If you decide to teach abroad in Barranquilla, you will quickly learn why salsa singer Joe Arroyo crooned his famous song En Barranquilla Me Quedo (In Barranquilla I Stay). Barranquilla is a hot, chaotic mess of Caribbean vibes and coconut palms, vallenato beats and Barranquilleros. It’s not the most beautiful city in Colombia, but it is one of the most addictive. In a city where you can pick mangoes from trees lining the streets, dancing is a way of life, and people know how to throw a party, it’s hard not to fall in love. And once you’ve fallen for ‘Quilla’s charms, it’ll be even harder to leave.
Teaching Jobs in Barranquilla
Teaching in Barranquilla can vary widely, depending on your interests and experience. Although, in almost all teaching jobs in Barranquilla, you will have warm, boisterous, and sometimes very noisy students in your classes. Barranquilleros love to express themselves through singing and dancing, so don’t be surprised if they suddenly jump up and start shimmying around the classroom in the middle of a lesson.
Public Schools. Colombia is an excellent place to explore teaching abroad in a public school, as it will allow you to contribute your skills to truly vulnerable communities. This role can be incredibly challenging, as you will have to adapt to a working environment that can involve limited resources and a lack of organisation, but helping increase the language skills of students in poor neighborhoods is a priceless experience. In addition, no experience is necessary to teach in public schools in Barranquilla for the most part; all you need is plenty of enthusiasm!
Private Schools. There are many opportunities to teach in private language schools in Barranquilla. You will usually be required to have a TEFL certificate, or at least one year of experience, to work in private schools in Colombia. Working in a private school usually means small classes, often with adult students.
Universities. Tertiary institutes prefer hiring native English speakers to teach their English classes. In general, universities require their English teachers to have a masters degree, but if you have two or more years of practical teaching experience, you may be able to land yourself a great university teaching job in Barranquilla.
International Schools. There are only a handful of international schools in Barranquilla, and these institutions usually only hire teachers with a degree in education. Since these are usually immersion schools, teachers will frequently teach their specialty subject in English.
Life in Barranquilla
Well off the tourist trail, teaching abroad in Barranquilla means becoming part of a small crowd of foreigners that call Barranquilla home. The city is effectively divided in two: the north of the city is completely separate from the south. The further south you go, the poorer and more dangerous the neighborhoods get. Unless you are teaching at a public school in the south, you probably won’t have any reason to leave the northern neighborhoods. Most bars, restaurants, and cafés are located in the north, as well as more comfortable accomodations.
There is plenty to keep teachers occupied during their free time. On the outskirts of town are the beaches of Salgar, Prado Mar, and Puerto Colombia. The glitzy Buena Vista mall is billed by locals as the best place to escape the oppressive heat, with air conditioning permeating shops and clothing stores from around the world. In the evenings, Sagrado Corazon Park often hosts outdoor films and other cultural events. Possibly the most culturally immersive activity is grabbing a red and white striped jersey and attending a Junior (Barranquilla’s soccer team) game at the Estadio Metropolitano. Just brace yourself for some strong words and tears if the team loses. If they win however, celebrations will go on all night, so wear comfortable shoes and be ready to dance to reggaeton until your feet hurt and the sun comes up.
It’s important to remember that the pace of life in Barranquilla moves to a whole different rhythm to what you are probably used to. Coastal time is flexible in ways that can be difficult to work with; teachers often show up to class late, or not at all, students stroll into the classroom with no sense of urgency, and schedules change with late or no notice. In the same way, the classroom environment is generally very laid-back, with a relaxed approach to discipline. Students usually address teachers by their first names, and sometimes even greet them with a hug or a kiss. While the lack of structure in class can sometimes be frustrating, it is balanced out by the warmth of student-teacher relations; you won’t be able to resist the charm and smiles of your students.
Salary & Costs
Teaching in Barranquilla won’t make you rich, unless you measure your wealth by life experiences. You can expect to make from $500 to $1000 a month as a teacher in Barranquilla. This might not seem like a lot, but with the low cost of living, it is more than enough to get by.
Your combined living costs won’t exceed $500 if you live like a Colombian. Eating almuerzo (lunch menus) at tiendas (your local store/bar/restaurant combined) will set you back less than $3, a beer at the same tienda won’t be more than $1.50, local buses are less than $1 one-way, and a room in a shared apartment can cost as little as $150 a month. Overall, Barranquilla is a very affordable city, and unless you are traveling frequently on the weekends, you will be able to live comfortably on your teacher’s salary.
Accommodation & Visas
Most teaching jobs in Barranquilla will offer new teachers assistance in finding housing, but ultimately where you choose to live depends on your preference. If one of your main goals is to improve your Spanish and immerse yourself in Colombian culture, homestays are ideal. Your host mom will basically adopt you, and take a great interest in your well-being, so expect detailed conversations about your day, instructions on how to properly wash your clothes, and don’t even think about refusing anything you are offered to eat.
If you value your independence, there are plenty of apartments available for rent. If you want to find roommates, bear in mind that most Colombians live at home until they get married, so the majority of people posting “roommate wanted” ads are other foreigners. This can be a great setup (instant friends to explore with), but you may find it harder to practice Spanish.
In order to teach in Barranquilla, you will need to obtain a visa, and you will need the assistance of your teaching program or language school to do so. Once you have an employer to assist you through the process, it is relatively straightforward to get your cedula (Colombian I.D. card). To verify visa information, bookmark the GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for reference.
Benefits & Challenges
Your Spanish will improve dramatically, even if it is flavored with a heavy dose of costeñol (coastal Spanish). English is scarcely spoken, so you will be forced to throw yourself into Spanish. Barranquilla has its own unique brand of Spanish, and Barranquilleros love hearing their slang in the mouths of foreigners. This means you’ll have no shortage of teachers: you will get an impromptu Spanish lesson almost any time you hop in a taxi.
You’ll never be bored. On weekends you can flit up the coast to Santa Marta and the stunning beaches in La Guajira, or head the other way to drink in the bright colors and flashy nightlife of Cartagena. The airport in Barranquilla connects travelers to cities all over Colombia, as well as international destinations (Panama is just a short hop away). With so many travel opportunities around Barranquilla, and cultural activities within the town itself, you will never complain you have nothing to do as a teacher in Barranquilla.
Security can be an issue. You should never take your phone out in public, or you should expect it to get stolen. It is not recommended to walk around after dark or to take public buses if you are carrying laptops or other valuables. Teaching abroad in Barranquilla means learning to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings, while always exercising common sense in regards to safety.
Your mother has good reason to be worried about you heading off to teach English in Barranquilla. It’s a dangerous place, for one major reason: once you move there, you will never want to leave.