Leon, Nicaragua Teaching English Q&A With Maggie Rattigan
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
What is your citizenship?
I am from the United States.
What city and state are you from?
I am from Newport Beach, California.
How old are you?
I am 24 years young.
What is your education level and background?
I have a High School Diploma. I graduated from The Chicago Academy for the Arts with a major in Dance.
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
I have traveled to China in the past, but only for 2 weeks with my previous work. I was a Los Angeles Laker Girl and we traveled to Beijing and Shanghai with the team for a basketball tournament.
If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
I have not studied abroad in the past.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I wanted to travel the world, and experience living in as many different cultures as I could. Teaching English abroad is the best way to accomplish both of those things, and get the chance to help change lives…what could be better than that?
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
To be honest, I was highly concerned about traveling alone as a woman. Watching movies like Taken when I was younger put these negative connotations of traveling alone in my head, so I was scared. I was also worried about having difficulties adapting to cultures and experiencing challenges from language barriers.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
It’s funny because both of my parents knew I was going to be the “wild child” of the family since I was a kid. By “wild child,” I mean that they both knew I was not going to be happy working a 8-5 job in a cubicle. I have talked about traveling the world since I was 7 years old. When I found out about the International TEFL Academy Nicaragua’s TEFL program, I knew I found the key to what I had been searching for.
I told my parents, and both were very apprehensive but open to hearing details. I showed them the brochures and scheduled an in-person consultation at the TEFL office in Chicago, as well as a phone conversation with one of the advisors on the ground in Leon, Nicaragua. After my parents asked what seemed like 500 questions, their worries were put at rest. I’m sure they still worry a little bit, but at least now I know they are completely supportive about my choice to travel and teach abroad.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
I took the TEFL certification course at ITA’s Nicaragua branch in beautiful Leon, Nicaragua.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy Nicaragua?
I knew I loved teaching, because I had been a dance teacher for a few years. To me, nothing is more rewarding than seeing the progress and results of someone learning. I wanted to travel the world, and I wanted to do something more with my life. I ran into an old friend from High School one day and we decided to get a drink and catch up. She told me about the TEFL program…and I knew right away that was what I was searching for. Teaching others and living abroad…what could be more perfect?
I went home and immediately requested a brochure. Luckily, I lived in downtown Chicago, so I scheduled an appointment to meet and talk with Jessie. She answered all of my questions and made me feel completely comfortable. Since I don’t have a college degree, I asked her where she would recommend I could get certified and start working right away. She gave me a few different countries that I was pretty excited about, Nicaragua being one of them. I then talked about my financials and what I wanted to accomplish…Nicaragua was the perfect fit for me because it is so cheap there! I was also super excited because I didn’t know much about the country, and I wanted to dive into a whole new adventure.
Check out this cost of living comparison between the US, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.
How did you like the course?
Wow! Where do I begin? Well, for me, the course was amazing. I learned absolutely everything I needed and more about teaching and lesson planning. Since I had been out of school for awhile, I forgot how much work it took. It seemed like a semester amount of school work in one month, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I never felt like I couldn’t understand something or was confused.
The staff at ITA Nicaragua in Leon were educational angels. They were so informative, helpful, kind, and funny. I didn’t feel like I was in a school…it felt like a family. I know that may sound cheesy, but it’s true. We got to learn how to be professional and prepared teachers. I learned how to write lesson plans that I was proud of. I thought it was super cool how we also experienced a foreign language class in German to feel what it was like for our students…It helped me understand more and relate to how I could teach even better. After graduating, I felt ready and optimistic to find a job and start teaching!
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
My TEFL training has helped me in EVERY part of my current teaching position. I can write lesson plans, create activities “on the spot” if needed, help students, and most importantly, I can stand in front of a classroom full of students confidently.
TEACHING ABROAD IN NICARAGUA
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
After graduating in Leon, I decided to travel around Nicaragua for 2 weeks. I went to many places that I loved, but for some reason I knew I wanted to live in Managua. I think growing up in LA and Chicago my whole life held a big part of that decision. I love cities…the sounds, the fast pace, the diversity, the people, and yes, even the traffic.
In Managua I felt a sense of comfort…a sense of “home.” Also, it worked perfectly with how much I wanted to spend VS. get as income financially I decided to walk around and apply to different schools. I got a full-time job and found an apartment. After a week, I discovered the music scene. WOW! I could not be happier. Managua has an amazing Rock n Roll scene, which made my nights off work even better. I planned on staying for 6 months, but ended up loving it so much, I stayed longer.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been in Nicaragua for 10 months. Although I want to stay forever, I still feel the need to experience more countries, so I plan on leaving in June. To be honest, I will probably move back here at some point in my life.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
I worked for Academia Europea.
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 never got a work visa, because I worked under the table. It was a lot easier than I thought. I dropped off my resume, and about an hour later, they called me in for an interview. I was told that they wanted to hire me as a full-time teacher. They told me the amount of dollars I would receive per hour and how many hours a week I would be working. After doing the calculations, I was extremely happy and accepted. We shook hands and that was it. I didn’t sign any documents or anything.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
Where do I begin..hmm…Okay so I worked at a school called Academia Europea in Los Robles, Managua. It is a beautiful language institute that teaches all age groups. I worked full-time as an English teacher, and I got promoted to be a Team Leader…which is basically a manager of a group of teachers. I worked 43 hours a week from Monday-Friday 7-11am and 5-8pm. I also worked 8am-5pm on Saturdays with a lunch break from 12-1pm. There are about 26 different classrooms at the school, and luckily they are all air conditioned!
Academia Europea has a learning program, so I don’t have to write my own lesson plans, I just have to accomplish the amount of pages they give me in a book within 4 weeks. The school ranges in learning levels which they call “phases” or cycles. There are 25 phases altogether. Phases 1-4 are for beginners and you focus on vocabulary words, short phrases, and introducing grammar. The higher the phase, the more advanced the class is. I love the program and the range of students I get to teach! The classes are on a rotation basis. Every 4 weeks, the teachers are rotated classes/phases. I enjoy the rotations because I get to teach all phases. For example, last month I was teachin
g Phase 1 beginners in the morning and Phase 25 Advanced in the afternoon. It’s nice for me to keep a balance. My school also schedules me private classes too! I know it’s a lot of work, but it’s nice because I love doing it.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
When I first came to Managua I was staying in a Hostel close to the school. I then found a room to rent in someone’s house. I was super happy and moved in right away, without doing much other research…after living there for about a month I was told by some friends that I could find my own apartment with a kitchen and spend less money per month. So they helped me find a place and I moved.
I feel like I got very lucky in finding my apartment. I live in a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, fully furnished apartment with a kitchen that is only 2 blocks away from my job. I pay $200 a month for rent…which in Managua is pretty good! It includes a washing machine, a large smart TV, a queen bed, and everything else I need to live comfortably. I am also walking distance to the supermarket, and the major bar/ restaurant strip.
COUNTRY INFORMATION – FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, and travel opportunities in your country:
In my opinion, Managua is a completely different feel than other cities in Nicaragua. It shares a lot of similarities in the culture but everything seems faster paced. The people are always working…always. It seems like everyone is hustling all the time, but not in a bad way. The only thing I have trouble seeing is little kids, around the age of 4, trying to wash your car windows or sell you little trinkets at 10pm. The streets are always lit up with traffic and businesses. Growing up in cities my whole life, I found this comforting…but to be honest I don’t meet many Ex-Pats living here. Don’t get me wrong, I meet a lot of travelers out and about at bars or restaurants, but they are usually only in Managua for a day or two. Managua is a central city, so you can get a bus to any place in Nicaragua from here…which is why a lot of travelers pass through.
Speaking of buses, the public transportation is pretty decent here. You can always catch a bus to any place you need to go within the country. They are cheap and for the most part, reliable. The only thing you have to get used to is how PACKED they can be….man oh man, they pack those buses in like a can of sardines. That being said, you just hold your bag close to you and adapt. I have taken many buses to other parts of Nicaragua, and never had problems. Although one time I did have to sit in a space next to a man who was growling like a wolf the whole ride, but you can pick your own battles.
The thing about Managua is that you have to be cautious all the time. Like I said earlier, it’s a city…so you have to keep an eye out all the time. If I am going out at night or to the store, I always take a taxi. Taxistas unfortunately charge foreigners extra here. I always end up paying 50 cords per ride…which comes out to just less than 2 dollars. Now, that being said, you have to learn how to bargain…or else they might try and charge you 5-10 dollars which is insane. After I got used to learning the prices and normal rates, I became way more comfortable with it.
If you want to know about the dating scene, I would say it’s good. There are a lot of diverse people in the city, so you can always find someone you get along with. I met my boyfriend at a concert here. He is Nicaraguan and luckily speaks English! I won’t ever forget when I first saw him because it was like an arrow to my heart, but I won’t go into detail on that sappy love story. More importantly, he introduced me to his family, which I have become very close with and now consider a part of my life. His mom likes to call me her daughter, so we like to do our nails together and girly things like that…which is nice because it reminds me of hanging out with my mom back home in the US.
Other things I love about Managua are the food and the night life. First, the food. Managua has a large variety of restaurants and types of food. There are many people selling fritanga on the street, which is where I have had some of the best grilled chicken of my life, and for less than 2 US dollars. There are fancy restaurants, cheap restaurants, Asian restaurants, Italian restaurants…you name it, they have it. I found an amazing Arabic restaurant where I usually eat at 2 or 3 times a week. I mean when a place sells a bowl of hummus with fresh pita for 3 dollars, how can I say no? Now, the night life. When I was traveling around this country I found that a lot of people dress more conservative and somewhat look down upon tattoos. Tattoos are looked at as sort of a “taboo” thing I guess.
Anyways, when I moved to Managua, I noticed that there is a large population of people in their 20’s. These people seemed way more free-spirited in their attire, and many people have lots of tattoos! I personally have many tattoos, so when I went out to the bars for the first time here, I was extremely happy. People were around my age and I felt comfortable in the atmosphere. The music scene is to die for. I have lived in Los Angeles and Chicago, which both places have great music scenes, but Managua is just as good. The Rock N Roll bands they have here are unbelievable. I couldn’t be happier to be honest. I love being able to go out on the weekends and have a cheap cold beer and listen to multiple bands play music from the 1990s…it’s awesome. The people are super cool, and very diverse. There is a lot of creative minded people here that I have become close friends with. Since I don’t speak much Spanish, I feel lucky to have met quite a few Nicaraguans here that speak English.
What are your monthly expenses?
My monthly expenses are my rent, which is $200, taxis, food, groceries, and personal spending. I cook a lot, so that saves me money. I usually spend about $100 a month at the grocery store, $50 on food (fritangas), and maybe $70 on taxis. When it comes to my personal spending, it depends. If I go out a lot then it will obviously be more expensive, but sometimes I like to stay in and watch Netflix. If I go out at night I bring 500 cords, which is less than $20 and I’m fine with buying beers and entrance fees. All together I spend around $700 a month. With my $1000 monthly salary from Academia Europea, I am able to save about $300 per month!
How would you describe your standard of living?
Well, if you want me to be honest, I tend to spend more than save…I like to live a comfortable life. I don’t mind working a lot to be able to afford being able to live nicely.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
Honestly, if you earn $700 a month here, you will live a comfortable life. That is also including money for fun things like concerts or shopping too. If you want to live simple, you could easily do that with earning $500 a month.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE TEACHERS IN NICARAGUA
What advice would you give someone planning on considering teaching abroad?
Do it! Don’t hold back. If you are stressed about money or living standards STOP! There is always a way to achieve what you want. There is nothing in this world worth more than the experience and knowledge you gain from living and teaching abroad. I recommend doing some research before traveling so you have an idea about cultural differences, and don’t pack too much! Last but not least, don’t lose your passport and have fun!
Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Absolutely! I could go into stories on top of stories of the amazing experiences I have had in this country. I definitely recommend people to teach here. Nicaragua is a hidden gem. There are so many beautiful places you can visit and it’s so inexpensive. Also, the people are so kind and welcoming. I have met people here that I know will I will be lifelong friends with. Traveling abroad is so special, you have to give it a try! I have learned so much being here, about the country and about myself. I will 100% return here in the future.