02 July 2013

Teaching English in Colombia

Posted in Blog

Many of you probably already know that I work in Colombia as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) professor at la Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla.

For those of you who didn’t, now you do! I always get asked many questions regarding my job here– about job responsibilities, work environment, and how I came to find and accept this job. So, in this post I am going to talk a little bit about my job, how I got here and what I do.



La Universidad del Norte campus

Let’s start with how I got here. If you’ve checked out my personal blog, you may know that I lived in Leeds, England for a year earning my M.A. in TESOL Studies. As I was finishing my M.A., I began job hunting, as all good M.A. students do. I looked at job posts in Europe, Asia, the United States, and South America. The posts in Asia were tempting, especially those for South Korea—a booming market for English teachers right now, but I wasn’t too sure about moving so far from home or living in a country where I didn’t know the official language. A lot of the EFL/ESL positions in the United States required previous teaching experience at a university or out of the country teaching experience, neither of which I had at the time. So, I narrowed my search to Colombia, a country I had lived in before, where I knew the official language, and where I would have both family (my partner) and friends to support me.



List of teachers at the Instituto de Idiomas

I never dreamed there would be so many EFL job posts in Colombia. The major cities (Bogota, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cali) tend to have a fair number of language institutes, both connected to universities as well as independent language institutes such as the Colombo Americano and Berlitz. After lots of Googling and many hours searching through university websites, I came across the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at the Universidad del Norte (where I currently work). As soon as I saw the job description, I was convinced this is where I wanted to work. The location was perfect, it would be a university atmosphere, and the job benefits were just right. And, after many months of paperwork, visa applications, and Skype interviews I was officially hired as an EFL professor in the undergraduate English program at the Instituto de Idiomas at la Universidad del Norte.

Having worked here for almost 2 years now, I can say it has been a wonderful experience, full of cultural and linguistic surprises! I have a normal work schedule of 8 hours a day (exact hours depend on my class schedule). Normally, I have taught between 16 and 20 hours a week of classes as well as administering oral placement exams once a week, giving cultural presentations twice a semester and coordinating extra practice courses for an hour every week. Outside of that, I have also organized professional development courses for Colombian and native-speaker English teachers, I’ve organized and attended an international symposium, I’ve worked on a major curriculum development project, and I’ve presented at an education conference through the Colombian Ministerio de Educacion (Ministry of Education). I say all of that to demonstrate just how varied my job “responsibilities” have been since I accepted the position at la Universidad del Norte as well as show the incredible amount of unique opportunities I’ve had to expand and improve my professional development. I can’t say I had an exact idea of what my work life would be here, but the reality of my job has far exceeded anything I could have imagined before arriving—in a good way, I’d say.



At the symposium I co-organized in 2012

All of that being said, if you’re looking to teach English in South America, Colombia is an excellent place to choose. There is a growing emphasis on learning English in Colombia which is making the EFL/ESL market expand in Colombia. The Colombian government has been working on a national English language project called Bilingual Colombia, more and more schools are incorporating English into their curriculums, and most universities now require a certain level of English for students to graduate. So, there many people, institutes, companies, schools, and organizations looking to hire English teachers.

Some FYI: If you are looking to teach at a university in Colombia, you’ll more than likely need a M.A. in something English related. If you want to teach at a language institute, a B.A. in something English related or a B.A. (in anything) with a TESOL certificate might do. If you are looking to teach in a bilingual school (pre-school to high school) you may need to be a certified teacher in your home country. Regardless of where you work, you’ll need a work visa. My advice, if you’re considering Colombia, is to do your research. Research what city(ies) you might want to live in, look up salaries for different institutes, email universities and institutes for information about jobs, familiarize yourself with the requirements and process for applying for a work visa, and read up on Colombian work ethic and culture (it’s a good bit different for standard North American or United Kingdom work culture).



Some classrooms around the Instituto de Idiomas

I hope this information has been interesting and useful. I’ve tried to give you all an overview of how I came to work where I do and give you an idea of what some of my job responsibilities have been. However, I know it might not be everything you want to know if you’re considering teaching English in Colombia. So, feel free to comment on this post with further questions, if you have them.

Thanks for checking in!

Paige M. Poole

About the author:

“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, inBarranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie.  You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blogwww.trotamunda.wordpress.com