Saturday, 7 May 2011


I have said much about my travels within Guatemala and some of the unfamiliar foods and customs I have encountered here, but I haven’t said much about my primary occupation: my job at IGA. IGA is a language school for kids, teenagers, and adults in addition to being a middle school and high school. I work in the adults program, with students of various levels. Even though it is a job with responsibilities and work, I have a lot of fun at IGA. The students are really friendly and interesting. Many are high school students trying to improve their English in order to get into a good university. Others are university students or adults who need English to advance in their careers. Many are learning English while they are looking for a job.

[Many English students want to get a job in a call center of a U.S. company. I have a friend who once sold flowers over the phone; one student of mine called clients of a credit card company who were late in paying their bills. While most people don’t seek a job in a call center, with its long hours, low wages and high stress, it is a job with a salary, so many, desperate for work, will take such a job. I’ve found that most current and former call center employees have a story about someone insulting them during a call. Some of them can look back on it and laugh, like my friend who laughs about the time when someone asked her where she was from. When she answered Guatemala, he asked her where that was, and when she told him “Central America,” he asked if that was near Kansas. Some people, angry about the telemarketing call, make racist comments to the callers because of their accents, even when their English is nearly flawless. It makes me feel awkward, because as much as this is a clear example of outsourcing, which many people view as a contribution to unemployment in the U.S., I see my friends and students trying to get a job, work hard, and make money for their families. So whatever your feelings about outsourcing, it’s the decision of the company, not the employees, so don’t be mean to them. You might just be talking to one of my friends.]

Anyway, I think the students like getting to know me just as much as I enjoy getting to know them. They like hearing me speak in Spanish (I think it makes them feel less self conscious about their own difficulty in speaking English) and always ask me if I like Guatemala and what places in Guatemala “I know.” And sometimes we talk like old friends, like we’re not from cultures that are literally two thousand miles apart.

This is most achievable with advanced students, who I work with primarily during English Club, where we do reading, listening, and conversation exercises (and games) to increase students’ fluency. English Club might be my favorite part of the day. During last bimester (which ended last Monday), we had a daily schedule with specific activities for each day of the week. Students particularly liked Idiom Mondays and Listening Thursdays. The students really enjoyed when we listened to a song on Listening Thursdays and they had to fill in the missing lyrics of the song. The men and women alike swooned while we listened to Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” Unfortunately, and to my great disappointment, only one student recognized Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” until co-teacher told them that they sing it at the end of the first Shrek movie. Then they all recognized it.

I don’t even mind the three hour break that I have in the middle of the day. While planning and grading in the teachers’ lounge, my friends (the other teachers) and I talk about classes, current events in Guatemala, and whatever else friends talk about.

By time I get home after being at IGA from 7am to 5pm, I have just enough energy to cook dinner and watch “House” before passing out around 9:30.

So while it is a job, I really enjoy being at IGA. And though it might not be the first thing I mention when talking about my trip to Guatemala, it’s been a great opportunity to grow as a teacher, to meet some wonderful people, and to learn more about Guatemalan culture. And I’ve been told that the Spanish classes I’m taking have improved my Spanish un montón!


  1. This sounds awesome!! I lived all my childhood in Ruta 4, where IGA is. I want to go back to Guatemala and teach at IGA. that will be wonderful!!! then my daughters can improve their Spanish!

  2. Hi, my name is Amber Jensen and I am working on a Fulbright application to Guatemala and I have many questions I'd like to ask you! I'd love to start an email exchange. Let me know if that would be possible! :)