The English Opens Doors Program is a wonderful opportunity for those looking to gain TEFL experience in Latin America. If you’re more interested in traveling and/or are serious about learning Spanish, I’d look elsewhere as your vacation time is limited and you have to be dedicated to your classes. There are, however, ample opportunities to learn and improve your Spanish by living with a host family and through the option to take a basic or intermediate-level Spanish course, but keep in mind that – at least in my experience – teaching takes up most of your time.
The program doesn’t require any previous teaching experience and the week-long orientation provides you with basically everything you need to know about classroom management, preparing classes, working with Chilean students, Chilean culture, etc. The orientation is extremely thorough but informative, so pay attention. I had taught previously as a private ESL tutor before arriving in Chile and was pretty nervous since I had never taught multiple students in a classroom setting before. But after the orientation, I definitely felt much more confident to lead and teach in a classroom.
When you’re applying for the program, you get to select your location preferences based on Northern, Central or Southern Chile, as well as a large, medium or small-sized town. EODP tries to place you as well as they can according to your preferences, but ultimately be prepared to go anywhere. Before you decide, I recommend researching Chilean regions and cities, as both the weather and climate can vary significantly from region to region and city to city. In the South where I was, for example, winter was brutal (and I’m from Minnesota!) due to the cold temperature, constant rain and the fact that most people heat their homes through only a small, wood stove or oven. This isn’t meant to deter anyone, but just a fair warning for those of you that will be placed in the South!
I was pretty open in terms of my placement and ended up for two semesters at a high school in a small town called Lanco, in the Los Ríos region, located about 10 hours south of Santiago. The town itself had basically nothing to do, but at least the locals were very friendly.
Unlike some other volunteers, I happened to love the school where I was placed as the administration and teachers that worked with me were both outgoing and supportive throughout my entire experience. And my students – despite their low-level of English – were fun to work with and pretty well-behaved compared to those of some other volunteers in larger cities.
The orientation will go into more detail on Chilean students, but be prepared for the students’ low-level of English as well as the general lack of motivation and interest. When I arrived, most students at my school had little interest in learning English and at least those that I worked with, could not even respond to very basic questions, such as "How are you?" There are, of course, exceptions, but in general the level of English is quite low.
In terms of a host family – if you choose to live with one – it’s really a hit or miss. Many volunteers had wonderful experiences with their family, others did not. And while the norm is that most Chilean families are welcoming, outgoing and inclusive, this is not always the case. With my first host family, I didn't have a positive experience as the family barely interacted with me and we had pretty conflicting personalities. I was eventually able to switch to a new and much more suitable host family after I expressed my concerns to my regional representative and EODP staff, which definitely made the second half of my experience more enjoyable.
The staff at EODP is probably THE most dedicated group of people I have ever met in my life and they work hard to make sure you are well-supported throughout your time in Chile. Since they all are previous volunteers and have been living in Chile for many years now, they know what they’re talking about and can give some excellent advice if you’re encountering any issues whatsoever. I personally struggled with classroom management shortly after I had started and the staff gave me some awesome advice and recommended certain teaching techniques that helped significantly improve overall classroom behavior.
I agree with some of the other reviews on here that this program isn’t for everybody. Given all the uncertainties that you may face in terms of your family, school, etc., you have to be willing to participate in the program with a very open mind and be prepared to make the best of non-ideal situations.
Teaching through EODP is a definitely a challenging experience as you'll have to adapt to an entirely new culture and language (if you have no previous knowledge of Spanish), but overall, it is a great opportunity if you want to acquire international professional experience and improve your teaching skills, organizational skills as well as adaptability.