Teaching English in Chile
A Guide to Work and Living in Santiago
I went to perfect my Spanish. I had studied Spanish in school, but being able to live in a language requires more than isolated college courses. It requires immersion in the culture. Teaching English, I realized, was the best way to accomplish this. Despite the fact that I would still be using my native tongue, it was the most feasible way to extend my stay in the country.
College graduation, for many of us, brings with it the double fear of living without a job and living with a job that won’t let you out until retirement. I determined that I would not let that happen. One day I talked to a friend of my parents who taught ESL classes at the local vocational school and he recommended teaching English overseas. He gave me a few websites to look up and magazines and books to read, and suddenly the whole world opened up. Since my goal was fluency in Spanish, all of Latin America was available to me. I could stay in one place long enough to get to know the people and the culture, as well as the language, and I could finance it at the same time.
My next hurdle was deciding whether to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate or not. Obviously, the benefits to having certification are great, but unfortunately, so are the prices for the courses. I couldn’t afford to take an intensive, month-long course, though it was certainly appealing. After searching through websites like Dave’s ESL Café, I finally decided on a 40-hour online course through i-to-i International. The course took about two weeks to complete.
I ordered a copy of Susan Griffith’s book, Teaching English Abroad, and sent my resume by email to some of the schools and institutes she mentioned. I never received a response, but when my certificate came in the mail, along with a course book that covered all the principles I had learned, I took off for Chile anyway. A friend of mine had spent a semester during college in Santiago, so he suggested I go there, and he sent me off armed with information about locomotion in the city, slang terms in Chilean Spanish, people to call if I got in trouble, and a list of places to visit outside the city.
I found a hostel comfortable and affordable enough to stay in for a long period and combined the addresses I had in Teaching English Abroad with many more that I found in Santiago’s yellow pages, or Amarillas de Publiguías. I listed them by comuna, or region in the city, and every weekday set out with copies of my U.S.-style resume and my TEFL certificate. After a week and a half of knocking on doors, filling out applications, and getting mostly responses of, "We’ll call you," I had an interview and a job.
The Sam Marsalli Oral English Institute hired me on the basis of my references. A couple weeks later the Fischer English Institute called me and asked me to take some classes based on my resume alone. I started teaching in November with about 25 hours per week, but that climbed as I gained experience and the schools gained more confidence in me.
Housing was one of my main concerns during my job hunt. Since I was there to learn the language, I wanted to live with a family, or at least with other Chileans who spoke no English and could introduce me to the customs of their country. I visited Sernatur, Chile’s national tourism office, looked at the classified ads in the major newspapers, and asked the hostel proprietor about what he knew. But because I didn’t know the city and was a little intimidated speaking on the phone in Spanish, I held off until I found a job, with the hope that the institute I ended up working for would have resources for me to draw upon.
My procrastination for once worked in my favor. One of my supervisors at Sam Marsalli was also in charge of teacher housing, and she put me in touch with a couple who had two rooms available in their apartment for international students and English teachers like me. I soon learned that teachers were constantly moving around the city as people became friends and new contacts were made with Chileans eager to forge international ties. It was easy, when I was ready to be a little more independent, to find an apartment with two Chilean women my age, who showed me how young people live in Chile. Even after I moved out of my first apartment, the couple continued to invite me over for lunch or special occasions.
I discovered that there was an informal network of English teachers throughout the city. Teachers were always trying to pick up a few more hours here and there, so knowing which institutes were hiring and which were full was important.
It was also common for teachers to take private lessons on the side as well. Some of these were through institutes, like Fischer, which sent me out on private lessons to the offices of its students, and some were formed through mutual contacts and informal networking. Still others were formed through already existing institute classes—often students would look for ways to continue their English education after their course had finished and they found it was less expensive to pay the teacher directly. Teachers found these classes to be more lucrative as well, and friendships were often the result of long-term private lessons.
Some of my most rewarding relationships were with my students. After exams or particularly important lessons, students would often get together to celebrate, and they wouldn’t consider their gathering complete without their teacher. These informal get-together were wonderful ways to solidify my relationships with my students outside of the classroom and excellent ways to work on my Spanish.
Teaching English in Chile, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far, was not difficult. It rescued me from what I feared would be the drudgery of a "real" job, and I formed some of my best friendships with other teachers and with students. Best of all, I lived in Spanish.
Teach in Chili Information
A working visa is required in Chile to work legally. Some institutes will help you get one if you make a commitment to stay for at least a year. Often, however, teachers are paid in cash and no mention is made of a work visa, as long as the tourist visa is valid, which is issued upon entrance to the country and good for a period of 90 days. A quick trip to Argentina every three months is common for teachers without work visas.
Sam Marsalli hires most of its teachers in February and March. The application process takes place online, and the visas are processed before teachers arrive in the country. Sam Marsalli only hires North American teachers.
Fischer English Institute did not ask me to sign a contract or get a visa. They were willing to work with me to fit their classes around my schedule at Sam Marsalli.
Dave’s ESL Café offers everything from international job postings to sample lesson plans.
i-to-i International offers TEFL courses through email and online correspondence, along with programs on volunteering abroad.
Susan Griffith’s Teaching English Abroad was my lifeline for the beginning of my trip.
Santiago’s main newspaper is called El Mercurio. Its thickest edition is on Sundays, the best day to look through the classifieds for housing or to advertise English lessons. In addition, El Rastro is a weekly newspaper filled solely with classifieds. The ads are available online at www.emol.com and at www.elrastro.cl. Sernatur, Chile’s national tourism office, is on the web at www.sernatur.cl.