Before graduating college in May of 2018, I was dead set on leaving the United States for a while. I don’t mean to hyperbolize but it feels like the sky is actually going to collapse in on itself at any moment and the world will end in a big flash when you live so close to Washington D.C. (again, not to be dramatic or anything). This was quite possibly exacerbated by the fact that I also studied environmental science and policy… If you’ve been following the news/ don’t live under a rock or in a soundproof cave far far away, you know just as well as I do that there’s quite a bleak outlook for the future of the environment and its inhabitants.
Imagine studying that every single day and trying not to go insane or lose all hope in humanity.
It was time for a break, a change of pace. I surely got that when I moved to Panguipulli in the south of Chile. I didn’t just end up here though; there was no grand plan to specifically journey to this remote little town on the other end of the earth. I’m here in Chile teaching English through a program called English Opens Doors that is operated by the Ministry of Education of Chile (sounds super legit doesn’t it?). It’s one of many options you can find online to teach English abroad, but in my opinion it’s probably the best.
Let me elaborate.
There are TONS of programs through many organizations and nonprofit entities that I can talk further about in another blog post if you’re interested. However, I applied for only two specific programs abroad teaching English. There are programs through both the Chilean and Spanish governments, as well as Colombian (it’s currently on hold right now though). Personally, I prefer these opportunities because they are secure, but they’re volunteer positions, so you only receive a stipend, not a salary. I also looked into the website Workaway, which are also volunteer gigs that you have to organize yourself. The Visa application is usually really complicated though and applying completely on your own can be a major pain in the butt.
Additionally, I don’t have a TEFL certificate, and no part of me wanted to pay for any more classes after I walked across that stage and got my degree (at least for a little bit ahhh GRAD SCHOOL).
This ruled out a few options, but not the government programs! I wanted programs that were established, in countries that spoke Spanish, and didn’t require a program fee or some extra costs other than a plane ticket.
So, in the end I chose two programs, one to Spain and one to Chile, both through their governments. I’ve already mentioned the program in Chile, but the one involved with the Spanish government is called “Cultural Ambassadors: North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain.” Don’t let the official sounding name fool you; this program is not as legitimate as it appears. It may be good news to some of you that you can apply for this easily by simply getting all your documents. It’s first come, first serve for whoever makes an account and nearly anyone qualifies. They don’t even interview the potential volunteers.
For me, this is a huge red flag. It just feels WAY too much like voluntourism.
The program to Spain is not merit based. They don’t give priority to those who have previous experience teaching, likely because you’re only a teaching assistant. It’s a longer time commitment too (roughly nine months) and like everything else in Spain, your stipends come really painfully slow or not at all according to many reviews from volunteers. You’re also 100% responsible for finding housing, transport to your school, and taking care of your general day to day life. It’s still a really great opportunity if you have the time and quite a bit of money saved up, but it wasn’t for me this time. I got accepted to the program, six months after I had applied and already accepted this position in Chile I’m currently serving.
Why did I choose English Opens Doors then? From the start, this program was obviously better managed (just look at the difference in their websites).
I applied to EODP as we call it for the VS3 volunteer service, which is a four-month gig but there are other options for longer and they go throughout the year. The application process was straight forward and thoughtful, giving me a bit more confidence that I’d be in better hands. It was a three-step process including a skype interview where I was also able to ask questions. The program promised placement with a host family and a small stipend to cover classroom costs.
Now that I’m here in the thick of it, I can’t tell you how happy I am about my decision. Besides Chile being an amazing country (which I will absolutely get into in further blog posts), it’s also a great program where I have my own classroom, write my own lessons with the guidance of a head English teacher, and make a real difference for kids who would probably have never gotten this extra help with their language skills. My school is a bright, sky blue building in the middle of the city center in Panguipulli called Escuela Maria Alvarado Garay. Every day, I teach 5th through 8th grade different lessons on speaking and listening in English (I’ve even gotten to teach about environmental science!!). I can’t say every day is a walk in the park, but I have some remarkably curious and inspiring students (who also say some pretty hilarious things). I live with a host family in this beautiful town situated between two volcanoes, mountains and it’s own lake. Just simply walking outside for an hour or two reaffirms to me why I studied environmental science because it’s so naturally stunning. Did I mention there are dogs everywhere too?!?!?!
I’m getting a bit off topic, in the same way my students try to change the subject of class each day. I learned how to deal with this and other classroom problems as well through a one-week orientation with EODP when I arrived in Santiago in July. English Opens Doors helped me with everything, from getting my Visa to arriving at my hostel safely, to learning how to manage tough classroom management and life in Chile. Of course, this program is not perfect. A lot of your experience depends on where in Chile you’re placed, but also your willingness to say “screw it” and try something new, or completely embarrass yourself for your students. I’d say daily, I think to myself “this is so freaking hard oh my god,” but equally I am still in awe to have this opportunity. I still have a ton of love for my students, who I frequently call “mis amores,” and the community around me. “I’M IN CHILE. MY FEET ARE STANDING IN CHILE, ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EARTH!” This feeling hasn’t faded, and I don’t think it ever will
P.S. Huge, shameless plug → the application period just opened for the next round of volunteer terms and I highly HIGHLY recommend taking a look if you have any interests. I’ve attached the link here.
Also, here is the link to the Spanish program.