Leon, Nicaragua Teaching English Q&A With Danielle Costanza
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
I’m a US citizen.
What city and state are you from?
I grew up in Moultonborough, New Hampshire.
How old are you?
I’m 30 years old.
What is your education level and background?
I have a B.A. from the University of New Hampshire in Spanish and Music Education.
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel quite a bit.
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
I have lived in Granada, Spain, outside of León, Nicaragua, and both Machala and Quito in Ecuador. I have also traveled to Peru, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Italy to visit.
If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
Granada, Spain is where I spent a summer with the SOL study abroad program, taking classes at the University of Granada and living with a host mom.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
By teaching and traveling I am constantly learning more about myself, individuals, societies, and the world…not to mention both are extremely fulfilling. Combining these two elements into one job is pretty special.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Although I had taught a foreign language for several years, I had never touched English. English spelling and grammar to me were more or less mysteries. I was -and still am- much more comfortable with the structure of the Spanish Language.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
They weren’t too surprised, it’s my nature to want to get up and go somewhere new. I had already broke my family in in that regard when I joined the Peace Corps in 2009. The great thing about my family is they always try and visit if they can.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy Nicaragua?
I decided to get TEFL certified because I wanted the opportunity to teach abroad and that was my ticket. I specifically picked the one in León, Nicaragua because the city was close to where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I wanted to take the opportunity to spend some time with my host family and community again while continuing some ongoing projects, so after I finished the course, I stuck around a couple weeks.
How did you like the course?
I think they had us working so hard my computer died from exhaustion! Hahaha, that’s maybe not far from the truth. (It is called an intensive course for a reason!). That being said, I felt lucky that our group’s two teachers were so enjoyable to be around because we spent long days together. They were helpful and supportive. Many people go into this course never teaching a day in their lives, but as a teacher myself, I still found it very beneficial. It allowed me expand my teaching style, bringing in different creative elements that I had not thought of before. It also helped that our class bonded as fast friends. We created a quick support network together, and stayed on top of it so we could have a little fun on the weekends.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I worked at two different schools in Ecuador after my TEFL course. The first of the two was where I used my skills more. I was working with high schoolers and had to constantly bring in activities to squeeze life out of a very dry curriculum book. My students had a lot of fun in class, and many of my strategies were pulled from the course.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
Although my heart remains in Nicaragua, I had previously lived there for 2.5 years and I was curious to know South America. Being a Spanish teacher in the states, I felt it important to know the continent. I was even more influenced by my natural curiosity and desire to expand my knowledge of Latin American Culture. I wanted to be able to understand the differences and similarities between Central and South America from my own experiences.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I was lucky enough to be granted a one year leave of absence from the high school that I teach at here in the states. I returned home from Nicaragua in August and started work in Ecuador by mid-October. I just returned home in July.
At first I was working for an English School in Machala, Ecuador which is south and near the coast. The school was called Lincoln English Center and although my students were incredible, my bosses who owned the company were not. It was very unfortunate, but I was the last of 5 teachers to leave in a span of several months. It took me a while to decide to leave because I got a lot of joy out of teaching some really incredible students who I still miss. Nevertheless, there was a serious lack of management and communication skills, as well as respect coming from my bosses and I decided to leave.
I moved to Quito and found a job working at Lenguatec. It is a company that teaches one on one classes to adult professionals. Instead of working in a school, I walked from building to building to teach classes in the offices of my students. I was given an iPad with all the books digitally installed. The curriculum was well established and I didn’t have a lot of prep work, but travel did take up a big portion of my time. I didn’t mind it thought, I enjoyed walking around the city. Lenguatec was a very different kind of job for me, but gratefully, it was a very positive experience. I enjoyed working for my bosses and it was interesting and enriching in different ways to teach adults for the first time in my life.
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.
At my first job at Lincoln English Center, I was told that they would manage that process for me, I just needed certain documents such as a state criminal record check and a sealed and stamped copy of my transcripts. However, three months later nothing had been done for me and I took my documents with me to Quito.
At Lenguatec they were much more professional. I did need a visa (not necessarily a work visa, but any visa, just so I was legal in the country) to continue working with them but first I would need proof of a national criminal record check. The first thing I did was get an extension tourist visa which lasted 3 months. During that time, I requested a national criminal record check from the US (this process can take several months, which is why I got the extension visa in the first place. I would suggest you try and get this taken care of before going abroad because some places do not accept state criminal record checks). The next step would have been to apply for my work visa but since I was going home in a month I decided to just let my visa expire. It wasn’t worth it to pay for a work visa, which is very costly (especially considering it was more than the $800 I made per month).
Tell us about your English teaching job!
I guess I already talked about this above. All I can say is sometimes the job itself is hit or miss, but the students for me have always been a joy. If you are willing to be prepared, show that you are invested, and have good management skills, 99% of the time you will build amazing relationships with your students. Another valuable component is what you will learn from them. From my high school students, I learned A LOT about Ecuadorian culture: music, pastimes, soccer, and Ecuadorian Spanish vocabulary. From my adult students I learned about the state of affairs in all of South America: the political upheaval of Venezuela, the history and culture of Argentina, the oil business throughout the continent, etc. it was fascinating.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
Well, it was a wild ride….
With the Lincoln English Center in Machala, an apartment was part of the package. It was already abstracted from your rent and you didn’t have to worry about landing and looking in a foreign land… the downside was my bosses failed to mention that 5 of us teachers were living in a 3-bedroom apartment and myself and an older teacher were literally living in the living room for half a month until the other teachers started dropping like flies. By the end, it was only one other girl and myself in the apartment before I decided to leave as well.
One of the English Teachers who happened to be from Venezuela who had left before me moved to Quito and found a job and two-bedroom apartment. She invited me to move in with her and share rent, which I did. The downside of only knowing a person for a week before moving in with them is that you don’t know if they’re half-crazy (which she turned out to be).
Note about this: in Latin culture most adults my age haven’t had the experience of living with several people outside of the family realm. Most Latinos live with their parents until marriage. Although I’m super easygoing, I think my Venezuelan roomie didn’t know how to share space or exist with others in this way, and it caused problems.
In the end I moved in with a lovely family I had met and spend my last months in Quito being semi “adopted”. I loved being in an Ecuadorian household where I could work on my Spanish and learn more about the culture.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, and travel opportunities in your country:
In my first job, my commute to work consisted of walking down the street. In Quito after I moved in with the family, I had to take a bus. Traffic is Quito is pretty rough, but there is a separate lane just for busses. Bus is the fastest way to get anywhere during the rush hours, even faster than taxis. They cost $0.25 and you get pretty much anywhere by bus. Traveling across country isn’t bad either, they have some older versions of what could be comparable to a greyhound bus. Pretty comfortable and very cheap.
In Quito there are plenty of travelers and a wide mix of cultures. Nightlife is big near the Plaza Foch area (nicknamed “gringolandia”) where I first lived. There are hundreds of bars, karaoke, dance clubs, fancy restaurants, cafes, etc. There is also the historical district which is the beautiful part of Quito. Buildings have a European feel and there are beautiful churches and museums to explore.
In and near Quito there are large parks which are very popular. It’s almost like a festival going to a park on the weekend. It seems to be the activity of choice if you live in the city. People are selling all kinds of foods, there are running paths, basketball courts, and skate parks. Sometimes there are live concerts or free aerobic dance classes. It is packed!
In Southern Ecuador there is the lovely city of Cuenca which is home to many expats. Most of Ecuador has a rather unimaginative way of building up cities, but the architecture of Cuenca is admirable and the city itself has a lot of class. The city is in a great location to go and explore national parks or go shopping in nearby towns known for their mastery in silver jewelry or leather goods.
Ecuadorians eat a lot of corn in all possible forms. They also love pork and beef. There are a lot of soups, cheese, and beans. I love going to the markets where you can buy fresh and local fruits and vegetables. On the coast their ceviche is famous. Inland they have a delicacy called Cuy, which is roasted guinea pig. Not a fan.
There is a big expat community in both Cuenca and Quito. You can join a Facebook page to meet people in your area. I was more interested in having local friends and spent my time with them.
As far as the dating scene goes, tinder is alive and well according to my roomie (who did more than just test out the waters). It’s easy to meet people if you go out or join a group of some sort. I went to a local gym and took some dance classes, which was an easy way to meet people. In general people are friendly and helpful and most who have graduated from college have at least a base level of English. I was impressed with how many people were fluent in the cities.
What are your monthly expenses?
In Machala I made $900 per month and rent was included. It was great. I had more than enough for groceries and travel every other weekend. (The only stressor was that they didn’t ever pay you on time or all at once).
In Quito I made $800 a month and the apartment was $450 per month plus water, gas and internet ($60), but that was near Plaza Foch, which is an expensive place to live. You could find a place much cheaper in Southern or Northern Quito. Cuenca is where I wanted to be but it is almost impossible to live there as a teacher. You get paid something ridiculous like $400 a month and rent is at least a little more than that.
How would you describe your standard of living?
I did not have extra funds from home, so I lived frugally. It was especially difficult that one month between jobs where I would actually choose to walk :45 minutes instead of paying $0.25 for the bus. In that month my roomie and I pulled our money and only spent $20.00 each per week at the market for food.
If I didn’t have a two-months span of time between jobs of getting a paycheck, things would not have been so rough, but essentially I had to start from scratch again.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
In Quito $1,000.00 per month would have been fantastic, but you can do it on $800.00 especially if you are splitting rent. It’s harder in the city where everything costs more, but you can figure it out. I always shopped at the markets and walked as much as possible and found a lot of fun things to do for free!
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE TEACHERS IN ECUADOR
What advice would you give someone planning on considering teaching abroad?
I would say absolutely do it! The rewards on an educational and personal level will come tenfold! The only thing I would suggest is that you go into it with an open mind, patience and flexibility. Remember, it is an adventure and there will be bumps in the
road but it is how you choose to handle yourself in those difficult moments that help create your character, so use them as lessons. Sure, I had some frustrating experiences but I don’t regret going for a moment. Most of my memories were incredible. I feel like my world and knowledge has expanded exponentially. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to get up and go. Remember, home will always still be there when you get back.
Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Yes, I would highly recommend teaching in Ecuador. It’s such a small country comparatively but it has so much to offer. It has the coast, the Andes, the jungle, the Galapagos (if you can afford such craziness), volcanoes, indigenous tribes, and friendly, welcoming people. I never thought I would land there and I am so glad I did. Someday in the future I’ll return to visit… and then maybe head for Colombia!
If you would like to learn more about Danielle’s teaching abroad experience in Ecuador, visit her blog at:
If you would like to learn more about Danielle’s Peace Corps experience in Nicaragua, visit: