Let’s start by finding out where you have lived before.
I lived most of my life in Canada: I grew up in Southwestern Ontario and moved to British Columbia as a young adult. After raising my children, I moved to the Yukon. I have also lived in Russia (4 months) and Mexico (18 months to date).
I have enjoyed exploring the region and still have much to see. The Prismas Basálticos (Basalt Prisms) are a particular favourite of mine and I have been to see them twice.
What drew you to teaching ESL?
I chose ESL as a career fairly late in life. I have always wanted to travel but knew that my dream of doing so would remain just that unless I found a way to earn a living. ESL provides me that living. While I will never get rich doing this work, I am able to settle in a country (or a region of a country) for a given amount of time and be immersed into its culture and language. I learn as much as I teach while I perform my daily tasks of shopping for food, dropping clothes at the local laundry service, renting hotel rooms in towns I visit, ordering meals in restaurants, and arranging travel by bus. I consider the life I lead to be rich, indeed.
Tell me the hardest part about living abroad.
The obvious and easy answer to this is that I miss my family and friends back home.
The answer aside from that is that there is a language and cultural barrier. I am studying and able to understand and to speak more and more of the language here but still feel the frustration of not being able to communicate with most people in a meaningful way. Adapting to the culture of another country can also be trying. It is easy and tempting to say, “In Canada we would just do it this way”, but I have to remember that I am a guest here and that they have their own ways that work for them. If I want to be a member of the community here, I must adopt the ways of the country in which I have chosen to live.
Describe your daily life as a ESL teacher in Mexico.
Because the company for which I work has schools in both Tulancingo and Pachuca, a commute is a big part of my day at present. This week I am scheduled to work in Pachuca each day. I rise at 6 am and am on a combi (local bus) by just after 7. During the trip (one hour) I either work on lesson plans, or – more often – enjoy an episode of The Big Bang Theory on my laptop.
My morning in Pachuca starts with a visit to the near-by Starbucks – one of the very few places here to get a cup of tea. I continue on to the school where my work day begins. My first class is at 9:00, 9:30, or 9:45 – depending on the day – and can be a class of beginners, intermediate or advanced adult students. My co-workers (American and British) and I are rotated amongst the classes to allow our students to hear varied accents, benefit from assorted teaching methods, and learn about different cultures while they learn English.
I have a long break between morning and afternoon classes – often 5-6 hours – during which I develop curriculum, plan lessons, take a long lunch break to catch up on my recreational reading and correspondence, and enjoy the sunshine. I will be moving to Pachuca within the next couple of weeks and will then be able to spend some time at home relaxing between classes – unless I have to commute to Tulancingo!
My first afternoon class is a children’s class. This is followed by an early evening class (or two) of adults. My day ends at 7:00 or 8:30 pm when I start the commute back home. Dinner is often a paste (pastie), eaten on the bus.
There are two mornings per week when I have a Spanish class in Pachuca (delivered by one of my students). I have just started my lessons here and hope to become more able to communicate soon.
Friday and Sunday are my days off. My Saturdays are free after 1pm so I still have lots of time to wind down and/or have a weekend adventure.
What have you learned about yourself, your values, and your priorities while living abroad?
One thing I have learned is how strongly I feel about being Canadian. I love to share my culture, my stories and my photos of my country with my students. I appreciate more, those things we might take for granted in Canada — Universal Healthcare, Employment Insurance, Programs for Seniors, Women’s Programs, and Social Nets for those who might need them.
My family has always been my mainstay and is more so since I have chosen to live in other places. They are my anchor in this great big world and a constant reminder of where I come from and what that means.
What has been the most vastly different thing you have adjusted to?
In Russia, I was unable to adapt to one particular cultural norm. I am used to walking along the street and smiling at, nodding to, or greeting those I pass. In Russia, smiling and greeting is reserved for friends and family and neither is considered normal behaviour on the street. I am afraid that I could just not help myself and was on the receiving end of many strange looks in Russia.
On the practical front, I am also used to having the right of way as a pedestrian. This is not the case in Mexico – nor was it in Russia. I have had to adjust my thinking and my behaviour when I am out and about on the city streets.
Do you have a different or more defined idea of what it means to be Canadian?
Being Canadian means being a member of a multi-cultural society. Here in Mexico, I see very few people who are not Mexican. While I am enjoying the culture here, it is a little disconcerting to be exposed daily to only one.
And last, as you are a dreamer, where do you want to go next?
There are many places still on my list. I have yet to explore Europe. I would also like to go further south and spend some time in Central & South America.
There is also a lot of the United Kingdom left to visit. The most pressing would be Europe.
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