I wish I had useful tips on how to find a job in South America, like websites to use, a phone number to attempt to call, or strange buildings to show up in. Don’t worry, I tried all of the above. They failed. I came to Colombia with my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate and a bit of teaching experience under my belt with hopes of finding a decent teaching gig. I tried the traditional routes of job searching, as mentioned above to no avail. Similar to my search for a yoga studio, most phone numbers were extinct, website “contact” pages directed you to another planet, and buildings had moved.
Currently, I am making $15 a day teaching private English classes. If all of the above tactics failed, how did I do it? Student One: Random contact through TEFL that I kept in touch with for a few months before arriving. Student Two: Met while out dancing to reggaeton. Student Three: Introduced by a friend of a friend. Student Four: Speaking English in the aquarium with Student Three, I was propositioned by an aquarium employee wondering the word for “eel.”
And, last but not least, Student Five: I walked into their apartment. On accident. I was meeting Student Three at her apartment for the first time and somehow misunderstood her (very clear) directions and was greeted warmly by Beatriz and Bill, an older couple with a perfect kitten (that looks just like my even more perfect kitten in Michigan). Not only were they not angry I walked into their apartment speaking awful Spanish, they were thrilled. After a cup of coffee, a cookie, and a walk to the correct apartment, I found two new students. I meet them once a week for English basics, coffee, and kitten time.
Aside from the fact I have five students I thoroughly enjoy teaching and spending time with, it is obviously great to be getting paid after a few weeks of solely spending money. It was a bit surreal for me to receive my first “paycheck” (i.e. handed money and a cookie) because foreign currency always feels strangely like Monopoly money to me for the first couple of weeks in a new country. In Australia, it took me months to treat their beautifully colored (and waterproof!) bills as real currency. Colombian pesos are starting to feel real now that I am paid everyday (or when my students feel like paying me) which is probably for the best. My rent is covered and I can start budgeting for upcoming trips.
Advice on finding work? Talk to everyone you can — and dance to reggaeton often! I don’t think I can safely recommend walking into random apartments, but I guess it’s worth a try. Worked for me.