260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in Ecuador

10 things I miss about England

Before you read this post, why not read 7 things I love about Guayaquil or my love letter to Guayaquil, Ecuador?

••••••••••

Of course I knew I would miss certain things about the UK when I left. I was totally mentally prepared for eight long months sin steaming cups of Twinings Lady Grey, really good medium-rare melt-in-the-mouth fillet steak, and oversize jars of Skippy’s extra crunchy peanut butter.

But there were so many things I didn’t even realise I was missing until I flew back for a quick visit last week – things that you force yourself to adapt to, without even thinking about it.

So here, in no particular order, are the things that I really, really miss about England’s green and pleasant lands:

10. Real news

… And by this I mean actual factual current events, reported in a way that is calm, unbiased and allows the viewer to make their own judgements. Having grown up in England, this was something I always took totally for granted, and it drives me crazy to have to get my daily news from male presenters screaming hysterically at the television and only reporting half the facts, interspersed with the female presenters dancing salsa in high heels and bodycon dresses. There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s not the 7am news cycle. However, I can’t say Ecuador is the only country guilty of favouring sensationalised stories over the type of reporting we’re used to in the UK – thank goodness for the BBC World service!

9. Personal safety

It has been such a huge relief to be able to use my iPhone here in the UK – whether that’s out in public, at night or in the city centre – without the constant worry of getting mugged. Although it may sound like I’m being overly cautious, I’m still not quite over the memory of a knife against my stomach while being robbed two months ago, and my flatmate has had two high-end phones stolen in Guayaquil in the space of just a few months. Lock your doors and windows, kids!

8. Public transport

I know it’s nothing compared to Switzerland and Japan, but I’d forgotten how reliable, safe and comfortable the London Underground and National Rail trains are here. Let alone that fact that we actually have trains. There’s a schedule, there’s a set route network, and there’s even an app to plan your journey! What more could you ask for? (Well, there is one thing: slightly cheaper fares? But that’s a post for another time.)

7. Shopping

Hole in your sock? You can solve that with £1 and 5 minutes in Primark. Need an external hard drive to back up your laptop? One click on Amazon, delivered to your door tomorrow. Not to mention how good England is at high street clothes! MY BANK ACCOUNT IS SO HEALTHY WITHOUT YOU BUT I LOVE YOU LONGTIME ENGLISH SHOPPING

6. To cook or not to cook

As much as I adore cooking, sometimes there just isn’t time in the day, and I find myself opening the freezer longing for a ready meal, or a jar of curry paste, or a tin of coconut milk and some fresh spices, or even just a bottle of name-brand Malibu to wash the cravings away. I know it’s a lazy habit, but a lifetime of conditioning has made me this way. And to all those single women who cook fresh every day and still find time to work, go out and maintain some semblance of being a fully functioning adult, I salute you! Teach me your ways!

5. Life in plastic

Using contactless cards to pay for things is the future; RIP cash-based societies – but I can put up with this for the time being since I know how differently things work in third-world economies. On a related note, I also really like being able to hand over a twenty-pound note to pay for something and not getting laughed out of the shop. Compare this with the eternal struggle of trying to find change in Ecuador, and the glare you get from the taxi driver when the fare is $2 and you hand over a fiver – now, that’s just crossing a line, clearly!

4. A woman’s worth

In the UK, women are not expected to wear skintight clothing all the literal time, and that is the best. thing. ever. I am sick and tired of people telling me my clothes don’t fit because they include a little breathing room. I’m sorrynotsorry that I don’t live in spray-on shorts and skintight strap tops, but that’s just not my style. Some of my skirts are flared, not pencil-cut. Some of my dresses are like a big tablecloth with a hole cut in for your head to poke through. No, you can’t see the shape of my body, and that doesn’t make me any less of a woman. Okay? Okay.

3. International travel

I know how ironic this is seeing as I’m living abroad, but I really miss travel! Or to put it differently, how easy and cheap it is to go abroad when you live in England. Thanks to Ryanair, £50 and a couple of days off work will get you a balmy weekend in Spain or a sightseeing city break in Italy. You wanna know how much it costs to fly from Guayaquil to Lima, the closest foreign capital? Four hundred dollars (£250). No joke. And that’s not even counting expenses while you’re actually there!

2. Healthcare

The NHS is the pinnacle of British civilisation. I’m serious. We have an incredible healthcare service and I never fully appreciated it until I had to undergo private healthcare in Ecuador. Not only did the doctor ask me all sorts of uncomfortable personal questions and try to sell me a spare room in her house during the appointment, she also recommended that I do a very expensive series of scans which the NHS later advised me were totally irrelevant to my situation. Profits and healthcare shouldn’t mix!

1. Friends and family

Being with people who really knew you when you were younger is such a privilege. Flying back home for a friend’s wedding meant I had a golden opportunity to catch up with all the people that mean the most to me here. It’s been fantastic to see everyone and the goodbyes have been somewhat emotional (there’s never enough time!) but I know we’ll make it through – we always do.

 

So, what do you miss when you go away from home? Do you agree with my list, or have I missed out something vital? Let me know in the comments below!

And in the interests of fair and balanced reporting (see point #1), next week I’ll be publishing a list of all the things I don’t miss about England – stay tuned!

 

260º West | Teaching English & Getting Educated in Ecuador

A love letter to Guayaquil, Ecuador

I’m counting September 9th as my one-year Guayaquil anniversary, even though I’ve only actually spent six of the last twelve months here. Thing is, I’m already head-over-heels for this city, despite the fact that it has a face only a mother someone clinically insane could love.

But first, a little background.

The school I currently work for has recently undergone a big rebranding and has joined what is probably the most recognisable private ELT chain in the world. Because of this, they’re hiring new teachers like there’s no tomorrow; I’m just one of a whole pack of newbies being brought in to meet the presumably massive increase in demand.

One of those fellow newbie teachers, who I met at 6.30am on Tuesday morning, had unceremoniously informed me by 6.45am that same morning that he wasn’t planning to stick around. He wasn’t just going to leave the school, he was going to leave Guayaquil. And he wasn’t just going to leave Guayaquil, he was going to leave teaching.

This guy had committed years to working in similar environments in other countries, but Guayaquil was the place that ended it for him. It was the straw that finally broke that highly experienced camel’s back; the drop that spilled a cup already overflowing with culture shock; the long, rusty, crooked nail in the coffin of ELT.

You’ll forgive me if I find this absolutely hilarious. The whole thing. I really, truly do. And the reason it’s so funny isn’t that I think he’s crazy for not liking Guayaquil after his first week here; actually, I kind of see where he’s coming from.

You see, after just six months of living here, I’ve heard the complete list of one million and one reasons to hate this town. I’ve listened to people complain about everything from the noise and the traffic and the pollution to the unequal provision of public services to the corruption that may or may not be seeping through all levels of government to the oddly designed state education system.

If I thought about it for long enough, I’d probably agree with at least some of these opinions – but you see, love is blind, and Guayaquil and I are still in the honeymoon phase. And so even the things that I don’t like about this city, I love.

Take yesterday, for example: a frankly exhausting day spent teaching, volunteering, and running all over the city on public buses that – let’s be honest – operate so dangerously they’d be wildly illegal anywhere in the global north. As a treat, I bought myself $3 of roast chicken just before I got on the #114 bus back home.

There was no glass in the windows of the bus, the chicken juice had begun to seep out of the bag I was carrying it in, and the man next to me was balancing a live tortoise in the crook of his arm. Still, none of this mattered because I managed to get a seat during rush hour – and so at least the chicken juice was dripping gently down my thigh instead of swinging against my side and staining my Starfish Foundation t-shirt.

And as the bus driver raced down the motorway with absolutely no regard for the lives of anyone either on or around the vehicle, I thought to myself what a lovely thing it was to be on the road with the wind in your hair and your face and your heart while the sun is setting smoky violet over another beautifully imperfect day in Guayaquil.

(By the way, the chicken was delicious.)

Through The Lens: Guayaquil, Ecuador

A quick look at Guayaquil’s downtown area and Guasmo Sur neighbourhood.

Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

48 hours later: lessons learned from moving abroad

I’ve done a lot in the last 48 hours, including moving 6,000 miles from England to Ecuador, setting a microwave on fire, and attending an 87-year-old woman’s birthday party.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned somewhere between leaving my house in England and writing this post in Ecuador:

#1. Travelling gets harder as you get older

Until last week, solo travelling was an absolute piece of cake, which mostly involved a much more youthful version of me waltzing off into several beautiful (but ultimately commitment-free) sunsets. This week, solo travel means moving across continents with two pieces of checked baggage to last you for two years, and leaving your significant other behind in a move you may live to regret for the rest of your life.

I suppose the older you get, the more roots you put down, and the harder it is to let go.

I also got really upset saying goodbye to my parents before leaving, which can only mean I’m emotionally unstable growing up. My response? Well, I’m not sure I should be giving away advice this good for free but … I watched a lot of sad films on the plane and just cried a bit. You heard it here first, folks!

#2. American Airlines wants you to suffer

I flew London to Miami to Guayaquil, and American Airlines told me I’d have to ‘pick up my bag at customs in Miami and re-check it to Guayaquil’.

What does this actually mean? It means that when your plane lands an hour behind schedule, you have to sprint through a multi-terminal airport devoid of any useful signage, frantically race to your baggage carousel and pay $5 for the privilege of using a trolley to ferry your suitcases about 200m down the hall to another, slightly smaller baggage carousel.

Are American Airlines incompetent, or are they just trolling me? Answers on the back of a postcard …

#3. Some things never change …

… like Guayaquil Airport, for example. It has not changed one iota, and that is a beautiful thing because it means I know exactly where to go, what to do, and how to get through immigration in the shortest possible time.

I also met a sales rep from a chocolate company who was travelling to Guayaquil for a cacao conference. (How do I get that job?!) He asked for some Ecua-tips, so I told him it was the end of humpback season in Puerto López. He didn’t seem to know there were whales in Ecuador – why does nobody seem to know that there are whales in Ecuador?

#4. Surprise! You suck at Spanish again

One month away has played havoc with my listening, accent and vocab. (On the bright side, I did get told that my accent is pretty guayaco last night, but I think my apartment manager was just being sweet.)

In July, after two months of solid immersion, I got pretty used to not having to try when speaking Spanish. That privilege has definitely left the building.

#5. A single Reese’s peanut butter cup is not enough breakfast to sustain you after 24 hours of transatlantic travel

Breaking news! Warn your loved ones!

#6. Access to drinking water is the greatest privilege known to man

Wasn’t sure if the tap water was safe to drink in the apartment and I still don’t own a saucepan, so I filled a mug with water and put it in the microwave for seven minutes. Thing is, it already had the teabag in, and when flammable materials like string and paper get very, very hot …

You can probably take it from there.

#7. Flatmates are horror stories waiting to be written

After 24 hours in the apartment, I’d met a grand total of zero flatmates, and started to wonder if anyone else actually lived here. This evening, I decided to bite the bullet and knock on a few doors to introduce myself.

Door #1 opened to reveal a fully naked guy who seemed to only remember he was fully naked when it was too late, and made a half-hearted attempt to hide behind the door while letting his head peek out at an awkward right-angle.

“Hi, I’m Sanchia, I just moved in here and I wanted to introduce myself!”
“Uh, hi.”
“Nice to meet you. I’ve got the room next door.”
“Okay. Is there a problem?”
“No, I just wanted to introduce-”
*door slams in my face*

Okay then.

#8. Community is everything

So I took all those positive, peppy life lessons and went to see my Ecuadorian host family, the people that looked after me while I was volunteering in Flor de Bastión from May to July this year. And as usual, they made me feel like I was just a long-lost older sister who had finally returned to the family. Mirka told me about her first week at university, I took Dalila to school, and then Zoila took me and Jonas to her mother-in-law’s 87th birthday party, where we had caldo de gallina (chicken soup but made with hen meat, which has a slightly tougher texture), pasta salad with rice, and cake and jelly.

And suddenly, everything was perfect.

Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

8 hilarious myths about teaching English abroad

During my first year as a qualified English teacher, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of the most intelligent, inspiring and dedicated people I know.

I’ve also met some people who should never, ever have chosen to work in the education sector.

The following quotes are all things that have actually been said to me by would-be education ‘professionals’, and serve as an excellent reminder that teaching isn’t for everyone …

1. “I want to backpack around Asia, so I thought I’d teach English in Bangkok and go from there.”

Maybe you want to travel, maybe you’re running away from something at home, maybe you’re using teaching as a way to fill the gap until you work out what you “really” want to do; whatever it is, if you don’t genuinely want to teach, then your reason isn’t good enough.

Why? Because teaching is not at all about you as a teacher; it is absolutely and totally about the learner. You need to focus on their goals, their learning styles and their backgrounds, and you can’t do that if you don’t actually want to be in the classroom.

It’s not just that you won’t be interested in your job; you’re likely to have a deeply negative effect on your students’ progress, their love of the subject, and even their opinion of the academic system as a whole. Not to mention the fact that you’ll pay for your attitude in bad behaviour – if students sense that their teacher doesn’t care about them, they will respond (in)appropriately.

2. “All the other teachers speak English anyway, so there’s really no reason to learn [insert name of local language here].”

When you emigrate, you become an ambassador for your country whether you like it or not, and English speakers are notorious for being complacently monolingual. When you teach a language, you also become an ambassador of language learning, so now there’s really no excuse.

Be open-minded. You don’t have to come back with an encyclopaedic knowledge of ancient Japanese literature, but if you’ve been there for three years and you still can’t be bothered to learn how to introduce yourself in the local language, you’re doing it wrong.

3. “I’ve got a few months free and I want to give back to the community.”

Work at a charity shop, help out at a soup kitchen, raise money for your favourite wildlife foundation … If you’re really interested in volunteering then the possibilities are endless, and you don’t even have to go abroad or work in education!

Remember that students are committed to the whole school year and you should be too. I didn’t realise the full truth of this for myself until I taught for half a year in Ecuador – and I finally understood that it wasn’t even close to enough. Maybe six months is enough for you to achieve a sense of completion, but your students certainly won’t.

Learning is a long-term process and the TEFL industry already suffers from a revolving door of short-term teachers willing to accept lower pay, rubbish hours and generally worse working conditions. Don’t add to it.

4. “There are so many schools dying to hire native English speakers that you don’t even need to do a TEFL course.”

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Would you go scuba diving without a PADI certificate? Would you drive a car without a licence? Of course not – so why on earth would you ever consider trying to teach without the bare minimum of training?

You don’t have to have a PGCE or even a CELTA, but please remember that teaching does affect people, and whether that effect is positive or negative is up to you. A good training course will give you the tools you need to plan and deliver great lessons, while being the best version of yourself you can be in the classroom. Give yourself the best chance you can, and get educated!

5. “Teaching must be great – nobody ever criticises you!”

You’ve clearly never met your students’ parents, or yourself.

Parents’ Day is every teacher’s worst nightmare. Why? Because it takes five minutes to explain to the reasonable parents why their kid is or isn’t progressing as well as they should be. Five minutes. And you get to spend the rest of the evening trying to tell the less reasonable ones why their kid might not be the shining example of citizenship they clearly thought he or she was.

And I don’t think I need to explain that when you love your job, and it’s endlessly challenging and yet infinitely rewarding at the same time, all those other comments sound like sycophantic praise compared to the mental dressing-down you give yourself when you mess up.

6. “I’m just looking to make some money.”

HAHAHAHAHA

7. “Teachers get such long summer holidays. What’s not to love?”

Let’s put aside the fact that teaching is one of the most underpaid, underrated and understaffed professions in existence today.

Newsflash: TEFL doesn’t work like primary or secondary teaching. Maybe you applied for a post in Italy and they told you that you get a month of ‘summer holiday’ – sorry, but that’s just the Italian word for ‘unpaid leave’. Everywhere else, it works just like any other job.

8. “It’s not my responsibility to advocate for my students.”

And out of the entire list, this is the one that gets to me the most; I genuinely couldn’t believe it when I heard a colleague say this during a lunchtime debate in the staff room.

Any authority role comes with a certain amount of responsibility, and this is especially true when you’re working with vulnerable members of society such as children. One of those responsibilities is always looking out for the best interests of the learner, however difficult or uncomfortable or time-consuming that may be for you as a teacher.

This is non-negotiable and a vital part of the role. Your students will face all kinds of obstacles thrown at them by virtue of their socioeconomic backgrounds, the pressures of standardised testing, sudden changes in national education policy, their families and friends … and if you, as their educator, are in any position to help them then you have a duty to do exactly that!

.

.

Have you heard any funny assumptions or misguided comments about teaching lately? Share them in the comments below and make us all smile!