Ben got TEFL certified in Nicaragua, with plans to teach at a language school there. However, he ended up doing things a bit differently, teaching mostly online and doing volunteer work in the community on the side. He tells us how his unique experience as an English teacher in Nicaragua gave him more free time and spending money, allowing him to maximize his year living in Central America.
Ben, can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
My name is Ben and I am 30 years old. I’m from Lynchburg, Virginia. I went to Radford University, where I studied marketing. In my free time, I enjoy staying active, spending time outside and traveling. I had never traveled outside of the US until I was 25, but after my first international trip to the Dominican Republic, I knew that I wanted to travel more in order to experience different countries and cultures!
Ben and friends in Nicaragua, before hiking El Hoyo Volcano
How did you get into teaching English abroad and how did you choose Nicaragua?
I knew that I wanted to travel abroad for an extended period of time but I wasn’t sure how I would be able to fund my travels. After a lot of research, I realized that teaching English as a foreign language would be my best option to earn money while doing something that is fun and rewarding.
I chose Nicaragua because I wanted to improve my Spanish and learn more about Latin American culture. Nicaragua is a beautiful country with beaches, volcanoes, mountains, and more, but since it is a newly discovered tourism location, prices are inexpensive and the experience is very authentic.
Where did you live while you were there?
I was in the city of Leon and I lived in a homestay with a local Nicaraguan family. I had my own room and bathroom and the family would cook meals for me every day. I chose a homestay because I wanted to immerse myself in the language and culture and it was definitely a great experience for me!
Ben, with friends and host family
You mostly taught English online while in Nicaragua. Can you tell us about that decision?
After I finished my 4-week TEFL course in Leon, I had started job searching locally and found that jobs at language centers typically paid only around $4-5 an hour. I knew that if I wanted to support myself on that salary, I’d have to work a lot of hours! I preferred to have more time to experience the country and learn the language, so I applied for online teaching jobs that would allow me to make more money working only about 12-15 hours per week.
How did you find your online teaching job?
I found my job through an online job board, called ESL Authority. (I recommend checking out the BridgeTEFL Job Board, too!) Through this site, I applied for jobs at multiple online tutoring companies and set up several interviews within the first two weeks of sending out applications! I ended up accepting a job at an online tutoring company called E-Space Vietnam. I chose this job from several I was offered, even though the pay was higher at other companies. I knew that with the limits of my homestay’s internet speed, it would be better for me to go with a company that only used Skype to teach classes (not a special video platform I’d need to stream).
Ben, teaching English online from his homestay in Leon, Nicaragua
Did you teach in a classroom setting at all?
While my main form of income was from online teaching, I was also substituting at a local language school here and there, as well as working with a local volunteer organization I found, called Solo Amor. Through this organization, I worked with local kids in a neighborhood about 10 minutes outside the city. In these classes, resources were limited, so the kids sat on makeshift chairs, made of wooden boards and buckets and I taught them some basic English using a tiny whiteboard. After class, we’d play baseball, which is really popular in Nicaragua, and you could see the kids just light up. They loved it so much!
Were you able to support yourself on your teaching salary pretty easily?
Yes. Before moving to Nicaragua, I saved some money so I could split my time between working and other fun activities such as traveling, learning Spanish, and going to the beach. With that being said, with my teaching income, I was able to basically break even each month by only working 12-15 hours per week! Cost of living was less than $500 per month, and if I went over that total due to mini-vacations, flights, etc., I would just add a few more teaching hours for the next week or pull some money from my savings.
What were some of the highlights of your teach abroad experience there?
One of the highlights of teaching English was working with the same students every week and getting to learn about their lives and see their improvement over time. Also, working with the volunteer organization was an experience that I will never forget because I was able to teach English and play sports with children from an underprivileged neighborhood. They were always excited to learn and play baseball and it was a very rewarding and humbling experience to be able to help a group of students that didn’t have the same opportunities that many others have.
What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to become an English teacher in Nicaragua?
Teaching English in Nicaragua was such a great experience for me! If you want to have a genuine experience, in a warm, inviting culture, where the people are excited to learn English and meet teachers from different countries, Nicaragua is a great option!
If you’re looking to earn a lot of money, teaching at a language school in Nicaragua would not be at the top of the list….but, of course, you can always teach English online, like I did! Earning a Specialized Certificate in Teaching English Online is a good way to prepare for online teaching jobs and also set yourself apart from other applicants. If you’re new to teaching, you can even add the new Bridge Practicum in Teaching English Online to get the feel for a real online teaching platform and to create demo teaching videos you can share with employers!
If you decide to work for a language school, many open positions are found through word-of-mouth or by introducing yourself to the local schools. As far as TEFL certification for classroom-based jobs, I would also recommend getting the 100-hour BridgeTEFL Professional course or higher, since that’s what many jobs require.