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Robert Johnson - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Mexico

Beginning on the 1st of March I entered uncharted waters arriving at Guadalajara airport. Unsure of what to expect I relished the unknown and wondered what challenges the three months would throw at me.

Initially I found Mexico a very strange place very different to Surrey. It took a while for me to become acclimatised, subtle differences in culture soon became the norm, a way of life that has taught me much. The Mexicans like to take things easy "manana", if something needs to be done it is indeed completed. Yet if it can wait it will wait for another day - no rush.

Transport is very efficient and, well, if there was perhaps a medal for a particular bus route my 611 could contend for a trophy. The buses are a huge part of the city's infrastructure and vital for the inward and outward flow of commuting civilians. At times my trips would resemble a ride upon a roller coaster - watch out for those speed bumps, they really do do their job! Now and then musicians jump aboard playing and strutting their stuff. Some of which are exceptionally good whilst others are, lets say, "not bad". Lets also not forget the occasional clown dressed in brightly coloured gowns and large yellow painted shoes. They board at the discretion of the driver and do add to the journey's experience. Another time saw the bus pull over next to a phone booth. Moments later the driver makes a phone call, sorts what ever needs to be sorted jumps back on and the journey continued!

It's the norm for people to drink bottled water. In each of the volunteer's houses a large canister is clearly visible. Homes are also dependent upon gas cylinders. Why might you wonder I mention this? Well three "noises" you will most commonly come across are the:

A deep groan in an electronic tone "G.A..S..G.A.S" followed by a horn of some sort (In Zacatecas the gas company played "pop" music). A small truck travels about the streets selling the canisters and their presence is clearly audible.

The again similar deep groan of "AQUA" is clearly heard, this is another truck that transports the containers of bottled water. After many a night out these containers filled with an abundance of water were vital for a hangover cure.

The "ding aling aling aling" of the dustbin lorry. Sleeping next to the window gave me the privilege of hearing this strange musical tune. Yet after a week it had become music to my ears and presented no problems.

My three months saw me teach during the mornings at a secondary school and at the University of Guadalajara in the afternoons.

Initially I only taught at the school yet I wanted to meet fellow Mexicans near to my age, so I asked the local Projects Abroad staff about teaching at the university. The organisation is flexible so there is room for change and adjustments. As a result of my change my week was relatively long in comparison to the timetable of other volunteers. Yet this posed no problems to me as it was my choice. I liked to work and interact with the Mexican people contributing to their learning and understanding whilst making many friends in the process.

The school was a tough challenge. Entering the establishment there were about 1400 students and speaking no Spanish did not present as many hurdles as first thought. My first lesson saw me explain via drawings upon the white board where I had exactly come from. For the first few weeks you are treated like a Hollywood film star, it's not very often the kids get a chance to meet people from England who are native speakers of the language they are learning. Numerous students were very good at English having grasped the fundamentals. Yet I found it was important to teach in such a way that the pupils could relate to the subject (i.e. gaining their interest). This could see me ask the class questions about Mexican music, Mexican football teams and putting things into the past tense such as "Ronaldo played football for Real Madrid" etc. Many times I was asked what football team I supported and what I thought of Mexican football. Being a huge football fan I adopted the local team Las Chivas (meaning the Goats) - my predictions that they would win the championship raised many a smile. On that note I recommend a visit to Stadium Jalisco, a huge concrete structure. When full the atmosphere is incredible and lets face it you can't leave Mexico having not participated in a Mexican wave!

The University was very different to the school. Here the students have chosen to study English so it's not surprising they are more dedicated. For two lessons a week I would take a class on my own, the class size being about 12 students and the rest of the week spent helping an English lecturer. Working near the Puriferico Norte metro station proved good for transport links, although the "tres ochenta" (380) bus proved a strange bus ride. The journey taking about 20 minutes, lets just say is very popular and is an "experience to travel on" (so its best to try and escape the rush hour!). The metro would give me quick access to central Guadalajara and take about 15 minutes, a fast and very efficient service and simple to use.

Socially most volunteers meet up in the evening and arrange excursions in weekends or go travelling in school holidays. Try travelling during the school holidays, students can get half price tickets on a whole range of things. Although Mexico isn't an excessively expensive country saving money when travelling is always a good thing, if nothing else it means you have more beer money. Also try visiting Tequila, the home of the drink. With a group of volunteers we indeed ventured here and well lets just say we did indeed get to try and taste a number of different Tequilas! When I next order one of the beasts I will be thinking of that place (one can visit the factory/factories where the drink is made). There is also a wide range of clubs in Guadalajara ranging from "Electronica" (a very popular form of music), to Rock to Indie to Reggae. Reggae was quite a huge influence when I visited. Try listening to the Pericos a good Mexican Reggae band.

One of my excursions took a group of us volunteers up into northern Mexico, it was here we boarded the Copper Canyon Railway, well worth a visit. Some of the views are incredible yet they do become quite similar. Stopping off in Creel saw us stay in an excellent hostel where we swam in hot springs (powered and warmed by Volcanic activity) and rode mountain bikes through the canyon. Another expedition saw a fellow geography enthusiast Jenny and a friend from university climb volcano Paricutin. It was hard work yet well worth it. Three of us rode horses half way up (having never ridden before I jumped into the deep end and didn't fall off so I guess it was a success, although afterwards I walked like Tina Turner for a few days). The final quarter of the trek was completed on foot. The top of the volcano certainly was a sight, steam exiting from various vents within the rocks. It's a safe volcano to visit (that's as I write) and last erupted in 1943. No locals were killed but the lava flow engulfed a village burying it and its contents. Another site worth visiting nearby is a church half covered in the remnants of the eruption. Here one can clamber from rock to rock and see the church half buried.

My Mexican family were incredible and one day I hope to repay their hospitality. They treated me like a son but I guess it's luck of the draw. I hope to return in perhaps one year, as there are parts of the country that for me are still unvisited. Mexico is indeed a different country, do not expect things to be the same as here within the UK. Yet give the place time, you will warm to it. Ask many of the volunteers, after going on various excursions (i.e. travelling away from your host family or house) Guadalajara feels like coming home. Mexico has a lot to offer - the country is vast in size. If you approach the people in the right way, respecting their given norms and values they are more than happy to help. Just apply a little common sense and you will perhaps have the best days of your life.

Robert Johnson

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