Teaching English in Peru: First Impressions

September 13, 2013

peru peru

So, a little background. I’ve taught in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. Most of my experience with non-native speakers has been in east Asia, where standards are low, pay is high, and the majority of expats sure to be English teachers. All well and good.

South America is a completely different world for me. I had long suspected that fluent English speakers who just happened to not be citizens of one of the Big Seven – South Africa, UK, Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland – and found themselves “unqualified” to teach in Asia had to turn their attention to Africa and Latin America. So far, this has been proven true; I’ve met teachers from other South American countries and Europe who are more than suitable to lead ESL courses (South Korea, take heed; your hiring policies are absurd).

However, unlike in Asia, money is seldom the driving factor for 1st-world citizens to spend months of their lives in poverty-stricken countries like Peru. No one is going to be paying off his or her student loans after a few years teaching in South America. If anything, they’re going to invest their savings to merely live above the means of the average local. No incoming or outgoing airfare. Accommodation is not always covered. Bonuses at the end of a contract aren’t very likely, and even if they were, the amount would be pretty pitiful.

Does that mean you’ll starve teaching down here? Of course not. Food is cheap (S6-11/lunch; 2-4 USD), plentiful, and delicious. Bus tickets are very reasonable at 25 soles. But an ESL teacher’s salary in Peru isn’t much. Right now, I’m earning 13 soles/hr (less than 5 USD), justified by management as the income of a high-middle class local. That may very well be, but it’s still very insulting to those who come to live in Peru and find themselves working for peanuts. If I didn’t have savings, and was motivated by income only, I never would have accepted this position. Fortunately, I do, and I’m not. I’m here for the experience, and the opportunities to travel.

Although I’ve only had two weeks in the classroom, it’s been educational for me. Most of my students are reasonably well off university students, though there are some laborers who want to improve their careers with English.

I’ve noticed that the majority of Peruvians take a great deal of pride in their appearance; though I’ve seen a few in jeans and t-shirts, most are dressed business casual, with slacks, dress shirts, and blazers. The backpackers stand out in that respect, as they’re the only ones wearing shorts (however sensible it may be in a sunny city like Arequipa).

My experiences teaching at AEON in Japan shaped the way I approach ESL education. Though I may not approve of the company’s cold bureaucracy, no one could doubt the efficiency of their methods in the hands of a good teacher. As I employed these lessons in my Arequipa classroom – advancing student talk time, error correction, keeping everyone engaged and entertained – my academic coordinator applauded me, something I took to heart. Although I may never consider teaching English a passion, I am good at it, and I can help others learn.

From my perspective, Spanish is simpler than Japanese and Korean; I can already read and pronounce words with reasonable accuracy. I’m slowly figuring out what questions to expect at the grocery store, or in a restaurant, i.e. “what sauce do you want with that?”; “please write your passport number under your signature.” And just as I sometimes say “pollo” instead of “poyo”, so too do my students have issues with J, LL, and Y.

I have more blog entries in the works, but I’m trying to keep the topics unique and not just write everything together in one big blob for the sake of those searching for information on living in Peru. Stay tuned.

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