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I've be intently researching where to go (to take and work) with my TEFL certification to teach English. I am having a really hard time deciding because everywhere seems amazing. I currently live in San Francisco, California and am originally from Michigan. I have only been out of the states a few times one was very touristy on a cruise and the other for school in Buenos Aries, Argentina. I looking to learn Spanish while i live and work in a Spanish speaking country. I have been looking at Costa Rica, Mexico City, Playa del Carmen, and Guatemala as my top choices. Would like some help narrowing that down some.

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    Hi, there! I've studied Spanish in more than a dozen schools in 3 countries. I can't help specifically with the TEFL part but have pasted below some research sites and reflections based on my experiences, for whatever they're worth to you. ¡Buena suerte!
    ________________________

    You can search for schools by country or city using
    http://www.123teachme.com
    but take the ratings with a grain of salt. Specific to Guatemala, try
    http://www.guatemala365.com
    but keep in mind that they haven't added schools for many years so some terrific ones (like the Cooperativa, below) aren't listed.

    For bang for your buck, Guatemala leads the list of Spanish schools in CA, followed closely by Honduras. In both countries 1-on-1 instruction is the norm; in other CA countries and México it's hard to find and you pay dearly for it - sometimes 3 or 4 times what you'd pay for the same offerings in Guatemala. I HUGELY prefer 1-on1 instruction because I want my own strengths and needs, learning style, and desire for a break or a change of pace to drive the curriculum and instruction. Even in a small group - 2 to 4 people, that's unlikely to be the case as we're no 2 alike in this challenging language learning process.

    In Guatemala Antigua, Xela, and the villages around Lake Atltlán are all popular choices. Antigua has the least effective immersion environment because there are dozens of schools and thousands of tourists at any given time so the infrastructure is largely English speaking. I'm not over fond of Xela; it's chilly at that higher altitude and it's a big (not so attractive imo) city and I'm just not a city person. The surrounding area is interesting, though, and here is a link to information about that area: http://xelapages.com/ . The lake is where I prefer to head.

    In Honduras, I think Copán makes an excellent base for study - cute town, lots to do including museums, the ruins, a bird park, a butterfly place, hot springs, caving, and hiking. Although it gets a lot of visitors because of the ruins, they seem to be mainly day trippers or stick to their hotels and surprisingly few locals speak English (a good thing for Spanish acquisition). La Ceiba is a city and HOT so I haven't headed back there; the immersion factor is decent (though it's better in small towns imo because the locals get a kick out of helping you practice) and there are great outdoor activities in the area. The islands (and in general popular beachy places in all countries) make poor immersion environments but have their own appeal.

    In any school, ask for what you want; if you're not pleased with your teacher or host family, fix it instead of going on week after week in a situation that doesn't fit your needs. I wouldn't commit to more than a week or 2 until you know the school and town is a good fit for you. Teachers in quality schools are so good at assessing your level and learning style that moving doesn't "cost" as much as you might think. If it feels right - don't move.

    If you're interested in university credit for Spanish immersion study or volunteer and cultural learning projects, check out
    www.liveandlearninlatinamerica.blogspot.com

    Here's a link to my photo collections with blog and travelogue links on the main pages; I'll refer you to collections below.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections

    The following are schools I’ve attended and can recommend personally.

    Academia Antigüeña is a good school in Antigua, Guatemala - strong teachers, cool activities, interactive host families, though I had 3 add'l students in mine which was common. Prioritizing homestays is really important in Antigua where many schools offer stays that are more like boarding houses than family stays. Several people have complained about staying with Olga, the secretary of the school, so I'd avoid that. Familia de Cesar Sactic is wonderful. Antigua isn't a good immersion environment but it's a good place to start if you haven't traveled in CA much. Guatemala 2009 collection http://www.spanishacademyantiguena.com

    Cooperativa is my home away from home - I really love that place. Gorgeous garden setting overlooking Lake Atitlán in Guatemala - young, talented teachers, culturally important activities, interactive families (though a bit more humble lodgings than in the others), and heavy community investment. I have life-long friends there who have helped me start a non profit: http://www.becaproject.org
    2007 and 2009 collections for study, 2010 and 2011 for more local photos - I'll be at least visiting there every year and usually studying for a few weeks. http://www.cooperativeschoolsanpedro.edu.gt

    Ixbalanque in Copán Ruinas, Honduras is another great school you could consider - beautiful new school building, cute town, great staff and families. I've enjoyed their weekly activities, too, and there's lots to do in the area. 2005 and 2008 collections http://www.ixbalanque.com

    Central American Spanish School with bases in La Ceiba and on Utila and Roatán is a good school; in La Ceiba my teacher and host family were really amazing. La Ceiba is HOT and I'm not much of a city person, though. The islands are poor immersion environments as English is widely spoken; lots to do though (I'm a diver). 2006 collection http://www.ca-spanish.com

    Instituto Jovel in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico - beautiful school, well run, good staff and families. I enjoyed San Cristobal and surrounds but it's MUCH more expensive. 2010 collection http://www.institutojovel.com

    If you contact any of them, please tell them hi from Stacey. :-)
    http://www.liveandlearninlatinamerica.blogspot.com

    Here's a link to my photo collections with blog and travelogue links on the main pages; I'll refer you to collections below.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections

    The following are schools I’ve attended and can recommend personally.

    Academia Antigüeña is a good school in Antigua, Guatemala - strong teachers, cool activities, interactive host families, though I had 3 add'l students in mine which was common. Prioritizing homestays is really important in Antigua where many schools offer stays that are more like boarding houses than family stays. Several people have complained about staying with Olga, the secretary of the school, so I'd avoid that. Familia de Cesar Sactic is wonderful. Antigua isn't a good immersion environment but it's a good place to start if you haven't traveled in CA much. Guatemala 2009 collection http://www.spanishacademyantiguena.com

    Cooperativa is my home away from home - I really love that place. Gorgeous garden setting overlooking Lake Atitlán in Guatemala - young, talented teachers, culturally important activities, interactive families (though a bit more humble lodgings than in the others), and heavy community investment. I have life-long friends there who have helped me start a non profit: http://www.becaproject.org
    2007 and 2009 collections for study, 2010 and 2011 for more local photos - I'll be at least visiting there every year and usually studying for a few weeks. http://www.cooperativeschoolsanpedro.edu.gt

    Ixbalanque in Copán Ruinas, Honduras is another great school you could consider - beautiful new school building, cute town, great staff and families. I've enjoyed their weekly activities, too, and there's lots to do in the area. 2005 and 2008 collections http://www.ixbalanque.com

    Central American Spanish School with bases in La Ceiba and on Utila and Roatán is a good school; in La Ceiba my teacher and host family were really amazing. La Ceiba is HOT and I'm not much of a city person, though. The islands are poor immersion environments as English is widely spoken; lots to do though (I'm a diver). 2006 collection http://www.ca-spanish.com

    Instituto Jovel in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico - beautiful school, well run, good staff and families. I enjoyed San Cristobal and surrounds but it's MUCH more expensive. 2010 collection http://www.institutojovel.com

    If you contact any of them, please tell them hi from Stacey. :-)

    Let me know if I can answer more questions!

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    Love the information thank you so much! But i am not looking into attending school there, i would be going as part of a TEFL program to teach english, so i would be learning spanish purely with classes they offer as well as with in the culture and my environment. So more looking into something like that. Honduras sadly is not a destination offered to teach within this program. Mostly wondering what of the places i mentioned would be the best place to live and work in, to gain the most experiences out of my stay.

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    Hmmm....guess I can't help you much with that. Are the programs specifically located in a particular part of Costa Rica and Guatemala? Those of us with experience with either or both of those could advise you better if we knew. I'm not a city person so I personally wouldn't choose Mexico City and Playa del Carmen is really touristy - a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. In any event I hope you find just what you're looking for!

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    In CA www.teflcertificatecourses.com Costa Rica offers TEFL Considered to be the “Switzerland” of Central America would be my fav in CA in winter. travel.state.gov for a heads up on entry safety.

    In Spring Summer Fall too much rain in CA for me go to SA.
    saexplorers.org/clubhouses/quito good experience with dennistourguide@gmail.com owner of guanguiltagua.com
    can help you stay at the Magic Bean hostel and study and many
    nice cheap places there. Bolivar2.com in Cuenca also nice.

    There MANY on line TEFL middlemen scammers here and there shop carefully boots on the ground best to get best price and notthe shaft.

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    I think it depends on what kind of environment you prefer. Since you live in San Francisco and went to school in Buenos Aires, does that mean you prefer cities? If so, you probably would not be happy teaching in a small village or town, particularly if it is in a remote area.

    Mexico City is awesome, but a bit overwhelming. It is the 3rd largest city in the world with almost 9 million people,and over 20 million in the metropolitan area. I love big cities, but that would be a bit much for me unless I was totally fluent in Spanish.

    I like Antigua, but it's a little more expensive than many other places in CA, but of course, still much cheaper than the US. (I used to live in NYC and San Francisco, and it's definitely much cheaper than there). As hopefulist pointed out, there are a lot of Spanish schools in Antigua. Locals are very accustomed to tourists and very welcoming. Many of the people in the hotels and shops don't speak English, and I used my Spanish extensively every day. Antigua has good access to Guatemala City and is also a good base for visiting other parts of CA.

    Guatemala City is the largest city in CA, and is also intimidating at first blush. But after my fifth time going through there, it was much less so. It wouldn't be my choice of places to live because IMO there are many other cities that are more beautiful and less crime ridden. Have you considered Tegucigalpa?

    My favorite area, though, was around Lake Atitlan. I expected it to be just a stop on my route, but I actually loved it. Stunningly beautiful lake surrounded by volcanos. My plan is to go study there for a couple of weeks in Panajachel. I also like Solola, which is only a short distance away. I also liked the smaller towns and villages around the lake.I just plain old loved the area around Lake Atitlan!

    Is it at all possible to visit your top 3 areas in CA before making a decision? You can do tons of research, buy guidebooks, view pictures online, go to youtube, search Facebook, etc, but until you are actually there, you won't know which city you prefer. Cheapest current airfare SFO to Guatemala City is around $520,and once on the ground you can find decent hotels for $25/night or less. For example, the cheapest rooms at Casa Cristina in Antigua are only $27, and at Posada Juma Ocag they are only $18. Both are clean and well-located. Mario's Rooms in Panajachel are around $20 for a single, and it's right on the main street. (You can check reviews for any of these hotels on tripadvisor.com). Flights from SFO to San Jose, Costa Rica are also currently a little over $500.

    Transportation is cheap too, even if you don't take chicken buses. For example, the van ride from Antigua to Panajachel was only $12.

    I hope I don't sound elitist by suggesting you do a reconnaissance trip,and I know that for most of us money is always a consideration. It's just that I have traveled all over the world in the last 30 years, and places that I thought I would love, I didn't, and places that I thought would be so-so I ended up falling in love with. So if I were going to make a major move to Latin America, if at all possible I would scrape together money, use frequent flyer miles, backpack, stay in hostels--whatever it took to see the place firsthand before committing to live there.

    Good luck to you, and congrats to you for exploring such a wonderful opportunity.

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    Wow, lots of good info in the replies above! Not sure from your message whether you've already chosen a TEFL cert program somewhere or not? If not, I highly recommend the SIT TESOL program - it has an excellent reputation - as having taught peace corps volunteers early on - has a brick and mortars school in Vermont. They provide the training at many locations. I took it a few years ago in Oaxaca in Mexico - a really wonderful town. Very walkable. Affordable. Lots to do in surrounding area. great music, culture, food, museums. Many language schools in town. A few of my fellow TEFL classmates stayed and taught there. I needed to return to US (was already teaching). But I found the course to be very helpful - LOTS of feedback on practice teaching experiences.
    SIT also runs a highly praised program in a rural area of Costa Rica - which was tempting, because I also love CR. But I was afraid I might feel a little isolated there. But if you're looking for a more rural experience, that would be a good one. Assume you've spent time on sites like eslcafe.com
    that include TEFL student reviews of their experiences and also experiences of English teachers in various countries. . .

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    I think I misread your initial post. I assumed you were looking for a place to move to in order to teach English, but upon re-reading you are looking for a place to take the TEFL course, and then you plan to stay on and teach there. Is that correct? If so, then ignore the info I posted about taking a reconnaissance trip.

    You could pick a location to take the TEFL course, and once in Latin America check out other locations if you decided you wanted to teach somewhere else. Travel in Latin America can be pretty inexpensive using buses.

    Based on the info you posted, I would choose either Guatemala or Costa Rica. Playa del Carmen is a resort city, so is pretty touristy, and as I stated above, Mexico City might be overwhelming for someone who doesn't speak Spanish.

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