Maggie Kirkpatrick - 2016 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I studied Latin American Studies and Spanish in University, so working abroad was always the goal in mind. I have also been interested in teaching English for years, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to blend all my interests.

Why did you choose Maximo Nivel? 

Guatemala has been at the top of my list for years. Once I started researching TEFL programs, I found the Maximo Nivel program in Antigua. Antigua looked beautiful… and what a perfect excuse to finally go to Guatemala. Maximo Nivel was also very organized and dependable whenever I had questions about the program.

Mountains surrounding Semuc Champey, Guatemala

The mountains surrounding Semuc Champey, Guatemala, the place that I realized I was falling for Guatemala

What is your favorite part about Antigua?

The city is warm, friendly and safe. It's also stunning, with an erupting volcano in the distance that provided constant entertainment and old, colonial streets and buildings that make it charming and unique. Not only that, but the locals are extremely helpful and friendly.

Why is the TEFL experience at Maximo Nivel one of a kind?

What was amazing about the TEFL program at Maximo was how hands on it was. Since Maximo Nivel is an institution that not only hosts the TEFL program, but also provides English lessons to locals, as a TEFL student I was able to interact with ESL students from the first week of the program on. It was extremely helpful being able to use the skills that I learned in class right away, and to realize immediately what I needed to improve upon. By the final week, I had no fears about standing up in front of a class of students.

How supportive was the local Maximo Nivel staff?

The client service at Maximo Nivel was amazing. All staff members were always friendly, smiling, and happy to help. Whether it was with administrative tasks or a question on where to go for lunch, someone was always keen to assist.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

If I could do one thing differently, I would have spent more time interacting with the ESL students. I loved the teaching experience I got with them, and I wish I had talked with them more or had offered free tutoring for those who were interested.

Terrace view of Antigua, Guatemala

The view from the terrace at Maximo Nivel, Antigua

Describe a day in the life of your TEFL certification program in Guatemala.

The best part about the program was that no day was exactly like the previous one. Though we did have standard class time where we were learning the ins and outs of teaching grammar and vocabulary and so on, we also had "Vocabulary Workshops" where we would practice our newly acquired skills by teaching particular words to ESL students. We had "Mini Lessons,” which were 20 minute lessons on the topic of the week which we would plan ourselves and then teach to students. We also had opportunities to observe ESL teachers and reflect on their teaching styles. An extremely beneficial part of the course was the one-on-one time with our TEFL trainer, Karen, who shared her wealth of knowledge, provided job finding assistance, and helped to create ESL relevant CVs.

What did you enjoy most during your time in Guatemala?

Although the the course was intense and occupied most of my free time, I managed to do an overnight hike on a local volcano one weekend, which was one of the best things I've ever done. It was mentally and physically challenging, but watching sun rise over the tops of neighbouring volcanoes made it completely worth it. Another weekend was spent at the beach, only two hours from Antigua, and it was the perfect relaxation escape to take my mind off the course for a few days. Antigua is also a beautiful place to do nothing in. I drank an obscene amount of coffee (and I continue to) in Antigua, and I loved just sitting in coffee shops writing and reading.

What kind of living arrangement did you have? What did you like best about it?

I stayed in a home stay for four weeks. I loved how accommodating the family was and how natural it was for them to have a stranger at their dinner table every night. They were loving and warm and I hope to keep in touch with them!

On top of Volcan Acatenango in Guatemala

Joanne, Christine (TEFL classmate), and Maggie on top of Volcan Acatenango

What was the hardest part about taking TEFL courses abroad?

The hardest part about taking the TEFL course in Antigua was staying focused. The country screams "explore me!" regardless of what kind of adventure entices you. Whether it's hiking, swimming, surfing or simply partying that drags your attention away from the task at hand, there are plenty of avenues to satisfy that thirst for adventure in and around the city. The course, however, was four weeks of intense training and while I did manage to get out and see some things, it required most of my time. It just made it that much easier to stay longer in Antigua afterwards.

What surprised you most about Guatemala?

The first thing that surprised me about Guatemala was its size. I naively imagined it to be much smaller than it is, so I was humbled when I realized how long it would take me to travel from Belize to Antigua. The most pleasantly surprising thing by far, however, was how safe I felt in Guatemala. The country still has a dangerous stigma, so when I initially talked about heading to Guatemala solo, I realized I would have to take caution. It wasn't before long that I realized I was never really alone; I was one of hundreds of foreigners who also came to see for themselves what this country was all about.

Overall, the locals are friendly and eager to help tourists. Just like in any other country in Latin America, tourists have to be careful, but it took no time before I felt comfortable in Guatemala.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Guatemala?

Diversity. You will need pants and a sweatshirt for the cool mornings and nights in Antigua, and minimal clothes for the beach and the jungle. And always have a portable speaker because you just never know when you'll need music.

Sunrise from Volcan Acatenango,  Antigua, Guatemala

Sunrise from Volcan Acatenango

To what extent have your experiences with Maximo Nivel impacted your life?

Astronomically, because I didn't leave! I ended up getting a job working for Maximo Nivel and I am committed to staying in Antigua for a year and a half.

If you could go abroad again, where would you go?

Although Latin America is my first travel love, when I go abroad next, I want it to be unlike any place I've ever been before. Which is why I am drawn to the area of Turkey, Morocco, and Croatia. Being able to speak Spanish let me off a bit easy this trip, so I think I need to go completely out of my comfort zone next time.