TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Bachelor’s Degree – Marketing
Before deciding to move to Nicaragua and take the TEFL course I was working as a Leasing Consultant at an apartment community. I really enjoyed my job but I found myself looking for something more exciting.
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
I have traveled abroad to: Canada, Dominican Republic & Colombia
I never traveled when I was younger and didn’t have much of a desire to travel abroad until I took my first trip to the Dominican Republic 2 years ago. After this trip I knew that I wanted to continue traveling and experience the different cultures around the world. It’s so crazy how one trip can open your eyes up to a whole new world!
If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
I did not study abroad (unfortunately).
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
Originally, my goal was to travel through Central/South America for an extended period. I was working a job that only gave me 2 weeks of vacation and I found myself daydreaming about trips and experiences that I did not have enough time for. I realized that if I were to quit my job and travel, I would need to find a job/skill in order to sustain myself throughout this period.
After a little research, I kept coming across TEFL courses and the option to teach English as a foreign language. This sounded like a great way to earn some money and a chance to do something that would be very rewarding as well! The more I thought about this option and the more research I did, the more this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Like most people, I had quite a few concerns before making the decision to completely change my lifestyle and move abroad. Fortunately for me (and all of you as well), ITA & ITAN helped address all of my concerns and made the transition as easy as possible!
Some of the specific concerns I had were: money, location, safety, vaccinations & insurance.
I have felt very safe here in Leon. Sure. Any city you live in, whether it is in the U.S or in a 3rd world country, will have crimes. With that being said, if you use common sense (don’t walk through the streets late at night by yourself, don’t walk around flashing money/expensive items, etc.) you should be just fine.
As far as vaccinations, I got a tetanus, typhoid & hepatitis A shot before coming to Nicaragua. There are other shots that may be recommended by the CDC but you can do a little research to see what shots, if any, are best for you.
I chose to buy my travelers insurance through a company called STA Insurance. This is one of the insurance companies that are recommended through ITAN. I believe it cost me a little under $200 for the year (mostly to cover emergencies). Fortunately, I have not had to deal with any major sicknesses or injuries but, if needed, the health care here in Nicaragua is very affordable.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
Most of my family and friends were very supportive about my decision to move and teach abroad. Even my coworkers and the company I worked for were surprisingly excited for me to take on this adventure. There were a few people that questioned my decision but I didn’t let that bother me. I knew, with 100% certainty, that this was something I wanted to do.
My family, especially my parents, were a little worried initially but they came around after I explained the ITAN program and all the details. Parents are always asking for the details…so do your research and share the information (I think you, and any concerned family/friends will like what they see!) There are plenty of resources available to find information on the course and people’s experiences teaching abroad. The ITA website, blogs and endless stories through simple google searches can be helpful to gather information.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
I took the in-person, 4 week TEFL certification course in Leon, Nicaragua- they are now located at the beach 20 minutes outside the city.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy Nicaragua?
I wanted to live in another country(s) for an extended period so I could experience a different way of living. I knew that I would need to find a way to make money and I realized that teaching English seemed like the most logical option. I have never formally taught English but I have always enjoyed informally teaching things to people, so I knew that it would be a good fit.
After making an initial call with these companies, it was clear to me that ITAN was the way to go. The initial support from the representatives in Chicago made the decision-making process very simple. They walked me through all the steps and stayed in touch with me through email and phone calls to answer all my questions. Once I had formally locked in for the May class in Leon, Nicaragua, I was able to direct my questions to the staff at ITAN (International TEFL Academy Nicaragua) and they were equally as helpful.
I had an unbelievable amount of questions before arriving to Nicaragua. I signed up for the class about 3 months in advance and it felt like I was asking new questions every day. The quick responses and genuine help from the ITAN staff truly made my transition as easy as possible.
How did you like the course?
The course was great! Was there a lot of work? Yes. Was there stress involved and flashbacks to my school days? Yes. With that being said, this was honestly the first course/class I have ever taken where every assignment, every project, every presentation, every topic, was completely relevant to helping me become a competent and confident English teacher.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
My TEFL training has helped me in my current position in so many ways. I am teaching English online but this class prepared me to teach in any environment. The class helps you develop lesson plans and stay organized in order to deliver an effective lesson.
During the class you learn about the different learning styles and the different ways to teach to students with different learning styles. This has helped me understand how to adjust my teaching style to each individual student. My online students are all ages so I need to teach to them in different ways. For example, in order to keep the attention of some of my younger students, I need to be more animated and keep them visually stimulated.
The class also gave me the confidence to teach any student. Because we did so many presentations, I feel completely comfortable being in front of a class, working one-on-one with an individual or presenting material to a student online.
TEACHING ABROAD IN NICARAGUA
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to stay in Leon, Nicaragua, to teach English online and to teach some private lessons as well. Why stay in Leon, Nicaragua? Well, with ITAN (International TEFL Academy Nicaragua) being here in Leon, you are surrounded by a network of people that create an awesome community. If you need help finding a job, if you are looking for housing, if you need a doctor, if you need anything….there are people within the ITAN community that will help. Also, Leon is a just a great city that I have settled into over the past 4 months. The people here are super friendly and the city has everything I need.
Before choosing Leon, I knew that I wanted to live in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is still largely undiscovered, inexpensive and has a little bit of everything — mountains, beaches, volcanoes, islands, etc. One of the initial reasons that I wanted to travel and teach abroad was to create an experience that I would remember for the rest of my life. Nicaragua offers so many adventures that you can experience, all within a few hours of each other.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been in Nicaragua for about one year and I plan on staying for another few months (Although my timeline is totally up in the air – who knows, I might be here for a lot longer!). Ideally, I would like to be fluent in Spanish before I leave Leon but I also want to really experience the culture. Not as a traveler that is just passing through, but on a deeper level where I become a part of the community and make friends that I can come back to visit for years to come.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
I am working for an online company called “E-Space”. E-Space is a Vietnamese company that has students of all levels and ages.
How did you get your work visa? If you didn’t get a work visa, please elaborate on working under the table without a work visa.
I do not have a work visa. Getting a work visa in Nicaragua is uncommon so most teachers work under the table. I have a traveler’s visa (given to you when you enter the country for $10) that lasts for 90 days…so every 3 months I need to make a border run to Costa Rica.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
I started working for E-Space about 2 months ago in early August. Again, E-Space is an online company that is based in Vietnam and there are students of all levels and ages.
I found the job opening through a website called: ESLauthority.com
Every week I send my schedule to one of the administrators (they request that you work at least 10 hours each week). The administrators post your availability on their website and students can book you from there. The classes are 25 minutes each so you have 5 minutes in between classes. With that being said, many students book 2 classes in a row (50 minutes total) so you have a ten minute break before the next class. There will be times where nobody books your class, but generally speaking, your schedule is filled due to the amount of students.
I usually teach from 6:00 – 10 am from Monday to Thursday. All of the lessons are currently done through Skype and you can share your screen with the student to go through the learning material. E-Space provides you with all of the teaching materials. After you finish teaching you just need to write a few notes about the class such as: material covered, pages, student level and student notes. Having all of this downloaded ESL material is also beneficial to have on hand for private lessons.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
During my first 2 months in Leon, I lived at Casa Belinda (one of the housing options through ITAN). For the last 2 months, I have been renting a room from a Nicaraguan family. I found this option through one of my classmates in the TEFL class. Your best bet to find housing is through word of mouth. There are plenty of housing options available so don’t hesitate to ask your peers!
The house I live in is only a few blocks from the center of the city. Similar to most houses here, they have a living room area in the front, kitchen in the middle and the rooms are in the back. There is an outdoor space in the very back that is used to wash and dry clothes. My room is in the very back beside the outdoor space and I have my own private bathroom connected to the room. I was provided a bed, desk, fan and storage so I have all the necessities.
COUNTRY INFORMATION – FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, and travel opportunities in your country:
*Side note: When talking about prices I will use “$” for the US dollar and “C” for the Nicaraguan Cordoba. The conversion is: C30 = $1
Cultural aspects: There are quite a few cultural differences between the U.S and Nicaragua. The following are some common things you will notice while you are in Leon.
Motioning to someone:
When you are interested in getting a taxi or signaling for someone to come your way you need to point your wrist and fingers toward the ground and motion your fingers toward your body. I have not experienced this myself, but I have heard that motioning to someone with your wrist and fingers to the sky is an invitation to fight!
When someone gets excited, someone tells a funny joke or something surprising happens, you will often see people snap their fingers together. Not a typical snap, but the kind of snap that people from the U.S. do when they are packing a can of dip (the noise does not come from friction, it comes from a collision of fingers – still doesn’t make sense? Don’t worry, you will see 😊) You will also see people make their wrist limp and move it side to side in order to indicate something bad.
There are a few sounds that you will get familiar with quickly. First, the daily sirens. A siren goes off every day at 7am and 12pm from the central park (And sometimes for special occasions). You can hear the siren just about everywhere in the city. I remember the first time I heard the siren I thought there was some sort of emergency happening. Nope, just letting you know the time if you don’t have a watch! I spend a lot of time near the central park so it is always funny to see the confusion on tourist’s faces who are hearing the siren for the first time.
A few more common differences are:
Nicaraguans typically point with their lips instead of their fingers. It is impolite to not accept something such as food or a gift. When you walk into a public space, house or generally anywhere with people, it is common to greet everyone. When you are walking down the street and see someone you know you say “Adios” instead of saying “Hola”. If you say “Hola” it means that you want to stop and talk.
One of the great things about Leon is the ability to walk just about everywhere! With that being said, there will definitely be times where you will want/need to take public transportation. Below are the different options that you will find:
Taxi’s are all over the city and very easy to find quickly (They have a little sign that says “Taxi” on the roof of the car). The typical cost to get around the city is C20 during the day and C30 at night. Price can be a bit higher if you are going a longer distance but you should never pay more than C45-50. There are a few things to remember when taking a taxi: The price is per person and not in total, so there is no financial benefit to sharing a ride. Also, it is best to ask/verify the price before getting in the taxi in order to avoid a possibly inflated price once you get dropped off.
*Taxi’s are constantly honking as they pass people on the sidewalks to see if they need a ride
There are tons of camionetas that take routes throughout the city during the day. A camioneta is essentially a large truck that has welded bench seats in the bed of the truck and a tarp like material that acts as a roof to protect from rain/sunlight. Each camioneta is C5. Given that Leon does not have street signs or bus stop signs you may wonder…where do camionetas pick you up? Well, you’ll just need to look for groups of people waiting on the sidewalk!! Also, if you see a camioneta on the street coming your way you can usually motion for a ride and they will stop to pick you up.
There are also larger buses that have routes throughout the city as well. These are also C5 for each ride. If you are interested in going outside the city there is a main terminal that has buses going to all of the bigger cities (Managua, Matagalpa, Chinandega, etc). You may need to take multiple buses if you want to go a city further away. Each bus is going to an outside city is generally C20-90 depending on the destination and type of bus. The first option is a “Chicken bus” (essentially a school bus). These usually fill up quickly and it is common to have 3 people share a bench seat and the extras will stand in the walkway. The second option is the “Interlocal” (Smaller bus with individual seats). There are usually about 12 seats and the price is roughly C5-20 more than the chicken bus. The interlocal is a direct trip from one city to another whereas the chicken bus will make multiple stops during a trip.
You will also see tons of people riding around in a 3-wheeled bicycle taxi that has room for 2 people and a small rain/sunlight cover. I would assume that they are very inexpensive but I have never taken one before. Considering I can walk almost as fast as the bike can go and I can get a taxi for under $1 I have found no need. Maybe one day!
Whether you are looking for a quiet place to grab a beer or a club to let loose and dance the night away to unknown techno music, Leon has it all. There are so many places to choose from, especially close to the center of the city. There are plenty of bars outside of the center of the city as well but they are typically smaller local bars. Every Thursday is salsa night at a bar called La Olla Quemada which is literally across the street from the old ITAN building. This is awesome because you always see people that you know from the TEFL classes and get to dance a little salsa too!
Ok enough of the details, how much does the alcohol cost?!?
Prices: (prices vary depending on the bar)
Rum & Coke: $2
Rum (Ron) is by far the most popular liquor here in Nicaragua. “Flor de Cana” is made in Nicaragua and because of that it is typically the cheapest option. I used to be loyal to my vodka/club sodas back in Virginia but I quickly made the switch to rum once I arrived in Leon. If you are looking for a different mixed drink you can expect to pay around $2 as well…usually slightly higher than a rum & coke.
If you are planning to have more than 1 drink, the cheapest option is to buy a bottle of rum and a bottle of coke. I can’t remember the exact sizes off the top of my head but you can buy a ¼, ½ or full bottle. There are multiple different types, ages, etc. of the rum so the price will vary but you can get a ¼ bottle for roughly $3-4. ¼ bottle has about 7-8 shots.
*A few of the bars will have cover charges on certain nights that range from C40-100.
Just like any city, there are lots of things to do in Leon. Some of the common things that people do when they first arrive to Leon are: visiting the Cathedral in the central park, visiting the museums, walking through the city to see all the old churches, architecture, parks, markets and statues.
Some other popular things:
Las Penitas is only a 40 minute bus ride from Leon and it is a great spot to relax and soak up some sun. The bus ride costs C14 each way and you have plenty of options for food, drinks or hostels/hotels if you want to stay the night. One thing I really like about the beaches in Nicaragua are how calm they are. While traveling in the past, I have mainly come across beaches that are saturated with tourists and people trying to sell you things. Not the case at Las Penitas!!
Leon has a baseball team with a stadium located within the city. Baseball is the primary sport in Nicaragua so people get pretty excited about the games. Just a few weeks ago, Leon was in the “World Series” but lost game 7….so close! Pricing for the games depend on where you sit but you can buy a ticket for about C30 or $1. They also have lots of snacks available for extremely cheap. You can buy a hot dog loaded with toppings for C10 (Try buying a hot dog for $.33 at an MLB game…maybe it will cover the ketchup!)
Leon has a nice movie theater near the center of the city that very much resembles the small movie theaters I grew up going to in Virginia. The theater has A/C and they have an assortment of snacks/candy as well. It is a great place to relax and tickets are only $2-4 each depending on the time of day. Just make sure you check to see if the movie is playing in English if you aren’t well versed in Spanish yet!
I personally love the food here in Nicaragua. Your typical meal consists of rice, beans and meat. They also have lots of fried foods as well, especially the street vendors.
The staple food of Nicaragua is called gallo pinto. This is simply a combination of beans and rice that is briefly pan-fried in order to give the rice a slight crisp. This is typically always available for breakfast and dinner.
You can find food at a variety of locations. To name a few there are grocery stores, comedors, fritangas, cafes, fruit/snack stands and sit-down restaurants.
There are plenty of grocery stores throughout the city (La Colonia, La Union, Pali, etc) where you can buy your typical foods to cook at home. La Colonia also has a cafeteria where you can find a wide selection of meats, different types of rice, vegetables and other common sides.
These are walk in restaurants where everything is already prepared and you order your food cafeteria-style. The typical foods you can find here are: gallo pinto, white rice, many different kinds of meat (usually chicken, beef or fish), tacos, cooked plantains, fried plantains, fried cheese, tortillas, salad (made with cabbage and vinegar), sodas and water. The selection will be slightly different at every place you visit. You can expect to pay around C60 for a meal at a comedor.
These are street vendors that typically have a food cart in front of their house. The food is generally the same as comedor but with less selection. You will likely find gallo pinto, one type of meat, fried plantains and maybe a few other options. Again, each fritanga will vary in their selection. You can expect to pay around C40-50 for a meal.
There are cafes spread throughout the entire city. You will find your typical options like coffee drinks, tea, pastries and snacks. Many cafes serve a larger selection of food as well such as salads, sandwiches and soups.
There are fruit/snack stands all throughout the streets in the city. You can generally buy a snack for C10-C20. Some of the most common fruits and snacks are: fried plantains, homemade sweets, coconuts, bananas, mangos and many other fruits that are local to Nicaragua.
There are plenty of sit-down restaurants you can find throughout the city if you are looking for a fancier environment. There’s quite a variety that includes: a Cuban restaurant, a French restaurant, at least 2 Chinese restaurants, a Vegetarian restaurant, a Sushi restaurant and I’m sure there are plenty more options that I have yet to discover! You can also find typical American foods at many restaurants and (obviously) there are plenty of Nicaraguan restaurants. Pricing will vary at these restaurants, but generally speaking, a meal will cost you between $5-10 (possibly up to $15 at the most expensive places).
There is a large expat community in the city of Leon. If you take the TEFL course you will automatically be linked with your classmates and staff at ITAN which will give you friendships and support from the very start. The longer that you stay here, the more people you will meet including expats.
So what’s the dating scene like here? Hmmm…I guess I would consider it similar to most big cities. There are plenty of bars and public spaces to meet people. You can also meet people, just like anywhere else, in group activities such as Zumba, Salsa, the gym, etc.
The obvious difference, and perhaps the main difficulty, is the difference in languages. If you can speak Spanish that will make it a bit easier for you. With that being said, there are plenty of Nicaraguans that can speak English so you don’t necessarily need to know Spanish.
There are so many travel opportunities you can chose from while living in Leon. There are lots of day trip activities that are close to Leon, there are tons of cities and places that you can visit in Nicaragua, and since Nicaragua is in the middle of Central America you are in a great location to visit surrounding countries without traveling too far.
Some of the common day trip traveling activities you can do:
Volcanoes: There are at least 4 different Volcanoes (Some active, some inactive) that you can visit within an hour or so of Leon. They are all a bit different…one you can go volcano boarding (Cerro Negro), another you can see the actual orange lava (Telica) and others offer more intense hiking opportunities.
Beaches: There are a few beaches that are very close to Leon that you can easily get to for a day trip or longer if you are interested.
Nearby Cities: There are also a handful of cities very close to Leon that you can take a bus to and explore for the day.
Some of the common places to visit within Nicaragua are:
Cities: Exploring the different cities in Nicaragua is very easy to do and it is also exciting to see all the differences throughout the country. There are cities in the mountains like Matagalpa, Esteli and Jinotega that have a much cooler climate and have lots of outdoor activities to do, the Caribbean coast and also larger cities like Managua, Masaya and Granada that have plenty of things to explore as well.
Ometepe: Ometepe is an island close to the city of Rivas that is very popular among tourists and locals as well. I have not gone yet but it is definitely on my list of places to visit soon. There are 2 volcanoes on the island and lots of outdoor activities available as well.
Corn Islands: The Corn Islands are a set of islands (big & little) that are outside of Bluefields, a city on the Caribbean coast. This is a bit more expensive but a very popular place to visit while in Nicaragua.
San Juan Del Sur: San Juan Del Sur is a beach close to the border of Costa Rica. This is a very popular spot for tourists and it is best known for it’s “Sunday Funday”.
*These are some of the more common places but there are tons of other beaches, volcanoes and other spots to travel to and explore as well.
Places outside of Nicaragua:
You can easily visit the surrounding countries like Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador but you aren’t too far from other popular destinations like Mexico and South America as well.
What are your monthly expenses?
My monthly expenses are about $550/month. Below is a breakdown of all my costs:
I rent a room from a Nicaraguan family a few blocks from the center of the city. The room includes a bathroom, bed, desk and storage for my clothes. Internet and meals are also included in the cost (I have my own internet, separate from the family – 4mb/s).
I have the option to eat all my meals for free but I still like to add a little variety sometimes and eat healthier options when possible. I eat quite a bit at the La Colonia (grocery store) cafeteria and also buy foods to cook at home throughout the month (fruits, vegetables, snacks, etc). There are also fruit/food stands all over the city so I frequently buy snacks like coconuts, peanuts, fruits, etc. This amount also includes necessities like toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.
Spanish Lessons: $100/month
I have been taking Spanish lessons 2x each week for the past few months. The lessons are $6/hour and I usually study for 2 hours each class.
Alcohol & Leisure Activities: $100/month
This amount will obviously depend on how often you are going out and where you are spending your time. On average, I go out once or twice a week and usually spend about $10 each night to cover beer, rum, cover charges, etc. If you only drink a few beers or a few mixed drinks you shouldn’t spend more than $5 each night.
The movie theater, beach, museums, excursions, etc. are other leisure activities where I spend a little money each month.
I go to a café about 4x per week in order to get work done. I usually buy a coffee or tea which costs $1-$2. Also, most of the cafes have air conditioning so it is a nice environment where you can relax.
I go to a gym called Metro Spa. There are quite a few gyms in the city and there are a lot of options that are less expensive too ($10/month). You can also find a lot of Zumba & Yoga classes as well.
Salsa Lessons: $15/month
I just started taking a Salsa class this past month. There are 2 classes each week and the class is 4 weeks long (8 total classes). Each class is about an hour long.
How would you describe your standard of living?
I would describe my standard of living as comfortable. I have a private room and bathroom, bed, internet and shared living area. I have access to the kitchen if I need to cook and I can use the washing machine when I need to wash my clothes. I know these are very basic things but it’s truly all I need.
One small bonus that I was not aware of before arriving in Leon…you can drink the tap water!! I was hesitant at first, but after buying multiple large water bottles a day I eventually gave in and drank from the tap. I’ve been doing it ever since and I have been totally fine (along with everyone else I know). To be honest, I usually fill up my water bottle from the shower because I am too lazy to walk to the kitchen sink (Is that gross???).
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
This question will depend on your definition of “living comfortably”, but I would say the average person can easily make it on $500/month.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE TEACHERS IN NICARAGUA
What advice would you give someone planning on considering teaching abroad?
Do it! If teaching abroad and traveling the world is something you want to do, then get TEFL certified in Nicaragua! I know this is cliché to say but you only live once and teaching abroad opens up so many opportunities for you to travel and experience different things. Not to mention the rewarding feeling you get from teaching!
I know personally that it can be intimidating and overwhelming to make such a big decision like quitting your job and moving to a different country. But if this is truly something that you want to do and explore, don’t keep waiting.
Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Absolutely! I haven’t taught anywhere else so I can’t compare my experiences, but my time here in Leon has been awesome. As I mentioned above, there are so many reasons I love Leon and Nicaragua but as far as the teaching goes, there are opportunities everywhere.
I thought that finding a job may be a little difficult, especially in Leon since there are a lot of people from the ITAN class, but it has been the exact opposite. There are constantly openings at schools (for children and adults), endless opportunities online and the option to teach private lessons. With the help from ITAN, your classmates and the different Facebook groups, you are regularly notified of teaching opportunities that become available.