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).
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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