Picture Postcards: A room of books

Book tower

This photo is by Loozerboy on Flickr and was snapped in Toronto, Canada. I can just imagine a cozy chair inside to sit and read, can’t you?

A reading room at Ana’s house
The oldest public library in Paris
The children’s cultural book section in an Auckland library

June 10, 2013 Comments disabled

Learning as much as Teaching: A Canadian in Mexico.

Let me introduce you to a woman with true itchy feet (a need to travel). While she has previously changed careers to allow living in a new place, she has now found a job that makes travel not just possible, but practically necessary. Maggie is a Canadian with a deep love for her mother’s British heritage. She’s worked for the past few years as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. As of this week, she lives in Pachuca, Mexico. And I, personally, know just how itchy her feet are, for she is my mother and that need to see the world for one’s self was passed down!



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).


What made you choose the Yukon? …. Mexico?
My move to the Yukon was, for lack of a better explanation, a whim. I had always wanted to visit the far north but knew that a short visit would not suffice so made the decision to move there for one year to ‘check it out’. That year lead to an eight year residence — with a few absences. I was captivated by the lifestyle, the sense of community, the vast wild expanses, and even the weather.
My move to Mexico was precipitated by my desire to teach English as a Foreign Language. I had done one short stint in Russia and had decided that this was to be my life. Having visited Mexico once in the past, I knew that it was a culture and a country about which I wanted to learn much more.My first teaching position was in San Luis Potosí, SLP – a beautiful, colonial city with plenty of green spaces to spend a relaxing afternoon in. The plazas came alive at night and I was regularly entertained by clowns, an orchestra having its weekly rehearsal, Aztec dancers, break dancers, and the general hustle and bustle of the inhabitants.
I currently work in both Pachuca and Tulancingo in the state of Hidalgo. One of the pleasant surprises for me was the fact that Hidalgo, with its mining history, has adopted the popular fare of the Cornish miners who came here to work in the past. Cornish Pasties have been given a Mexican flavour and are as easy to find as fries and gravy are in Canada.

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.


Read more

Aisha Ashraf, a British expat in Canada

Secrets of an intercultural supermom

Gabriela: Born in Pakistan, raised Dutch and French, now living in Canada

February 14, 2013 2 comments

Picture Postcards: Winter in British Columbia, Canada

Another beatiful capture of water for you, this one of the frozen variety. Our contributor in Canada has sent this in saying, “This is a river that divides Whistler mountain from Blackcomb mountain. Whistler-Blackcomb is a famous ski resort here in British Columbia, Canada.”

Read more:
Canadian Honeymoon
Canada’s Birthday
Aisha Ashraf: A British expat in Canada

January 21, 2013 Comments disabled

Suzanne et Pierre à Paris blog

View of the Grand Boulevard by Suzanne Levasseur

Suzanne Levasseur and Pierre Richer are originally from Abitibi and Montreal (Canada) although they lived in Toronto for 25 years. One day they decided go on an adventure and start a new life in Paris, France. They started their blog as a means of communicating with their friends and family and documenting their new life. Suzanne et Pierre à Paris is a bilingual blog. Each post is written in French and in English for the benefit of their family members and friends who speak those languages.

The Suzanne et Pierre à Paris blog is divided into five user-friendly categories:1) Vie à Paris / Life in Paris, 2) Les quartiers / Districts, 3) Les Environs / Ouside 4) Voyages / Trips and 5) Preparation. They help the reader navigate the blog and follow Suzanne and Pierre’s preparations for the big adventure, know about their daily life in Paris, go with them (virtually) on the trips they take and get to know the beautiful city of Paris: its quartiers (neighbourhoods) and beyond. They also publish beautiful photos on their Flickr account.


Read more

Neha: from Mumbai to Zagreb

Brazilian Paradise blog

West of Buenos Aires blog





October 23, 2012 Comments disabled

Canadian Honeymoon

I recently got married, and my wife and I decided to take our honeymoon (a post-wedding vacation) in the Canadian Rocky Mountains near Banff, Alberta.  We stayed in a small chalet abutting a roaring “creek”, (a river, where I come from!) next to train tracks that cut through the valley, with the Transnational Canadian Highway on one side, and the old Bow Valley Parkway on the other.

The trip was amazing; we saw caribou, ground squirrels (who act just like prairie dogs… they even whistle!), herons, ravens, grizzly bears, black bears, Canadian geese (in Canada!), black-billed magpies, gray jays, ospreys, chipmunks, and various other critters. I was really hoping to see a marmot, but no such luck.  We were a bit apprehensive about the bears, until we realized that apparently other tourists had never heard that bears or other wildlife could be dangerous, and would get out of their cars and get way too close to them.  So we just stayed behind the idiot tourists, and felt pretty safe.


August 22, 2012 3 comments

Canada’s Birthday

The History

In the 1800′s Canada was a series of divided areas. With Upper Canada populated with settlers from France and Lower Canada with settlers from England, the colony stood on opposites sides of many issues- including wars in Europe between their home countries. Different regions surfaced, including Acadia on the East Coast which was predominantly French, and Manitoba inland which was created by the fur trade.

These areas all had their own system of government or political parties. Further, at this young stage, the Canadian colonies were already spread over such a diverse area of lands that they held individualized resources and needs. This enhanced the tensions between each other.

It was finally in 1867- Yes, Canada is still so young in comparison- that the founding fathers of Canada created the Confederation. At the helm, was our first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald. Together, 4 provinces formed to become a major part of the Canada we know today. They were Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Manitoba, on the other hand, held off another 3 years before they finally joined the country at the same time as the Northwest Territories. From then on, it was a slow process of adding British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Yukon Territory, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and finally Newfoundland. They joined one at a time, dating as recently as 1949. In fact, recently, in 1999, a piece of the Northwest Territories separated itself and became Canada’s third territory, Nunavut. These 13 regions create the entirety of Canada.

The Celebration

Mounties raising the flag

It was July 1st, 1867 that Canada was born. We still celebrate the country’s birthday with the aptly named Canada Day each year. It is a national holiday with most people receiving an extra day off of work. Often this longer weekend is simply referred to ‘the July long’.

Children are usually recently out of school and families often take this time to travel out of town. Road trips, camping, and any outdoor experience are common. It is the official kick-off to our summer enjoyment.

My personal favourite Canada Day celebration happened up North in the village of Haines Junction, Yukon. The whole town came to be in or to watch a parade right down the main street. Their main street also happens to be a stretch of the Alaska Highway. Thus, this popular summer highway was barricaded and closed for the duration of the parade. Of course, in this village of ~500 people, a parade does not take very long. There was also a huge barbeque lunch serving hamburgers and hot dogs. It seemed that everyone attended.

Other common events include concerts, family-oriented events in parks, and fireworks at night. And, we cannot forget, everyone wears as much red and white and maple leafs as they can.


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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The 4-way stop courtesy

Aisha Ashraf, a British expat in Canada

June 29, 2012 Comments disabled