My Work and the Police Mafia

30 Jun

When it came time to find a job in Argentina, I chose one with lower pay in exchange for a work visa sponsorship, health “benefits,” a local bank account, and regular hours. Six months later, I’m still in the beginning stages of obtaining a work visa – thank you bureaucracy. The health benefits turn out to be about equal to the national healthcare available for anyone inside the country. And, a local bank account is no longer an asset, since recent laws have made it basically impossible to withdraw U.S. dollars inside this country.

Regardless of this, I am increasingly grateful to have landed the job I did. I teach at an English institute that markets itself to working professionals and college students. Its methodology combines technology (think Rosetta Stone with a telenovela storyline) with in-person conversation, practice, and assessment. It’s a quality program, and its price reflects it.

The demographic of my students could not be more different than back in L.A. – except for still being English Language Learners. Some of my favorites include:

– An 80+-year-old woman whose father and husband both worked as ambassadors for Argentina. She grew up a child of the world near the Argentine embassies of France, Poland, Switzerland, and Brazil. French is her first language, Spanish her second, Portuguese her third, and English her fourth. Her royal-like upbringing and connections always make for fascinating stories (admired by Churchill, high tea with the Queen), made all the better by pepperings of multi-lingual profanity.

– A twenty-something medical student. She is Peruvian and moved here to take advantage of Argentina’s free education system. (In Argentina, you can become a doctor FOR FREE.) While going to school full-time, she also works at a pharmacy and just bought her first apartment. In my mind, she is the epitome of the AMERICAN dream, she’s whip-smart, and she doesn’t believe in dinosaurs, evolution, OR creation.

– A 30-something Brazilian flight attendant. She’s just a hoot. Plus, flight attendants put everyone else’s multi-lingual skills and traveling savvy to shame.

The students come to the institute when it fits their schedule, and I never know who I am going to see until I arrive that day. As a result, it is literally impossible to do much planning ahead of time. For anyone who has ever taught, I promise I do not take for granted my ability to clock out every day, go home and not even think about work until the following morning. It’s been a refreshing and restful change of pace.

Another difference between my current job and working back in L.A. is that every month, the Argentine police “mafia” comes to collect their check. Technically, it is a monthly pittance to a Buenos Aires police charity “foundation.” When the institute first moved to its current location, a representative came to request a charitable contribution. My boss refused … he came to work the next day to a ransacked school. The back door had been broken into and several brand-new computers stolen.

Before anyone reported it to the police, they showed up on their own, and once again, asked for a donation. The institute, like all its neighbors, has been paying them off every month since.

For anyone interested in teaching English in South America, there are plenty of jobs in B.A. It’s extremely easy to find work. It’s not so easy to make a living wage – especially while abiding by immigration policies. – If you manage a way to pay for rent, prepare for at least U.S. $600 PER ROOM, you will be able to make enough to pay for your other expenses. If you have teaching experience, another way to go is to teach at an international school outside the city – apply in advance, and many of them will give you a monthly stipend for living.

If you have any more questions about working in Argentina, I would love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below!

6 Responses to “My Work and the Police Mafia”

  1. Linda Wesner July 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Maggie, this is fascinating! We’ll miss you on the 4th!

  2. Loyana July 1, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    “Rosetta Stone w/ a telanovela story line” LOVE IT! Gotta keep people interested. Glad to hear you are doing well. Stay away from the mafia-police.

  3. Anne Miller July 3, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Love the descriptions of your students….You have a book, Maggie!

  4. Alfred August 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    Hi I am an english teacher currently working in Brazil, I am very interested in moving to BA as an english teacher, but Im worried it wont be enough to pay the bills..How much do they pay you per hour more or less?.Was it hard to find work without a proper work visa?

    • Stephen August 24, 2012 at 7:53 am #

      Hey Alfred,
      Teaching English at an institute here varies a lot depending on the institution. Some friends of ours have amazing jobs where they’ve helped pay for rent and give a decent hourly rate (decent is about $50 pesos per hour). Maggie was making far less than that but her job came with other perks like a work visa, health insurance and a consistent schedule. It’s not hard to find a teaching job at an institute without a visa.
      I suggest you go to and search for some conversations about teaching English. There’s tons of info from people like us.
      Safe travels!

  5. Brian McKenna November 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    Hi, I just came across your blog today. I am a New Yorker who has been living and working here for 33 years. What’s the matter with aging? I’m 70 and have lived almost half of that right here. Drop me a line. Sincerely.

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