Location Independent, International Jobs: Heather

Hello! Welcome to “Location Independent, International Jobs,” the Wednesday series where I showcase stories from people who have become location independent, work internationally, and/or continuously travel. I’ve interviewed some fascinating individuals who all have slightly different takes on location independence or living internationally. Recent posts include Steve from Think, Save, Retire,  Mrs. Adventure Rich, and Mavis, an international teacher.

Guest posters will be sharing how they became location independent or how they got jobs abroad, but most importantly, they’ll share how their lifestyle has positively or negatively affected their finances and how they got to the life they’re living now.  

The reason for this series is to showcase people who have already achieved what the ThreeYear family is working towards: location independence and/or securing international jobs. Since we’re not sure which route we’ll take, we thought we’d hear from people who’ve already achieved one or the other, so we can learn more.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Heather, a twenty-something ESOL teacher who lives in New Hampshire. 

I know Heather from my Master’s program and we have a lot in common, which is why I asked her if she would share her story on the blog. Heather moved to Chile after college, just like I did, and taught English as a Second Language, just like I did, and fell in love with Chile (easy to do!) just like I did. And we both live in New Hampshire and attend the same Master’s program in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). But, our stories are a bit different, and probably more importantly, we’re about a decade apart in age. So Heather is at a different place in life than I am, which is cool, because she can do things like introduce me to SnapChat. Okay, without further ado, I give you Heather! 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I’m from Sandwich, New Hampshire. [Laurie: I love that town name]. I have a B.A. in Italian Studies from Connecticut College.


Heather in Gran Torre Santiago (the tallest building in Latin America), overlooking the north part of the city.

How did you make the decision to move internationally?

I was finishing up college and was set on working abroad as an English teacher. I had done the CELTA course between freshman and sophomore year and wanted to get a job where I could be the principal teacher since previously I had volunteered or tutored (CELTA stands for Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults–it’s affiliated with the University of Cambridge ESOL examinations). I didn’t apply for any US jobs and put all my energy into looking for something abroad. I figured this was a perfect time to do it since I would be graduating and needed a break from school. Also, I wanted to confirm that TESOL was my career path before jumping into grad school.

What was the process like for finding jobs?

There were lots of job postings but at first I was only focused on finding something in Italy, since I had wanted to return after study abroad. I had thought that would be the perfect place to develop my English teaching experience while maintaining my Italian. However, many of those jobs did not respond. It seemed that not having an EU passport was a drawback since places were hesitant to sponsor a work visa right off the bat. A couple of places expressed interest and told me to let them know when I was in Italy to interview…clearly as a recent college graduate, I couldn’t just fly to Italy for the possibility of a job. After realizing I needed to expand my search radius, I found a program in Spain which I almost went through with. Due to slow paperwork and related issues, I decided against taking the position. Then, I decided to go for somewhere in Latin America and I was able to find the teaching program in Chile without too much trouble.

I looked online for English teaching jobs by doing basic searches and using job posting sites. I was looking for a position and terms I could review before leaving and that provided some kind of support in the visa process. I ended up choosing a program which did all of these things and was run by people who had experience in the US as well. There was a program fee but at the time I felt it was worth it to have secured a specific position and be backed up by this program as opposed to going solo. There was an application process but from what I remember it was not too challenging. You did need to have a certificate already.

I really wanted to go with a contract in hand with ground support to help me with the transition. I did have to pay a fee for these benefits but it seemed worth it to have everything all arranged.

Where have you taught? Favorite part? Least favorite?

I first taught at a community college/tech school called DuocUC in Santiago, Chile [Laurie here: when I lived in Chile, I worked for DUOC’s parent university, the Catholic University of Chile. The DUOC is a highly regarded tech school in Santiago as the Catholic University is probably the best university in the country, the Harvard of Chile]. I also worked for a couple of private English companies as a freelancer, teaching small group classes in a company and one on one classes to working professionals. For my last two years there, I worked at Centro Chileno Canadiense, a language institute, where I taught small group and one-on-one classes. In addition to this, I was able to build up a private clientele, primarily in an insurance company.
My favorite part was connecting with students and guiding them in their English language learning. I also enjoyed the flexibility of being freelance and my own boss for my own classes.
The most challenging aspect was not having a contract and that security. Also, the pay was generally low, so I felt the need to work more to make a decent amount. The summer months were hard because things were dead and that meant very little income for almost 3 months so you had to make sure you had saved enough throughout the year to use then. Because there were so many English teachers (or at least people who supposedly could teach English), it was hard to get a good offer since there would always be people who would do the same job for less.

Do you have any funny culture shock moments?

I don’t know how funny it is, but people always asked me where I was from. When I said I was from the US, a couple people actually said that was impossible and didn’t believe me. They would insist on knowing how it was possible that someone who looked like me (Asian) was American. [Laurie: the concept of international adoption is fairly rare in Chile, and unfortunately, because the country is geographically isolated, some less educated Chileans treat foreigners with surprise, contempt, or disdain–true story: an African-American colleague of mine told of many people rubbing her head for good luck. This is a generalization though!! You can find people who run the gamut in every country]. 

Throwing toilet paper away again took a while to get used to but again, not exactly funny. [Laurie: sewer systems are not as robust in Chile, so a lot of people, especially with older homes, throw away their toilet paper rather than flush it]. 

Heather hiking--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Heather hiking in Cochamo Valley in southern Chile.

Why would you recommend this for others? Why would you not recommend this?

I’d recommend working internationally to people who are open to new experiences and cultures. If you want to challenge yourself and are very motivated, this can be very rewarding and an invaluable learning experience. Also, it is a way to pick up the language of the place (although this might depend on the specific language, opportunities to use it, etc). For instance, if you stay within the expat community, then this would be harder.
In terms of the negative aspects from my own experience, I would say you need to really want to go abroad as opposed to just wanting a specific job that happens to be overseas. Also, if you are very attached to where you live or friends/family in your home country, you shouldn’t underestimate the negative pull this might have on you if you plan on staying a considerable amount of time abroad. Although you can keep in touch with those at home, you will change and things won’t be the same (not necessarily in a bad way but just don’t expect to return and slip back seamlessly into your old sphere). I was in Chile for a total of 4 years, 3 months, so there was a transition coming home!

How has working remotely positively (or negatively) impacted your finances? (since this is a personal finance blog!).

Living and working in Chile specifically did not help my finances. Although I was able to improve my situation there each year, things were still pretty tight and the money if any that was left at the end of the year was usually used for a plane ticket home (though I didn’t go home for two years in the beginning). When I came back, I had some savings but very minimal and came back to live at home since I wasn’t in the position to support myself, especially with starting grad school.
On a positive note, I have learned how to budget and what things are really essential in life (food, transportation, bills, etc.). I never was a crazy spender before, but now before buying anything I try to evaluate each purchase quickly in my head. In Santiago, I just had to be tight with money so even though I have fewer financial responsibilities now, I view things differently now.

What are your future plans?

I am in a Master’s program now and will be finishing this academic year. I plan to find a job in the education field locally to get more experience and stability under my belt before determining what and where will be next.

Laurie here! Thank you so much to Heather for sharing her story. It’s really interesting to me to hear her experiences living and working in South America. It brings back so many memories. I can definitely relate to the lack of money. You’re generally paid so little in Chile compared to US standards that even saving for a plane ticket back home was really hard for me. 

Heather will be answering your questions in the Comments section, so let her know what’s on your mind! 

Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

2 thoughts on “Location Independent, International Jobs: Heather”

  1. Ahh, the part about throwing toilet paper away sounds like Asia! When we visited Thailand, my husband had a hard time grasping that there were some countries in the 21st century that didn’t have plumbing that could withstand toilet paper. It’s awesome that she’s getting international work exposure- that would be a great thing to talk about during any job interview

    1. Yes–I remember that part of being in Thailand and Indonesia!! And the squatting toilets! 🙂 I agree–I think once you’ve lived and worked overseas, you have a resiliency and humility that other candidates don’t have, because usually the language barriers make others subconsciously think less of you (at least that was the case for me!!).

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