For those of you following our ‘Notes from the Field Blog Series,’ here’s another glimpse into the life of teaching abroad for those who want to teach English overseas. Our second Bridge TEFL graduate is Aimee Bushong. She took our Bridge IDELT™ – Blended teacher training course in January of 2009. The IDELT™-Blended course is a combination of the BridgeTEFL online and onsite courses. While she initially joined the program to teach English overseas, she is currently teaching at BridgeEnglish in Denver, Colorado.
Introduction: Tell me a little bit about your background, including what drew you to teach English overseas. Had you taught before taking the IDELT blended course?
I have always loved teaching of any kind. I was a ski instructor for many years, have taught music and other things as well; I had never taught English but it was always in the back of my mind. When the economy crashed in 2008 I decided that it was time to leave the country to teach English overseas and so that is why I took the IDELT at Bridge.
Tell me about your experiences during the IDELT program? Was it what you expected? What did you find the most beneficial part of the IDELT program to be for you? Where were you hoping to work as an English teacher and to teach English overseas?
I had no expectations of the course because I had no idea what was involved. The first two days were incredibly stressful and the third day I honestly thought I was going to quit because I had so much work to do planning lessons and studying. I don’t handle stress well and this was more work than I had anticipated. But I am glad that I stuck it out because I learned a lot and it was worth it. The teaching practice, different teaching styles and learning how to write a good lesson plan were the most beneficial aspects of the course for me. I was hoping to work in South America somewhere, maybe Argentina or Brazil to teach English overseas.
Where did you teach English overseas and for how long?
I got to teach English overseas in Chile for almost two years with about a month also teaching in Argentina.
What initially drew you to teach English overseas in Chile? Where did you live and teach English overseas in Chile?
The volunteer program called English Opens Doors, which is a program that Bridge sponsors, drew me to teach English overseas in Chile. I lived in the south, in region 10 in Patagonia in a city called Osorno. I taught for the volunteer program for 6 months but then I taught at universities and other institutes for the rest of my stay in Chile.
Had you done much traveling before this or was this one of your first experiences abroad?
Yes I had been to Europe twice, Mexico, Israel, Canada, and Jamaica.
How did you prepare for your trip and the job to teach English overseas? Did you speak any Spanish? If so, what level of fluency?
I studied a lot about Chile and the culture, read a lot online. I also began to volunteer teach here in Denver to get some experience before I left. I spoke Spanish pretty well but I also studied more before I left and watched a lot of TV in Spanish and listened to the Spanish radio here in Denver.
How did you find this job? Did you have a contract to teach English overseas? Can you describe your position? What was your favorite thing about the job?
The job was amazing and really fun. Of course there were days that were stressful and not fun, but that’s life. I was an English teacher at a small high school. I split the English classes with the Chilean English teacher so half of the students came to my class and half to his. My class was the fun class because the other teacher had to follow the curriculum of the Chilean Ministry of Education so the kids liked coming to my class. But, I still made lesson plans and taught them a lot. It wasn’t all fun and games. My colleagues were great and very nice and helpful. My favorite thing about the job was the relationships I formed with my students and the co-teacher. I still keep in touch with my students and my co-teacher. He is one of my best friends.
Do you feel that the training you received in the IDELT™-Blended course has helped you to teach English overseas?
Yes, I for sure feel that the IDELT helped me immensely. It prepared me to teach English overseas and I felt very prepared to teach when I arrived.
What was the community like? Did you feel like a part of the community or more of an outsider? Did you experience culture shock?
The community in Osorno was typical I guess. My circle of people was great and nice and fun and helpful. I often felt like an outsider when I wasn’t in school or with friends because of my blond hair and blue eyes (which is very rare in Chile) – people stared at me. Yes, I definitely had all five stages of culture shock, but I didn’t actually feel homesick until about 3 months before I left Chile. One memorable ‘culture shock’ story was when I decided to go mountain biking one day. There are no actual mountain bike trails where I lived so I decided to find my own. I found a jeep trail that headed up to some houses. It was a nice beautiful day and then suddenly two guard dogs charged me and started biting me on the legs and the butt and the hands. I was so scared! I pushed my bike towards them and they finally retreated. I quickly got on my bike and got out of there. I really felt home sick at that point.
Where did you live? With a host family?
During the volunteer program I lived in a pension which is basically a boarding house. It was nice because I had total freedom which sometimes you don’t have with a host family. I had my own room and 3 meals a day and could come and go as I pleased. It was near everything and I could walk anywhere from my house. After the program I lived in a house for a while and then when I moved to Puerto Varas, Chile, I rented my own cabin right by the lake which was awesome. In Argentina, I also stayed in a pension and in Ecuador I rented a furnished apartment.
What did you do with your free time? Any interesting side trips or sightseeing experiences?
I started dating a Chilean and he had a car so we went somewhere every weekend, to all the cool places in Patagonia. I also spent a lot of time with the other volunteers who lived on the island of Chiloé. I saw tons of mountains, lakes, rivers, volcanoes, all of the nature in Los Lagos. One time some of the volunteers and I went to Bariloche, Argentina which is the ski town across the border from Chile. It was great—we skied and drank good wine and ate good food and it was very beautiful also. I also was able to travel all around South America during breaks from work.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that you encountered?
I think the cold was definitely the biggest challenge. There is no central heating in Chile except for in hotels and newer office buildings. The schools do not have heat, none of them, so you have to bundle up and stay that way all day. Even the kids wear their parkas all day at school. Also, in Patagonia, during the winter, you don’t see the sun that much which was very difficult for me being from Colorado where it is sunny all the time. The weather affected me a lot. Another thing was just not having the conveniences that are in the USA like Starbucks or the healthy food that I like or…just being able to have whatever I want whenever I want it. We are spoiled here (in the US) for sure. But I REALLY missed Starbucks or just coffee “to-go” in general which they do not have in southern Chile. Coffee, in Chile, is something that you sit and enjoy with friends, not something that you take in a rush and drink on the go! The Chileans think that is very strange.
Why did you decide to leave South America and come back to the USA?
After about a year I started to get very homesick for the USA. I missed the conveniences of the US and the fact that everything is available all the time, which is not the case in South America. Even though I had a great time and saw tons of stuff, I longed for my own country. I hadn’t seen my family for almost two years and I missed my friends and everything about the US that is not present in developing countries.
Any tips for future IDELTers thinking/planning to teach English overseas?
Do your research about the country. Read as much as you can about the customs, language, school system, education system, etc. Be ready to face challenges every minute of everyday and be open to new cultures and people. Take advantage of the resources on the Internet – anything you need you can find on the internet will help you plan to teach English overseas.
What are your plans now/what are you doing now? Do you think about going back to Chile to teach English overseas?
Now I am teaching at Bridge in Denver and am planning on going to Spain next year to get my masters or teach English overseas some more, or both. I am ready to go abroad again. I will most likely not go back to Chile to teach English overseas. I want to see other countries in the world. The world is big; there’s a lot to see.