I don’t have a degree in Education or English or even something like International Studies. What I studied was Forestry. Yep, that’s right, I learned about trees! So how did I end up teaching English as a second language in Mexico?
I fell in love with Latin America. I had taken a year-long temporary job in Chile working on a private forest reserve. When my term was up and it was time to board a plane back to the United States and continue my government job, I just couldn’t do it.
The culture…the language…the people… They were all too much to leave behind. But I didn’t have a great command of the Spanish language.
So while living in a Latin country was a must for me, working in my chosen field was not an option. I had to assess my skills and find out what types of jobs were easier for a foreigner to get in Latin America.
I quickly realized that my command of the English language (and the fact that I am a native English speaker) was my ticket to a life in Latin America. The demand to learn English in Latin countries is huge. And most people prefer to learn from native speakers.
I landed my first teaching job soon after, at a bilingual school in Orizaba, Mexico.
I was contracted to teach Intermediate English to middle- and high-school students for an hour and a half a day, and 6th grade science and English. My day started at 7.00 a.m. and I was done by 3.00 p.m.
That allowed me plenty of time to explore the rich Mexican culture in the afternoons or head out of town early on a Friday when one of the many long holiday weekends rolled around.
I also had time to indulge any and every interest. I took Spanish classes to improve my communication skills…enrolled in salsa dance lessons three evenings a week…and once my Spanish had improved, I started taking Spanish guitar lessons from a local musician.
The benefits of the job were great. Besides the freedom, it allowed me to soak up Mexico’s culture. It also afforded me a regular pay check, paid housing, health coverage, paid vacations, a paid work visa, and reimbursement of my travel expenses at the end of the school year.
But though we often think about the benefits of a job in monetary terms, the personal benefits go far beyond that.
As an English teacher, I instantly became a respected member of the community. People I didn’t know would greet me with a friendly “Buenos días, Maestra” (“Good morning, Teacher”) on my way to school.
And my students were always so grateful to have the opportunity to learn English and interact with me. I received more random hugs, broad smiles, and dinner invitations than I can count.
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