Saturday, March 20, 2010

Living in a Lawless Country

As a sat at a table on the sidewalk of a café, I couldn’t help but be annoyed at the smoke that drifted over from the woman sitting next to me. Normally, I wouldn’t have been so bothered by the smoke because if I choose to sit outside, I know that I will be sitting next to folks that like to light up. That’s fine. But this particular café, quaint and over-looking the green of Parque México in La Condesa, had “No Smoking” signs placed on every table. This woman decided to just hide that sign and enjoy her cigarette. I try not to let my mind think that, if I were at home, I would say something to her or to the waitress but here, there’s no point. The waitress, working for the establishment that put up those signs, chose to ignore them just like the woman did. Why would anyone bother following the rules when no one is going to enforce them?

I had an interesting conversation with one of my classes one day about this. I had heard that driving while talking on a cell phone was illegal here but I was shocked because I ALWAYS see people driving and talking on the phone. I know that at home people still do it, but I also know of several people that have gotten tickets for texting or talking on the phone. The law exists and people are punished when they are caught. Not here. “So, it IS illegal to drive while using a cell phone?” I asked them. “Oh, yes, but no one pays attention to that.” Huh. Guess they haven’t taken Oprah’s pledge.

These are all small reminders of the larger reality that I’m living right now. There are laws, there are police, but no one seems to care. I got upset and became an Ugly American in my mind. “Things would be so much better if…”. As difficult as it is, I try to not let my mind think that way. The point of me being here is to learn about the way of life here, not criticize or try to “fix” things. I turned my frustration into a small gratitude for humanity. I mean, this city has millions of people living here. Yes, there is crime and plenty of law breaking, but there is also a huge population of law-abiding citizens who follow the rules because they are good people, not because they think they will get caught if they don’t. I think that says a lot. Or maybe I’m just reaching for some optimism….

We recently received an email from our Fulbright people warning us about the recent travel advisory released by the US Department of State. The email contained a link about “how to be safe” while living/traveling in Mexico. At first I didn’t want to read it. It might tell me not to do things that I really like doing, like running. I finally did read it and I wasn’t too surprised by what it said to do and what not to do. Don’t wear flashy jewelry. Check. I haven’t worn jewelry since I got here, except my running watch. Don’t wear designer clothing. Hmmmm… do my worn out 7’s count? Or, what about that tiny little “swoosh” that is on most of my running clothes? Kidnapping, street crime, harassment/extortion, drug trafficking. Don’t use ATM’s that have direct access to the street. Oops. Closest one to my house is in the Torre Mayor, but step outside of the glass case and you’re on the street. Back to the mall ATM’s I will go. The website goes on and on… so much crime, so little reason for the criminals to NOT commit these crimes. Except for that whole humanity thing I’m going to hold on to… I have to believe that millions of good people exist in this urban jungle of crime.

(If you’re interested in reading the Department of Sates website, here is the link:

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Real World... not just a show on MTV

Why haven’t you written in your blog? How are you doing? What’s going on?

I thought I was fine. I knew things were different, but I was okay. I went to work everyday. I came home. I was fine.

But, I didn’t want to write about what was going on in Mexico anymore. I think I didn’t want people to see that my perspectives had changed. Before, Mexico had been a place that I had yearned for, had fought for, and had loved. Now, well, it’s different. I still love it but the way I see things is no longer through those rose colored glasses that I had seen it through before. I knew Mexico was dangerous and I knew that I had to be careful but I still saw it as the land of Mariachis, tequila, fresh tortillas, and my beloved Spanish language. I felt like I couldn’t’ just write about my crazy adventures because I’d be lying. Underneath it all, I was battling a ghost.

This ghost, my Fear, had begun to make my decisions for me. I didn’t go to several of the places that I used to go to because I was too scared to… they were too close to, on the way to, or in the general neighborhood of where my friends and I got robbed. It took me about 3 months to even realize this.

Today I am sitting at the old Starbucks I used to come to all of the time to hopefully catch a glimpse of one of my Mexican loves (the actors that I’m in love with). I haven’t been here since November because to get here I have to walk by the street, only about 2 or 3 blocks from where a guy pointed a gun at me. I told myself yesterday, “Tomorrow you are going to that Starbucks. You are going there and you are going to blog. You are going to start leading your life and stop letting Fear do it.” Well, I made it here. Step one accomplished.

I think my recent realizations of the way I had been living my life since the robbery has helped me start to see Mexico the way I used to. I don’t think I’ll ever get back the innocence of it because, apart from some money, my innocence and my sense of security are what they took from me. I see Mexico now more realistically. I know that dangerous things happen here because it happened to me. But, like any true love, you need to learn to love the person (or place) for who they really are. Take the good and the bad. I’m hoping that my love for Mexico at the end of this journey is strengthened by the fact that I love Mexico for what it really is, not just what I had thought, had seen in movies, or had heard from friends.

My last blog was about how I was using running to cope with the hard times. I remember feeling that way; that I had achieved so much by learning how to cope. I felt like I had all of the answers. Just when I thought I knew how to handle my difficulties, I was thrown a curveball and a fastball at the same time. How do you hit that? I was recently asked, “What have you learned from this experience so far?” Wow… I was surprised when I didn’t have the words. I have learned so much that I can’t even begin to express it. One of those things is how strong I am. Many things have happened to make this year a challenge for me, but here I sit. I’m writing about it. I’m okay.

I know that things aren’t necessarily going to get easier in my last 4 months here, nor will they continue to be easy once I get home (I have been reading about schools in California…. Oh, my), but I am learning that I am the one who decides how I’m going to handle every challenge, every curveball, and every fastball. I am the one who will either allow Fear to rule my life or not. Today I decided to take the lead.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

When times are tough... keep running and keep your head up!

This year has been, so far, like my first year of teaching all over again; learning new rules, new ways of doing things, different ways of teaching, teaching a different language, etc, etc. And, like my first year of teaching, I have been trying to do what I thought was the right thing, modeling my behavior from what I see and observe. But, after teaching for 7 years one thing I have learned is that to be an effective teacher, you really need to just be yourself.

My first 2 months here were mostly filled with “the highs” and I hadn’t had too many lows. Well, as the lows started coming, I was finding myself battling negative thoughts, homesickness, and frustration. Now, this isn’t a daily thing, but I do think that the “honeymoon period” is over, and reality has set it. I was at a bit of a loss on how to battle this; what do I do to make sure I don’t fall into some pit of Mexican despair where I just sit around and eat enchiladas all day and watch telenovelas? I don't have the group of American Buddies I had when I lived in Spain so I'm going through this alone. I do have a few Fulbrighters close by, but its different. We're teaching in different schools and we don't get to see each other that often.

On one particularly bad day, I got home and was angry. With whom? Why? What happened? A series of rather unpleasant events, yes, like hearing the thud of a man’s head as the metro struck him as it approached. He seemed ok (a little dazed!) and was bleeding down his face, but I think he was alright. I had noticed that people stand ridiculously close to the trains as they approach, like if they don’t get as close as possible they’re not going to get on that train. It was a little scary and gave me that awful feeling in your stomach like after you see a car accident or something. I just couldn’t shake that feeling once I got home.

That, and other things that were bothering me, sent me spiraling down. I got home and told myself, “I need to do something about this.” I was feeling so bad, so negative, that I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t like it. I knew I needed to go for a run and get out of my apartment, but it was hard. Enchiladas and telenovelas were calling me… but, I strapped on the Asics and headed to my new favorite place to run, a one-kilometer loop in the greater Chapultepec Park that circles the Gandhi statue. I told myself as I approached that I was going to run more than I had since I’d gotten here, that I’ve been building up and finally feeling ok when I run, and that I needed to control SOMETHING, achieve SOMETHING. After only having run 5 kilometers at the most, I set out to run 8 kilometers (close to 5 miles). With every step I started to feel better, and as I completed the last lap (which I later figured out was 9, not 8, my math skills haven’t improved in Mexico, obviously!), my negative feelings where gone.

I came to Mexico for many reasons, but pursuing my “career” as an athlete was something that I had accepted as being ok on the backburner for a year. Yes, I walk to school 3 days a week (about an hour each way) and yes, I do my yoga, but I hadn’t really been as active as I’m used to being. I had been running occasionally, but I think I was trying too hard to be someone who I’m not. I really need to remember that, even though I’m living in a foreign country, I am still ME. I like to eat apples with peanut butter, I like Starbucks, and I am an athlete.

I joined a volleyball team (more about that later) and I’ve decided that I need to run more. Signing up for the 10k in Monterrey was a great idea and it was so fun! While I was running, I thought, “Why do I do this? There’s no one waiting for me at the finish line, there’s no prize for me, so why?” As I came down the stretch to cross the finish, I knew why. It’s so much of who I am, why I do what I do. Why do I teach when there isn’t much hope of making a lot of money, nor a lot of praise? Well, when you cross that finish line, that feeling of ACHIEVING something…. that’s it. I think I’m finally remembering who I am. I teach because I feel like I can achieve something with my hard work, and I don’t always get a prize or a thank you. I run because of the way it makes me feel and because I know I’ve accomplished a goal. I don’t win and ya’ll know I’m not fast. It’s not always about what you’re going to get back, rather what you put into it. The rewards you get are that feeling of, wow, look what I can do. In my toughest of moments I hope I can remember this.

Oh, yeah, and the endorphins are great, too. J

Friday, November 6, 2009

Guanajuato and Día de los muertos

I think I'm finally becoming more Mexican. That's what someone told me, anyway, when I announced on Wednesday I wanted to go to Guanajuato on Friday. Mexicans are better at being spontaneous and not planning everything out. While I have been someone spontaneous in the past, I tend to lean toward the "let's have a plan" attitude. I think I can get used to spontaneity here.

I called Sharon and she was in. I had trouble booking a hotel because it was the last weekend of The Cervantino (a huge festival that takes place in October in Guanajuato) and a puente weekend (meaning Monday was a holiday). I got back on my favorite bus, ETN, and was in Guanajuato in 5 hours.

Sharon wasn't going to be meeting up with me until Saturday morning, so Friday I took to the town by myself. Thankful that my hotel was very close to downtown (after expedia booked me into a hotel that was overbooked, that hotel helped me find this hotel, which was closer and included breakfast and lunch everyday. Nice.), I set out to explore. I couldn't believe how many people were there! And, it was only Friday... what would tomorrow be like, I wondered. I saw street performances, ate the Mexican version of corn on the cob (with crema, cheese and chile, yum!), and marveled at the small alleys and streets. I saw the Alley of the Kiss (Callejon del Beso) but wasn't in the mood to kiss a stranger, so I didn't hang out there for too long. Legend says you're supposed to kiss your boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/husband/wife, whoever, there and if you don't kiss anyone, it's bad luck. Ah, well, I don't consider myself lucky with love anyway, so I took my chances and didn't try to lock lips with anyone.

The next morning I woke up early to go to the Mummy Museum before Sharon and Alice arrived. They had already been and highly recommended it to me (as did several others). When I got there I remembered that I'm not a fan of dead things and Death gives me a stomach ache. The mummies where pretty amazing (see picture) and I couldn't believe they were that well preserved. But, my imagination got the better of me... I saw these mummies as people, the skin that covered their bones, their teeth, the hair... it was almost too much. The small children brought tears to my eyes. Who cries at a mummy museum? Yeah, that would be me. I realized that Mexico is probably good for me in several ways, one of them their attitude toward death. I mean, they CELEBRATE Day of the Dead, and they actually use that word, celebrar. It's not that they don't have a tough time when people die, but I'm thinking they might have a healthier relationship with Death. I, on the other hand, do not. Another thing for me to work on while I'm here.

When Sharon and Alice arrived, we set out to see Guanajuato. We walked all around, admired the marigolds and flowers in the market for Day of the Dead, bought souvenirs at El Mercado Hidalgo, ate Pan de muertos with café de olla (YUM!) at our favorite spot, La Purísima, and walked around more and more. The amount of people in the streets was a little overwhelming so we retired to the room in the afternoon to close our eyes. After our rest we returned to the city, saw the university, marveled at the crowds yet again, ate dinner, then returned to sleep.

The next day we had specific goals. We wanted to see Diego Rivera's house from when he was a small child (he moved to Mexico City when he was 5 or 6, I think), see a Day of the Dead altar somewhere, and go to the Pipila statue that overlooks the town. When we got to Diego's house I was super excited that there was a altar there. 2 in 1! The house was pretty neat and had several of his paintings there. I didn't know he dappled with cubism but, being the master artist that he was, I guess he figured he could experiment with all types of art movements. I was very impressed with his cubist works, I must admit.

After Diego's house we walked to the funicular that took us up the steep cliff to the Pipila statue. The view from there was amazing. We sat and enjoyed the breeze and the view before walking down the steep pathway back down to the city. We were pretty exhausted from our day of walking around so we got some movies to watch in our hotel room that evening. Yes, I admit that I bought pirated movies... but, I learned my lesson. One of them was actually a recording of someone in a movie theater and you could hear people laughing in the background. Learned my lesson! We were able to watch Nacho Libre, though. Love that movie and I must admit, after living here for only 3 months, there are details and things about that movie that I get now that I didn't before. As horrible it is about making fun of Mexico, it's hilarious. Gotta love Jack Black.

The next day we walked around a little before our departure to our respective cities, Sharon and Alice back to Leon and me back to DF. We played a little hide-and-seek in the park to work off our breakfast of chilaquiles and got some tortas for the bus. At 1:30 I boarded the bus (legs fully extended, see picture), equipped and ready for my 5 hour trek back with an episode of Grey's Anatomy and The Office downloaded on my computer.


At our training in Washington D.C. in August we were told about a huge conference that was going to be taking place in October called MEXTESOL . Me, being the Super Nerd (noña) that I am, was eager to join hundreds of other teachers for a weekend of learning, workshops, and rejuvenation. Living my life "inside out" (I'm a Spanish teacher in the U.S. yet an English teacher in Mexico) as I like to call it, it's nice to meet people who live here and do what I do.

I flew with Jessica, our Comexus godess, and several others from either Comexus or IIE (Institute of International Education). We got to the convention center and helped them set up their stands where they would be displaying their Comexus, IIE, and U.S. Embassy literature.

The next day the conference began and it was CRAZY. Definitely the largest conference I've ever been to. I spent about an hour in line for registration alone. I attended a few sessions and hung out at the stand with the Comexus/IIE/Embassy folks. I really enjoyed getting to know the IIE and Embassy people. In addition to being very helpful, they were hilarious. They tried teaching me some local slang but I don't remember much. Guess I need more practice with that.

The thing that I love about conferences is that is sort of reminds you of why you do what you do. Sometimes we get so caught up in our jobs, in the stuff that's all wrong, in the problems, etc, that we lose sight of our STUDENTS. It's them we're trying to teach, not some system that's failing, not paying us enough, and treating us like dirt (exhale Gretchen...). I was introduced to several individuals who have pursued higher learning in fields that inspire me, wrote down several books that I want to read about teaching strategies, and smiled remembering that I do love teaching... it's easy to forget that sometimes.

On Friday night Comexus hosted a cocktail party for the teachers that were Fulbright alumni. Toward the end of the evening we all stood in a large circle, introduced ourselves, talked about what Fulbright program we did, etc. By the time the circle introductions ended, I was very touched by this group. The majority of them had participated in a summer program in Texas, one did a teaching exchange in Montana for a year, and another was about to leave for New York for the year. Hearing this grateful group of Mexican teachers talk about their experiences reminded me of why I'm here. They did what I'm doing and are back in their home countries, teaching about what they learned during their U.S. experience. For me, that part is so far away I forget about it. I'm here for many reasons, but the eventual return to the U.S. to share my experiences with my students and colleagues is a huge part of this. I'm thankful they helped me remember that.

When we weren't participating in the MEXTESOL fun, we got out of the hotel/conference center to enjoy our meals in the city. Everyone kept telling me I needed to eat "cabrito". Ok, sure. I'm not a vegetarian so eating meat isn't a problem, even goat (yes, even goat, even though I had them as pets when I was a kid.... just don't think about it and you're ok). We went to El Rey Del Cabrito for our goat meal. I mean, if you're going to eat goat, might as well go to The King of the Baby Goat, huh? The meat was ok, good, but not the best thing in the world. The part that was most horrifying for me was the translations on the menu. Isn't it funny that the same word or phrase can have such a stronger mean in one language or the other? I mean, say cabrito, and it's not that bad, say baby goat and, well, yeah, that's a little hard to swallow (no pun intended... ha ha, ok, it was intended). The menu had things like Baby Goat Head, Baby Goat Blood,... yikes. Yeah, maybe just don't translate it. It's so much better in Spanish. (The picture of Jessica and me outside of El Rey shows the cabritos all sprawled out... yikes to that, too).

In addition to attending the conference I also managed to squeeze in a 10k run. The Nike Human Race is a race that takes place in several cities all over the world on the same day. I was lucky that it was in Monterrey the weekend I was there. I joined the other 1000's of people, all with our red running shirts on, for the 10k race around Monterrey. While I was stretching I met several people that work at the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey. We really are everywhere! :) The race was really fun and it reminded me how much fun running is. Even in a country where running isn't as popular as it is at home, I was able to find comfort that I had something in common with all of these people. We were all crazy enough to get up on the cold, drizzly morning to go for a run.


As much as I love Mexico City, I love leaving it, too. Sharing a city with millions of other people is fun and exciting, but I think it gets to me sometimes. I'm thankful for the travel opportunities that I've had to keep me sane. During the weekend of the 9th-11th of October, I met up with 2 fellow Fulbrighers, Tim and Sharon, and Sharon's 8 year-old daughter, Alice. I had always heard great things about Morelia and was excited to see this charming little town.

My original intention was to see the International Film Festival in Morelia, however, once we got there, that became secondary. Tim and I hung out the first night and he was expecting the energetic, let's-party-Gretchen, but she wasn't there. I'm-so-tired-I-just-want-to-relax-Gretchen was there instead. We walked around, saw the cathedral lit up at night, and ate some yummy food. The flavors reminded me of the Mexican food from home, maybe because in California we have a large population from Michoacán (the state that Morelia is in) and they have brought their delicious recipes with them?

The next morning Tim and I set out to find out what this film festival was all about. We found the theater and spoke to someone who was promoting their film. It was about the raids on immigrants in the U.S. and how it effects the towns they are deported from and the towns they are deported back to. This film was specifically about a small town in Iowa with a large Guatemalan population. Unfortunately, the film was sold out by the time we got to the front of the line. That was our film festival experience. I still want to find this film and see it some day.

I was told that stars might be in town for the festival, so of course I kept my eyes peeled looking for Poncho Herrera or Jaime Camil. No luck there, either. Instead of stalking stars all day, Tim and I met up with Sharon and Alice in our hotel. We set out to explore the city. We went to an orchid garden, went to the candy museum (yes, a candy museum!), and returned to our hotel tired from wandering around. I think Tim, Sharon, and I really needed our sit-down- and-talk-time. Poor Alice got bored of the adult talk and retired back to the room to watch movies. I remember as a child whenever my mom was visiting with friends she would tell me, "Just let me finish this cup of coffee." I never understood why she didn't just chug that cup so we could go! Now I get it. We told Alice we were just going to finish our coffee and we would be right up. A couple of hours later, we were still there. We took turns venting about our frustrations of teaching in Mexico, bragging about the wonderful experiences we've had, and laughing about the many peculiarities of Mexico. When Alice came back wondering if we had finally finished our coffee, we decided to venture back out into the city.

We found a neat restaurant/bar/lounge where we ate our late dinner. The perfect place for all: food, music, and couches. Once Alice got tired, she just lay down on the couch and we were able to continue our dinner, listening to the music and trying to ignore the making-out couples that surrounded us. Public displays of affection are really common. I'm trying to get used to it again (Spain was crazy!).

The next day Tim left early, but Sharon, Alice and I set out to wander around the city before our buses left later that afternoon. I took them to the places that Tim had shown me; the aqueduct, a museum that was all about women, a beautiful church, an artesanía market, and the main plaza. We parted ways at the bus terminal and I was actually excited to get on a bus for 4 hours. ETN, the bus line I've been using here, is amazing. Once I had WiFi, there is enough leg room for me to straighten my legs (yes, ME!), movies, etc. Plus, the views of Mexico from the window are pleasing to look at while I listen to my música romántica....

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nada Humano Me Es Ajeno

Many people have been asking me about school, and I realized, I’ve hardly mentioned it in my blog! Funny, it’s the actual reason why I’m here and I have neglected it. Sorry.

So, how is school going? What is it like? How are your students? What’s the school like? Here goes… (this is going to be a long one)

After almost being in school for 2 months I feel I can now give a somewhat accurate comparison of what I’m used to and what I’m doing now. The educational systems between the US and Mexico obviously vary, but add to that the fact that my university is “unlike” other universities in Mexico, and you get a much different experience. As I explained earlier, my university sort of prides itself on being different in a “socialistic” kind of way. We are here to serve the students that work or that have circumstances that might otherwise keep them from studying at the university level. Therefore, allowing them to take English 1 and 2 at the same time, like I said. I think a lot of this is expressed pretty well in their motto, “Nada humano me es ajeno”. This comes from a famous quote from Publius Terentius Afer, also known as “Terence”, who was a famous playwright of the Roman Republic (thanks Wikipedia). The entire quote in Latin is, “homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.” Translated, it means, “I am a man; and I consider nothing that concerns mankind a matter of indifference to me.”

What this means to me is that we’re supposed to be a little more understanding when it comes to our students. They are generally coming from circumstances that make studying a university difficult. However, I had to lay down the law when it came to tardies. I understand that sometimes, things happen. Life is tough. Alarm clocks don’t go off, the metro is delayed, there’s a lot of traffic, etc, etc. But, my students were coming in 30 minutes to an hour late to an hour and a half class. It was making teaching difficult because I would start a lesson, then would have to explain again to the group of students that walked in late, then have to do it again 15 minutes later when the next group of late students came. I found out that I could be stricter when I came to tardies. So, I give them 15 minutes. Still, students will try to come in after that. My absolute favorite excuse is the traffic. “Es que, maestra, había mucho tráfico.” Chicos, this is Mexico City. There is horrible traffic EVERYDAY. They tell me like it’s an unusual occurrence. Most have learned, and just come see me in my office after class.

Having this tardy policy has shrunk the number of students that actually come to my class everyday (well, that’s only part of it. They tell me students just stop attending class and I’ve heard that frequent absences are really common in Mexico). My English 2 has 52 students enrolled, but usually only 20-30 show up. My English 2 has shrunk to a pathetic 3-5 students that attend regularly. That’s my 7 am class and I think they just don’t want to come that early. Yesterday, I stepped out of my class at 7:15 to see if I could get some more markers from the “enlace”. On my way up the stairs I saw one of my students that was supposed to be in my class putting her make up on in one of the studying rooms. I’m pretty sure she was also waiting for her boyfriend who is also in my class. She tried to come in at 7:30 and I wouldn’t let her. She came up to me after class and I said, “Don’t sit there and put your make up on and think you can come into class a half an hour late.” She looked pretty embarrassed. I would be more understanding with students if I knew they had issues, but, if I can find the time for my make-up regimen (ya’ll know what that entails!), then she can, too. I feel that most students take the liberties that this university gives them and take advantage of it.

Fairfield High School is full of students that come from circumstances that are keeping them from continuing their education so having the student population that I have here at the UACM isn’t too different. However, I’m not sure I agree with giving them a lot of leniency. If there’s one word that I learned to try to maintain with my classes it’s RIGOR (thanks, AVID). I feel that students coming from difficult situations understand more than others that the best way to achieve whatever it is you’re trying to achieve is through hard work. Making excuses and being constantly catered to doesn’t’ create skills or the work ethic necessary to be successful in a university or the “real world” after. Actually, because of their circumstances, whatever they may be, they may have to work just that much harder to go to a university or succeed, so if we keep letting them make excuses, are we really helping them?

Sorry, I’ll get off of my high horse now…

There have definitely been some positive changes for me here in Mexico, regarding school. I didn’t even notice a lot of these things until I read my friend Hilary’s blog. She’s another Fulbright teacher who is teaching in Tijuana, Mexico. As Hilary pointed out, the students’ attitudes here are very different. I haven’t had one student complain to me that what we are doing is too hard. I haven’t had one student ask me if what we were going to do today was “important” (I absolutely HATE that). No one has said, this is boring, this sucks, do I HAVE TO do this, etc, etc, etc. As a matter of fact, the only feedback I get from students is positive. “I really like the way you teach. You really help me understand English.” I don’t think my teaching has changed much; I’m still me, so I know the difference is coming from my students. Then, once I realized this, I noticed what a difference it made in my own attitude toward my students and toward my teaching. I’m not as emotionally drained at the end of the day. I don’t get home and just want to sit and stare, not say anything, not talk to anyone, not think about anything. That’s who I had become, that’s what I would do.

Learning from this….

I know that a lot of how I react to what my students say and do is my responsibility. I think what I’m learning is that I take too much, I let my students say things to me and I let them treat me the way that I’m now learning bothers me. If I want to be respected the way I am here, I’m going to have to demand a little more respect when I return home. I know that will be a challenge because our society doesn’t tend to respect teachers as much as they do here. So, I’ll have to demand something that is just given to me here. If being treated better is a positive consequence of demanding respect, I’ll think I’ll be up to the challenge.

In addition to learning about the differences in our systems, I’m also really enjoying teaching English. Instead of teaching Juanes and Maná songs I’m teaching Britney Spears, The Beatles, Pink, The Cure, and anything that I can find that grammatically fits my lesson. Funny! I’m also learning a ton of English grammar. It is definitely an advantage to have a strong background in Spanish grammar, because it helps me when I’m trying to explain similarities and differences between the two languages. I am finding that my students here are having the same troubles with English as my students in the US do with Spanish. Everything being “backwards” (el gato negro=the black cat, not the cat black), prepositions, and omitting verbs are just a few that I’ve noticed.

I share my office with a French teacher who has been very kind and helpful. The best part about sharing an office with her is that I get to hear here speak French. I always listen to see if I still got it. Most of the time I understand everything… then again, she is teaching them basic levels and I have a minor in French for crying out loud, but still, it feels good to understand.

The photocopy situation is funny to me. There’s a section in the library where we go to give our papers to the copy guy (shoot, can’t remember his name right now…). If he doesn’t have a lot of copies lined up, I can get my copies done right away. Sometimes, I have to drop them off and come back later. At first I thought, “Sweet, I don’t have to make my own copies!” Then, I realized this can be inconvenient at times. For example, if he’s not there, if he’s really busy, or if it’s not within the hours (10-5), then I have to wait. That might not seem like a big deal, but not being at the school everyday means I need to really plan ahead, especially with copies. If I need something for Monday, I need to get it copied on Thursday. There’s been times when he hasn’t been there so I’ve gone and made copies on the street somewhere. I shouldn’t complain too much, since Hilary can’t even do that. I do write on the board a lot more than I did before, because it’s just easier than dealing with copies, and in turn, better for the environment. J

All in all, I’m really enjoying my job here. Like all jobs and especially with teaching, there are very frustrating days (like when NO ONE shows up to my 7 am class that I had left my house at 5:45 for…). But, I’m doing my best to remain positive and to enjoy this experience as much as I can.