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Teaching in...Latin America
There are three dozen countries in Latin America and a total population of about half a billion people. Spanish is the most widely spoken language, though Portuguese (Brazil) and English (a number of small countries) are also spoken. The geography of Latin America is very diverse. Patagonia in the very south has glaciers all year round, while the Amazon rainforest, which spreads from Brazil into eight other countries, has steam rising off it throughout the day. Latin Americans love to party (and dance) and are famous for their fiestas that can often last a week. Some of the world's best beaches are in Latin America. The Caribbean is awash with white sandy beaches and coastlines lined with palm trees. Brazil is famous for its beaches and if you want to find someone in Rio de Janeiro during the summer, you will probably find them at one.
Jobs are easy to find in Latin America, though with the exception of international schools and universities, the pay is not high. For the most part though, the cost of daily life is inexpensive, which often means the standard of living for teachers is quite good. Just don’t expect to be able to send much money home each month for your retirement plan. Mexico has the largest number of jobs and is probably the easiest place for Americans to adapt to. Work in Central America is particularly badly paid, though it’s not so bad that teachers go hungry. Further south, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador all have big TESL markets and pay reasonably well. All the countries of Latin America have TESL jobs though, and where you end up depends on where you want to live and how hard you’re willing to look.
People, Culture & Politics
The people of Latin America are very friendly and tolerant and there are pleasures around every corner. Many travel and teach in Latin America for the vibrant cultures, natural wonders, warm weather and rich languages. Even things which might dissuade people—like the crime and corruption—are easily avoided with common sense. Latin America has a rich history and variety of music. Some of the most well-known styles include the samba in Brazil and the tango in Argentina. Of late, American pop music has made large inroads. The food in Latin America is influenced by a wide-range of different cultures including African, American Indian, Asian and European influences. Politically, Latin America has moved on from the oppressive regimes of the ‘60s and ‘70s and most countries now have a full democracy.
- Brazilians will often split their holidays between the summer and the Carnival season (February or March).
- Most jobs in Latin America give their staff four weeks holiday a year, though ESL teachers often get five to six weeks.
- Dinner in Argentina is unlikely to be until 9 or 10 pm, and restaurants rarely serve food much before 9.
- Banks in Latin America are open Monday through Friday, though not always in the afternoon.
- Chileans are not punctual, especially in social situations, but will often arrive with a small present for the host.
- In many countries in Latin America it would be perceived as rude to persistently telephone to check the status of an application.
- Mexicans’ relaxed attitude is often misunderstood. It does not mean that Mexicans don’t care. On the contrary, it simply means that they have other priorities.
Recruitment and Positions
The TESL market in Latin America is huge and job quality varies greatly. Teachers should research any school they decide to work for well, especially if applying from abroad. The CELTA is very well respected in Latin America and will definitely open doors to the better schools. Some jobs can be arranged in advance by applying directly to schools or responding to ads online. It is quite common for schools to want to interview in person though, which will require applicants to travel to the country if necessary. This is not always the case though, but when it is, it’s advisable for teachers to organize interviews at more than one school. Few schools in Latin America will pay for flights, but they do often give assistance to help find accommodation when new teachers arrive.
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