Andrea Martins - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Mexico
Mexican Life: From Volunteer to Member of Staff - by Andrea Martins
On New Year's Eve 2001, I decided that I was going to take a trip of a lifetime, leaving my job and family behind. I was a restless professional, working in London in a dull office job and felt that I wanted to take a break from my job and do something worthwhile at the same time.
I decided to take up a 3 month teaching placement with Projects Abroad as they are very flexible with dates and the duration of trips. You can choose when to go and for how long. This worked really well for me as I had booked my trip only 6 weeks before I went on my trip! Such a last minute decision doesn't always work out this easily though and so lots of forward planning is recommended. I initially had wanted to go to Peru but with such short notice it was fully booked, so on recommendation of one of the staff at Projects Abroad , I went to Mexico!
From day one of my trip I was met at the airport by the warm and friendly staff. After a good nights sleep in a room above the office in Guadalajara, we went through all the details of my placement in more detail. They were very supportive and helpful and worked hard to make sure that all the volunteers were happy with their placements.
As a career gapper (and 'older' person at 28) I was initially paranoid about being the oldest volunteer out there but I soon enjoyed spending time with the young, care-free students, although I met a few older volunteers older than me - which added to the diverse mix of people working out there. I think that being older meant that I was now more focused and appreciative of the country and the breadth of what it had to offer; something that perhaps I would not have been when I was younger!
Depending on the placement, experience and qualifications are not necessary - just a good deal of hard work and commitment! Although I had done some TEFL teaching before and wanted to do something rewarding like volunteer work, I felt that I wanted to improve on my Spanish skills too. Being in Mexico would therefore not only revise my teaching skills but also allow me to improve on my Spanish. I was given the task of working as a volunteer assistant English teacher at the Benito Juarez Secondary School in the city of Ciudad Guzman, Mexico. This city is two hours away from the much bigger city of Guadalajara and about the same distance again from the beaches of Manzanillo. It is surrounded by the natural beauty of the Colima volcano, mountains and lagoon. I really enjoyed staying there as it had a more relaxing way of life than the big city and I felt more involved in the local community.
Marco, the head of the English Department at my school, asked me to bring in postcards, photos, newspapers and other things that I had brought with me on the trip. He was grateful for any new ideas that I had for the classes and we worked together on new topics. He asked me to write mock dialogues for one topic and then record them on a tape for future lessons. The students were aged from between 12 and 16 and there were regularly up to 50 students per class which did seem a bit daunting at first, but over time I got to know the students and it didn't seem so scary after a while!
Marco actively encouraged me to talk to the students about aspects of British culture, which they were all very interested to learn about. As Great Britain is so far away from Mexico the students knew very little about the UK and our customs, so it was very beneficial to them that I was there. I also became involved in school events such as doing a dance routine for the Mexican Mother's Day, all in the name of building British-Mexican relations of course! I also helped out at a nursery school.
Out of the classroom, I experienced the generosity, friendliness and diversity of the Mexican people by talking and interacting with them, which was great fun! This is because the people there were very open and all the volunteers were regularly invited to host family dinners, parties and even day trips to local towns. We really felt appreciated by them and that what we were doing was a worthwhile job.
My host family and the other host families whom I met through the other volunteers were very friendly and we all felt that we were being well cared for.
The reassurance of a friendly and helpful Projects Abroad office and the support of a supervisor and the locals was enough for me to take the plunge and do something so valuable for both my students and myself. It was one of the most enjoyable and enlightening experiences of my life.
Andrea went on to become an Assistant Manager in Mexico. She explains what this involves in the Staff Stories.