March 2020, an unforgettable time for Elisabeth! She decided to start a TEFL in South America. Elisabeth adventured from Germany to Columbia and now Mazatlan, Mexico. Elisabeth found her body needed rest from working extremely hard in a high-class gastromy business in Germany. She resolved this situation by choosing to do a volunteer program and becoming a missionary. Although these two roles are very different, Elisabeth has been able to transfer skills she has learned from the gastromy business to being a missionary. Rather than hearing why a TEFL is essential from us, we asked Elisabeth why TEFL is important to her and what opportunities come from studying a TEFL course. Elisabeth also speaks about her struggles traveling during COVID, how quarantine has its positives, as she got a chance to think about her life more intensely and she gives us a meaningful perspective of what she has learned and what she is still learning.
Tell us about yourself, Elisabeth! We’d love to know about your background, and what drew you to choose TEFL in South America?
Hello Everyone! My name is Elisabeth Gruner and I am from Germany. In March of 2020, I arrived in Bogota, Colombia. From there I started a quite exciting adventure in Colombia and now I am in Mexico. Originally I planned to travel through Colombia and to get to know this country and its people a bit more for 3 months. But after my 3rd week in the 2nd city, I went to Colombia, Medellin, the radical Covid-19 lockdown started. So it became more and more clear to me that I was going to be stuck in Medellin at this apartment for a while.
I lived with a Swiss family and we grew so close to each other that they are like my own family now. The money I had saved up for this trip had become less and less. Because of that, and because I suddenly had so much free time inside of this apartment. I thought I might not be able to leave for the next coming months, so I considered getting a job that I could do online in South America.
Why Elisabeth choose to do a TEFL in South America
I have worked in the high-class gastronomy business for almost 10 years now. Lived in the United States for over a year as an English tutor, and also collected some fantastic experiences in teaching a 3-year-old Russian boy to learn German. Teaching English online seemed like the most attractive option to me. Not German, but English! Since English is my favorite language. So I found Premier TEFL, they offered a huge discount on the TEFL courses that I wanted to take at that time. So I did not hesitate! I decided on doing my TEFL in South America.
In Medellin, I lived with people that belong to an International Christian organization called Youth With A Mission. More and more it became clear to me that I wanted to do the Discipleship Training of this organization in Medellin. So that is what I did. I became super busy with this. So I decided to push the TEFL courses with Premier TEFL into the future. Which Premier TEFL kindly allowed me to do.
Elisabeth’s first missionary trip
Then in November, I went on my first missionary outreach trip in La Guajira. One of the poorest areas and the capital of the indigenous people of Colombia, which was a great experience! I am so thankful for everything that I have learned and for the opportunity to help these people. Part of what I have learned from this experience was that no one can imagine real poverty until they have seen and experienced it for themselves. A UNICEF poster on the street, which shows a poor boy with a disease or even a presentation of someone that has been there. Does not make anyone understand this really in their heart!
In December I headed to Mexico, to Mazatlan. To live with an American family and work for them as a nanny. They are a missionary family, working together with the organization YWAM as well. I am grateful they took me in and that I got to celebrate Christmas with a family. They included me in all of their American and family Christmas traditions. They are like the most generous people I know!
Due to the COVID-19, my life plan got changed radically! From just traveling through Colombia. Then going back to Germany in June to study law in one of the Universities of Berlin in October, to becoming a missionary. I have not been able to finish up my TEFL while in South America. But I am going to do that after the School of Justice and Advocacy. Teaching English online will be a great and uncomplicated way to make an income. Especially, while I am studying law in Germany in the next year! Even if my life will look different, especially when I will still be traveling around the world. This is an amazing job opportunity!
Can you tell us about the career you are in now? Do you think you will be able to transfer those skills to teaching English?
Yes, I definitely will be able to transfer those skills from my job to teach English! I have been working for almost 10 years in the high-class gastronomy business. I will be doing this job again for a while when I am back in Germany. This job requires you to be fluent in English and to express yourself very well. Which is a beneficial skill for teaching English. Now I am actively working as a missionary. Also in this, I have to express myself in English all of the time.
What inspired you to go to Colombia and do a volunteer program?
What inspired me to go to Colombia was to travel around and enjoy the country for a few months. My body and soul had been craving rest for a while. I had worked way too much during the years. I received the diagnosis of thyroid overactivity and I am still overcoming burnout. So it made more than so much sense to me to take this time of rest. Leaving the place that reminds you of your everyday life, which I had become so used to. Often helps people if they want to bring a change to their life. So my biggest motivation why I wanted to do this trip through Colombia was to learn how to rest again. Especially in a country like Germany! Where constant busyness is normal and as a requirement, learning how to rest is not easy.
What is it like to travel during COVID-19?
Well, in the first months of my trip it was not easy. Because getting flights seemed impossible! If you got one a lot of the time the airlines canceled it again. It was a miracle I got to Mazatlan, Mexico! But despite that and that you have to wear the annoying mask wherever you went. I do not experience much of a difference in traveling for myself.
Is there anything you wish you knew before embarking on your journey to Colombia?
To be honest, no! Because if I would have known how my life would change so radically and now. Especially as a missionary with my financial situation. It is a situation of such a great and radical dependence on God. It is not easy! So I don’t know if I really would have said yes to this if I would have known before. I am grateful I did not know! Because for me my life did a turn in the best direction. And there are so many reasons why going back to Germany would not make sense for me at this time. For example, there is no work for me because the hotels are almost empty. But sometimes it is good when we get thrown somewhere new and better for us! And don’t have much of a choice, otherwise, we might not be brave enough to take that right turn!
What is it like to start your TEFL in South America and quarantine in a foreign country like Colombia?
I felt a little sad about it because I knew there are so many exciting and beautiful places to discover out there. But on the other hand, I enjoyed the time with the Swiss family. Finally having so much time for myself. For example, to read books I’ve been wanting to read but had no time for it in Germany. Also, I finally had time to think about my life more intensively. I think this quarantine time has helped many people to redirect their life finally. And of course, I enjoyed many coffees, a few glasses of wine and good food! Haha.
What are some challenges that you have faced and how have you overcome them? What have you learned for future similar situations?
I think in this last year one of the biggest things I learned and I am still learning it, was to overcome my “German control freak”. I believe to a certain level we are in control of what happens to us or around us. But most of the time we are not. We get thrown into situations, like the corona or me with being so active as a missionary now. How could I have been able to make a decision about that? Or control it a year before, when I didn’t know. So I have learned more and more to put into action this prayer which more than one person used to dedicate to me in my past. It goes like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Another challenge which I faced for which I am thankful as well, is that I struggled a lot with the food of Latin America. I constantly had digestion issues, which led me to change my diet and eating healthier radically. Now I am feeling much greater than before I had the food issues.
The last challenge and what I have learned from it, which I would like to share about is that it has not always been easy for me living with people from another culture like the people of Latin America, because of cultural differences. Though this grew me into being a less judgmental, more understanding, and more patient person with people that live act, and think very differently than me. To make it short: it helped me to grow in love with the people I do not always understand or agree with.
When you have completed your TEFL in South America, what does the future hold for Elisabeth?
In my future I see myself teaching, counseling, and doing work that is connected to law. But how exactly that will look like I do not know yet. I am confident that throughout the next years, all of the puzzle pieces will come together. Things will make more sense and fall into place. While I keep going with what I am certain about. I know that teaching English will help me in the process of getting prepared for my future. My dream has been for a while to work together with organizations. That fight against modern sexual slavery and to defend the victims in court as a lawyer. But I have a gift for counseling and teaching as well. I might open up a center for the women, where they learn what it means to live a normal life and the many aspects of it. That includes counseling because they are dealing with many traumas and also to teach them many things. English as well, because for example, it is something that will help them to be successful in their future career.
By completing your TEFL degree, do you think this will open up more opportunities for you?
Yes, for sure! First of all, it will enable me to have more opportunities as an English teacher. Secondly, I think this TEFL course looks quite good on a CV. I think it could also be an important part of my preparation process for the future. Furthermore, it will enable me to live outside of Germany, travel around or work in a different country, and make an income.
Did you find this article about Elisabeth who pivoted her career and choose to do a TEFL in South America useful? If you have any questions please comment in the box below. If you want to read more about TEFL courses and teachers changing their careers to pursue an adventurous profession in teaching English. Leejay’s story is a fascinating one! ESL Teacher Leejay Teaching English in Asia & Europe.
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