Interview with Sara Realmonte, Peru Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

Hi! My name is Sara and I am 24 years old. My family is from all over the world, mainly Ireland and Italy. I was born in the United States in Arizona and have lived there for my whole life. It’s super hot, but very beautiful!

What is your education level and background?

I graduated high school in Phoenix, Arizona and then went to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona (the best city in the world!) for four years. I graduated with degrees in Early Childhood Education, as well as Elementary Education. Teaching is my passion and I don’t think I could have chosen a better career path for myself.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

Before traveling to Cusco, I had only been to Rocky Point, Mexico. I had never studied or lived abroad...but now that I have, I definitely have the travel bug!

What motivated you to teach abroad?

Travelling around the world quickly became a life goal for me once I finished college. I felt that I had more to learn about how the world works, how other people live and experience other cultures. During my first year of teaching, I felt incredibly trapped by the politics and standards that exist in the education system in the United States. In addition, I was much younger than a majority of my colleagues; it was hard to relate to them because we were at such different points in our lives. I knew that I wanted to keep teaching; it brings me so much joy and fulfilment. However, I also knew that I couldn’t stay in the environment that I was in; it would just continue to bring my spirits about education down. So, I thought, “Why not travel AND teach at the same time?” That might have been the best idea I’ve ever had.

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

I personally wanted to achieve this experience because it was unlike anything I had ever done before. I wanted to challenge myself, yet still feel comfortable. For me, the comfort has come with teaching and nature. I love teaching more than almost anything and connecting with students has made me feel incredibly at home. The nature that I am surrounded by and that I can travel to makes me feel very comfortable as well. I continue to enjoy running outside, hiking and soaking up the sun. The challenges have been, well challenging, but in the best way possible. I have made so many new friends, have a better sense of direction, can travel to other cities in this country and I am in the process of learning a new language. With that said, I would say that so far, this experience has been nothing short of successful.

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

Originally, I did apply for this program with a friend, but unfortunately, they were unable to come. I think that as sad as I was at first, it ended up being better for me. It really forced me to make new friends, whom I now love dearly.

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

I did not know anyone that had taught abroad before. However, I did have several friends who had studied abroad and listening to their fun stories made me sure that I would also enjoy being in a different country.

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

Before I began teaching abroad I was nervous. I was worried about the language barrier, traveling by myself in a foreign country, the potential to catch a disease and of course feeling lonely. At first, the language barrier did pose problems for me; I couldn’t successfully order food, make travel plans on my own, give or receive directions, etc. However, this really motivated me to learn the language. So in reality, this actually was a benefit for me. As for catching a potential disease, that shouldn’t have been a worry of mine. In my opinion, I think people try to scare you instead of encouraging you to travel. Of course, be cautious, but don’t let disease be a main worry at all...it occurs only in rare circumstances. And lastly, you are never alone here. My fellow teachers and friends have made me feel incredibly wanted and loved here.

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

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

I chose the TEFL course because it was an option that would allow me to continue doing what I love! I also love that I can use it around the world. With my TEFL certificate, I will be viewed as a serious candidate by future employers around the world; it is the most professional option for teaching abroad and gives you not only legitimacy, but credibility as an educator. I chose TEFL Heaven because they were very professional, quick to respond to my questions, always helpful and gave me a lot of information about the country that I traveled to.

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

I am a strong advocate for face-to-face learning. I feel that it is much more beneficial than other options for many reasons. The first is that students can build a genuine relationship with their teacher. Being face-to-face and having in-depth conversations helps a teacher to know their students’ learning styles, likes and dislikes and strengths and weaknesses, which are all crucial in the learning process; the better a teacher knows their student, the better education they can provide. Face-to-face courses also help to develop friendships among students. They get to know each other personally and can be a great resource if you are struggling in the course. I find it to be quick and efficient to be in person when you have questions or need help as well. You can go to your teacher or classmates right away, versus writing an email and waiting anywhere from hours to days for a response. In addition, you get to experience the culture of the country that you are in! You can take weekends to travel, eat authentic and delicious food, observe holidays that you have never even heard of before, etc. I definitely would recommend face-to-face courses to anyone looking into TEFL courses.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I did the TEFL Heaven course in Cusco, Peru. The instructor there is amazing, the other teachers are super fun and outgoing, the staff is very helpful and so sweet. This program is truly wonderful and they really set their TEFL students up for success.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

SO many things! One thing that I enjoyed most was my class size. It was very small, so I was able to really connect with all of my classmates, as well as my teacher. I also appreciated how much support I was given. The instructor was there to help us every step of the way and was available even on the weekends for office hours. The course was a lot of work, but it was never unmanageable. I think the most important aspect of this course was the practical teaching experience. The third week in, I took over a class and taught for an hour every day in a real class. This helped me to prepare for what real-life teaching would actually be like. The TEFL course in Peru is absolutely amazing!

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

I felt very prepared for my teaching position. I am lucky because education and teaching is my career, so I feel very at ease in the classroom. However, throughout the TEFL course, I was teaching mini-lessons every week, and as stated previously, I had an entire week of practical teaching as well. Between the assignments, real-life teaching experiences that I was provided with and the feedback that I was given about my skills and abilities, I felt more than ready to take on my own schedule as a teacher.

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

I have been teaching in Cusco, Peru for one month. I did the TEFL course first for one month and then moved into a teaching position. I plan to stay until December, which will total in seven months of living in Cusco. I wish I was staying longer!

How did you secure your English teaching job?

I was very lucky to secure a position directly after I finished my TEFL course. It is an incredibly supportive and friendly environment to be in. I had other friends who did the TEFL course with me and moved to Lima, Peru to teach. They interviewed and easily secured teaching positions. Native English speakers are in high demand for teaching positions, so it is actually quite easy to secure a position in Peru.

What school or organisation do you work for?

It work in the heart of Cusco, near many restaurants, the main plaza and historical sites. It is easy to find housing near by as well! The school is well known throughout the city because it has such a good reputation. The students that come make progress quickly and meaningfully. It has many perks, including free salsa lessons every Tuesday! It is truly a welcoming environment where all students are cared about and taken care of....and so are the teachers!

What does a typical working week look like for you?

Every day, I arrive at school around 6:30 am and my first class starts at 7:00 am. I then have an hour break and then teach again from 9:00 am to 10:00 am. During the hour that I have off, I usually lesson plan. Then from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm I have time to run errands, work out, eat some great food, relax and hang out with friends. From 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm I am in the classroom teaching. Every month I have in between six and seven classes, a split day schedule. There is so much time during the day for fun, that I really don’t mind the split schedule. Monday through Friday that is my schedule and it is very manageable.

What age group or range to you teach?

I teach  one group of teenagers and the rest are adults. The teens range from 12- 16 years old and the adults range from 19- 60 years old. It’s very motivating to teach such a wide range of ages. The students are very dedicated to learning English and it is a huge priority in their lives. It makes me want to be a better teacher and strive to work just as hard as they do.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

What I enjoy most about teaching my students is developing relationships with them. Every class is different, but I never find a dull moment with them. We laugh and joke and talk so much; they have become my family. They are so thankful for their teachers and I am so thankful for them! I also seeing the progress that they make. Some of my students came in with barely any confidence to speak, and now they say full sentences all the time and their grammar just keeps getting better and better. It’s so amazing to see and be a part of!

How did you get your work visa?

I do not have a work visa. I have a regular passport and when I run out of days, I border hop. I actually really like this because it gives me more opportunities to travel.

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

Finding somewhere to live was very easy! Most of the teachers live together as roommates and when a spot opens up, people are eager to fill it! There are many options near the school and it’s nice to all live close together. We often can walk to school and home together, which is really comforting. I live in a fully furnished apartment. It has two rooms, a bathroom, a nice little kitchen area and a good sized family room. There is running water, electricity, but unfortunately no heat. It can get pretty chilly at night, but aside from that, there are no issues whatsoever!

COUNTRY INSIGHT

Cusco, Peru has been the most festive place I have ever experienced! The people here are proud of their heritage and celebrate their culture often. I was fortunately here during the month of June, which is the month that Peruvians celebrate their country all month long. Every day or night, there were parades, special concerts, dancing in the streets, etc. It was so lively! The streets are lined with vendors selling beautiful handmade products, full of color and used with local materials. The locals are very proud of the history of the Incans and Peru in general. They are so willing and excited to help tourists learn about the history as well. The economy thrives on tourism, so everyone is very welcoming and helpful to foreigners. The food is amazing! They create delicious flavors with spices and grains that are native to Peru. I have not yet had one meal that I didn’t like! Some popular dishes are lomo saltado, cuy, salchipapas and ceviche. Of course, there are many more options as well!

Transportation is easily available and very cheap. Many people walk everywhere, but you can easily get a taxi or a bus. If you plan on travelling to other places in Peru, it is also very easy to catch a combi (van) or a charter bus by either booking on the internet or booking through a travel agency. All means of transportation are very accommodating and affordable. The social aspects and night life in Cusco are always buzzing! Even on a Monday night, you can find a club with live music and people dancing the night away! All of the plazas have great restaurants, fun bars and interesting shops to go to. You can also visit many museuams, including Coricancha, the Pisco Museum, the chocolate museum and the coffee museum. There is never a dull moment in Cusco. For me, it has been the experience of a lifetime.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: $165

Food: 20-40 soles per day (depending on where you choose to eat)

Other bills: Electric/Utilities is about $60 per month

Social life: Depending on how often you go out, about 60 soles per night out

Transportation: I walk everywhere! When I take a taxi, it’s no more than 5 soles per ride

Phone: I use wifi and put about 10 soles on my phone for emergency data every 2 -3 weeks

Other costs: If you plan to live here, you will need to buy some things for your home and if you get sick, you will need to pay for medications (about 10-40 soles depending on medication)

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

I definitely live comfortably! I make more than enough to cover my monthly expenses, which makes it easy to save for traveling on the weekends.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

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

I would say to take the chance and go for it! It may be a little scary, but more than that it will be exciting, eye opening and life changing. You will learn so much and positively grow as a human. Be open to anything, try everything that you can and HAVE FUN! I would ABSOLUTELY recommend teaching in Cusco, Peru. The culture is so warm and welcoming, the people are so friendly and it is safe. There are so many opportunities for adventure and the people you meet will become your lifelong friends!

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