Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

63. Teaching English in BA Part 2 (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

I'm still here in BA, spending every day going from government department to government department, taking numbers, waiting half an hour, all this on the way to starting my own business. No one said this would be easy either.

Without a doubt January is the busiest gringo month here in BA. I've never seen so many Teva sandals and daypacks wandering the streets in the last year I've been here. The weather has calmed down a bit, the hot spell has passed, and I've enjoyed the rainy days of late as at least you're not sweating. I never thought I'd look forward to rain in my life, having grown up in NZ!

As I said in my last post, about once a week I get an email from a stranger asking me about working in Buenos Aires. Here's an example:

I am at a point where I am wanting to be in BA. I saw that you mentioned various schools that I have not heard of. Do you think there are great ooportunities teaching English? Can one survive? Is is worth it? I know that the last question is personal. What is your story?

Let me answer your question with links to my blog posts:
#27. Guide to Teaching English
#24. Working Man BA

For me, it wasn't worth it. An English teacher normally teaches 20 hours a week, that's what I did, but I couldn't live off those wages. I'd need to teach 30 hours to live cheaply, and probably 40 hours to live comfortably. That's a lot of hours. Still, Argentines are used to working long hours. Some of my Argentine co-teachers would clock up 40 hours a week, and they were able to actually save money (but they live cheaply). Per hour, it is a good salary by BA standards. It's fitting in the hours that's the problem. At the time I wanted to study Spanish as well, which is one of the reasons I didn't work too many hours. I wanted to have time to hang out with Argentine people so I could use Spanish and not be speaking English all day.

Berlitz and Wall St are the worst-paying institutes in town, around 8 or 9 pesos an hour. Most reputable institutes pay 15 and a few pay 18. It's 2006 now so maybe they'll start paying more, since infation here was about 12% last year. There's lots of work available, but it's best to jobhunt in March or August as that's when in-company courses start. Most reputable institutes want TEFL but it's not necessary. A Texan friend of mine found about 30 hours a week without a TEFL. But he had some nightmare classes too.

The institutes I worked for:
Brooklyn Bridge is reputable and requires that you have a CUIT and TEFL. The only annoying thing was they'd pay me with a cheque which I had to wait in line half an hour to cash. And often they'd pay me with two cheques, one post-dated ten days in advance, to prevent their other cheques bouncing.

English Training System (ETS) has the same requirements and good reputation.

Those were the two I worked for. I preferred ETS as it was smaller and gave me better photocopies of materials, had slightly less paperwork, and paid cash. Both paid $15 pesoss an hour, None tried to cheat me on pay, although I heard stories of that happening in other institutes.

Talkbusiness is one a friend worked for and he recommends, and they paid slightly more.

If I was to do it again, I'd think about Santiago in Chile, as they pay better wages there. Of course it's more expensive to live there, but they pay a liveable wage, from what I've heard.

Are you working now in any institute teaching English? If you are, how is that going? Did you get TEFL certification? If so, where? I have seen some TEFL preparation schools on BA Expat and on Meet Up. Any particular place you suggest?

Nope I'm not working anymore. Six months was enough for me. As I said on my page, I'm now trying to start a business.

I did a CELTA course in Australia before I came here. It's a month of real hard work. I met some Americans who did the TEFL here in BA at Bridge Linguatec and it cost them a fortune. Some of them were real silly and opted to pay for the homestay option and got ripped off again. Homestays are a nice idea, and popular with many people who come here to learn Spanish or to do a TEFL course. But they're expensive, say US$100 a week. I'm not sure how much of that money goes to the family and how much to the school that set it up. The same goes for the furnished apartments for foreigners, there seems to be dozens of companies offering them. In most cases they're overpriced, but sadly that's the way it is and getting an apartment here the local way at a local price is almost impossible. Which is why I'm still in my cheap hotel. Even if I was teaching 40 hours a week I don't think I could afford to rent a furnished apartment at the gringo price. Well, maybe. Some of my co-teachers were sharing an apartment together, that would work, but I didn't wanna do that at the time because as I said, I wanted to learn Spanish so live with Spanish speakers if anything, not English speakers.

I am interested in teaching English and I read your post and wanted to ask you: How did you get this teaching job? Did they sponsor you for a work visa? How were you able to get the visa? Did you arrange everything once inside BA or from your country?

I arranged everything once I was in BA. I had a working holiday visa, which is different from a working visa and something New Zealanders can apply for. As far as work visas go, I don't know if any institutes would be interested in sponsoring you or not. I doubt they'd even reply to an email, most business is done here in person.

1) How important is it to speak Spanish when you go down there to apply for jobs? 2) does it make any sense to try and line up a job before I head down there (probably in Spirng 2006.) Thanks,

Spanish is not at all necessary, the Argentine managers speak perfect English. And there's no point trying to line up a job before you go, door knocking works well enough. You're more likely to end up working for some dodgy unknown outfit if you find a job on the net. I suppose you could try emailing the institutes I worked for, I can at least vouch for them.

Early March is the best time of year to find work.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

62. One year in South America! (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Today is January 9 2006 which means it was exactly one year ago I flew out of Auckland (almost missed my flight because my sister's boyfriend's car broke down on the way) and landed in Buenos Aires.
One year! Hooray!! And nearly 5000 visits to this blog. About once a week I get a random email from someone asking me something about my blog. At first the questions seemed to be along the lines of "How do I get an Argentine girlfriend?" but mostly they're questions like "How's the life of an English teacher in Buenos Aires?".

Bariloche - 24 - Cerro Campanario
Random pic: The postcard view from Cerro Campanario in Bariloche

I first had the idea to come to South America way back in early 2003, when I was sitting in a hammock in Laos during my six month trip in SE Asia, talking to another traveller, Justin, about other trips I'd like to make in the future as my funds were running out and I was shortly facing the dreaded return home. I began thinking it through, and decided I wanted to get more out of a trip than just photos and "personal development". I decided I wanted to learn another language. This would mean a trip of at least a year. But what language, then? I already spoke English and C++ so I had no need to speak any other, but one of the "romance" languages seemed like a good idea. I narrowed it down to Italian or Spanish or French. For either one of those I'd need to go to Europe, which would be expensive to live/travel in. But I could learn Spanish in South America which wouldn't be so expensive. In our group of travellers was Juan the Argentine (he of the Sunday asados), and he further sold me on the idea when he told me about Argentina's natural beauty - the glaciers in the South, the desert in the north, etc. The seed was planted.

Fattest Ass
Random pic: a really fat ass

After SE Asia 2003 I started the jobhunt with the idea of working to save money for a year, and then going travelling for a year. I ended up in Sydney, Australia, where I earned a good wage but the living expenses were high too. I ended up being there 18 months, had a great time, and saved enough money to last me a year travelling in South America. Although my strict saving budget meant I didn't have as much fun as I would have liked.
Originally I'd decided to go to Ecuador, simply because I'd seen a travel documentary on it and it seemed like an interesting place. I liked the idea that it was a small country with a lot of diverse nature - beaches, mountains, highlands, jungle, all in a small package. I researched and found a cheap Spanish school on the beach in Ecuador, and even emailed them to ask about the surf. I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Ecuador and spent at least an hour a day reading and answering questions on the Lonely Planet thorntree. I was answering questions about South America even though I'd never been there, but I already knew the answers from my own research!
I enrolled at a local Sydney University and took 3 hours of Spanish lessons a week. Hell I even did a salsa dancing course! Basically, I was doing everything I could to prepare myself for Operation Ecuador. Until I met an Ecuadorian/Australian guy (Hi Johnny V) who told me I'd have more fun in Argentina or Colombia or somewhere, as the girls in Ecuador aren't very hot, mostly short and squat and indian. Hmm. True enough, if I was gonna be living in one place learning the language for a year I didn't wanna be celebate. So back to the thorntree I went and Argentina seemed like a good choice - ten years ago it was extremely expensive, but with the economic problems of 2001 it was now as cheap as Peru or Ecuador or Brazil.
Whether I was going to work or not was another question. I'd amassed enough savings that I'd be able to live cheaply without working if I could live off US$30 a day. The only work I could hope to do is to teach English. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it or not but I figured I'd give it a go - maybe having work would help me to meet locals. And if I liked it, it could be a new profession for me. So then I decided to do a TEFL course as I figured it would be worthwhile and/or necessary. In Sydney I did a University of Cambridge CELTA course. That course was 3 months of no social life - when I wasn't at the course in evenings and Saturday mornings I was at home preparing lessons. Expensive too - nearly AU$3000, with the textbooks that I never used again. But, it was more preparation for South America so I felt like I was accomplishing something. I organised a Working Holiday visa so I could work legally.
Finally, I booked my flight - Sydney - Auckland - Buenos Aires, with a 2 week stopover in NZ for Christmas and New Year. Being high season my one-way ticket was expensive - US$1500, but it meant I would arrive in summer, could spend a month partying while I studied Spanish cheaply at the University of Buenos Aires (the course started the day after I landed), then spend a month looking for an apartment/work, and start working in March. I'd teach until August, and then travel overland to Colombia, and if I liked the teaching thing I'd work again in Bogota. If not I'd do nothing but work on my tan and dance salsa with the local girls until my savings ran out.
Long-term readers of this blog will know that my plan didn't quite work out - BA is too hot in January, for one (38° today, with humidity it feels like 43°!). The Cromañon nightclub fire on Dec 30 2004 (which killed nearly 200 partiers and shutdown the BA nightlife for 4 months afterward) was another. My closer friends will know I got a bit depressed over how difficult it was for me to get set up with an apartment / job situation - as one wrote to me, "no one said it would be easy".

So, looking back on 2005 and the trip so far. Well, I've learnt Spanish which was the main objective. I haven't studied much really - I did a month at UBA as an elementary when I arrived, and then a couple of hours of private lessons a week at a cheap school - Grammarama (now closed). Most of what I've learned is from talking and listening to people, mainly my girlfriend. Which means my writing in Spanish hasn't advanced much. I think I need to take another course when I get the time. I'm still at about an Intermediate level. A lot of what I learn now is from reading novels or studying song lyrics.
I've lived and worked as a Buenos Aires porteño for six months which was tough. Too tough really, I couldn't live solely off my teaching wages.
I've travelled a bit - seen all of Argentina, from La Quiaca in the North to Iguazu Falls in the East, and Ushuaia in the South. Add most of Bolivia, with tiny bits of Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Uruguay.

Casa de Libertad - 03 - Matt Bolivar
Random pic: Me with Simon Bolivar in Bolivia

So, if you'd asked me back in 2004 where would I be at the start of 2006, I would have given you this answer - either sitting on a beach in Colombia sipping coconuts, or shacked up in Buenos Aires with a local. And here I am in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

61. Christmas & New Year (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Summer in BA is stinking hot. And humid. Without air conditioning lately we've been sleeping on the floor of my girlfriend's room as the tiles are slightly cooler than a mattress - albeit a bit more uncomfortable. Maybe I should at least buy a desk fan - it's just that hopefully we're only here a bit longer before heading South to Ushuaia again, where we definitely won't need a fan.

Navidad Concierto - 01 - Marcela Morelo
Random pic: Marcela Morelo during a free Christmas concert

I've been busy the last couple of weeks running around the city trying to wade through the bureaucracy needed to start a small business here - and that's just in my own name, I'm not even going to start a company. Don't ask me what type of business as I'm not going to say until I'm certain it'll go through - but it's something to do with tourism.

Here in Argentina they celebrate Christmas slightly different to us in NZ. In the week leading up to the day the constant noise of firecrackers (what we used to call "bangers" before they were banned) echo through the streets as kids let them off one at a time at annoyingly random intervals. Christmas Eve is spent with family, where they have a big Christmas Eve dinner, toast at midnight, and let off some fireworks. Then they'll begin opening the presents that night. I'm not sure when Papa Noel (Santa Claus) delivers the presents.

Christmas Day is usually pretty boring as everything's closed, so you'll meet up with your friends and compare presents etc.

Christmas - 01 - Matt Santa
Me with the drunkest Santa Claus in Argentina

Since I don't have any family here and my girlfriend doesn't either, we had Christmas Eve dinner together once we'd finally found an open restaurant. Then we toasted Christmas on the roof of our building as we watched the fireworks the neighbours set off around us.

On Christmas Day we tried to escape the heat and the boredom by going to a public swimming pool, but the two we went to were both closed, being a public holiday. So we sat by the river drinking mate in the shade all day, enjoying the breeze. Come sunset the river looked quite nice, the sunset lending it a bluish shade in place of it's true light brown. That night it was another famous asado at Juan's house, although we had to settle for hamburger patties as all the supermarkets were closed so we couldn't buy any meat.

Christmas - 07 - River Fishing
Fishing rods line a jetty along the Rio de La Plata

The week leading up to New Year is again filled with the sound of firecrackers during the day. Some f*cker threw two at me when I was at the bus station, they exploded either side of me leaving me deaf for about 10 seconds, while I ranted and raved looking for the culprit. My ears were ringing for about an hour. And just now, some ass threw one into the ciber cafe I'm sitting in typing this, sending us all jumping in our seats.
December 30 and 31 see the streets of downtown filled with torn up bits of paper, as office workers celebrate the end of the year by tearing up all those confidential documents they no longer need and throwing them out the window. Schoolkids around the country do the same thing around December 1 with their exercise books. Who cares who has to clean it up?

New Year's Eve here seems to be the same as back home, and again me and my girlfriend toasted midnight on the roof of our building, watched the fireworks the neighbours set off, before meeting friends at a nightclub and dancing until the morning.

I've never actually posted my girlfriend's picture or written her name here as I've always been mindful of her privacy, but we've been together almost 10 months now so she's overdue a proper introduction. Ruth's her name, as you know she's Argentine, and and she's probably the only Argentine with such an English name.

Edit: pictures removed due to the same anonymous fuckwit repeatedly writing inappropriate comments in a mix of bad Spanish and English.

Update: I forgot to mention that here they also celebrate Reyes (Kings) on January 6, which is another gift-giving excuse. It's something to do with 3 Magic Kings who gave Jesus presents or something, it could be the 3 Wise Men, I'm not sure. But it's another excuse for kids to ask for presents. They also have Día del Niño (Kid's Day) in August, which is like Mother's or Father's Day in our world. Add birthdays, and kids here get gifts 4 times a year!