The following is a guest post from the perfective of a travelling online teacher in Colombia:
My name is Matthew and I am an online English teacher for DaDa, as well as a professor at a university in Colombia.
I am from the United States and I have been living in Colombia for about three years. This is my fourth contract in Colombia as I had worked for their version of community college and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism before my current position.
Working in Colombia
My first position was located in the mountainous border between Ecuador and Colombia, after that I worked in a small town on the beach, and my current job is located in the coffee growing region.
In my current position I have been contracted to supervise the implementation of task based learning in rural high schools. The position keeps me on the road constantly because every week I am in a different school. The towns that I work in are very small and most only have two or three hotels with a Wi-Fi connection. One remote town has no internet at all.
Teaching English Online
I have been working online with DaDa, as well as two other companies outside of China, for a little over a year.
I am currently working twelve hours with DaDa while also maintaining a full-time position at the university. Even though I make more money at DaDa I cannot imagine working a full schedule online.
Not only does the university job provide a visa, but it also gets me out of the house and away from the computer screen and most importantly allows me to make a positive impact on my adopted country.
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My DaDa Teaching Schedule
My classes at DaDa are Friday morning and evening, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning. In order to attend my Friday morning class I have to make arrangements with the schools to start an hour later in the morning.
When I am at the remote town with no internet I have to leave Thursday night and take a bus to the capital of the department and rent a hotel with Wi-Fi.
Relying on Trial and Error
The hotels that I stay at during the week don’t have any websites or anyway to book online through AirBnB, Booking.com, or any other type of site of that nature. There is no expat presence in these towns either, so when it comes to figuring out the safest, most economic, and most convenient option for teaching, I am on my own and have to rely on trial and error.
When I arrive in the towns I have to exit the bus with my laptop, blue shirt, laminated background logos, and duffel bag and start walking around the town looking for a place to stay that satisfies the internet requirement for DaDa.
Finding Wi-Fi to Teach Online in Colombia
Sometimes it takes a few stops to find adequate Wi-Fi, but so far I have been lucky.
It is rare for these hotels to have foreign guests, much less online teachers that require speedy internet, so most places overestimate the speed of their connection.
Finding a wired ethernet connection is impossible. Also, the local data plans are inadequate for tethering, so there is a lot of finger crossing that the wireless signal is strong enough in the room, because sometimes the router is at the front desk and only reaches the rooms in the immediate vicinity.
DaDa is really great at being flexible with allowing me to move from place to place and as long as the connection is stable, the IT department gives me the green light to teach classes.
Challenges I Face Whilst Teaching in Colombia
The biggest issues can either be power outages or issues with a router that connects laptop but has the ‘no internet access’ error.
There is nothing more frustrating than having a great connection all evening and then having an error at five in the morning, just when classes are about to start.
Another issue is that these hotels are hardly the Ritz-Carlton and usually simply consist of a double bed and a wall mounted television with no chair and no desk.
I have become adept at teaching in bed while keeping the laptop at such an angle that the DaDa students and DaDa parents think I am at a desk.
The walls are often thin at these hotels as well, so I find myself competing with barking dogs, fighting tomcats, and noisy neighbors. With such early hours I have also had angry guests bang on my door and yell at me in Spanish to be quiet.
Despite the trials and tribulations I think that I am living the best of both worlds. DaDa’s pay is far above the local salary so I can maintain a comfortable standard of living as well as save a lot of money per month. I also work with some great students online.
My university contract gets me a work visa, guaranteed monthly salary, and most importantly, an opportunity to work with some great students and teachers in person.
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