GoAbroad Interview

Will Zupan - Pre-Arrival Coordinator

Will Zupan - Pre-Arrival Coordinator

Originally from Rochester, NY, Will earned his degree in history from Santa Clara University. During his undergraduate degree, his college advisor, who had spent time living in Argentina, encouraged him to go abroad. After graduation Will followed his advisor’s suggestion, and traveled to Buenos Aires to teach English for a year. Since leaving home, Will has taught, taken a job with TEFL Argentina, become captivated by the city and country, passed his one year anniversary of being abroad, and has no intention of leaving anytime soon!

What inspired you to begin a career in teaching English?

For me, it was a combination of having studied Latin American history in college and having an interest in teaching as a career. I came to Argentina because I wanted to spend at least a year visiting some of the places I spent so much time learning, reading, and writing about. I chose to be an English teacher not only because it’s one of the best vehicles for living abroad for an extended period of time and supporting yourself, but also because I knew it would be meaningful work and would give me experience in a field I’m thinking about entering as a career.

Man in front of a colorful wall in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Nothing like the colors outside our classrooms

As a past course participant yourself, what do you think the most beneficial component of TEFL Argentina’s courses is?

The teaching practice sessions, coupled with the small class sizes, which mean you’re receiving personalized feedback from your instructor and peers about your teaching, are by far the most helpful part of the course. You can learn many new teaching techniques and about the nuances of grammar from the seminar style employed by the course; however, true growth when it comes to teaching, is derived from experience and practice. You have to see and learn, firsthand, which techniques and tactics are most effective in certain situations. You have to incorporate the feedback from the observations of others about your teaching.

The difference between my first teaching practice session and sixth was night and day, not only in terms of how much more dynamic my lessons became, but also in terms of the confidence I felt to get up in front of a room and deliver effective classes that students could grow from.

What skills that you learned during your TEFL course were most useful in your teaching placements or jobs afterward?

The most useful skills gained from the course were lesson planning and “concept check questions.” When teaching, it’s always important to teach the class, not the lesson plan. That being said, the course shows you that preparation is one of the keys to delivering successful classes. You need to create structure by allocating time for different activities and following your guidelines. You need to be able to anticipate concepts and words that could present difficulty during the actual class and create potential ways to cope or improvise. Careful and thorough preparation makes classes smoother.

Concept check questions are “yes” or “no” questions designed to see whether or not your students are grasping material. For example, you are doing a simple lesson on vocabulary for emotions. If you show a smiley face, ask if the person is upset, and your students answer “yes,” you know you have work to do! Concept questions allow you to see how presented material is being digested and if you need to teach further. More importantly, it does so without making your learners feel isolated.

Foreigners in a cafe in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Friday afternoon mate y medialunas with students and alumni

How did you end up moving from a past participant to an employee of TEFL Argentina?

After taking the course last October, I taught English independently for nine months. However, I kept in touch with TEFL Argentina about teaching job opportunities and continued to go to their events almost every week. Then, in mid-July, they sent out an email saying that their previous pre-arrival coordinator was planning on returning to the U.S. and that they were looking for a replacement. After some consideration, I decided to apply and was fortunate enough to get the job.

I had a great experience, myself, as a TEFL trainee and English teacher, and my goal working at TEFL Argentina, now, is to try and give others that same, if not a better, experience.

Considering your marketing responsibilities with the organization, what do you think the most marketable characteristic of TEFL Argentina is? What attracts participants?

There are a TON of TEFL course providers to choose from, and I know, having personally been on the other side of the marketing, that it can be very difficult to even know or understand what requirements are needed to teach abroad, let alone have command of what the different TEFL course options are and the nuanced differences between them.

That being said, I think the fact that TEFL Argentina is a completely local organization is our most marketable characteristic. Our entire operation is run in Buenos Aires and our staff is split exactly 50/50 between Argentines and expats, like myself. As a participant, you work with the same staff from your initial inquiry through graduation and beyond, and you actually meet and spend time with them during the course.

I think it appeals that we have had shared experiences with our participants, know the city well, and can design a program where they have maximum individualized attention and can be familiar and completely comfortable with all parts of our organization.

Father and son at Machu Picchu

Father-son bonding at one of the wonders of the world

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

My days and job are essentially divided into three responsibilities: one is responding to inquiries and speaking with people interested in our programs, the second involves creating new content for our website, marketing agencies, and implementing ways to improve our course and total program, and the third involves participating in the weekly activities as often as I can to meet and spend time with our students as much as possible.

Today, for example, I spent the morning updating the FAQ section of our website, have two Skype calls with candidates for our course this afternoon, and this evening will be heading to our monthly group dinner with coordinators and students.

How do you ensure every TEFL Argentina course is a success?

You have to listen and do everything you can to understand your participants, where they come from, what they’re looking for in terms of the course and their teaching afterward, and, most importantly, since you’re working with people making a huge decision to move far away to a foreign land for an extended time, you have to understand what their concerns and anxieties are and work to make sure they feel as comfortable and as satisfied with their experience as possible. We work very closely with our participants, checking in with them before, during, and continuously following graduation to make sure they feel confident in their abilities to navigate Buenos Aires and have ample access to the best job opportunities following the course.

The principal value of the course comes from the training and credentials you receive as a result. However, it’s also very important to us that we provide prospective teachers with a feeling of structure and a community to be a part of during their first four weeks in a new city, country, and culture, from our welcome orientation and lunch to the bi-weekly group activities to inclusion in our alumni network following graduation.

Why are TEFL teachers needed in Argentina specifically?

English, today, has become the primary medium of international business, media, and culture. It’s one of the primary tools of social mobility in many countries, particularly in Argentina and the rest of Latin America. English proficiency is a critical asset for many when it comes to finding meaningful work or advancing within their fields.

Teaching English is an incredible opportunity for those that do it. It broadens your perspective and critical thinking ability, it gives you the chance to travel for an extended period and really learn another language and culture, and it greatly enhances one’s public speaking ability and communication skills. It increases one’s self-sufficiency, adaptability, and fortitude to confront and overcome challenges. However, as I mentioned earlier, perhaps the best part of teaching abroad is fact that the work is rewarding.

You are sharing your time, ability, and insights to help others improve their personal and professional lives in an increasingly global community.

Will Zupan at the TEFLArgentina office

Mondays at the office

What do most of your participants end up doing after the course?

Most of our participants work for either English institutes or teach private classes following graduation. The institutes are the most common and steady source of work available for English teachers. They are contracted by different businesses around the city (for example, Accenture, Banco Patagonia, Google, etc.) to teach employees of those businesses. Thus, graduates working for institutes are sent, in turn, to teach “on-site” classes at those companies. I, for example, spent seven months working for an institute here in Buenos Aires that sent me to teach Accenture employees.

Language institutes (as well as online teaching companies) give you immediate and consistent work, thus many of our graduates start with them first upon course completion. Many eventually move into more private classes after spending more time in the city developing their professional and social networks, however. Private classes often pay more and can be scheduled more conveniently.