Travel Journal: Mexico
I’m not a very spontaneous person, as you can probably tell from my last entry. But for this trip, I promised myself that I’d try to take life by the horns and see where it took me. And so far, I’m glad I did.
I’m doing something I never thought I would—teaching elementary school. My mom’s a kindergarten teacher, and I myself quite enjoyed learning how to color inside the lines of a giant picture of Elmo and write my name and eat glue. (Yeah...it was a stressful time in my life.) So, I have nothing against the kiddos—it’s just simply that I never thought I could see myself making a career of it. But an amazing opportunity presented itself, and I thought, why not?
While we’re in Mérida, we are all assigned internships corresponding with our career and life interests to further integrate us into the community. This serves two purposes: 1) to specialize our Spanish skills in terms of jargon used in our respective fields, and 2) to make us feel like a part of the community in which we live and, in turn, show the community that we haven’t just come here to study the language and have fun. We’re here to immerse ourselves in the culture. Brilliant, right?
So what am I doing? I work at Miguel Cepeda Peraza public elementary school, which is bustling with 357 smiling faces who now lovingly call me “Maestro Alex.” I’m teaching English as a Second Language, or ESL, and enjoying every minute of it. I have 12 classes of 30-some students (grades 1-6), which makes for a very diverse group of kids! But one of my favorite things about teaching them is their curiosity; they’re always asking questions about the United States, what school is like there and what I think of Mérida. And they are all mystified by my blue eyes—most of them said they have never seen blue eyes in-person before.
Their inquisitiveness is inspiring and it’s made me wonder what it’d be like to teach English in a foreign country after college. I’m learning so much from the kids—about their culture, their lives growing up in México and the differences between our countries as seen through 11-year-old eyes. I was talking with a few of my sixth graders during recess, and I was amazed by one girl’s perception of American/Mexican relations. I asked her what she thought the biggest difference was between our two cultures. She looked straight into my eyes, and said, “Really, we’re not that different; we have different customs and thoughts, but really, we’re all humans.”
What if we all looked at the world through 11-year-old eyes? Would we see race or color or religion? Would we see borders and a need for war? I came to teach English to elementary school kids, but the other day, they taught me. And I think that’s the whole point to this internship concept—in the end I’m not going to be here long enough to teach them a lot of English. But as long as we can somehow find common ground on which to build bonds of cultural understanding and acceptance, while having a little fun in the process, I think our time will be well spent.
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