This Is Mexico

Mexico’s government has decreed, rightfully so, that education is one of it’s top priorities, in order to achieve the ambitious plans that have been drawn up for the countries future. The ability to communicate in English competently is now a necessity, and both US and Mexican owned businesses have launched aggressive programs to improve the language skills of it’s employees. Hooray for me! What’s more, despite much talk in ESL circles that Mexicans want and need American English, and not the British variant, I have found that there is a big difference in their perceived ‘wants and needs’.

Whilst the US is indeed the driving force behind Mexico’s growth, accounting for more than 85% of their exports, and the US is where business will most likely be conducted, the hopes, aspirations and dreams of most Mexicans seem to lie on the other side of the Atlantic. I imagine for several reasons, including a certain amount of resentment towards America itself, a widely held perception that Europe is culturally and socially more sophisticated, and of course that the original is always the best. How can you beat English English?!

The TEFL opportunities are here and growing on a daily basis, and perhaps there has never been a better time to pack your bags and bid the UK farewell, if only temporarily. But bear in mind, there are many of us TEFL’ers who arrived here in search of a bit of respite from the daily grind of the 9 to 5 in cold rainy Britain. A respite that turned into something either permanent, or of greater duration than ever was intended.

Finding a job here really shouldn’t be difficult – there are literally hundreds of language schools in the city. Every main street seems to have at least one! Of course there are also schools and universities on the look out for native speakers, and the pay and conditions tend to be a little better, although you do need to be in the right place at the right time to get your foot in the door. Just before a new term begins preferably. There is also the option of working in businesses, travelling around the city teaching just a few hours a day in two or three different locations.

The hourly pay is excellent, but bear in mind you may end up spending so many hours a day on the metro on in creaky micro buses that the extra hourly rate that you earn is somewhat diluted! Also bear in mind that you won’t get paid holidays and there are more class cancellations with this type of teaching job. I suspect that when you’ve calculated your net earnings at the end of the year, there is little difference between the various options.

Teaching Business English at companies around Mexico City was the option I went for (I like a bit of variety in my daily routine!), and I’ve been here a year and a half trying hard to fulfil both their learning requirements and the stereotyped perceptions they have of a British gentleman, and his much sought after accent. Words such as can’t, water, bloke and absolutely, roll off my tongue on a daily basis for their amusement as much as their education!

Mexicans are a generally wonderful people, friendly, hospitable and ready to help. Ok, they don’t always (I’m being nice – rarely is the better word!) turn up on time, but that’s to be expected in this part of the world. They do manage to remember the important things though, like birthdays, so expect cakes and even gifts! Oh and there is Teacher’s Day too – everyone has a day here, not just Mothers and Fathers!

In a city full of extremes, you shouldn’t be too surprised to find out that pay rates can vary rather a lot too (expect anything from MXN 6,000 up to a maximum of MXN 15,000), as can the repute of some of the schools. There are some excellent establishments that are great to work in, but there are also too many fly by night centres that have have a reputation for leaving neither student nor teacher very happy. It’s worth doing your homework.

There are obvious advantages to arriving in Mexico with a job lined up, but that’s not to say you couldn’t arrive unannounced, stroll into a few likely looking places and have something pretty quickly. It is particularly easy to just turn up if you are intending to take a TEFL course to become certified. The course providers here tend to be pretty good, will usually fit you in asap, and will almost certainly have work lined up for you long before you have finished your studies.

They should also be able to help with temporary accommodation, usually in a hostel, if you need it, or be able to direct you towards a reasonable longer term rented apartment.. Property prices are incredibly high, and you may end up spending anything from a quarter to a half of your monthly income just on rent. Fortunately the other costs of living are extremely inexpensive. A one way metro ticket is 2 pesos regardless of your destination, utility bills, if not included in your rent, are just two or three hundred pesos a month, and fruit and vegetables are almost free! Your first shopping trip at your local mercado will be a great experience! You’ll leave with three or four bags bulging with fresh fruit and veggies, a chicken, nuts, spices, and realise you still have change from the 100 peso note you went in with.

Needless to say however, we teachers are not here solely for their benefit! I came in search of a country rich in history and culture, with an ecosystem that only a handful of countries in the world can dare compare themselves with, and a people that are fun, feisty and even a little reckless. I haven’t been disappointed. And what with the numerous public holidays here, I’ve had time to explore.

Having spent the best part of two years of my life in Mexico I have had the opportunity to see a canyon that positively dwarves the Grand US version. I have seen Aztec, Toltec, Olmec and Mayan ruins, nestling in mist shrouded jungles. Whales making their way across bays, the water sparkling in the bright sunlight. Turtles crawling up beaches in the dead of night to lay their eggs. Museums and art galleries that rival anything elsewhere, in their own Latin way of course.

What I really enjoy though, on a daily basis, are Mexicans themselves and their crackpot way of life! Things are different everywhere you go, regardless of the continent you may choose as your new home. But Mexico City is something else altogether. A heaving mass of people rushing, quite often, nowhere. The constant music blaring either from speakers or directly from actual live musicians. The smell of wonderful Mexican food seeping from every nook and cranny that is big enough to hold a gas canister. The constant cheeriness of the Mexicans themselves. Everything seems to move so fast, yet, as you become accustomed to how things really are, you’ll appreciate that the pace of life is a good deal slower than first appearances suggest. A watch is in fact a wrist ornament, not a means of determining time!

Ok, so things don’t always work. Bureaucracy can be infuriating. Running water and electricity in your apartment can sometimes appear to be optional extras. Mañana is alive and well. But if you can learn to accept the negatives as Mexicans do, you’ll be fine. Mexicans do often get frustrated too, of course, but there is a well used expression that accompanies a shrug of the shoulders, that explains everything.

“This is Mexico”.

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