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Open the door to Ecuador

Jenny Mill urges teachers not to overlook the considerable charms and opportunities in the lesser-known neighbour of Colombia and Peru

Ecuador may be dwarfed by its larger and better-known neighbours Colombia and Peru, but for Tefl teachers considering a move to Latin America it has much to offer: Andean mountain peaks, tropical rainforest, colonial cities and palm-fringed beaches, not to mention a booming demand for English teachers.

Lourdes Machado is an Ecuadorian national with a masters in Tefl who has been teaching English in the country for eighteen years. She now works at two universities in the country’s biggest city, Guayaquil. ‘The demand for English teachers is constantly increasing, especially in three of the main Ecuadorian cities: the capital Quito, the main commercial port, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, a beautiful city in the highlands,’ she explains. ‘For instance, the university where I work has doubled the number of students in its English language programme in the last two years. The same is happening in schools, high schools and language institutes because parents want their children and teenagers to learn English.’

Tom Bolton, director of studies at the British School of Language (BSL) in Ecuador, says the boom owes a great deal to the education reforms of the country’s president, Rafael Correa, which include raising the standard of English taught in schools and universities. ‘In the last five years Correa has shaken things up and there are far more opportunities here for English teachers at reputable institutions than there used to be.’

Correa’s changes, combined with a growing demand by companies for their employees to speak English in order to do business internationally, mean there are jobs for English teachers in primary, secondary and higher education, private language schools and businesses, as well as in private tuition.

So what’s the best way to find a Tefl job in Ecuador and what qualifications do you need? BSL, which has schools in Guyaquil and Quito, recruits teachers from the UK and US via websites such as tefl.com and esljobs.com. (The Gazette’s own jobs listing is at www.elgazette.com/jobs.html.) It also runs a Celta course in the surfing resort of Montanita. ‘All our teachers are British or American. They need to have a Celta or Trinity certificate, and preferably one to two years’ teaching experience.’

Once you have been in the country for a while, one of the best ways to find a job is through networking. Helen Hermida, a lecturer in English at Ecotec university in Guayaquil, came to Ecuador from Scotland over three years ago to work for a children’s charity, but after a year decided to train as an English teacher. She did an online Tefl course and soon managed to find work teaching English in a private company. She got her current job through a personal contact. ‘If you have a degree plus a Tefl qualification and you’re British, it’s easy to get work. A lot depends on personal contacts.’

Having a masters degree is also a major advantage. One of Correa’s changes has been to make it mandatory for all university lecturers to have a masters, which means that universities are struggling to find suitably qualified teaching staff. Because of her masters, Hermida earns $1,500 a month, compared to $1,100 for her colleagues who are still working towards the qualification.

In a country where GDP per capita is $450 a month (the currency in Ecuador has been the US dollar since 2000), teaching English is relatively well paid. ‘Teaching in Ecuador is a respected profession that provides a good standard of living – better than you would get as a Tefl teacher in Europe. Average rents, for example, are between $200 and $300 a month,’ says Bolton.

BSL pays between $800 and $1,200 a month, though teachers at the top end of this scale would need a Delta qualification. Private tutors can earn $15 to $20 an hour and work is easy to pick up once you have a few contacts.

To work in Ecuador you need a visa, so if you’re arriving in the country without one you need to bring original documents such as your birth certificate. However, some language schools recruiting teachers from abroad, including BSL, will organise visas for you.

Once you have found a job and got your visa, what kind of lifestyle can you expect? This depends on where you live – Guayaquil and Quito are very different cities. ‘Guayaquil is vibrant, fast and chaotic, whereas Quito is a bit less chaotic, beautiful and a bit cleaner,’ says Bolton.

One issue that concerns many people about Latin America is security. Guayaquil in particular has a reputation as a dangerous city, although this is changing as many areas have been regenerated. ‘Living here [in Guayaquil] is not an experience for the faint-hearted but it’s absolutely fine if you keep your wits about you,’ says Bolton.

On the plus side, Ecuador is a country that packs a great deal into a small space – mountains, beaches, rainforests and the Galapagos Islands are all within easy reach of the main cities, waiting to be explored by Teflers with an adventurous spirit.