We interviewed Greenheart Travel Alum, Sam Cushing, about getting TEFL certified in Argentina, living abroad for 2 years, and what he’s been up to since returning to the States.
You can watch our interview with Sam below, or scroll down to read the transcription.
Kara: Can you just do, like, a brief little bio intro?
Sam: Back in 2017, I made up my mind that I kind of wanted to, you know, leave my corporate job working in the States as a consultant. A friend of mine connected me with Greenheart Travel and specifically with Kara. I decided that I wanted to be a part of the Argentina program and I went down to Buenos Aires to live and to go through the TEFL course.
Kara: And just in case someone doesn’t know, what is a TEFL course, what did you do? What was the program like?
Sam: It was sort of like a crash course where they taught us how to teach and how to be a teacher, specifically an English teacher. So, you know, we had to do all sorts of practice classes. We had to actually get up in front of the classes as a part of the training. We had to write papers just to make sure that when we actually went out into the real world and taught that we knew what we were doing.
Kara: Did you have any previous teaching experience or education background or anything before you went?
Sam: No, I had none. I like to consider myself okay at English, I think I can navigate my language. But no, I mean I was definitely not prepared for that. I didn’t have any prerequisite knowledge or anything. So it was a new experience for me.
Kara: And you went by yourself, right?
Sam: I went by myself, I didn’t know a single person, and I had never been there before. I knew that I wanted to go to a Latin, like a Spanish speaking country, because I did have some prerequisite knowledge from like high school Spanish. And I studied abroad in Madrid. So I thought I could maybe navigate the language.
Sam: I wanted a big city and I wanted a progressive city being gay. So Buenos Aires. It’s always funny saying Buenos Aires because I kind of forget now the American way, “Buenos Ar-ess” or whatever.
Kara: We’ve talked about that in the office before because when I talk to people and answer questions, it’s like, yeah. I feel stupid being like “Buenose Air-ees”, but I also don’t want to be speaking in a heavy Chicago accent and then be like, “Buenos Aires.”
Sam: I feel kind of pompous when I say Buenos Aires, but like that is the way I would say it.
Kara: I feel like you get a pass though because you lived there.
Sam: You think so?
Kara: I think so.
Kara: You said you met people in the course, but outside of the course was it easy to make friends? Like how did you kind of go about meeting people?
Sam: Well, I think that was also part of the criteria for me in choosing which city I wanted to go to. You know, this whole concept of like, you know, “Mi casa tu casa.” My house is your house, everybody’s welcome. I don’t think I would have done it if I didn’t already have a preset course and a preset group of people that I knew that I could plug myself into.
If there were a few days I was like, “Shoot, I don’t have any friends to text right now. Like I don’t know what to do,” That was fine by me because I would just put in my headphones and go walk around the city or go explore. And that’s also like kind of what I wanted.
Kara: A lot of friends and family that don’t travel, they often ask me what is it like to be an American traveling? And I feel like everyone kind of has their own take on it.
Sam: Totally. So I feel like there’s the Americans who go down and just gravitate towards the other Americans, and then there’s the ones that just fully reject it. I don’t know, I think I was a little bit in between.
There were certain times where it was nice because I was down there for two years. When an American, you know, a friend of a friend would come down, it was nice to go grab drinks with them or something. I will say, I think that had I done this experience pre-digital era, that would have brought with it a whole new set of challenges. Like if I just want to speak English, you know. Sometimes you get exhausted from just trying to speak Spanish all the time. I would go home and just call a friend and that would just re-energize me.
Kara: So what did you do after the course? Did you get a teaching job or did you not?
Sam: I taught for a while. I would go to companies like Deloitte or PWC and kind of do private tutoring sessions. I was really loving my time down there and I wanted to stay for a long time. I just wanted to be there legally for a long time.
Sam: Worry-free. I ended up finding this job at a tech company who said they would sponsor me. What was cool about it is I actually was able to kind of use some of my English teaching skills there, because I was the only native speaker. I just kind of elected to host these Lunch and Languages where I would kind of sit down with all of the employees and we would just chat in English and I would like use some of the lesson plans that we built and the TEFL course and just repurpose them.
Kara: Since you don’t have a background in education and then you ended up not working in teaching afterward, a lot of people are in the same boat. They don’t have a background in education. They do know that they want to go live abroad and they know that teaching English is kind of like a means to an end, but either they themselves or family or friends are like, “but that’s not your career path. You shouldn’t have a break in your career.”
So what was your experience with that? Do you have any advice for somebody who’s like, “should I leave my career for a little bit?”
Sam: I mean, that was something I really grappled with too. I was freaked out because I was on such a clear career path. Like it couldn’t have been any more like laid out for me. I went to University of Illinois, I kind of honestly just followed in my brother’s footsteps. He and I are both in the same consulting business organizations on campus. He went to go work for a big four company. I did the same thing.
It wasn’t comfortable for me. It didn’t feel natural for me. I think I was, I was good at it but it just wasn’t my calling. I don’t know that teaching was my calling either, but I wanted to kind of spice up my life a little bit. I loved my experience studying abroad in Madrid, and I kind of wanted to replicate that again. Those were some of the happiest months of my life, just kind of exploring and being adventurous.
Was I worried that that gap would affect my like professional resume? Yeah, I was worried. But at the same time, I started thinking if going abroad and having this like really badass, international experience teaching, I mean, teaching is such a cool thing to do to. Think of all the leadership skills involved in being a teacher.
Kara: All those soft skills.
Sam: Yes. Seriously. If a company doesn’t value that, having an international abroad experience, becoming bilingual, being a teacher, then that’s probably actually not a company that I want to work for.
Kara: I do tell people who have this concern, I’m a perfect example. This job was an opportunity that would not have been open to me had I not had that experience.
Sam: Exactly. I mean, how crazy is this? I tell people this and they don’t believe me. The company that I ended up working for, the tech company, they sent me to Medellín to go be the head, the director, of an office of like 80 Colombians. I think those sorts of opportunities, they wouldn’t have presented themselves had I not taken the leap of faith and done it.
And I think the other thing is I was just so unhappy with my job. I started thinking, because everyone asks you like, what do you want to do in life?
I want to take with my grave a bunch of just really cool memories and reflect back on my younger years and be like, wow. The resume of my life, my life experiences, are really cool and that’s somebody that I admire. I’m happy that I chose to do that.
Advice just for anybody who’s considering this, think about what’s important to you. Is it monetary? Like what are the things that you will consider, okay, I’m proud that I did X, Y, and Z.
Kara: I’m always curious why people decide to come back home.
Sam: I only intended to be down there for like six months max.
Kara: That’s what everyone says
Sam: And when I got down there, I was like, wait, this is really cool. I’m very content. Why leave?
You just kind of know when it’s time. I was on my two year like mark. I was just ready for the next adventure, I think.
Kara: Did you have like an adjustment coming back to Chicago? Did you have any reverse culture shock? What was like the hardest thing?
Sam: On one hand, I feel like I didn’t ever leave. You come back and you know, I’m immediately plugged back into my same old friend group and my family’s here. But on the other hand, yeah, really just for the first week, I think you notice things about like our society that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.
For example, I had a layover in like Dallas or something and the airport, and I just remember being like, “oh my gosh.” It’s so diverse in this country. Not that Argentina is not diverse, but it’s a lot more homogeneous than here.
Everything is big here. Like the cars, the highways, houses, everything is bigger here.
Kara: So are you still kind of in that? Have you figured out what you’re going to do?
Sam: I’ve just talked to a lot of people about this and everybody keeps telling me like, okay, Sam, you’ve got to figure out how to like double down on your social media presence. Focus on that and see if you can grow that digital business. So I’m kind of in that phase right now. I just launched the YouTube channel, I’m really trying to grow my Instagram account, working with different brands and sponsorships and all that sort of stuff.
My older brother and I, we actually kind of have an idea for a product to come out and maybe launch it maybe around the summertime. That’ll news right there.
Kara: Is it clothing, beauty…?
Sam: We’re thinking either something textile or something cosmetic. We’ll see. I’m trying to kind of figure out a way to use it for good, like social impact. I would love to create some sort of product that has a philanthropic, charitable tie to it. Potentially something LGBT related.
Kara: A lot of people, when they first go abroad, they want to start documenting it and they want other people to follow them. But I feel like everyone’s trying to do that and most people don’t succeed at it. Do you have any advice?
Sam: Think about your end goal with it. Is it to monetize it? Is it to do something cool in the world? Is it simply just a document? And then I think having that objective in mind will kind of drive the sort of content you put out and how you put it out.
Kara: What is the tourist trap in Argentina that travelers should avoid?
Sam: Okay. I would avoid… There’s this place called La Boca. It’s where all the sailors used to kind of hang out back like a hundred years ago or something like that. It is this really cool, vibrant part of town but you really have to keep your wits about you.
Kara: What is something everyone should do in Argentina?
Sam: A tango show. I mean other people might say it’s a tourist trap, but I loved it.
Kara: What is one thing about Argentina that really inspired you?
Sam: I would say the people in the mindset, like family first sort of thing.
Kara: What is one thing, tangible or a cultural practice, that you took back with you to the States?
Sam: My little mate chalice.
Kara: What is one thing that you never get on a plane without.
Sam: My headphones.
Kara: Name one country you want to visit next?
Sam: South Africa.
What advice would you give to somebody going to Argentina?
Sam: Buckle up.
YouTube: Sam Cushing