As well as writing regularly on my blog, I've also had 2 articles published on the Guardian Online, from London, England, about teaching English and living abroad.  These articles are a huge source of traffic to this blog and are pasted below.  I am an attributed contributor to the Colombia section of the Footprint 2011 South America Guide and am also trying to write a book about my cycle touring escapades.  I am always open to offers to contribute to other blogs, journals or newspapers, just drop me an email.

Teaching English in South America - Part 1

Back in 2005 I chose to study Spanish and Geography at university, mainly due to my lack of a career plan, and also because spending the third year in a Spanish speaking country was a compulsory part of the degree. So when choosing where to go and what to do in the Hispanic world, I discovered that Leeds University luckily had a fairly flexible year abroad scheme regarding possible options and destinations. Instead of going for the boring and easy option that would be studying in Spain, I followed my adventurous, travelling instincts, and opted for Chile, to teach English with the British Council Language Assistant scheme.
South America is an incredibly beautiful and diverse continent, but one that is often blighted by media reports of social divides, corruption, and drugs. Chile however is very different to its neighbours, the recent rescue of the 33 miners showed the country in its best light - organised and efficient. I was in Santiago, a spectacular capital city with hundreds of skyscrapers overshadowed by the mighty snow-capped Andes.
For my first time living and working in Latin America, Chile was a great introduction to the continent. Getting used to things such as the different Spanish accent and punctuality, or the lack of it, is difficult at first, but Santiago is a developed, cosmopolitan city with fine bars, restaurants and museums to help you settle, just be careful what time you agree to meet people!
Teaching in South America tends to be very different to what we're accustomed to in the UK. With a TEFL course, CELTA or equivalent, jobs are generally available teaching adults in language institutes or universities, although universities can vary enormously. Some fit the British concept, with thousands of students and superb resources, but due to a lack of public finance and student support in higher education, these will often be the most expensive and exclusive variety. Consequently there are lots of more vocational universities offering a wider range of 'cheaper' courses, such as where I taught, at La Universidad Tecnología de Chile, or INACAP as it's more commonly known.
Financial constraints also mean most students usually live at home, which has an effect on their life experiences and maturity, making teaching in a university feel more like that of a school, rather than a higher education establishment. I had a few nightmares trying to set a fixed date for exams and assessed work, never would I have thought negotiation to be an essential skill for an English teacher!
Obviously a big attraction to living abroad is the opportunity to travel. Depending where you are in Latin America, holidays can be up to three months, as in Chile and Argentina. I made the most of this time by travelling to the wilderness of Patagonia, where I rafted the clear blue water of the Futalefú river, one of the fiercest in the world, and trekked between the jagged peaks of Torres del Paine, surrounded by lakes and glaciers. Long weekends allowed me to visit Buenos Aires, a crazy city with a very European feel, and witness the incredible passion and hostility of a Boca Juniors and River Plate derby. After my contract ended I trekked to Machu Picchu in Peru and cycled down the world's most dangerous road in Bolivia to complete the adventurous theme of the year. My fascination with south America had begun.
Graduating into recession in 2009 was a blessing in disguise. I took the chance to return to the continent with the British Council scheme, this time to Colombia, a country that makes most people immediately ask about drugs, then about kidnappings or guerillas, while in your mother's presence. I'm pleased to say this is nothing like the Colombia I experienced.
Working in a university again, but with more confidence this time round, I was responsible for the running of the Conversation Club which gave me complete freedom in deciding what to teach, or talk about, and so kept the job lively and interesting. Colombia also has fewer native speakers than other places, but this means you can be a man in demand with a bit of effort. I ended up teaching in a private school once a week, although school starts at around 7am, which can be a challenging day with a rowdy class of thirty 10-year-olds.
Cali, Colombia's third city, was my home this time, and it's famed for beautiful women, an all year round semi-tropical climate and the self-proclaimed salsa capital of the world. Life there revolves around salsa, so naturally, I had to learn, socialising with any Caleñas is near impossible without it. By the end of the year, I'm proud to say I reached an "advanced beginner" level, according to my friends.
Colombia is a truly beautiful country, and unlike other places in south America, has yet to be exploited by the commercial tourism that is so prevalent in places such as Peru. Its drug cartel reputation precedes it, but the national image is improving. Colombians are all too aware of what the world thinks of them, and on the most part, are only too keen to try and alter that perception with endearing generosity and friendliness that would be inconceivable in Britain.
After enjoying my two years abroad immensely, I have now just completed a CELTA, and plan to return independently to Colombia again in January 2011. Living abroad is not for everyone, but if you want an adventure and a different experience, I recommend looking into TEFL and seeing the wealth of opportunities that can arise.

When I wrote my first article in January I was writing from snowy England, pondering the prospect of returning to Colombia, but it's always easier talking about things than actually doing them. Well, I took the plunge and left the home comforts behind once again, and I've now been back in the tropical and crazy city of Cali for just under two months.

I wanted to return to Cali as I had a good group of friends and contacts here, know the city fairly well, and understand how things work – although as it's South America, nothing truly works as it should. It is a strange feeling coming back, friends warmly greet me, astonished I've returned, the lady in the corner shop asks the same questions about the Queen, and the surreal nature of playing cricket in a tropical climate with a bunch of English people will never be lost on me.

On both my previous visits to South America I'd arrived to find temporary accommodation and a job as a British Council language assistant ready and waiting for me, but that wasn't the case this time. Being here independently poses a whole host of problems, first of all, where to stay. Luckily an English friend invited me to live with his family for a month, but if I was in a new city, I'd have to stay in a hostel before getting established, which could turn out rather costly.

Then of course, there's the job hunt. I didn't think it would be easy, but with a certificate in English language teaching to adults (CELTA) qualification now proudly tucked under my arm, I hoped to work at the university where I was last year. However, reported "financial irregularities" have left the univeristy in trouble with the government, and it has had to cut wages and stop hiring new teachers. I enquired at other universities but unfortunately was a week or so late, as term had already started.

There are language institutes in most South American cities, and these obviously provide a significant source of employment opportunities. It's a basic supply-and-demand market for teachers, if there are classes that need teaching, and no one to teach them, you'll be in a job the same day, without too much consideration of your qualifications or experience. On the other hand, if classes are all taken, you have to take the owner's word that he'll contact you if something comes up. It's just being in the right place at the right time, and it can be frustrating hearing the same empty promises.

I persisted though, and now have a job teaching 18 hours a week in an institute near where I live. The work is not as well paid as either in schools or universities, but it's slightly "cowboy" nature does have advantages. You're generally paid cash-in-hand, which saves the hassle of trying and failing to open a bank account, and classes are small and fairly stress-free, with motivated adult students.

Institute teaching is generally evening and Saturday based, due to students working during the week, so you can end up with a lot of free time. Touting private classes is a good way to earn some extra cash and keep yourself busy throughout the day. I currently teach a lady who runs her own business and she has recommended me to her friends. I am getting more work as my reputation grows, and this private work is proving quite lucrative.

The most problematic issue at the moment is my visa. Again, last time that was all organised for me, but without a job this time I arrived with a standard two month tourist visa that expires in two weeks, although it is extendable for about £25 for up to six months. I could border hop to Ecuador for about the same price and receive another two month visa, but that would mean a weekend trip, so think I'll opt for the former.

Working for universities and schools without a work visa is difficult, but not impossible. It's very much a case of the chicken and the egg, it's hard to get a visa without a job, and hard to get a job without the visa. My boss is investigating a possible student visa which should be valid for six months, and is apparently easier to apply for than a work one. My goal is to get a job in a private school for August, and they would then help out with the relevant visa papers and fees.

I have also returned to my old one-day-a-week job at a private school, which specialises in teaching 
pupils with behavioural and attention problems. It's hard work at times, but a fantastic experience. In England you'd never be able to teach such children without relevant qualifications, but here I've been entrusted with a lot of responsibility, together with a decent salary.

Going abroad independently is obviously harder and more complicated than going on a more organised trip, but people do it and succeed all the time. I look at it as an adventure, if you don't try, you never find out. There are things you love and look forward to every day, such as the unbelievably outgoing people, amazing fruit juices and wonderful weather in Cali, but you also find some things that drive you mad. I don't think I'll ever understand Colombians' tolerance of cold showers at 6am, motorbikes on the pavement, or bus drivers being able to decide when their bus is actually full, or if a few more people can just hang off the side.

I've now found myself a cheap, furnished apartment in the central, historic and increasingly touristy area of San Antonio where there's a small but quite close-knit group of foreigners and Colombians. The very social culture here often means that a few beers on the street with a friend on a Friday night turns into a large salsa dancing group drinking aguardiente and rum into the early hours of Saturday morning. And that's Cali for you –work on a Saturday morning the party city of Colombia, a great place to live, and a difficult place to get up for .