Hello again my future Language House TEFLers! I wrote a previous article on Thailand, but I wanted to share with you my experience in my new home…
Now, onto my most current place of residence, Cuenca, Ecuador. I moved here in August of 2017 and will be here for the remainder of the school year….and if I didn’t have prior obligations in the US next year I would definitely consider staying here for another year.
Cuenca is a VERY popular place for expats both young and old to move to. It was actually, recently rated one of the most popular places for people to retire in. And I completely understand why.
Settling in a basin surrounded by endless mountains and forests, it is every outdoorsy person’s dream come true. Having a pretty consistent 70-degree temperature throughout the year is also a plus for pretty much anyone coming from the US or Europe (where seasons are completely unpredictable let’s be honest).
How did I decide on Ecuador…
As soon as my year in Thailand was coming to an end, I knew I was not ready to stop traveling the world. Since I had already taught in the US, Europe and Asia, I thought it was only natural to go to South America next (gotta cover all my continents, right?).
Then the hard part came… what country do I want to be in? I honestly knew little to nothing about countries in South America and their teaching options.
So basically, starting from ground zero, I just decided to start researching various countries of interest on the internet and in blogs to see which South American country would be a good fit for me.
It was during my random research that I remembered something from my university days at Iowa State. During my senior year, I had the opportunity to teach abroad for half of a semester in Norway… which was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and a very big reason for my desire to continue teaching abroad. I remembered that Ecuador had been another country option for teaching abroad, and I had a friend who had ultimately gone there.
I got in touch with her and she RAVED about her experience teaching and living there…and it was then that the city of Cuenca came on my radar. So, after much more creeping online, I found an organization called CEDEI, which seemed to be where international teachers flocked to.
I sent out an email and a resume through the very informative CEDEI site and after just a few days I was scheduled for an interview online and accepted the position just a few more days after that! (impulsive I know but it just felt like a great fit)
A good lesson here: Although most people and places will say you can ONLY get hired internationally by having a interview in that actual country… this is not true. It totally depends on the country and the school, and I have had three amazing experiences abroad without needing to move before securing a job.
School stuff (work, visas and all that jazz) …
CEDEI school is promoted as a very progressive and student-centered environment. Although this is just one school in South America, I have been told this is somewhat common in most other schools and countries as well.
Ecuador, in general, is a very community-centered and focused country. For example, at my school, the students all call the teachers “Tia” or “Tio”, which directly translates to “Aunt” or “Uncle” and is used as a term of endearment.
Be prepared to be surrounded by love and affection and to be treated as a member of your school’s and community’s family. EMBRACE IT.
The normal routine and class schedule is similar to what I’ve seen in the US and Europe; 40-minute lessons with classes like English, Spanish, Science, Social Studies, Gym, Art, etc. Our school hours are 7:30 – 1:30 every day, which gives you so much extra time for lesson planning or other school things.
REMEMBER: This is just my school! From what I have heard asking around, some schools start later and some school days last longer. It will totally depend on where you teach!
TIMEEEE FOR VISA STUFF!!
Visas are literally the worst part of teaching abroad in EVERY country so you just have to inhale, exhale and roll with it.
For a country like Ecuador, one good thing is that you do NOT need any type of visa before you go. You will leave like normal and when you arrive, you will get stamped with the 3-month tourist visa. It is during this time that you will start working on your “resident” or “volunteer” visa.
Again, like almost all other countries and schools that are accustomed to dealing with international teachers, they will help you with the entire visa process!
Also, as of last year, the volunteer visa that most teachers will have is good for TWO years, so if you plan on staying longer, you won’t have to worry about going through the visa process a second time!
Alternatives to school teaching…
Maybe teaching in a legit school setting isn’t your cup of tea…and that is okay! CEDEI School also has a “center” that provides English classes throughout the day. This is a great alternative if you do not feel ready for a full-on school setting. You can teach different English classes every day (a more random schedule) to a level of student that you are comfortable with. A lot of my friends here in Cuenca work at the center and they love it! It totally depends on what style of teaching you are comfortable with.
How do teachers live in Cuenca?…
If I didn’t mention it enough before, Cuenca is a BEAUTIFUL city. It has a temperate climate all year, is surrounded by endless mountains, and has many rivers flowing through it.
There is no shortage of cafes, bars, restaurants, gyms, parks, museums, and churches throughout the center. The city offers something for every type of person.
As a teacher, especially if you are at my school, you have so much time after school and on the weekends to explore the city and travel outside of it of course.
But also as a teacher, you will not have a huge amount of extra income to live “lavishly” or like you may in the US. After teaching in four different continents, I have found that teachers’ salaries are always low and that is just something you have to get used to.
On my salary here in Cuenca, I can live in a spacious (yet older) apartment with four other teachers, buy normal groceries each week, and go out a couple times a week to restaurants and/or bars. If I want to travel, I need to save up or maybe not go out to eat for a few weekends.
I am not going to lie, money is tight at times. BUT, having such short and early workdays means you have opportunities to pick up extra jobs if you want another source of income.
Personally, I have started babysitting some of my students on the weekend to get some extra money. A lot of teachers will tutor students outside of school as well. Some teachers at my school even pick up extra English classes at CEDEI center after school or on the weekends.
So basically, even though you will not be getting paid a lot (especially if you are coming from a US or European salary) you will make do and you have so many options for obtaining another income.
Why Ecuador? Why not Ecuador? …
If you are a person who loves being outdoors, hiking, walking, running, or biking then Ecuador is the country for you. When the weather is pretty much sunny and warm all year round how can you not want to be outside?!
Cuenca specifically is only about a 40-minute bus ride from an amazingly beautiful national park called Cajas, which is one of my favorite parts about living here. Cajas not only provides beautiful mountains and hiking trails, but also fresh drinking water for the city of Cuenca! It is legitimately one of the only cities in Ecuador where you can drink the tap water which is a HUGE plus and money saver for me.
Another pro of living in Cuenca, or anywhere else in Ecuador, is that you get to practice your Spanish! Pretty much everyone here speaks Spanish and most locals do not have any English knowledge. This means that you do need to have at least some Spanish knowledge before coming here, and if you do not, be prepared to learn fast!
I came in knowing some Spanish from grade school and high school, and thanks to immersing myself in the culture (and taking the free Spanish classes provided by my school ☺ ) I have become so so much better.
Life will be easier if you use and practice your Spanish regularly.
Ok, so I’ve gone on and on about how AMAZING Cuenca and Ecuador is…. but there are always cons and struggles with moving to a second world country.
For one(and this was a BIG thing for me that I still do not know if I’m used to) there is a lot of catcalling and whistling from males. It is annoying and disgusting, but it is innocent. It is a cultural thing that you will have to deal with.
If you get whistled at on the street…ignore it! People want a reaction and if you do not give them one then they move on. Easy-peazy. Just obnoxious.
Another thing about Ecuador that you need to be prepared for is their very lackadaisical way of life. If you are someone who needs to stick to a rigid schedule or is not open to flexibility and change, this may not be the country for you.
For example, if a bus says it is leaving or arriving at a certain time, the chances of that actually happening is slim to none. People move at their own pace and usually that place is… slow. Stores open late. People walk slow. Busses aren’t on time.
If this stresses you out…maybe this place is not for you. Or, it will be a great opportunity for you to embrace the more chill lifestyle that happens here.
One final note, which is just something to take into account…. Ecuador is known for its temperate climate (it is on the equator after all) BUT you need to be prepared for the weather to change quickly!
The weather patterns are consistent here but they DO move rapidly. In the morning you might be lathering on sunscreen and getting a tan, but by the afternoon it is usually raining and you need to get out your umbrella.
Compared to most countries that have actual “seasons,” Ecuador is nothing to worry about. But it is good to know that it is usually sunny in the mornings and a bit rainy in the afternoons.
Cuenca is an amazingly beautiful and relaxing country filled with the kindest and most welcoming people. While the geography and climate are definitely catered to more “outdoorsy” people you can also use the great weather to relax and take a nap by the river.
I have been having the most rewarding experience here, thanks to CEDEI especially, and I am already sad as I think about leaving!
Feel free to contact me for more info!