Voluntary ESL teaching in South America

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Like Asia and Africa, another popular destination for sending voluntary ESL teachers is South America – so you’ll probably find yourself teaching in one of the Third World countries there, as well.

The trainee or novice ESL teacher will not encounter as great a cultural shock as working in Asia or Africa because most of the people are the descendants of European Christians: primarily those descended from Spain and Portugal. Again, before embarking on voluntary ESL teaching in South America, you should fully familiarize yourself with the country that you intend to work in.

Here are a few things you should be aware of as it concerns religion, cultural habits, and cuisine. Unlike Asia and Africa, the continent of South America has only one major religion: Christianity. Approximately 90% of the people are Christians: 82% are Roman Catholics, and the remaining 8% belong to other Christian denominations.  Judaism and Islam are also practised in South America; indeed, the largest Jewish and Moslem followings are in Argentina.

It should also be noted that a number of indigenous peoples continue to practice their traditional rituals, and tribal voodoo is still encountered in some Afro-Latinos communities. There are several cultural habits that you should be aware of. You should never toss objects at other people: it is considered rude. If you gesture to someone to approach you using a palm upwards with fingers curling backwards and forwards motion – be careful! It is viewed as a “romantic solicitation” in South America. Don’t refer to the USA as ‘America’ because South Americans also consider themselves to be Americans.

The notion of ‘personal space’ is physically a lot smaller than that in Europe, and it is considered rude to move away when someone enters your personal space. In Brazil, not saying hello or goodbye is considered rude. In Chile, wine is poured with the right hand. In Mexico, nepotism is rife – but you shouldn’t criticize this practice. As with African cuisines, the cuisines of South America are extremely complicated to describe, and their characteristics vary from region to region and country to country.

Fortunately, because of European influences – where you teach will not necessarily determine what you eat: so you need not worry about when you’ll get your next meat dish. Meat (especially in the southern countries), maizericecassavapotatoesmeal, and quinoa are the major foodstuffs in the cuisines of a lot of regions. Nuts, fruits, and vegetables are amply abundant throughout the continent. The most popular beverages are coffeerum, and beer: surprisingly, milk is not ordinarily consumed as a beverage per se. Don’t forget – research the country you are volunteering to work in BEFORE you take up the post.

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