and clubs have people from all over the world who will stay out dancing until sunrise no matter what day it is!  

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: 500 soles ($150 USD)/month with all utilities included except gas

Food: 30 soles ($10 USD)/week for groceries

(This does not include eating out.) (Eating out, meals will range from 6 soles ($2 USD) to 30 soles ($10 USD) depending on where you go.)

Other bills: Gas bill: 10 soles ($3.5 USD) per month

Social life: This really depends on how much you want to go out and what kinds of places you want to go. There are many clubs that will give you free drink tickets from rum and coke just for going into their club (no strings attached!). For a cappuccino, you will pay anywhere between 5 soles ($2 USD) and 12 soles ($4 USD). If you choose to eat or drink at more touristy locations (i.e. many places near Plaza de Armas, near the mall, etc.), you will automatically pay almost double what you would at more local spots.

Transportation: For a taxi you could be paying anywhere from 3 to 10 soles ($1-$3 USD) depending on where you are going.

Phone: I chose to keep my phone and just take out my sim card to replace it with a local one. You can easily get a pay-as-you-go chip through a local company (I would definitely chose Claro Phone Service!) This is 20 soles ($7 USD) /gigabyte of data

There are no other costs for me that I can think of!

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

I am definitely able to live comfortably on my salary; however, it is hard to save much without being extremely frugal. I get paid much better than many of the locals here do. But when I think about how much the flight back to the United States is, I get a little worried. I get paid plenty to live nicely here in Cusco. But because I want to leave someday, I need to be frugal with my money here so that I can afford U.S. prices again someday in the near future.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

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

Do it!! You will not regret it! One of my biggest pieces of advice is to save money ahead of time. Sell things you don’t need if you really can’t afford it, because after you leave you will not need or want these items anyway. Another piece of advice I have is to pack plenty of very professional clothing. People in Peru dress very nicely and you will be expected to have slacks, nice closed toed shoes, and plenty of blouses. Don’t be hesitant to go on those tourist outings even if they are a little expensive, because you will regret not seeing the sights if you don’t choose to do them. And take plenty of pictures when you do! Get to know the locals. Really dive into the culture and don’t be afraid to look like a fool even if your Spanish isn’t perfect or if you don’t know what something is that people keep talking about. Ask questions and get to know people! Lastly, pay attention during your TEFL course. It is important and it will help you a lot when you actually begin teaching. This experience has been so incredible for me and I plan to continue teaching in different countries after this as well. I keep wondering why I waited so long before actually starting to teach abroad! It has been such a good experience.

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