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Teaching around the World: Interviews - Teaching in Mexico

Following on from our Reflections on Teaching Abroad series of articles, the Teaching Around the World interviews aim to provide you with some insight into the great travel and teaching opportunities that are available to TESOL graduates. In each interview, we will be speaking to an English Language Teaching professional about their experience of living and working as an English teacher in a specific country. The interviews will be available in two formats: an audio link for you to listen to or a summarised transcript of the audio.

We hope that you will find these interviews interesting and informative and that they will help to inspire your own English language teaching adventures.

Bill on Teaching in Mexico

Bill Farquharson & Georgina Ma
4 May 2011

To listen to the audio recording of the interview, click here. Or read the summarised transcript of the audio below.

Hi. It’s Georgina here and today I’ll be interviewing Bill on his experience of teaching English in Mexico. Bill could you introduce yourself briefly please?
Yes certainly. My name is Bill Farquharson. I currently work at Wits Language School as a teacher trainer.

When did you live and work in Mexico? And how long were you there for?
I arrived at the end of 1999 and I planned to stay for a year, but ended up staying for nearly three years in total.

Why did you choose to go there?
I had been living in the UK for a while, around three years, and I wanted to live somewhere sunny for a change. But I also wanted to learn a foreign language, particularly Spanish. Mexico appealed to me because it is a gateway between North and South America and I thought that it might lead to more travels in either direction.

How did you find your teaching job in Mexico? And how easy is it to find teaching jobs in Mexico?
I got my first job on tefl.com. It was very easy, my initial teacher training was very basic but by virtue of being a native speaker I got a job easily. Being a graduate helped a lot too. As a native speaker it is very easy to find jobs in Mexico. The better paid ones do expect an initial teaching certificate like TESOL though.

Could you tell us a bit about your teaching position – the school you worked for, the students you taught, the working conditions, what it was like to teach there?
I worked in a variety of places. First off I was in a small Spanish colonial era city called San Luis Potosi, and I was working for a private English Language School there. We worked a morning and an afternoon/evening shift teaching general English. I also did some young learners and one on one teaching. It was very run of the mill; there were a bunch of America and Canadian teachers, two South Africans and even one Kiwi. It was a great way to ease into Mexican culture and to start learning a bit of Spanish. After six months I went to Mexico City and I started teaching Business English at a corporate head office. That was very different teaching. I was teaching different learners, from office assistants to Directors and even the CEO’s wife at one point. We did a lot of training in presentation skills, conducting meetings, negotiations and so on. There were some good perks like the weekend immersion seminars held at the corporate villa in Cuernavaca, which is a wealthy retreat near Mexico City. I also spent 6 months teaching at a high school, which was enough to convince me that I prefer teaching adults to teenagers.


 
San Luis Potosi
 

What was it like to live in Mexico?
Mexico was fascinating. Coming from South Africa it wasn’t too much of a challenge, because in some ways the lifestyle in South Africa and Mexico is the same. Mexico has such a rich and blended culture that there’s always something extraordinary to grab your attention. The people are wonderful, welcoming and warm-hearted. You hear about the dangers of Mexico City, much like you do about Johannesburg, but it really shouldn’t put anyone off going there, just do your homework first. Outside Mexico City, the country is vast, beautiful and varied, completely saturated with flavours and colours. I loved it because it has a unique sense of tradition and unique style, but it is also moving forward, trying to keep up with modern advancements.


 
Gondolas in Mexico City
 

What are some things you miss about Mexico?
I miss the food – you don’t get proper Mexican food outside of Mexico. I miss the street culture, the local markets for groceries and things, the arts and crafts, the music, which is just everywhere. I miss the Aztec and Mayan history and mythology, and just the sense that everything happening around you is simply worth observing and sucking up.

 
Mayan ruins
 

Do you remember a funny/strange/scary experience that you had in Mexico that you can share with us?
I had a lot of strange and interesting experiences, especially trying some of the food and drink you can find there, like eating tacos de sesos, which are made from cows’ brains. I don’t think I’ll do that again. I had to try it at least once though. They’ve also got some very peculiar drinks distilled from cactuses and things. Visiting a mescalerias was fun. That’s where mezcal is distilled. At the end of the visit you’ve had enough mescal to put you on a slightly different atmospheric plain. Mexican weddings are amazing. The one experience that stands out for me I think is hiking to the top of a hill in a rural part of the Caribbean coast with a local guide. We were hoping to catch the howler monkeys at daybreak. Just to listen to that throaty roar that they make. Just as the sun was rising we saw a strange animal leaping through the tree tops, it was clearly not a monkey, it was cat-like but not as big as a jaguar. Our guide was convinced it was an animal called an ‘onza’ which is rarely seen, to the point that it’s got this semi mythical status. I’ve done some research on it and apparently it’s related to a cougar. We were really lucky to see it like that, with the early sun silhouetting it through the trees. It really gave us that feeling of how some parts of Mexico really are quite wild and untamed. I enjoyed that a lot.


 
Onza
 

That’s great. Would you recommend living and working in Mexico to other EFL teachers?
I would definitely, but not to get rich. If you want amazing memories to look back on then, yes. I get serious nostalgia when I think back to it. Everyone I meet who lived in Mexico has the same reaction when we start talking about Mexico.
What advice do you have to EFL teachers thinking of going to Mexico?
Make sure the salary offered is enough to meet your living requirements. Don’t just take the recruiter’s word for it, because I actually got caught out. That’s why I only stayed in my first job for six months – I found it was just too tight. Do some investigations, there are websites like tefl.com that help you compare costs across different countries. Find out what it costs to rent a room or a small apartment, how much commuting you’ll have to do in your job and so on. Don’t forget you’ll also want to travel and visit the amazing museums, historical sites and things. I really recommend living in a spot for a while, and saving whatever you can in order to have a good travelling holiday at the end of it. I was there for nearly three years and I still want to go back and explore more.

That sounds great. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us. Mexico sounds like a really amazing place.
It really is.