Sunday, 26 February 2012

Robert Crosland's South American Odyssey Part 8

The historical centre of Quito
It should be pretty clear that I had an unforgettable experience in Ecuador due to the fun and supportive teaching environment, the outstanding diversity of the country and the sheer beauty of Cuenca, which I was proud to refer to as my home for a year. Nonetheless, an English teacher considering making the move to Ecuador needs to consider the downsides. Low rates of pay can be an issue for some English teachers in Cuenca, so I would recommend that anyone thinking of teaching English there brings a reasonable amount of savings ($2000 perhaps). This would ensure a higher standard of living in Cuenca, and the possibility to travel extensively around Ecuador. I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences, and if you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Robert Crosland (

Robert Crosland's South American Odyssey Part 7

My students
A wide range of courses are offered by the English programme including regular classes which follow the attitude curriculum, children’s classes, a conversation club, tutorials customised by the student to fit their needs, and preparation for exams such as the TOEFL. This variety of courses creates an excellent learning environment for both the student and teacher. Finally, the school itself is well-resourced with a plethora of materials for each level, photocopiers which rarely broke while I was there and simple yet pleasant teaching rooms.
I generally had a rich experience teaching English at CEDEI, due to the high level of support offered by my colleagues. New teachers are assigned a mentor with whom they meet regularly to discuss progress and concerns. Furthermore, a lead teacher can always be found in one of the buildings to provide support when necessary. During each 10-week cycle there are several workshops which cover a range of topics including student discipline, activities and how to teach particular skills such as reading. Due to the wide range of courses on offer and the sheer number of students, inevitably the teaching schedules varied significantly. I was fairly lucky with my teaching schedules, but split shifts can be expected as well as a Saturday class in at least one cycle per year. Teachers are usually given three or four classes to begin with. For example, two regular afternoon classes from 15h00-16h15 and 16h30-17h45 Monday to Thursday, and a Saturday class from 08h30-12h30. As this is only 14 hours a week, teachers often take extra classes and tutorials to increase their workload and pay.
In truth, the only real downside of CEDEI is the hourly wage of $6.50 which makes it very difficult to live comfortably without teaching a lot of classes. If you teach about 25 hours a week, you will earn just over $700 a month, which does not go that far even in a city as affordable as Cuenca, so many teachers work at least 30 hours a week in order to live more comfortably. I personally believe you need about $800 a month to live well in Cuenca, but this still does not include any travelling costs. Indeed, there are two week vacations between each cycle in CEDEI whereby there are no regular classes, but these are not paid. Therefore, teachers need to take tutorials or give placement tests in these weeks if they wish to see a pay cheque. Otherwise, a healthy savings account is necessary. Overall, the wages offered by CEDEI are lower than those offered by many language schools in Quito, the capital city, and Guayaquil where $10 an hour is definitely attainable. Nevertheless, in my opinion Cuenca is a more desirable place to live. Overall, South America is not a teaching destination where one can make a lot of money, but teachers do enjoy a rich cultural experience.

Robert Crosland's South American Odyssey Part 6

The garden space outside the school

While living in Cuenca I worked for a language school called the Center for Intermerican Studies (CEDEI). CEDEI is an academic institution dedicated to the study of American languages and cultures. Throughout the year there was always a buzzinginternational atmosphere, as students and teachers from a range of European and American countries participated in their respective language, dance or cooking courses.

The English programme itself is well developed and there are currently 700 students of all ages and levels. The majority of the students are teenagers, but I also had the opportunity to teach some adult classes. The teenage classes were challenging at first, because my students during the TESOL course were all highly motivated adults often with clearly defined goals. Some of my students at CEDEI did not share this motivation, but I had to empathise with them as I was hardly an enthusiastic language learner when I was a teenager. However, teenage classes were also very rewarding at times, due to the students enthusiastic approach to games and activities.

Robert Crosland's South American Odyssey Part 5

Montañita and Canoa
In the north of the mountainous sierra, a wide range of adventure sports can be enjoyed in Baños de Ambato, and just around the corner is Puyo, a town linking the sierra to the Amazon jungle.
Canyoning in Baños
Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and each of its four regions, the sierra, the coast, the Amazon jungle and the Galapagos, can be clearly marked by their distinct climates, cultures and physical appearances. Although Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city which is located in the coast, is only a three hour bus journey away from Cuenca, the differences between the climate, the people and the dialect are vast.
Las peñas in Guayaquil
My favourite activity while I was living in Ecuador was actually learning Spanish, and the regional differences never failed to impress/amuse me. Cuenca in particular is a great place to learn Spanish as it is spoken very clearly there, which is not always the case in the coastal region. The school where I worked provided teachers with free Spanish lessons every week, but most of my learning came from spending time with my local friends, who were always more than happy to help me.

Robert Crosland's South American Odyssey Part 4

I already mentioned that Cuenca is generally a very clean city, especially when I compare it to some cities in South East Asia which I had visited before coming to Ecuador. However, noise and air pollution can be an issue in the centre of the city due to the sheer number of buses and taxis passing through, so it is important that teachers choose the location of their accommodation wisely. Travellers to Ecuador are often concerned about security, and sadly crime levels have increased throughout Ecuador in recent years. However, Cuenca holds a reputation as one of Ecuador’s safest cities, and I believe that this title is deserved. While petty crime certainly exists, in one year I never heard of any fellow teachers, or local friends, experiencing violent crime. With common sense and standard safety precautions, one can have a very safe and enjoyable time in Cuenca.
What Ecuador lacks in size, it makes up for in diversity. Indeed, anyone teaching English here will be spoilt for choice in terms of the activities offered by this fascinating country. In addition to visiting the colonial cities, I used to enjoy comparing the anything goes nature of Montañita, a lively beach town on the southern pacific coast that is popular with tourists from all over the world, with Canoa, which is far more rustic and tranquil.

Robert Crosland's South American Odyssey Part 3

Some pictures of my studio apartment

Prospective English teachers who are considering looking for work in Cuenca will be pleased to hear that it is not a difficult place to live in. Firstly, the cost of living is still very low. One can easily rent a furnished studio apartment here for $200 a month.
It is of course much cheaper if you live with other teachers or locals. Generally you should expect to pay between $80-$120 a month to rent a room in a house or apartment. Cuenca is also a great place to eat out, and I have enjoyed many delicious and healthy almuerzos (set lunches) in the locally run restaurants located throughout the city. One personal recommendation is Cafe Moliendo, where for $2.50 you can expect soup for starters, a main course with a tender cut of beef, avocado, salad and hearty arepas (maize pancake), and a fresh glass of maracuyá (yellow passion fruit). It is even cheaper to cook for yourself if you take advantage of the local markets. I usually spent about $150 a month to feed myself. Foreigners are generally pleased to see how far their money can go in Ecuador. The only exception is electrical goods which are as expensive, if not more, than those purchased in Europe or the United states.

Robert Crosland's South American Odyssey Part 2

The historical centre of Cuenca

Inside the National Bank

In addition, it is also a modern city. Although I was definitely a little naive when I arrived in Cuenca, I remember finding it difficult to believe that I was actually in South America, and subsequent travels to other parts of the country confirmed that this is a city both charming and cosmopolitan. Despite being a relatively small city, with a little under 500,000 inhabitants, one can find a huge range of restaurants serving local and international dishes, large shopping malls equipped with all the designer brands (and the expected price tags), and a thriving nightlife served by bars and nightclubs. Here a young and stylish crowd enjoy an eclectic mixture of international floor fillers, Salsa and Meringue. Furthermore, trendy art galleries and excellent museums reflect Cuenca’s status as Ecuador’s cultural capital.

Indeed, Cuenca is becoming a popular retirement destinations, because it combines colonial beauty with an exciting, modern atmosphere.