Archive for July, 2015


European invasion

Most people’s exposure to the English language in Mexico has been through the U.S., through films, music, tourists and teachers, etc.

And since people, especially in my town, are used to seeing U.S. foreigners, they naturally assumed that my housemates and I were also ‘gringos’ or from some other country until we opened our mouths. Then they were pleasantly surprised to hear that we were collectively from the UK and Spain, Europe, and that we were all English teachers at a local school. They would then say that we’ve travelled far to live and work in Mexico. Going out together as a unit, we obviously stood out and we received a lot of attention, as though we were Z-list celebrities or something. They loved Sara’s Spanish accent, they loved Martin belting out karaoke songs, and they loved the fact that I was black; I’ll go into this in more depth in another post.

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I know that there have been a couple of English teachers from the UK at the school that I teach at, but I’m pretty sure that most of the TEFL teachers have been from the U.S. Even so, our merry crew grew bigger when two more TEFL teachers arrived from England – Laura and Jen. Well actually, they dramatically escaped from the clutches of a draconian Chinese school to arrive in Mexico apparently, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that they added a distinctive British flavor to our European mix, with their tea-sipping, curry-cooking ways, and it was just refreshing to have some more fun people to hang out with. Every single one of us in the group had a different accent from England, and our eclectic mix was music to my ears. There’s a common misconception around the world that there is only one British accent, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, and I’m trying to change that one classroom at a time. I’m useless at accents though, so I just use a video instead to demonstrate this.

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If they have the budget to do so, schools around the world often desire to hire native English-speaking teachers, and you can find many of these adverts online. According to this article a few years ago, approximately 250,000 native English speakers work abroad as English teachers in more than 40,000 schools and language institutes around the world. There are a number of advantages for getting native speakers in the classroom. But it doesn’t mean that non-native English-speaking teachers are ‘less superior’, and Sara is an excellent example to demonstrate that they are just as good.

Even though some people become TEFL teachers because they have a genuine desire to teach, I would say that most become TEFL teachers so that they can immerse themselves in another culture and earn money while they travel. And because of this short-term outlook, there is a high turnover rate of TEFL teachers. In my school alone, there were five different teachers over the course of the school year for one post. In general, some teachers leave without warning, as I’ve described in an earlier post, and this can be very disruptive for the children’s learning. Some have unrealistic expectations of what TEFL teaching is all about, and then they decide that they no longer like it. Some people aren’t meant to be teachers, as I’ll discuss later when I talk about how I heard one teacher ‘disciplined’ their kids. Some find better opportunities elsewhere. And even if teachers stay till the end of their contract, most move to another country or city, or they go home; few stay for another year, but this depends on a number of factors, such as your region and your pay. And schools are put under pressure by parents to fill these gaps, especially if the school is a private school. But some schools also treat teachers badly, forcing the teachers to leave. Or they can get rid of teachers at a moment’s notice if they suddenly have alternatives to choose from.

As a group of TEFL teachers, we’ve been on a number of memorable adventures together. A particularly memorable one involved the Mexican police, which was actually my second encounter with the Mexican police, and this will all be explained in another post. As a group, we have also gone through a number of changes, numerically speaking. Sara left, but then a new Irish girl arrived. Her name is Shauna and she has some crazy artistic talent. Laura and Jen left, then our European group declined to three again. Two more people from the UK are due to come in October, so we’ll see what happens then. After umming and ahing for the longest time, I’ve finally decided to stay for another year in the same place. I’ve been told that it will be a lot easier, and that I’ll notice the children’s progress even more. Watch this space.

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Housemates

I did not like my former flat at all. Aside from the location and the views that I could get if I went out to the balcony, as described in this post, it really wasn’t a nice place to live. It was just really dark; there was hardly any sunlight, as you can see in my post about my lovely (well, actually quite scary) landlord. I didn’t feel comfortable; I couldn’t call it home. My friends, who lived a few doors away from me, wanted to move to a bigger place as well. So we decided to try and find a place together. Thank God we didn’t have to look for long. Our landlady had a house available with three spacious double-bed rooms, a concrete garden (ideal for BBQs and laundry), a kitchen, a living room area and a drive way for a car. The location was great as well. We lived in a quieter neighbourhood that was only a five-minute walk from the school – result! Although I actually ended up arriving at school later than I did when I lived a bit further away, hmm… IMG_0997   Anyway, as well as gaining two cool, super friendly, very helpful housemates, I also kind of gained a pet in the form of a kitten, Piña. Martin and Sara   

My housemates found him back in October in a gutter as they were walking along the high street. They tried to find his owners, but they were unable to. So they adopted him, well really only one of them did. They thought he was a she at the time, hence the name. Even though I played with him from time-to-time whenever I went to their flat, this little rascal really entered my life when we shared the same house. He loves to play fight and he stands up on his two hind legs to try and take jabs at you, as taught by Martin and reinforced by my boyfriend. He likes to attack shadows on the wall and then run speedily away. He likes to play fetch, as unintentionally taught by me. I chucked his soft toy away to get rid of him, but he always grabbed it and brought it back to me (the video evidence is below). Also, it was hilarious to see my friend, who visited me in Mexico, armed with toys and a water bottle to keep him away as she didn’t like cats – her screams were hilarious. Anyway, he loves to energetically run up and down the house frantically just for fun. He definitely seems more dog than cat. He tries to attack my landlord’s smaller dogs whenever they enter the house. I heard that he even tried to attack a big dog down the road from us (I believe it’s a great dane, but I’m not too good with dog breed names).

  

He can be a massive pain in the arse. He loves to scratch – I can’t count the amount of scars that I’ve had on me because of him. Sometimes he bites (not me, thank God). He loves to destroy your things and I think sometimes he knows what he’s doing. He would purposefully knock things off of a table, slowly, with one paw, just because, and just watch it smash on the floor. He acts JUST like the ‘thug’ cat in this video!! So most times I keep my door closed just to keep him out. He used to make me even later than I already was sometimes, because he decided to run out of the door and hide under a car.

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But, despite all of these things, I have a soft spot for him; he’s quite a character. When I first moved in and I was all by myself in the house cleaning my room, I was sweeping all the rubbish from the floor in my wardrobe when some big-arse spider ran out. I was petrified. If you don’t know how scared I am about insects and other creepy creatures, then you should check out what my biggest fear is. But, little Piña protected me. He found the spider and then ate it – my hero! A few moments later when the landlady arrived and her big dog ran into the house, he was so scared, so when she left we had a bonding session where we comforted each other. He was my cockroach killer, but he no longer eats them. Instead, he just plays with them and sometimes maims them. I also felt so sorry for him when he was neutered after I saw how scared he was afterwards and as I listened to him whimpering in pain. And the times when he decides that he wants to show you affection, or when he wants you to give him affection, are priceless.

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Can you tell that I’ve always wanted a cat. Now I kind of have one, but without all of the responsibility.

Cold

The first time I felt cold, or at least to the extent where I felt goosebumps, was the night that I had my first Mexican street party. I remember it so vividly because it was such a strange sensation; a foreign concept. I thought I’d left that feeling behind in England, but the cold reared its ugly head in the form of raised bumps on my skin. It was night time, and I was armed with just a t-shirt. I wrote it off as just a freak occurrence and I shoved it to the back of my mind. School-boy error, I should’ve taken heed.

That Monday at school, I saw most of the students wrapped up in body warmers, scarfs and gloves. “Muuuuuy frio, teacher, it’s very cold,” they complained. I chuckled and said that they needed to come to England, because a consistent temperature of 20-oddC with sunshine is pretty much regarded as the height of summer in the UK. If the temperature averages 28C or more over a period of time, then hold the front page – there’s a heat wave in the UK and it is endlessly compared to other countries that it’s hotter than. People are happier and friendlier, there’s a party vibe in the atmosphere, the BBQs are out, the parks are packed with sun revellers, and everything is well in the world, generally speaking. But I digress.

Nevertheless, even though I rationally knew this, and no matter how stubborn I was about accepting this fact, I too eventually succumbed to this change of temperature and I also began to feel cold – damn it! I had to start wearing shoes and trainers instead of sandals. My feet felt restricted; they were definitely not accustomed to the concept of closed shoes. I needed to layer up and wear jumpers, but I only brought two jumpers with me. I had to buy a duvet for my bed (that was devastating!). I got my friend, who visited me for a couple of weeks, to bring some jeans from home for me. I had acclimatised so much, that the lowest temperature, I believe 15C, was now too cold for me. The mornings and evenings were particularly cold, the daytime was fine.

In the end, I ended up with a chest infection and a throat infection. I think the throat infection was a result of the use of the air conditioners though when it started to get hot again. Even so, I paid $500 pesos (approximately £20) for the privilege of seeing a doctor each time, even though I wasn’t in there for more than 15 mins. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a lot considering the wage I’m on; for most Mexicans that is simply unaffordable. Also the fact that it’s free to see the doctor in the UK made the amount that I had to pay hurt even more – oh how I missed the NHS during those desperate times; I’ve grown a new appreciation for it. Not to mention the money that I needed to buy the medicine, some of it was not cheap. I later found out that there were cheaper doctors that I could’ve gone to, but in terms of the quality of service they provide, I’ve been told that some of them are hit or miss. Generic drugs, which are cheaper to buy, are also available from a chain of pharmacies called Farmacias Similares.

Let’s hope I learnt my lesson and that I’m more prepared the second-time round…

Mexican Street Parties

Hello!!!! Welcome, guys! So this vlog is about random Mexican street (or car park) parties that I’ve experienced. This happens regardless of the day or the time; the concept of noise pollution does not exist in residential areas. Enjoy!

Protest

In my former flat, I used to live right on the main road. The increase of the noise outside alerted to me to events that were happening on the street. I would run outside with my camera, in the hope of trying to capture something, and I’d be pleasantly surprised to see various kinds of musical parades, if I got to the balcony fast enough.

On 5th November I saw my first protest in Mexico. I saw people with banners and pictures of faces, and I knew immediately what the march was about.

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On 26th September 2014 43 students from a teacher training college in the Mexican town of Ayotzinapa went missing. Their plan was to travel to the town of Iguala, 125 miles from Mexico City, to protest against alleged discriminatory and funding practices from the government.

According to reports, police intercepted the students allegedly on the orders of the local mayor, Jose Lusi Abarca, as he wanted to prevent the students from interrupting a speech that his wife was giving on that day.

A clash ensued and the police opened fire on the students just outside Iguala, killing three students and three people in other vehicles, with many more injured.

Police officers seized students who were trying to run away during the shootout. They were detained at a police station and were allegedly handed over to Guerreros Unidos, a local drug gang. According to Mexico’s Attorney General, gang members have confessed to taking the students to a landfill site, killing them, and then burning their bodies, in the belief that they belonged to a rival gang.

The remains that were found at the site have been sent to a lab in Austria for analysis. Only one of the 43 students has been identified from the badly burnt remains. The families of the remaining 42 students refuse to believe that their loved ones are dead until they have proof. However, earlier this year, Mexican investigators stated that all of the students were dead based on confessions and forensic evidence around the landfill site, since the lab is unable to identify any more remains.

Understandably, many in Mexico are angry about the connection between the police, the drug gangs and local authorities, and this anger sparked nationwide protests. Many are also angry about how the case has been handled and how slowly it has progressed.

Since the incident, many people have been arrested, including gang members, police officers and the mayor and his wife.

Proud Parent

Hi! In this post, I talk about the first time I felt like a proud parent as a TEFL teacher. Who knew I’d feel like this? Maybe my family knew because I cried during The Lion King, and for every sad film since that film they would look in my direction to inspect if my eyes welled up. That’s not to say that I cried or anything, not this time. But anyway, I digress. My kids had to recite English poems in front of a ‘large’ audience.

Day of the Dead

Hello!!! This post is about the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico. I’ll give you some insight into what it’s all about, including its history and the significance behind some of the items that are used for the festival. Also, feel free to have a laugh at my pronunciation of some of the non-English, in particular the Aztec name Mictecacihuatl. Enjoy! 🙂

Sea Lions

Hellooooo!!! This vlog is about my snorkelling trip to San Pedro Island to see sea lions! I also talk a lot about my sea sickness, fun times. Just click on the picture to watch it. Enjoy!

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************************UPDATE********************

My friend, Martin, alerted me to two pieces of information that I missed out. So thanks Martin for letting me know.

So firstly, apparently, I don’t suffer from sea sickness; I suffer from motion sickness.

Secondly, (now this is apparently “the best” part of the story) while I was sick and generally feeling sorry for myself, I was lying down on the boat by the water’s edge. Then suddenly somebody popped up from the underneath the water. It was Martin (Mar-teen in Spanish). “Hi Monique,” he boomed energetically. He asked me if I was ok. “I’m ok, I’m just feeling…” Then I couldn’t finish my sentence. I vomited right in front of him. Nice. The end. I didn’t even remember that happening, to be honest. I was just pretty zoned out. Who knows what other golden nuggets of information I missed out just because I was sick. Oh well.

“We are Americans, too” is a phrase that I have heard many Mexicans defiantly say; and they are absolutely right.

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Before I came to Mexico I always thought that the term “I’m an American” was synonymous with somebody who is a citizen of the United States of America. And that is true to an extent as well. It is a term that was adopted by Europeans who had settled in what is now called the U.S.A. to differentiate themselves from Europe. And this concept has successfully been reproduced and reinforced around the world through various forms of popular culture.

However, what I totally disregarded until I came here was that as well as being a country, America is also a continent, regardless of how it is divided up into and labelled as (and how this is done would depend on the ideas that you have been socialised into). So whether a country is located in North America, South America or Central America (which is not considered a separate continent), people who live in countries that are on the American continent are Americans. Just as I am British, but I’m also European (although not many people in Britain would like to admit that), or somebody from Nigeria is African, or a Chinese person is also Asian (or East Asian).

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“The U.S. doesn’t even have a proper name,” an influential Mexican told my friends and I in a bar one afternoon. “It’s called the United States of America. It’s simply named after the continent; its name is not very imaginative.” I’d never thought about it like that before until he said that. To be fair though, although the word ‘Mexico’ can be traced back to the Aztecs, Mexico’s official name, United Mexican States, was inspired by the American independence movement and the fact that the country’s territory was also made up of a union of states. But I digress.

As I’ve already mentioned, depending on where you live in the world, you may be taught about the various continents around the world differently. For example, in the UK we are taught that there are seven continents in the world: Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Australia and Antarctica. Whereas I found out from my discussions with some Mexicans that they are taught that there are six continents in the world; America is not split into two, and the other continent is Oceania, not Australia. Or a few Mexicans would proudly proclaim that they are North Americans. And I admit, I wrongly associated Mexico with Central America instead of North America because its culture was ‘different’. And I’m not the only one to think like that. Speaking to other Europeans they had the same idea as me or a couple even thought that Mexico was part of South America. Even the United Nations geoscheme apparently officially classifies Mexico as Central America, and some geographers include some Mexican states as being part of Central America.

This whole debate surrounding one’s identity is merely political. As well as categorising and distinguishing one group from another, it serves to divide. Terms such as ‘Americans’ (white/European decent), Latin Americans, Afro-Americans, etc., just create a sense of ‘otherness’; it separates ‘us’ from ‘them’. I’ve seen heated debates online of U.S. citizens fiercely defending their right to be called Americans, while I have also seen aggressive arguments from the other side as well.

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Nevertheless, while I’ve been in Mexico, I’ve quickly learnt to adapt to this ‘new way of thinking’ for myself.

“I’ve never been to America before,” I once said.

“But you’re in America now,” replied a friend. Doh!

So now I correct myself and I try my best to refer to the U.S. if I’m talking about USA territory. However, saying U.S. citizen all the time is rather long-winded. I’ve seen some alternatives offered online, such as Usonian or United-Statesian, but they seem very odd. And just as you call people from United Mexican States (Mexico), Mexicans, I think it makes sense to call people from the U.S. Americans as it’s a shorter form of its official name. As already stated, it’s a country and a continent, so problems arise when the term is used as a tool for exclusion.

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