Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Concluding Thoughts on Life in Mexico

     Happy Thanksgiving week to all of my readers, friends and family alike. My students have just recently wrapped up their lessons on our uniquely American holiday, and though few of them will celebrate it, what they've learned will hopefully make them feel a part of it this year. When I gave my classes, I didn't mention the football games or the colorful once-a-year fixings. I also chose not to explain why, on this particular day each year, our good eating habits go out the window when we proceed to gorge ourselves until nausea sets in. Instead, I shared with my students the story of the first Thanksgiving, albeit the pared down version that's appropriate for eight-year-olds. I crafted for my wide-eyed children a tale that invoked the Pilgrims' fear and cold, and the hopelessness so beautifully transformed that day into gratitude by the generosity of the Indians. The students had to produce their own retelling of the Thanksgiving story for their second bimester project, and the ten with the most creativity and effort earned a place on our class bulletin board. Check it out:

     Despite my expectation that I would be teaching in Mexico for two years, I've come home to New York not just for the Thanksgiving holiday but to stay. I decided that while I became quite fond of my students, the administration's vision for the school was not one that I shared. A successful educational model is contingent on mutual respect between administrators, parents, students and teachers. I did not feel that the necessary trust from all involved parties was there, and thus I could not offer the school the best of myself. All of that aside, I'm thrilled to have experienced life in a Latin American culture and honed in on my Spanish-speaking skills. Please know that all of your feedback was greatly appreciated, and that I am eager to invite you to support my future projects.

Until next time,


Friday, November 15, 2013

Life at Sherwood

We call the room front and center the "Backgammon Room." I feel this needs no explanation.

     As promised, today I will be telling my readers a little bit about my home life here in Mexico City. I am one of seven people who occupy the classic 70's home you see above. We come from all over the United States, with two from the D.C. metro area, one from California, one from Ohio, one from New England, and myself from New York. I know what question your asking yourself right now- is this guy tired or can he not count? The other gentleman I have yet to mention is from Spain; to be more specific, The Canary Islands. Despite the overwhelming number of English speakers, we operate as if there is no official language for the house. The seven of us are always practicing our second language, be it English or Spanish, so if you were to observe us interacting, you would find that we switch between languages throughout the day.

     You might have noticed from the post title that the house has a name. The seven of us agreed on this name, taking inspiration from the legends of Robin Hood in English folklore. In the majority of early ballads, the famed outlaw and his "merry men" inhabited Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, England. Robin Hood was a complex literary character, viewed by some as brave and thoughtless or arrogant and treacherous by others. As he is known as someone who stole from the rich to give to the poor, one's opinion would likely have something to do with one's income level. The name of our house doesn't really come from any particular identification with Robin Hood or his followers, but rather the over-arching concept of adventure that the seven of us agree should define life.

     Back when I was in Mexico City at the end of last school year, my roommates and I moved from another location to this house, designated by NSM as a residence of the school. As a result, a number of co-workers and school families joined us for a small gathering to celebrate the official opening of the house. The school pastor was in attendance, and as you can see below, he offered us thoughtful words before taking time to bless our home.

     Below you can see a variety of Mexican desserts brought as housewarming gifts; for me, I remember this day fondly as a pleasant afternoon of food and fellowship. It is at this table that my roommates and I share dinner each day. As there are seven of us in the house, it is quite easy to follow a daily cooking schedule. Each of us purchases separately the food necessary to cook our individual group dinner per week, as well as whatever breakfast or lunch items we personally want. Things like cleaning supplies and paper goods we buy as a group. We used to buy everything as a group, but we quickly discovered that each of us differed in willingness to spend on food and adjustment to Mexican cuisine. As you might expect, typical local dishes are much cheaper to prepare than foods we typically eat back in the U.S. Cheese, fish, and meat are inordinately expensive, as are quick-to-prepare frozen foods that we all know and love. But as for tortillas...I could buy fifty for twelve pesos, or two US dollars.

     I like the house as a sort of social experiment. In our initial days together back in June, we put together a stringent code of conduct for behavior in the house. For example, we wear our suit-and-tie throughout the day during the work week, opting to wear gym or street clothes on the weekends only. One's willingness to stay active and alert is often influenced by what they are wearing, and by remaining in professional attire after work, we put ourselves in the mindset to keep ourselves engaged rather than wasting time. We also laid ground rules for the common areas, established a schedule for chores, and made a commitment to forthright, honest communication with each other. I was skeptical at first of the House Director's policies, as they seemed outdated and puritanical. Nevertheless, I remained open-minded and found that our code of conduct keeps us in the mindset of being productive rather cutting corners or not doing our best work.

     The school provides us with a number of services that would otherwise be beyond our income level. Sherwood is located in a very prestigious Mexican suburb called Bosques de las Lomas, one of the safest, wealthiest areas in the entire country. As such, the school substantially subsidizes our rent, and permits us to use a school vehicle to make the thirty to forty minute commute to work. In order that we may focus on our own self-enrichment and study outside of school, we are provided maid service two days a week, including ironing and laundry. Each of us has a government-issued food stipend card which is replenished each month with an amount of pesos equal to five percent of our annual income. The school recognizes us as foreigners adjusting to a novel and strange culture, and provides assistance accordingly so we can remain committed and energized as elementary and middle school teachers.

     I'm personally quite happy with my living situation. As someone who just graduated from a college out-of-state, communal living is still the norm in mind. My roommates and I enjoy our meals together, and our discussions are always lively, be it about culture, our students, or our favorite college courses. We hold ourselves to high standards, but that is because we all have lofty goals and are willing to work diligently to achieve them.

Until next time,


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Late Night at Northridge

    Just a few weeks ago was our biggest event of the year- Bonfire Night. All week, the mothers of many students could be seen building concession stands and planing arts and crafts in preparation for the extravaganza. This was a much needed respite for students and teachers alike, as many tests were recently taken and graded in record time. Many of us teachers (myself included) were quite invested in the event, as we grew in our facial hair for the Mustache Contest, each hoping to take home one of three gift certificates to local mustache-loving restaurants. 

     As with the Field Day that took place earlier in the year, there were plenty of opportunities for physical activity at Bonfire Night. The physical education teachers had their hands full with all the basketballs tossed, footballs thrown, and soccer balls punted. They also were charged with the task of introducing our school sports teams of all ages, much like what we would see at a pep rally at home.  Below is picture taken from the elementary school second floor, taking in as much of the excitement as possible.

If I haven't yet given you an opportunity to laugh in this blog post, heads up because it's time. As a participant in the Mustache Competition, I chose to explore my country roots with a handlebar mustache. Here I am pictured with one of the elementary school coordinators. (Of course I can't tell you who it is- that would defeat the purpose of the mask!)

Below I'm seated with some of my co-workers. As you can tell, they are all thrilled to be finished with grading. It's also pretty evident by looking at this picture that the competition in the Mustache Contest was fierce. Although I considered myself a shoe-in to be a finalist, I'm afraid that honor fell to other mustaches, some with outrageous colors and a few with accompanying theme outfits.

     My biggest surprise of the night occurred during the fireworks celebration. Pictured below is "torito" with its bull-shaped frame and attached fireworks. One of our most seasoned teachers donned a lab coat and goggles, then proceeded to run across the field in a blaze of color and light. Children and parents scurried away, and I stood at a safe distance thinking about insurance risk and lawsuits. Given that "torito" fireworks have been used since the mid nineteenth century, I suppose people have had enough exposure to know how to stay safe (or else die trying.....kidding...).

      As a musician, I found the most entertaining part of the night to be the musical portion. After the sports teams were introduced, the NSM Jazz Band took the stage and dominated with a variety of Latin, Rock, and Swing tunes. Although a downpour started at this time, myself and many of the parents braved the elements to listen to tunes up close (alright, I admit it, I had an umbrella...and I made a lot of friends as a result!). The picture taken below is of some of my co-workers dancing to the rockin' tunes of the professional jazz band, who began playing after the school jazz band completed their set. I was astonished by the epicness of their rendition of "Pink Panther!"

Although the rain drove away about half of the families who participated in the event, I think the Bonfire Night was very successful. It is not uncommon to see parents at Northridge, what with academic contests and mass every few weeks. The parents play a big part in our education model, and the school strives to plan events where parents, students and teachers have the chance to interact in a fun, casual setting. Next post, I'm offering my readers a change of pace by talking a little bit about my communal living situation. How is that that seven teachers are able to run a clean, orderly household? You'll find out soon enough.

Until next time.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

PLEASE SUPPORT ME! -- EF Mexico Teacher of the Year 2014

     Welcome back everyone, I hope these early blog posts have piqued your interest in just what goes on in Mexico's capital city, and what it means to be an ESL teacher. Having studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark in my junior year at Providence College, I'm no stranger to living in a foreign country. I can tell you that it isn't easy being far from family and friends. We as people thrive on the familiar and look to our core beliefs and routines to provide stability in our lives. It is those feelings of safety and security that enable us to best represent our talents and form meaningful relationships. 

      I've recently joined a contest with EF's branch in Mexico for Teacher of the Year 2014. EF is an international consulting firm that works with schools. This contest is specifically targeting ESL teachers in Mexico and offers great prizes such as all expenses paid to a variety of teaching seminars or school supplies for the classroom. The possibility of attending such seminars would be wonderful for me as a budding educator, and I appreciate the support of any of my followers willing to vote for me at this link:

      Upon reaching the page, you need only select "alumno." After that, you'll be taken to a webpage with the profiles of all of the contestants. Once you select my name, there will be a short entry form that asks for an e-mail address, age, etc. As this page is also meant for students to vote on, you will be asked to submit the name of a school or university.

     I'm really hoping to make it into the top three for this contest, but I need your help to do it! As for my next post, I'll be discussing the NSM major fall event- Bonfire Night.

Until next time,


Friday, October 18, 2013

Slideshow from Africam Safari

On Safari


     One of the highlights of my past few weeks was my visit to Africam Safari, a wildlife venue in which guests drive through different parts of the zoo using their own vehicle. I was lucky to get to take the two hour trip to Puebla, Mexico with several of my housemates and the headmaster of NSM. We were surprised to find out after arriving at the zoo that my boss is actually friends with several of the zoo's board members. I was excited to get what I hoped would be a VIP experience, perhaps a chance to feed or touch some of the animals up close.

     Then, our tour guide hopped in the car with us and we started our excursion. We began with grazing animals like gazelles, sheep and ostrich. It was neat to drive around them with our car doors open, both to keep the car a reasonable temperature and to feel closer to the animals. As you might expect, these animals took no particular interest in us, except to just give us a vacant stare. Upon reaching one of the checkpoints, we got out of the car to take a look at the gift shop, where I browsed through a really cool collection of key chains including different animals from the zoo. As we were expecting a special lunch later on, we stocked up on a staple Mexican snack- chips with hot sauce.

    After resuming our car ride, we were quick to come up on the tiger section. I wasn't surprised to see just how seriously they took security, with several sections of separation divided by manually controlled gates; of course, we were even asked to close our car doors. And you know what? After patiently waiting to get through all of this security, the fearsome tigers were just taking a nap!! Next, we got out of the car again to the tiger viewing area, which afforded us a much closer view, albeit through thick glass.

    We got back in the car once again, and took a quick drive to their performance venue, where we watched a bird show in which the trainers demonstrated various tricks that the birds could do. The kids in the audience loved when an adult was chosen and instructed to hold a one hundred peso bill in the air, only to have it snatched by one of the birds! After that, my group was given the special treat of visiting the aviary. We were told about the feeding habits and personalities of the various species of birds, and then the trainers brought several birds which were allowed to perch on our hands.

      Following our stay in the incredibly noisy aviary, we were brought to the roof of a building overlooking the grazing animals. I wasn't really sure what we were there for until our guide brought out a bunch of branches and buckets of oats. I had hardly put two and two together when I turned around  and came face to face with a big giraffe! Each of us was permitted to feed the giraffes, which more often than not turned into a little tug of war between two giraffes competing for the same branch or bucket of oats. I couldn't help but laugh when the giraffes would extend their long grey tongues to try to snatch branches from my unsuspecting coworkers. As fun as this was, my stomach was starting to rumble, and giraffe feeding time wasn't helping my cause.

     Finally, we were picked up by a car containing several board members, and brought to the VIP lounge, an enormous tree-house accessible only by a network of rickety rope bridges. I was really impressed by the authenticity of our lunch venue, complete with a fifty-person table that was partially glass so as to see the animals below. There was a variety of tribal decorations, and the nicest bamboo bathroom I've ever seen (actually, the only one). I was fortunate to be sitting next to one of the owners during lunch, and he proceeded to tell me about his family history with the zoo. When it was time to go, we were given gift baskets of various Mexican sweets and well wishes for a safe trip home.

     Thanks for tuning in, all. Expect my next post to be a lot of fun as well, as I will be writing about the NSM Bonfire Night. You're going to get a kick out of the mustache that I grew for the evening contest!

Until next time,


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Celebrating Mexican Independence

      Sorry about the long hiatus. My school's first bimester is coming to a close, which means that the last two weeks have been spent grading notebooks and writing tests. I'm eager to see how my students perform on their social studies exam, particularly because I was delegated the responsibility of writing the test for both sections of second grade. The kids will be sitting down to this particular exam on Tuesday.

    The focus of this post will be  Mexican Independence Day, which occurs on September 16th each year. This day commemorates when the revolutionary Miguel Hidalgo supposedly uttered the cry for independence (El Grito de la Independencia) in the state of Guanajuato. The War of Independence occurred between 1810 and 1821, a long conflict in which Mexican-born Spaniards and Mestizos fought against the armies of Colonial Spain.

    Parents flocked to NSM to see the upper elementary students reenact one of the famous battles from the war. The Spanish forces were dressed in red and blue, while the Mexican forces were clad in white. Not totally sure what exactly was going to happen, I was surprised to see the two groups of kids rush towards each other with a loud battle cry, and in just a few moments it was clear that the outcome was a Mexican victory. With so much excitement, it was difficult to control the lower elementary students. It was a relief when the headmaster announced to the first graders that it was time to wave their flags (and thus get their moment in the spotlight).

    It felt strange celebrating another country's independence day, particularly since us Americans are so used to the Fourth of July, complete with barbecues, fireworks, and warm summer weather.

    The kids took pride in the events leading up to this celebration. All around the school, children and teachers could be seen hanging up various decorations with the Mexican colors, and several rehearsals for the reenactment were held in the week prior to Mexican Independence Day.

     Expect the next blog post to go up very soon, as I'm excited to share with all of you my visit to the Africam Safari Zoo in Puebla, Mexico.

Until next time,