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As seen in the Transitions Abroad Webzine July 2008 Issue

Teaching English and Living in Mexico City

Immerse Yourself in a Center of Mexican History and Culture

Mexico City

I taught English in Mexico City for two years and would do it all over again. Not only is the sprawling metropolis one of the largest in the world, it also serves as a center for Mexico’s history and culture. Head there, and you will get an inside look at the country’s intriguing past and present. The only thing you won’t find in Mexico City is a chance to be bored!

Getting Started: Teaching Positions

With the help of the Internet and the telephone, you can find a teaching job pretty easily. Among Mexico City’s estimated 20 million people, there is a high demand for English. Parents want their children to learn the language in school. Employees in certain fields need a strong command of the language to communicate internationally. And others see it as a way to improve their education. All of this means that many schools, universities, language institutes, and companies seek capable teachers. Being a native speaker of the language automatically gives you a competitive edge.

To qualify for a job, you will find that places vary in their requirements. Some ask only that you speak the language well, while others look for a college degree or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) training or certification. If you feel you need to take a course on teaching English, or want the certificate, search the Web for a good school. Many offer short, online courses that will offer you a good background. The American TESOL Institute is a good place to start. There are many other sites that offer this training, so be sure to look through your options.

Finding a job before you go is not absolutely necessary. You may decide to first go to Mexico City and start searching there. Some employers may be more likely to hire someone they see in person. If you try soliciting work for a week or two, you are bound to have opportunities come your way. See below for a list of places to check out to help you get started on your quest.

Reasonable Cost of Living

Is it affordable to live and work in Mexico City as an English teacher? I worked as a volunteer, and was given a small stipend to live on. I made enough to eat, share an apartment with a roommate, and travel. The stipend offered enough to be able to fully enjoy Mexico and some of the many experiences that go along with it.

While everyone’s standards of comfort are different, you should be able to find work that covers your basic expenses. Picking up a side job such as a private tutor can help you bring in more income if you need it. To find work as a tutor, simply ask around. Word of mouth spreads fast, and with a few connections, you will most likely be able to find an opening.

Overall, you will find that living expenses in Mexico City are less than those in highly developed countries like the United States or Canada. Take the public transportation system, for instance. Mexico City offers one of the best systems around. The buses, metro system, and commuter trains will take you where you need to go for just a few pesos each way.

For good eating on a tight budget, try the comida corrida option. These generally are small cafés that offer a full-course meal, complete with soup, a main course, and dessert, for a low price. The menu changes daily and usually includes just a few choices (whatever the cook chooses to make that day). Most of the locals frequent these places between 2 and 4 p.m. So if you eat your big meal of the day at that time, you will be fitting right in with the Mexico City crowd.

So Much to Discover

From the historical downtown, which features a fine arts palace called Bellas Artes and a huge square known as the Zócalo, to the quiet waters of Xochimilco, there is plenty to see. Mexico City’s Museum of Anthropology is world-renowned and is packed with so much information you may need a couple of days to see it all. Its large park, called Chapultepec, is a popular spot for an afternoon stroll or picnic. And there are numerous archeological ruins to visit right inside the city.

In addition to checking out these spots, be sure to do some wandering of your own. During my time in Mexico City I went to an ice cream fair that featured more flavors than I had ever thought possible. Ever wonder how avocado-flavored, frijol-coated, or tequila-laced ice cream tasted? I found out, as vendors handed out free samples to anyone who passed by. I also tried lettuce, corn, and cheese flavors. Local and unexpected treats like these often provide the best memories.

Some of the best aspects about my teaching years occurred outside of the classroom. I found that the majority of Mexicans, even in a large place like Mexico City, are extremely friendly and open to foreigners. Talk to them about food or ask to see a special cultural event you have heard about, and your schedule will fill up faster than you can say “mole.”

Central Location

Mexico City is a good starting point for exploring the rest of Mexico. It has four bus terminals—set up in the north, south, east and west points of the city. Buses leaving from these places will take you almost anywhere in the country. Prices for bus travel are reasonable, and as an English teacher, you may qualify for a discount. Teachers and students are given 50 percent off of bus tickets during holiday seasons.

On weekends or vacation days, you can make day trips to places like Cuernavaca, Taxco, Puebla or Tula. For longer vacations, consider more distant destinations such as Veracruz, Michoacán, Guanajuato, and Oaxaca. The options are almost endless, depending upon your time and budget.

Remember to Go With the Flow

Things don’t always work out quickly in Mexico and this can be stressful for some foreigners. One sticking point can be getting a work visa. To obtain a visa, you may first travel into the country. You will get a tourist visa at the airport when you arrive in Mexico. A tourist visa will let you stay in the country for a short period of time, usually between three and six months. During that time, you can apply for a work visa. Many schools and institutes help their English teachers obtain the necessary documentation.

If you have problems with your work visa taking forever-plus-one-day to get back to you (mine once took nine months to get renewed), do not be surprised. Mexicans, in general, roll right along with these types of bureaucratic trials and do not get stressed out. So learn from the locals, and take things one day at a time.

If you’re thinking about teaching English, Mexico City is a great starting point. You may even find that you like it so much you stay longer than you first intended.

For More Info

Here are some resources to help you get started:

The American School in Mexico City is a prestigious school to check out.

Craigslist often lists job opportunities for Mexico City

Play it Safe in Mexico City

Mexico City is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world…and also one of the more dangerous ones. That does not mean you should avoid it completely; I lived there for four years without any major incidents. However, that does mean that you should take extra safety precautions while there.

Getting mugged and assaulted are some of the most common crimes. Unfortunately, the number of kidnappings per year is on the rise. These crimes often occur early in the morning, before the sun rises, and late at night. Stay on major streets and travel with someone when it’s dark if possible. Do not take a new route or go somewhere unknown past sunset. And never take out cash from an ATM machine at night.

Crowded subway cars can lead to trouble. Some lines include a few cars near the front that are for women only. If you are female, check for these, as they are well worth the few extra steps you will have to take to get on. Hang on to your wallet or bag at all times while riding the subway system. The Hidalgo stop is notorious for pick pocketing–consider yourself warned!

And foreigners should simply avoid some areas of town. Don’t go into the market called Tepito, located near the center of town, no matter what anyone tells you. Stay away from dangerous colonias, or neighborhoods, especially Doctores and Buenos Aires. And before you head somewhere new, ask local friends about it. They will watch out for you. Follow these precautions and your wallet (and body) will thank you.

Related Topics
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Living in Mexico: Articles and Expatriate Resources
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