Congrats on being offered a position at ILC¡ I was in a similar position to you when I decided to go travelling in South America, and working at ILC was definitely one of the best decisions I made – now I’m back home in the UK, and doing a ‘proper job’, I’m so glad that I took the time out to see a bit of the world before diving head first into the rest of my life (in truth, part of the reason I went travelling was because I didn’t know what the ‘rest of my life’ would look like…and honestly I still don’t!).
In total I spent two months, or two ‘terms’ at ILC, and I taught a range of ages and abilities, from infant school children to moody teenagers, and also did some private lessons with an English teacher at the local colegio.
How secluded is it? I mean did you travel on the weekends or have any trouble with being so far away from the rest of civilization!?
For me part of the charm of Chacha was its remoteness, it’s a small town with everything you need, but it’s not flooded with tourists as it is in the South.
I spent at least half of my weekends travelling, as there are some amazing sites just a short trip away, from the fortress of Kuélap to the Cavernas de Quiocta, as well as a 3 day trek if you’re feeling adventurous. These tours can be arranged fairly easily with the local tour guides, though if you don’t speak much Spanish yourself you might want to make sure you can go with someone who can translate so that you can get the most out of the experience. The only caveat to this are los derrumbes, or landslides, which happened a couple of times while I was there, and can block the access roads for a few days while they dig it out, sometimes longer.
Also, if you’re thinking of a quick trip to Macchu Picchu one weekend, you may like to reconsider — travel times are long because of the mountains, and it takes 24 hours to get to Lima alone. If you want to see more of Peru, I would certainly recommend travelling before or after your time in Chacha – I travelled for 6 weeks from Brazil to Peru with 3 friends from uni.
What was your favorite part of working at ILC?
Without a doubt the chocolate cake in the San José bakery.
Haha, in all seriousness I think that my favourite part was to be able to actually live in a place and get to know it, without just passing through as a tourist. The people were lovely and friendly, but hardly any speak English, so it was a fantastic opportunity to use and improve my Spanish skills, from negotiating the price of chicken at the market (and exactly which bit of the chicken I wanted…) to speaking to tour guides and the children outside of class time.
The set-up at ILC was simple, but with all the materials you could need, and the working hours were not too onerous, with only 4 hours a day (though obviously some prep time was also required).
I think it also allowed me to grow up a bit, from cooking serious meals for the first time (previously my skills had extended as far as shop bought pizza and micro-wave meals!) to being responsible for the care and education of a whole group of students.
If you taught English, how much direction did you receive prior to teaching your classes?
I did indeed teach English, as it’s the only language I have apart from Spanish! There was no formal training for teaching the classes, but the materials available are very good – each student has a text book and exercise book, and you also have access to the teacher’s book and CDs.
Vanessa is also on hand to answer any questions you have, and give some fantastic advice. I think that when teaching the younger ones more prep time is required to ensure that you have enough activities to really drum the lesson in (repetition is key!) and also make it fun/interesting for them. For older, more advanced classes, the need for activities is slightly less (though can be useful!) however the challenge there is actually understanding the concepts you’re teaching yourself; a lot of the grammar in English we know instinctively, but trying to describe why you use a certain tense in a certain situation to someone can be really difficult!
What are the downsides or things you didn’t like about living in Chachapoyas and working at ILC?
That’s a difficult question, and I think most people that have been to ILC would answer differently. I went and had an awesome time, but I know others that didn’t enjoy it so much for various reasons. I guess for me the important thing is to go without too many expectations, and make the most of the time you have there — it’s not as comfortable as western living. It’s also important to understand that it is a different culture, so people will sometimes react or hold opinions that you wouldn’t expect. It’s a small town, and though there are some pretty cool places to go drink and dance, etc (I was a big fan of the fruit liquores – especially maracuya) the main pastime is gossip, and as an outsider you will be more watched than most, so you have to be careful you don’t do anything that could generate malicious gossip, as this could make it less pleasant for you, and not great for the school’s reputation.
I was lucky that the group of teachers I was with I also got on with incredibly well, and we had a fab time, as I’m sure you will too. I think if you want to it’s also easy to make friends with students and other people around the town, though of course be mindful of not creating too much gossip if you spend lots of time with guys!
Overall I can thoroughly recommend ILC, I had a great time, and I think that part of the reason for this was because I fully embraced the opportunities open to me while I was there: I saw some amazing sites, appeared on local TV and radio, and made an utter fool of myself in the Friday karaoke sessions in class in order to encourage the kids to join in (Vanessa has video evidence should you require this…).
I think if you go in with an open mind, and appreciate that some parts of it will be challenging, hard work and sometimes a little dull, you will definitely have the most amazing time. Just reminiscing about it now makes me envious!
Deciding to teach for a month at ILC was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
The teachers and students were great which made the experience loads of fun and extremely rewarding!
Vanessa and Fidel have complied a great range of materials and are always around to answer any questions regarding lesson planning!
Chachapoyas really is pretty unique and my experiences there were quite different to the rest of my travels in Peru! Firstly, it was great to get a taste of Peruvian life away from the more obvious tourist destinations in the South! Also as Chachapoyas is on the brink of a tourist boom because of it’s stunning scenery and surrounding archeological sites, it is worth visiting it now before it becomes too spoilt.
You can also experience the best chocolate cake in Peru at San Jose (it’s what dreams are made of!), Pizzeria lock-ins complete with Salsa lessons, top quality Cumbía music in Cho Cho’s and be back in time to make up a dance routine for the Friday Karaoke lessons!
My time in Peru seems like lifetimes ago. I dream about Chachapoyas all the time. I seem to always want to return to my three months in the Andes everytime I close my eyes. I have albums full of pictures from my adventures in Peru, but sometimes it feels like I was never even there. My spanish is awful now! I understand why Vanessa never wanted to leave…
I loved waking up to the sound of a rooster each morning from my flat in Chacha- and waking up to the mountains surrounding me, usually covered in mist. My son has this machine that makes all sorts of white noise sounds to help him sleep and the one sound is of rainfall. Everytime I hear it, I am back in my single bed in my flat in Chachapoyas, listening to the raindrops pelting my metal roof. What a wonderful part of my life that was!
I taught at ILC in February 2008–and I wish I’d stayed longer.
Fidel is very helpful with the logistics of arriving in Chachapoyas, and once you’re there, you’ll soon learn that he can assist you in almost every way possible. He and Vanessa run their school professionally, offer quality materials and facilities, and they pay their teachers on time.
An expat ESL teacher is lucky to encounter 1 of these 3 things, so this is no small feat.
Also it’s lots of fun scaring Fidel with your foreign culinary customs.