Who are you?
My name is Ellie Ryan and I am TEFL trainer and English language teacher. I live in Zorritos, a small fishing and surfing town on the far north coast of Peru.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I first moved abroad in 2007 to Buenos Aires where I studied my TEFL course to become an ESL teacher. I think my idea was to get qualified and then move to Europe, however I fell in love with Argentina and then with South America and I haven’t been able to drag myself away from the continent.What challenges did you face during the move?
Wow, the first biggest challenge I faced was the language barrier as I didn’t speak Spanish so I found that really isolating. I also suffered from culture shock as life in Argentina was so different to Australia, however in the long run this has ended up being the biggest attraction.
How did you find somewhere to live?
Where I live now, in Zorritos, it was a little complicated to find somewhere to live. I needed to physically walk the streets looking for signs for places available & spreading the word through local people I knew that I was looking for a place. It was very different to the highly efficient process of looking for a place on-line as I would back home. Then once I found a place I needed to go and meet the owner and they would often want to get to know me personally, to see if they liked me and if they felt comfortable renting their house out to me. Then we signed a contract with the standard payment of a month’s rent in advance and a month’s security deposit. Some things are different though, for example houses are not always delivered to you in perfect, clean conditions and they will often try and avoid returning your security deposit by coming up with supposed charges etc, so it’s a good idea to be cautious.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are not many and I am one of the only females, Zorritos is not on the tourist map and although we get occasional backpackers passing through the majority of tourists are from other parts of Peru or Ecuador. One of my friends is a German guy who has been here for almost 15 years but I think that we could count all the expats in the area on one hand.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
It’s pretty good, I feel like a part of my neighbourhood, especially due to having a small son who plays with the local kids and everyone in town knows me because of him, as he’s the only gringo kid around. I know a lot of people and I have some good friends so although there have been ups and downs with being accepted by the local community, overall I feel comfortable. Being a teacher also helps a lot, and due to the lack of native teachers in the area, people are incredibly appreciative about being taught which I’m grateful for and value highly.
What do you like about life where you are?
I love the simplicity of it, it takes so little to enjoy yourself – just spending the day at the beach, enjoying a cold beer with some fresh seafood is enough for me. People are happy with the little that they have and they live very much in the moment, something I’m trying to emulate. I also love running my own business and having contact with locals and my trainees who are foreigners, the people that are attracted to studying and working in Peru are often really interesting.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I miss my family more than my country. I miss small things like eating sushi and big green parks but they’re really just superficial details. But when I see my family the time we spend together is really valued by all of us and we make a real effort, so I think that’s a positive.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Australia is an over-regulated and tightly controlled country and Peru is basically the opposite. This allows for people to be self-enterprising and they compensate for the lack of basic pubic services such as a public transport by creating their own informal system. Culturally, Australians are also very direct when it comes to communication and Peruvians avoid direction confrontation and often talk around issues, so it’s taken me some time to learn the subtleties of communication here. And as with most latino countries, they have an incredibly flexible concept of time!
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Shopping is a completely different experience here, especially as I live in a rural area. You go the local market to buy your fruit, vegetables, fish & meat and then to a small general store to buy other supplies. For clothes and household items you generally need to travel by shared taxi to the closest city which is half an hour away. I enjoy the authenticity of the experience however it is definitely more time consuming, although saying that life moves at a much slower pace here. Peru is also very centralized so Lima is the commercial centre and if you want to buy quality products, it’s the best place to do it, although for us it’s a 20 hour bus ride south.
What do you think of the food in your new country?
I love Peruvian cuisine, it’s amazing. It’s incredibly varied and regional, similar in that respect to Italian food, and you eat whatever is grown in that area, which can be anything from guinea pig to alpaca. In the north we have an abundance of fresh fish and seafood, and in my opinion the best ceviche in Peru. The only thing I miss is not having access to lots of other types of cuisine, such as Japanese or Thai food, although you can find more international cuisine in Lima and other major cities.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
One thing I always try to encourage my trainee teachers to do is to keep an open mind and heart. Don’t judge a place by the standards of your home country and don’t expect it to be the same. What makes a place and people different is what makes them unique and the more open you are to new experiences, the more enriching the experience will be. I have learnt so much about myself and the world from living abroad and I feel more connected to a sense of international community.
What are your plans for the future?
To continue building my institute, training teachers and providing the local community with access to quality native English teachers. This year we are also going to widen our market to train local Peruvian English teachers in the TEFL methodology which will be a wonderful challenge. And most importantly, to watch my son grow up and enjoy all of the wonderful moments life here allows us to share.
Ellie shares more information about TEFL in Peru through her blog www.teflzorritos.com