An EFL Teacher’s Guide: Argentina
This is the first part in a series that we’ll be publishing in the coming months. Each post will examine a different country, outlining some general information for EFL teachers who are considering moving there or are already there and need some guidance. The first piece is from Olga Samsonova, writing from Argentina.
Last year I spent a semester teaching English in Buenos Aires. I enjoyed this experience so much that I’m now planning to come back to Argentina for another year or maybe more.
In this article I’m sharing some of my experiences so that you know what to expect if you choose Argentina as your next ELT destination.
The best time of the year to arrive to Buenos Aires is autumn or spring. If you come in summer (December-February) your body will have to adjust to the +30 heat which is made worse by the the humidity. If you come in winter (June-August) you might be depressed by the heavy rains, as I was when I first arrived. Spring and autumn are absolutely lovely and they prepare you gradually to the more extreme winter and summer.
I was working at a company that provides on-site English teachers for big companies. This kind of position is easier to find than more stable employment in big schools like International House. There are vacancies all year round. You can work for two or more schools at the same time and you don’t have to take all the hours they offer so it’s possible to build a convenient schedule. There is not much control or paperwork. The downsides are that the income is not fixed (depends on the amount of hours taught) and there isn’t any social package. The rates are not that high either – I got paid 8 US dollars an hour – but you do get paid if the clients cancel classes within 24 hours, and that happens fairly often.
I had some private students I’d found on craiglist and through personal recommendations. The average hourly rate for private classes is almost twice as high as what most schools offer. I also went on teaching some of my one-to-ones from other countries on skype. The school combined with the private classes amounted to enough income to get by. I think I would have struggled financially if I had relied on only one of those.
Probably the best thing about teaching in Buenos Aires is the students – the friendliest and most easy-going people I’ve ever worked with. Argentinian culture is extremely open and informal. Problems with building rapport or getting your students to talk in class are rare.
Another notable feature of Argentina is that people are quite relaxed. Punctuality and being organised are not their strengths. You might have a bit of a cultural shock when your students show up 20 minutes late and without homework but with big smiles on their faces.
As I adjusted to this slower rhythm of life I started to appreciate it. I felt less stress and more presence in the moment. Constantly being around people that don’t seem to have a care in the world made me a calmer and more positive person.
Something else to be prepared for is the conventions regarding physical contact. Your students will greet you by kissing you on the cheek, even the first time they see you. Men kiss each other on the cheek too. On the whole people here tend to have narrow boundaries both physically and psychologically, so if you’re a shy and/or reserved person you’ll have a lot to get used to.
The worst thing about Buenos Aires is probably the crime level. A week after I arrived my friend was robbed in plain daylight in the city centre. Another one was mugged a couple of months later.
I had to change some of my habits. In Buenos Aires you don’t put your phone on the table in the restaurant, you always keep your bag or backpack in front of you, and you don’t take valuables or documents with you unless it’s necessary. If you get mugged you better not put up a fight because if the criminals have weapons they won’t hesitate to use them, it’s not a bluff.
The extent to which you can feel safe depends on the area you’re in. It’s not always obvious so you should ask the locals. For instance, when I mentioned to my students which metro station I got off at they were horrified and very emphatically told me to take the bus to work instead of the metro. Apparently that particular metro station is a very unsafe place. On the other hand, the area where I lived was considered so safe that I could walk alone in the middle of the night.
Most people in Buenos Aires speak English at least an elementary level. However, you may need some basic Spanish to get by in everyday situations like restaurants or shops.
Buenos Aires has a great cultural scene. There’s always something going on. Museums, plays, shows, concerts – a lot to choose from, impossible to be bored. People in Buenos Aires really know how to party – I’ve never been to wilder parties than here in my whole life.
I decided to go to Buenos Aires in the first place because I wanted to improve my tango skills. However, there’s much more to Buenos Aires than tango. Salsa, rock and other social dances are widespread here too. Taking dance classes is a great way to find friends in this city.
Another option for socialising and improving your Spanish in Buenos Aires is Mundo Lingo – an informal speaking club where you can find people from all over the world speaking all kinds of languages. When I arrived it helped me to connect with likeminded people and feel at home.
If you have any questions about teaching in Buenos Aires please leave a comment or contact me at https://twitter.com/ELTreflections