Friday, June 15, 2012

Have language…will teach

Occasionally I receive an email asking my opinion about relocating to Peru for a time and earning a living while here teaching English. Usually the emails are from young unattached people apparently looking for a bit of adventure. Upon returning recently from an extended visit home I found two such emails. I normally don’t check email while traveling…there is no compelling reason for me to do so. If memory serves me right the last really important email sent to me was in about 1997, and I have yet to respond to it. The emails I receive these days are pretty much from soldiers in Iraq who have found 37 million dollars in some old ammo crates and need my help in getting it out of country, or from young beautiful girls who saw my profile; fell madly in love with me and want to “knowing us much butter.” But back to the relocaters.

I try not to be pessimistic in my reply but with regards to teaching English to earn their daily bread my response is always… “You better have a plan B.” Chiclayanos are not lined up hoping a native English speaker/teacher will be getting off the next plane. Most younger people here want to learn a foreign language about as much as young American students do, and the older folks couldn’t care less. Studying a minimal amount of English is mandatory in secondary schools, and a minimum proficiency is necessary to graduate from universities, but that’s only because English is the universal language…not because anyone has a burning desire to speak it.

So the first problem is finding enough students to pay the bills. The second is retaining them. Lots of luck with that. Peruvians have a very casual attitude toward time and commitments. Just because a student showed up on time for the first class doesn’t mean it will happen for the next session. It’s just as likely that you will never see them again. And for people who are serious and committed to learning English, there are a number of colleges, universities and private institutions that do a very good job of teaching. Like I said, you better have another plan. And it better not be plan “R”.

R is for restaurant. Failed restaurants rank right behind failed teaching as a stimulus for gringos to catch the next bus out of town. There seems to be a perception that Peruvians are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to feast on European and American food. Except for the popularity of KFC here in Chiclayo, that’s not the case at all. Peruvians want the food they are accustomed to eating. You know that inch-thick T-bone steak done medium rare most of us love so much? Peruvians would send it back to the kitchen to be cooked more until it’s the color of ‘burn’ inside and out. And they will cover it with six different types of sauces. They don’t want an American hamburger or hot dog or chili. They want lomo saltado and ceviche, but mostly they want rice.

And forget about differentiating your restaurant with a clever décor and American ‘customer focus.’ If you were to greet customers at the door with a big smile and a …”Hi folks! are you today?, they would wonder what the hell you’re talking about. And they don’t care if they wait thirty to forty five minutes to be served, and if their dinner companion’s meals are served twenty minutes apart. That is what they are accustomed to. Serving them fast, friendly and efficiently isn’t going to get you anything. Peruvians want lots of the food they are accustomed to at the lowest possible cost. Period. They couldn’t care less about the service or ambiance.  

So is there no hope for a person who wants to experience Peru and needs to earn a few bucks while doing it? I really can’t answer that question. I don’t personally know, or know of, any gringo who is earning their living in Chiclayo. All the gringos I know are retired and living on the fruits of their past efforts.

But let me throw this out as a teaser. Some time ago while in the USA I had an idea for a business in Chiclayo that I think is as close to a ‘can’t miss’ as it is possible to get. And Maribel completely agrees and is excited about it. I don’t think it would take a whole lot of upfront cash to generate a prompt return on investment and a substantial ongoing income. I’m not going to go any further because I just might decide to do it myself some day. But the point is that there are ways to earn a living in Chiclayo/Peru. I just don’t think they include an English teaching restaurant.

As I mentioned up top we’re just back from an extended stay in the USA. We had a good visit and some really great highlights. I’ll be posting a few entries about our visit soon.


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