Leon, Nicaragua Teaching English Q&A With Shannon Dils
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?
Bachelors of Fine Arts / Graphic Design
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, France, Germany, Turkey, Israel, East Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo), India, SE Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam), and Nicaragua
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I wanted to be purposeful while traveling, and live and work with the locals.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Committing to a year abroad.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My friends were excited and encouraging; they saw that teaching abroad suited my lifestyle. My family had mixed opinions ranging from health and safety concerns to concerns about me finding a ‘real’ career and settling down with some kids at my age. Once I was actually teaching abroad, it was an easier idea for them to grasp.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
I took International TEFL Academy’s course located in Leon, Nicaragua.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy Nicaragua?
There were hundreds of options for certifications ranging in difference prices, so it was not an easy choice by any means! For a 190 hour, four week TEFL class, it was cost effective being that the course was located in Nicaragua. I didn’t have a teaching background, and I wanted a credible program with a credible accreditation. I also wanted to study abroad and have another reason to immerse in a culture while practicing to teach English. ITA’s TEFL course in Nicaragua was then a very easy decision.
How did you like the course?
I loved it! The staff was really the icing on the cake. Not only did they give me all the resources to teach abroad, they made the little university city of Leon feel like home, and inspired me to actually get out into the world and do good work.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
It made me more aware of different cultures, and how their learning styles can be quite different from people in their home country. It also taught me to continue improving my lesson plans, and to focus on keeping a student centered classroom.
TEACHING ABROAD IN TANZANIA
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I chose a village outside of Arusha, Tanzania, because I wanted the authentic African experience.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I was there for 7 months, though I had planned on staying for 1 year.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
Indigenous Education Foundation of Tanzania, known locally as Orkeeswa Secondary School
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.
Prior to arrival, I paid the school to cover my work visa. Then when I landed in Tanzania, I had to pay an additional 90-day tourist visa. Tanzania is very slow to process, and is also corrupt, so by the time I left after 7 months, I never actually got my work visa, nor was I given a refund. There were a couple days that authorities were supposedly coming to check on visas, so I was banned from school those days.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
I originally applied to be a volunteer English teacher at this school, and when they saw my organic farming experience, they actually asked me if I would be open to working a few different roles. My focus became helping the students start and expand the school garden for the season during their after school programs. I also helped co-teach an entrepreneur class, and later taught a few after school creative writing classes. Eventually my role was eliminated once we ran out of water in the dry season, hence why my time was cut short. Most days I would walk home with different students, sometimes meeting their families for tea. This is how I really got to know individual students and hear about their culture and dreams.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
The organization had a couple houses for the school volunteers. They were some of the nicer ‘Western style’ houses in the town, but like the rest of the locals, we couldn’t rely on electricity or running water. While my village was quite safe, we did have a guard at night, and a maid who cleaned once or twice a week. Some days it was great living with people from India and Europe, sharing different cuisines: I’d make pancakes in return for awesome curry or authentic Italian. Other days our food would rot from losing the power all day, we’d have cockroaches running around the dirty dishes covering our kitchen counters because there was no water, or we’d shower using leftover spaghetti water, that’s when things got complicated!
COUNTRY INFORMATION – FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, and travel opportunities in your country:
I lived in the town of Monduli, roughly 6000 people in town, and the school where I worked was 5 miles away in the village. The school had a small van bus and a Land Rover for transporting teachers. The roads were not paved, so driving in the mud during rainy season compared to driving in snow. The town restaurants didn’t have a huge variety of food outside of beans, rice, maize, mutton or beef, fries, or omelet’s, and the local bars served dollar pilsners and local gin. There were local markets, daily and weekly, that sold fresh and fully-ripened produce, meaning you buy what you will eat that night.
A 45-minute ‘dolla’ ride away was the big city of Arusha, about 400,000 people, with all the amenities us Westerners craved, like internet, drip showers, apples, and pizza. The ‘dolla’—getting its name from the $1 price—is the local transport, a small 18-seater van that continued to take passengers well after 25 were already well-packed beyond sardines. I’d go there every few weeks to stock up on groceries. Arusha also seemed to have a large expat community.
There were larger buses between big cities, comparable to Greyhounds without bathrooms, and bathroom breaks were typically in the bushes somewhere, and took absolutely no more than 3 minutes for all 80 passengers. I was able to tour around most of East Africa safely and inexpensively by bus.
I lived amongst the large Maasai tribe, who are mostly Christian, and in general, very modest. In the villages they wear the typical blue and red sheets, but in the towns and cities the locals wore t-shirts and pants or colorful skirt wraps. As a woman, I had to cover my shoulders and knees in public. Couples rarely hold hands, and won’t even kiss in front of others at their weddings. Girl students wore their hair in 5 distinct braids, or had shaved heads, to distinguish them as ‘off limits’ to older men, as students are not to engage in any relationships during school years.
No matter how much Swahili I learned or Tanzanian style I could embrace, I was always regarded as ‘mzungu’ or white person. For the young kids in town, this meant spotting me from a mile away and running up to me to hold my hand, and in the village they’d also ask for candy. For the high school to young professional males, it meant asking me to ‘share ideas’ which is their creative way to try to get to know you. For families, they felt as honored to host me for tea, as I was honored as their guest, being invited into their humble mud-walled homes. Regardless, I could never walk down the street without greeting everyone I passed. Even sitting on the stoop at home, kids would climb up and peer over the fence just to watch what I was doing. Little did they realize I was just as curious as they were!
What are your monthly expenses?
The school provided the housing, lunches, and bread and tea for breakfast, so I covered everything beyond that. For food and local travel for the month, I paid $150.
How would you describe your standard of living?
Lower than average.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
This is really tough to gauge. If you can live like a local, you can live comfortably on less than $2/day. If you need western luxuries, you’ll pay US rates…if they are even available!
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE TEACHERS IN TANZANIA
What advice would you give someone planning on considering teaching abroad?
Go where you want to go. If you really want to teach in Chile or Spain or Africa even if it doesn’t pay well, you will make it work. If you really just want to save money, go to a place that pays the best.
Adapt to your surroundings as best you are able, push your limits, but also respect yourself, your needs, and your boundaries.
If possible, try a short-term trial before signing on for a long-term commitment. I’ve heard more stories of people’s experiences being less pleasant than what they imagined. If you make a commitment, stick it out for a bit, but if it’s wearing on you and not improving, it’s better to go home.
Also, I’m all about traveling light, but if you’re going for a year with no plans for visits, then pack the max airline baggage weight. Pack just a week’s worth of clothes to mix and match, but over pack on some comforts of home or camping gear. Ask expats in the community before you arrive what they miss, maybe you can even bring them some chocolate or a board game. Chances are you’ll want to donate half your stuff at the end of your trip.
Oh, and make sure your ATM card doesn’t expire. And bring an unlocked phone so you can use cheap local SIM cards.
Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Absolutely. The students made it 100% worth every minute and every penny.
Follow up with Shannon on her blog taking her from Nicaragua to Africa!