Pamela Arboleda is a Spanish teacher on italki who lives in Medellin, Colombia.
Medellin is a city of 2.5 million people that is rich in culture and art, but through the years the city has also had to deal with being widely known as the murder capital of the world.
Arboleda acknowledges that despite Medellin’s violent reputation, growing up in the mountainous capital of the Antioquia province was still a memorable experience.
“Medellin is an amazing place to grow up. My neighborhood was calm, quiet, and there wasn’t much violence, luckily,” Arboleda says.
“I used to play with my friends in the street, which is something that most kids nowadays don’t have the opportunity to do.”
A polyglot who can speak three languages, Arboleda honed her English skills when she moved to Boston back in 2008.
“I lived in Revere [suburb of Boston]. It was close to the beach and really nice,” Arboleda recalls.
After two years in Beantown, Arboleda returned to Colombia to finish her high school education.
Unlike some of her peers, Arboleda didn’t immediately enter university after high school, opting instead to get a job and take more time to ponder what she wanted her future to look like.
“I worked as a cashier in a store,” Arboleda says, describing a job that didn’t stimulate her creative energies, nor did it appease her concerned parents, who were urging her to become a civil engineer.
Arboleda continued to wrestle with her future until eventually deciding to enter university and pursue a degree in fashion and graphic design.
Studying fashion and design irritated her parents, who feared that the job opportunities in these fields would, at best, be miniscule.
Following graduation, Arboleda struggled to find a job in her respective degree, causing more angst among her parents and putting her in the unenviable position of having an education that might never lead to gainful employment.
Needing to find a job, Arboleda began working at a call center, a vocation she quickly determined was not for her.
Yet, instead of bemoaning her unfavorable circumstances, Arboleda pivoted and embarked on another educational journey, this time reenrolling in university to earn a degree that would allow her to refine her language abilities in both English and French.
“Before I moved to the United States, I was always interested in other cultures, but my curiosity was not just in the American way of life,” Arboleda says.
“Even though people in Colombia hold the United States in high regard, I have always been passionate about art, music, and literature in other languages. For example, Japanese was one of the other languages I was interested in when I was growing up.”
While Arboleda never went to Japan, moving to the United States as a teenager afforded her the opportunity to meet and befriend people from a multitude of countries around the globe.
“When I moved to the United States, I finally had the chance to interact with other cultures and develop an understanding for how they view the world,” Arboleda explains.
“I took some classes with students who were not native English speakers. Those interactions were so valuable because when you meet people from different parts of the world it makes you more culturally diverse and understanding; not just of those different people, but it also makes you more understanding of the people in your own country.”
These days, Arboleda is still able to meet new people, albeit from the comforts of her own home as she works for italki as a Spanish teacher.
Arboleda says she initially became interested in italki after consulting with her friend, who at the time was also teaching Spanish on the language learning platform.
“After my friend told me about how italki works, I figured why not, so I signed up and a few months later became a teacher,” she explains.
Arboleda admits that she didn’t view italki as anything more than a way to make money while she finished her degree, but it wasn’t long before Arboleda’s ambivalence toward the platform was replaced with genuine passion.
“I really enjoyed the positive impact that I had on the people who took my classes,” Arboleda says.
“Teaching Spanish ignited a spark in me, and that was fueled by the fact that I didn’t realize how many people around the world were interested in learning Spanish.”
For Arboleda, becoming an educator has also shifted the way she views Spanish because it has shown her just how intricate and sophisticated her mother tongue actually is.
“With Spanish, there are so many different ways that you can communicate thoughts and ideas, and in many cases, these unique modes of communication simply don’t exist in a language like English,” she says.
Yet, perhaps most satisfying for Arboleda is that italki has given her a renewed sense of purpose, something that was missing when she first entered higher education several years ago.
“When my first italki class starts every day, whatever stress I have goes away. I really enjoy the time that I get to spend with my students,” Arboleda reveals.
That being said, italki should not be seen as a safe haven for multilinguals seeking emotional asylum.
For starters, Arboleda says that while the overwhelming majority of her students are pleasant and enjoyable to work with, on occasion she has been indirectly introduced to importunate individuals.
“Sometimes I have encounters with people who are not very nice or who think differently than I do,” Arboleda says, adding that if a troublesome or hyper-political student stumbles into her italki lesson, she tries to make the experience a positive one.
“Those types of lessons are a really good opportunity because they’re a reminder that not everyone sees the world in the same way that I do, but I still have to treat them with respect.”
Therefore, you will never catch Arboleda entangled in a virtual battle royal with one of her students.
“I never try to change people’s minds, but I always try to give them my perspective, and if they want to take that and implement it into their own life in order to make the world a better place, then I see no problem with that,” she explains, and with a perfect 5.0 rating based off over 1,600 student reviews, it’s fair to say that Arboleda knows how to succeed on a platform like italki.
Still, Arboleda would not be teaching on italki if the compensation was insufficient.
As a student, Arboleda says that teaching on italki has allowed her a bit of financial flexibility, but she also notes that italki should not be seen as a lifelong career.
“The income from italki is good if you are a student who is just trying to make some extra money,” Arboleda notes, then mentioning that all italki payments are processed in USD (United States Dollar), a currency that has an excellent exchange rate when compared to the Colombian peso.
But Arboleda also insists that even though she earns USD while living in Colombia, the friendly exchange rate is still not enough to launch her into the middle-class due to the unpredictability of how many lessons she will teach each month.
“italki is not something where you have a consistent income every month because you don’t teach the same amount of classes each month,” Arboleda says.
“Some months are slow. Take December for example. During that month, everyone is celebrating and so not as many people are taking classes.”
In that sense, italki is similar to Uber, another app that connects entrepreneurial-minded individuals directly with consumers without offering any long-term job security.
Both italki and Uber also charge their independent contractors (teachers and drivers, respectively) a fee on every transaction.
Arboleda estimates that italki takes around 20-25% of the dollar amount from each of her lessons, which is why budgeting and setting an appropriate price per lesson is crucial for teachers.
To further combat italki’s fees, Arboleda says the best thing a teacher on italki can do is establish other sources of income to protect themselves from the financial unpredictability of the job.
“If you can do other things besides italki and support yourself in other ways, that would be the smartest option,” Arboleda advises.
All things considered, Arboleda considers italki to be a practical form of temporary employment for young and ambitious professionals, which is ultimately why Arboleda has no problem endorsing the platform.
At the same time, she wants new teachers to be aware of the aforementioned financial challenges, but also embrace the opportunity that italki presents.
“You should expect to have some months that are not very profitable, but you still have to give your best effort,” Arboleda says.
“But my biggest piece of advice would be to teach the way that you want to be taught and become the teacher you would like to have if you were a student on italki.”
In that sense, Arboleda’s mentality can be applied to many different aspects of life.
“The key to achieving success, not just on italki, but in everything, is to do things with love, joy, and passion.” QS
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