Interested in teaching English abroad in Argentina? Read on!
TeachingTraveling.com: Welcome, Rease Kirchner! Tell us a bit about your background.
Rease: I’m 23 years old and I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. I did not study education in college. Instead, I received two BAs, one in Audio Production and one in Spanish.
However, all through college I volunteered as a student tutor for an after school program with Catholic Charities.
It was a K-12 program that focused heavily on children from immigrant families. I worked closely with the Spanish speakers to work on their literacy skills, as most of them had learned some spoken English from school but didn’t have anyone at home to help them with their written homework.
After 4 years of absolutely loving that, I realized I hated my Internet Marketing job that I had worked for my last 2 1/2 years of college. I quit that job the day before I graduated, and the charity recommended me for a preschool teacher and translator job at a private school.
There, I was a co-teacher for the preschool for half the day and then worked as an interpreter/translator for the entire school. I also taught Spanish classes to 6th-8th graders and a few fun classes to 1-8th graders such as Fun with Cooking, Soccer and Basics of Audio Engineering.
I had my first real travel experience in 2006 when I was 18 years old. I had never even been on a plane (save for a trip I could hardly remember at the age of 5) and I flew all the way to Argentina where I spent 5 days touring Buenos Aires and then almost 2 months living with a family in Mendoza, where I attended the Universidad de Cuyo.
I really had a chance to both explore and just experience daily life there. I was devastated to leave and vowed to come back, which I did, in 2009 after I graduated from University.
I spent a brief stint back in St. Louis after that trip before I headed to Mexico for another 3 week adventure. Currently I am living in Buenos Aires, Argentina where I have several jobs, most of which involve teaching in some way.
TT: Sweet! How did you end up teaching in Argentina?
R: During my second semester of teaching at a private Catholic School in the U.S., I had a very messy, unexpected break up with my boyfriend of 4 years. Teaching my kids every day was truly a huge part of what got me through it because I knew they were far too important to neglect just because I was in pain.
I also always preached to these kids about overcoming obstacles and following their dreams, which made me realize I needed to keep following my own advice. I decided that I would finish the year with my kids and then move my life to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I said my sad goodbyes, packed up my life and left only a month and a half after school ended. My arrival was difficult and emotional, but less than a month in I started working as an Au Pair for a family of 3 children, ages 11,13 and 15. Working with kids as an English teacher made me feel back in my element. I may not have had a handle on the culture of the city but I knew how to motivate these kids and get them to work.
I also took on adults as private students, working with them on the nuances of my native language, drawing on my experiences as a traveler, student of a foreign language as well as a teacher who had worked with foreigners on a daily basis. Eventually I started working for an American family as a sort of do-all personal assistant, translator and child care advisor.
I work mostly with the 3 year old boy, seeing as I have the most experience with the preschool age group. I adore designing preschool-appropriate games and activities for him. I also look after the family’s 7 year old child.
After my long days I come home and work on my website, Indecisive Traveler, as well as several freelance gigs. I have combined traveling and teaching and it is truly wonderful.
TT: So cool! Please explain a recent travel experience that stands out.
R: My good friend Rachel and I had planned a multi-city trip that hit 5 cities in 3 weeks. We had studied abroad together in Mendoza, Argentina in 2006 and had vowed to return, so this was an extra special accomplishment for us.
We flew into Buenos Aires where we reminisced about our time there and also saw a few new sights. We were even able to meet up with a friend we made 3 years earlier, which was really amazing. You always make friends while traveling but you rarely get to meet up again.
After that we took a boat to Montevideo, Uruguay where we marveled at how the town could boast both beautiful ocean views and mountainous landscapes. We read by the sea and hiked up to the highest point of the city, two very different and very satisfying experiences. After Montevideo we took a seemingly endless bus ride to the Iguazú Falls.
I think this was really the highlight of our trip and it was something that could never be replicated or compared to anything else in the world. What made it even better was that it was Rachel’s birthday so we sprung for a hotel and laundry service which was much more glamorous than the dingy hostels and hand washing clothes in the sink we were used to.
The falls were absolutely breathtaking; no amount of explanation could possibly do a day in the Argentina National Park justice. There were several different trails, each one focused on different views of the falls and exposure to the wildlife.
I took photo after photo, sure that upon review I would delete the rejects but I never deleted a single one. We also paid extra to take a boat ride that took you right underneath a huge waterfall. We were completely drenched and had to trek quite a ways wearing heavy, water-soaked jeans but nothing could compare to the view and the feeling of really being a part of the falls.
After our dreamy weekend in Iguazú we snapped ourselves back into reality with a 22 hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires. We just had 1 day before we headed off to Mendoza so we made the most of it by grabbing a taxi out of the bus terminal to hit up an Indian restaurant that specialized in spices and vegetables, two things that are rare finds in Argentina.
After a tasty lunch we stretched out on the grass of a nearby park and took in the gentle fall sun. It was worlds better than the cramped and dim bus terminal.
We had a serious freak out back in the bus terminal over some incorrect bus tickets, but I whipped out my angry Spanish, which always seems to be faster and more effective than usual and in the end we made it on our bus and safely to Mendoza. Being back in the city that we called home for 2 months was truly surreal.
We visited my old host family, took the bus to our old university and had lunch and shopped at all the hand crafted markets. We were even able to find the same artisan jewelry maker we had bought necklaces from 3 years earlier. We told him our story and though he didn’t remember us, he was so touched we remembered him he gave us a discount.
Before we moved on we made the spontaneous decision to go paragliding in the Andes Mountains. It was incredibly strange and empowering to sprint off the side of a mountain and simply cease to feel the ground beneath your feet.
Our final stop was Santiago, Chile. Santiago is another city with beautiful mountains and lots of pretty views from high places. However, what made Santiago so special was the fully functioning outdoor church on top of a mountain.
Rachel and I hopped onto a specially designed train that looked like a giant set of stairs which allowed for a much more pleasant, steady ride up the steep mountain.
At the half way point we got off to look at the touristy shops full of postcards and handmade crafts then headed to the main attraction. I was amazed to see rows and rows of pews set up in a sort of reverse stadium seating, all facing the biggest statue of the Virgin Mary I had ever seen.
I walked to a statue of Jesus on the cross and said a prayer before stopping by the tiny indoor church that sat beside the outdoor altar and made a small donation. It was really interesting to think that some people came to this church every Sunday for a regular service. By the end of the trip Rachel and I were exhausted and ready to go home but it was truly an accomplishment and an experience neither of us could ever forget.
TT: Awesome! How did you find this travel opportunity?
R: I planned the South America trip almost entirely on my own; Rachel was really only involved with the review process and signing off on final decisions. I started with watching flight prices like a hawk, checking them multiple times a day and signing up for price drop alerts.
Once we had our tickets I was able to design our itinerary. Luckily, when I studied in Mendoza I had done a weekend trip to Cordoba so I was vaguely familiar with the names of several bus companies. I did a lot of research online and sent lots of emails written in Spanish, which always seems to result in better deals.
I was able to find a bus company that worked with the dates I had planned out and got our buses booked between all the cities. After that I began the hostel booking process. Rachel and I sat together, carefully analyzing the prices, amenities and quality of several hostels from each city until we felt we had chosen the best fit for our budget and happiness.
TT: Nice! How did you find the money to fund this travel?
R: We paid for this trip completely out of our savings. Like I said before, this was a dream of ours for a few years so we kept that in mind as we worked through college.
TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.
R: While in Cordoba, Argentina my friends Ellen, Rachel and I spontaneously decided to go skydiving. We were not friends before this trip so this felt like an especially strong bonding experience. Ellen was by far the least adventurous of all of us so we all agreed she had to go first or she would chicken out.
We all laughed and talked excitedly as Ellen suited up and Rachel and I waved enthusiastically as the tiny plane took her high into the clouds. We scanned the perfectly blue sky until we saw a tiny spec and screamed as we pointed to what we knew was our friend floating towards us.
When I got into the plane I was shaking with excitement and couldn’t stop smiling and waving at the camera a professional skydiver was holding. He jumped out ahead of me (and the professional skydiver who I was strapped to) and filmed my free-fall with a camera strapped to his helmet.
While my cheeks flapped in a very unflattering manner in the strong wind I held up my hands on which I had written “Time of my life” which is exactly how I felt as I soared through clouds above a foreign land.
TT: Amazing! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher and in your current career?
R: Part of what I loved about the teaching I did in the United States was working with foreign languages. I got to be on both ends of the spectrum, teaching kids and adults how to speak Spanish while also working with families who were new to the US and needed help with both the language and the customs.
The private school I worked for was also a Catholic church that had been unofficially declared the church of the Mexican immigrants of the St. Louis area. My experience as a traveler and a Spanish speaker had a great influence on me getting the job.
The summer before I began working for the school and church I spent 3 weeks in Mexico trying to shake my South American accent or at the very least get a better understanding of the culture and accent of the people I was going to be working with. I was so happy to be known as someone who could not only help the kids but also the families.
I loved making it possible for parents to be involved with their child’s education in a way they could not before simply because of the language barrier.
During my year with the school I ran a half marathon in St. Louis, MO but for various reasons I was unhappy with my finish, even though I had surpassed my goal time. One of the biggest problems was I had no one to truly celebrate it with.
I planned a trip to Denver, CO, the Mile High City near Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountains, to run another half marathon with less oxygen but more motivation because I dedicated my finish to my kids. I was worried I wouldn’t get as good of a finishing time due to the lower oxygen levels, but I ended up crossing the finish line 13 minutes earlier and I am convinced it was my kids that pushed me to keep moving.
Moments after the race I snapped a photo with my medal and the photo of the entire school that I had brought along with me. Back at the school I gave a speech about overcoming obstacles and challenges and thanking my kids for being the perfect motivation.
TT: So great. How have your travels impacted you as a person?
R: Traveling has made me a much more positive, free-spirited person. I have always been a pessimist and an overly stressed, worrisome workaholic. I cannot say I’m a full blown optimist or that I have stopped obsessively making plans and budgets, but I have certainly improved quite a bit.
Now that I live in Buenos Aires I have been described as someone full of positive energy, something I never thought I would hear. I also take the time to truly enjoy my youth instead of just worrying about retirement funds and resume building.
TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?
R: Even teachers, with our measly salaries can afford to travel. Remember to think small at first: you don’t have to tour Europe, you can start with a small road trip to a nearby city and work your way up to something bigger.
When I wanted to take my multi-city trip through South America I got a map and hung it on my fridge. Looking at it every day really motivated me to save money and keep dreaming and planning. As teachers, we need strong, open minds and traveling is the perfect way to make that happen.
TT: Thanks so much, Rease! Readers, if you want more of Rease, check out her website, www.IndecisiveTraveler.com.