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ESLstarter-ETF Program under Colombia Ministry of Education
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Joined: 26 Jun 2010
Posts: 45

PostPosted: Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was accepted into the program but I declined the offer because they expected me to pay $400 just to join the program without knowing whether I would be teaching high school students or college students.
A 1-year renewable visa for me would be only $275 that can renewed for up to 5 years which is when I could get my residential permit.
There should be some transparency as to what is going on so people are not left in the dark.
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Joined: 21 Dec 2013
Posts: 33
Location: Colombia

PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2016 12:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

talktome wrote:
I was accepted into the program but I declined the offer because they expected me to pay $400 just to join the program without knowing whether I would be teaching high school students or college students.
A 1-year renewable visa for me would be only $275 that can renewed for up to 5 years which is when I could get my residential permit.
There should be some transparency as to what is going on so people are not left in the dark.

There is a whole ton of transparency. You obviously aren't doing your homework bc all of this is crystal clear on the websites of all the recruiters. You do not "pay" $400. You leave a deposit and the 400 is refunded to you in your last pay check. As for being placed with the technical school or high schools, you usually get a choice but sometimes they place people where needed.
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Joined: 24 Feb 2016
Posts: 4

PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2016 9:46 pm    Post subject: Don't Do Colombia Bilingue Program with the Ministry!!!!! Reply with quote


Last edited by ChewyB on Wed Jul 05, 2017 5:45 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Guy Courchesne

Joined: 10 Mar 2003
Posts: 9650
Location: Mexico City

PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2016 4:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What city did they have you in Chewy?
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Joined: 16 Jun 2015
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 6:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am in this program right now. I started in January. I did not go through ESL Starter, I went through Greenheart Travel, but in the end we all end up in the same program working for Colombia Bilingue under the Colombian Ministry of Education.

There are pros and cons, but overall I think the program is decent.

I had to pay a $400 deposit fee. This is not a fee to work, it was paid so they knew I was serious about the program and they did not spend time and money processing my VISA setting me up with a hotel and training and food the first few weeks only for me to bail. It makes sense in a way. The $400 will be returned upon completing the program.

There is a contract that I printed out that is extremely clear about expectations and payment arrangements. There shouldn't be much confusion about that at all.

I spent two weeks in Bogota for training. During that time I had food and stayed in hotels provided by the program.

After my two weeks in Bogota the program paid for my plane ticket to the town I would be teaching in. Upon arriving in my teaching city with the other fellows that would also be teaching in the city with me we had a decent hostel set up for us.

One thing I was not happy about is that after the two weeks in Bogota food is up to you to buy and you do not get paid for about a month. So I started having to buy my own food (and transportation to and from the hostel to my school which wasn't much, but added up slowly) from when I left Bogota (Jan 23rd) until I got my first stipend (Feb 25th). But the housing was paid for.

The school I work at is wonderful, the teacher, staff, and students couldn't be more helpful. I was placed in a city where this is the first year it has hosted fellows so our Mayor even had a small welcoming ceremony for us complete with food and dancing.

I work 24 hours a week in the classroom. I also do a conversation club twice a week and am responsible for finding time to teach some of the teachers at my school English each week as well.

My days start early but there are days I am home by 11AM.

I can walk home from work (could walk there as well but already have to get up early enough....)

I live in a house with three other fellows all of whom are great to live with. It also makes lesson planning fun. We have Spanish movie night and we are taking Spanish lessons as well.

The pay is not great. If you are looking to save money and send money back home this program simply is not a good choice for that. I had been in Asia for a bit prior to this and was tired of Asia and thought this would be a huge contrast...which it is...but in no way does the pay even come close to comparing.

That being said I am in a pretty small town and will be able to save a tiny bit of my stipend each month. If you budget correctly you should be able to do that.

As far as administrative tasks....I've had three since the end of January. Two monthly reports (one for Feb and one for March) and one standardized test I was in charge of that was required by the Ministry not the actual school I work for.

I worked in China for a while and had to submit weekly lesson plans, where I worked in the states I had to submit bi-weekly reports/lesson plans....It is part of the job. I don't think it is too much to ask for.

There are RC (regional coordinators) for every region, and in bigger regions there are more than one. The RC's are a good point of contact and help make sure everything is going ok for you. My personal RC is wonderful, some might have a different situation with their RC.

There are hundreds of schools and locations this program can offer. It is impossible to say whether or not you as an individual will have a good experience. In my city, in my school, I am doing just fine and am completely content with my life and work here.

If you want to bank a ton of money in a year teaching abroad you need to go to Asia, this is not the place for you, not just Colombia, but Latin America in general is not the place to get rich teaching English. However if you are interested in Colombia and are ok with not getting rich, simply request to be in a smaller city. Those in Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena are not going to do well financially, but in my little city I will survive.

I recommend this program to people who are kind of new to the field. I can't imagine the two weeks of training (which are mandatory) would be exciting to seasoned veterans of the field, and there is a lot of hand-holding that might seem a bit like babysitting for adults who have been teaching for years and years and years. That being said most fellows are brand new to the field and in their early to mid 20's and need a little bit of hand holding.

Hope this post helps some people understand more what the program is like.
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Joined: 16 Jun 2015
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 6:18 pm    Post subject: Re: Don't Do Colombia Bilingue Program with the Ministry!!!! Reply with quote

ChewyB wrote:
There are mountains of administrative work they make you do, you have to give extra exams all the time, people were paid late, the Coordinators are a joke, the school placements are completely unfair, and on and on and on.
Literally every day there is a new administrative assignment due for us.

I have had three administrative tasks due since I started working at the end of January. Could you explain the mountains of paperwork and 'literal' new administrative assignment due every day?

Also I am curious as to what you mean that the school placements are unfair?
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Joined: 01 Nov 2014
Posts: 3

PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 9:01 pm    Post subject: A Fellow's Experience Reply with quote

I am an English guy with some savings behind him, currently travelling and working through Central and South America. Before I left the UK I completed a CELTA course and I also have a BSc and post grad certificate.

I applied for this Colombia Bilingue programme through ESL Starter last year. I was successful and, following the two week orientation, I have been working in a public school in Palmiria for the past two months.

Here are some of my experiences of the programme.

ESL Starter
I was very pleased with the way that my application was handled by ESL Starter. I had two interviews through them. The first was with Phil from ESL Starter and the second was with a woman who was already working as a co/teacher in Antioquia. Between them they answered most of the questions I had about the programme.

I didn't need to complete a TEFL certificate and so I can't really comment on the issue that was raised about that. I don't have any issues about the transparency of the programme. I feel that there is a wealth of information about it online and there were more details provided on application.

I have checked my emails with ESL Starter and it was only after I was accepted on the programme and had been informed of my placement city that I was asked for the deposit. I have not had to pay anything to ESL Starter for my application. I assume they get a commission for each person they recruit.

The company have also been in touch with me after the start of my employment to check how I am getting along.

As I said, I was pleased with the company's professionalism and I'd apply to them again.

Colombia Bilingue Programme
This is a government programme run through Colombia's Ministry of Education. Before coming away I worked for twenty years in local government in the UK. The amount of administrative paperwork I have to do here is minimal, in my opinion. I have to submit a monthly report detailing my hours worked along with some other stats. I also have to provide a sample lesson plan each month.

The programme is also growing quite rapidly and sometimes the mixture of that and the less-than-optimal systems in place in Colombia means that there has been the odd bump along the way. Health insurance has taken longer than expected to come through, for example, although I have comprehensive private insurance anyway. Having said that, the visa and cedula (Colombia ID scheme) processes went well and I had both of those when expected.

I can't comment on ChewyB's experience of initial housing in the first month, although I have heard that some other fellows had poor experiences. The hostel we were provided with in Palmira, through the ministry, was of a decent standard. Our co-ordinator came to inspect it during the first or second week.

The growth of the programme has meant that most of the Regional Co-Ordinators are co-teachers from previous years who have been promoted. Rapid growth is likely to provide difficulties for any organisation. Having said that I have been happy with my regional co-ordinator. In particular, I had a class observation this week and I think their comments were fair and raised some issues that needed to be addressed. If I had some kind of emergency then I am confident that they would be on hand to support me.

I have administered the Oxford Placement Test to a proportion of the students that I am co-teaching, which took up most of my hours for the one week, when I didn't have to teach as well. I received training to do this. I was discussing this yesterday with a colleague and they pointed out that this is good experience to have and to be able to show on a CV. We were told about this during orientation and it is the only set of tests that I have had to administer.

I receive a weekly report from my co-ordinator, which is useful. This does tend to include references to the deposit and the need to complete tasks so it isn't forfeit, which I find irritating. I'd rather they didn't do it, but it isn't a huge issue for me. To be fair to the programme they are only reiterating what is in our contracts.

This week the security situation in Colombia has worsened and our Regional Co-ordinators were very quick to warn us and point to places where we could find more information.

I don't earn anything like the sort of salary I am used to in the UK, nor it's equivalent in Colombian terms, but that isn't why I am here. While I am away I want to experience a mixture of travelling as a tourist and living and working in some places to experience local life and culture. My salary allows me to do this.

As suggested by the programme I had $1000 put aside to live on before I had my first pay check and that was enough to live on and set myself up when I first arrived in Palmira. The 1.5 million pesos also seems to be enough money to live on and I hope to be able to save enough for a couple of breaks during the holidays. For Easter a few of us went away for most of the week and I am still expecting to have some of my salary in hand by next pay day.

Lifestyle wise, I don't go out spending money with gay abandon, but I get a taxi to work each morning and have a restaurant lunch most weekdays (mainly because there are two decent, cheap veggie restaurants in town Very Happy).

Downsides and difficulties
My school works on a split shift system and so my days start at 6am, meaning that I wake up at 4.30am (and hence the morning taxi). There are a couple of days when I work in the afternoon as well. Given that the temperatures are regularly up in the 90s I am often somewhat wan and tired by mid-morning, as are my co-teachers and many of the students.

Discipline is an issue here. From what I have heard my school is not unique and may be better than some. But, students are often in the corridor during classes and can be disruptive in class. The preferred method of working by students seems to be by copying from each other. It is not unusual to find a student copying work from another class in the middle of an English lesson.

Colombians do make a lot out of how friendly they are, and this is not much of an exaggeration. My mentor has arranged salsa classes which she joins us for. One of our co-teachers invited us to a celebration in his town during our second week. We spent a Saturday being driven around the local countryside and visiting the quite incredible finca being built by one of the other teachers in our school. My aim to experience local life and culture is already being met.

The programme works in areas of economic deprivation with public schools. That gives me personal satisfaction. Although the kids might be indisciplined their are almost universally pleased to have native speakers in school. They might not follow it through with sustained effort, but they are hugely enthusiastic.

Worth doing?
I don't have any regrets about applying for this job. If I knew then what I know now I'd still have applied.

I agree with what General Disarray said, this is
A good deal for new teachers with virtually no experience.
such as myself, although I do also know experienced teachers on the scheme who are still pleased that they applied.

I hope this is informative as one other persons experience of the project. I'm happy to answer any questions people have about it if they find that useful.
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Joined: 26 Sep 2013
Posts: 512
Location: Jakarta

PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2016 4:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That $400 is clearly intended to tie you to the programme for the whole year, nothing more. I just backed out before the 2nd interview-for one I didn't like the tone of the guy in the American office who was dealing with the application/ 2nd interview. Insisting that the 'skype' interview be conducted at an American time that suited him alone....this programme maybe ok for newbies but come on-1500 Columbian peso a month? It's going to be some 'cultural experience' surviving in Bogota on that salary.... Shocked
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Joined: 03 Feb 2006
Posts: 16
Location: Saudi Arabia

PostPosted: Sat Aug 06, 2016 11:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The $400 deposit is just that - a deposit....

It's not there to "force" you to stay for a year. I started in July and can stay for just a semester if I choose (end of November)....

There's a reason they have it - they don't want backpack teachers to leave their job prematurely. They want them to actually finish the job contract. I don't think it's terribly difficult to figure out why....
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Joined: 09 Aug 2016
Posts: 3
Location: Canada

PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2016 2:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

jenrd wrote:

I spent two weeks in Bogota for training. During that time I had food and stayed in hotels provided by the program.

How did you find the training? I am thinking of enrolling in the program but don't have much ESL experience or a TEFL cert. I do have a BA, though. Is the training and program in general good for a beginner like me, or is it more beneficial to arrive in Colombia and hand out resumes at language institutes?
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Joined: 27 Aug 2014
Posts: 103
Location: Colombia

PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2016 6:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A native speaker with a BA is a coveted applicant. Your best bet is to show up in Colombia and interview in person for jobs. Just keep a few things in mind as you look for opportunities.

Your ability to get a good job will depend mainly on these factors:

1. The school really needs someone right now.
2. You know someone who knows someone.
3. You offer to do a demo lesson and impress the hiring manager.
4. You have the time and patience to take a few rejections before you find the place to hire you.

If you answer yes to most or all of these questions at any given time, you will be able to find a job.


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Joined: 01 Mar 2017
Posts: 85

PostPosted: Wed May 17, 2017 12:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

1.5 million is very poor payment. I was making nearly 2.5x that when I first arrived to Bogota three years ago and I am now making slightly more than 3x that currently. I would not come to Bogota for less than 3 million IMO....

From what I have heard, heart for change and other similar agencies do not provide housing. But if you go that route, your best bet would be getting a room in a quiet neighborhood in the north for 400 to 450 thousand pesos which includes everything, which is not bad at all. But after food costs and transportation on the god awful transmilenio and even a little bit of fun, you are not left with a heck of a lot. I would not do it.

About the negative things I heard about "Heart for change": I met someone in person, randomly, who said it was not so great. A week later, I read some sketch stuff on facebook (Secret Bogota sssshh) about some Africans being turned away at the very last minute. After they had purchased plane tickets, quit their jobs at home and already received the visa, the visa was suddenly canceled, no reason given. Plus they did not get the full 400 dollar deposit back and when they did, it was very late. I would never recommend a friend try Heart for Change. Other places, not as sure, but the payment, again, sounds lousy.
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Joined: 25 Oct 2010
Posts: 89

PostPosted: Thu Jun 15, 2017 9:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would stay away from this program. 1500 COP a month is terrible, good luck surviving in Bogota or any large city on that. Also I've worked in schools both private and public in Colombia. To say discipline is a problem is an understatement. You'd have to pay me like 5 to 6 times that to get me to go back to teaching at a colegio.

Also the company that recruits teachers for the Colombian Ministry of Education isn't non-profit, they are making quite a bit off their teachers each month and pay them next to nothing. They justify it by calling it "volunteer work" which is basically what it is for 1500 COP a month.
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Joined: 27 Aug 2014
Posts: 103
Location: Colombia

PostPosted: Sun Jul 02, 2017 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have to agree with G22 and CTravel here. 1.5 million pesos a month is awful in any Colombian city, but in Bogotá or Cartagena it would be borderline unlivable. At my job I make 2.3 million a month in a small city called Bucaramanga. I only do this job because they sponsor my visa and pay on time every single month without fail.

I really make my money with private lessons. I teach small groups of 3-5 students and make 45.000-60.000 an hour doing this. My long term plan is to marry here and do this all day long, and eventually get into translating work some years later once my Spanish gets to that type of level.
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