They say that Mexico is a country no one ever leaves. Every year, millions of tourists visit and Mexicans jovially warn that part of them will remain behind forever. Most visitors are North Americans and Europeans who vacation on the brilliant beaches of Cancun, Los Cabos, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. The beaches, of course, are among the world’s best – but those who venture inland are rewarded with falling in love with the true soul of Mexico, which has always resided firmly in the interior.
And Mexico’s soul is enormous!!! With a population of about 113 million, the generosity of the Mexican people is unsurpassed. Knowing a few easy sentences in Spanish will win hearts and you will make friends who will truly last a life-time.
Mexico has been graced with an unusually temperate climate year- round. The most important thing to remember is that the Mexican summer is also its rainy season. The downpours rarely last more than a few hours, and typically come in the late afternoon. Help! is located in the central region of the country far off the typical beach-going tourist paths. Below you will find more information about living in Mexico and becoming part of Help’s teaching team:
1. Do I have to speak Spanish?
A: No, but this is a great opportunity to learn as you associate with Mexican families and enjoy language classes. As a teacher, HELP! classrooms are all-English environments and the students expect you to only speak English with them. HELP! has an internship program set-up with local universities to provide volunteers and teachers with Spanish classes and cultural orientation. Through this program, you can learn quite a lot of Spanish while you are here.
2. Where will I live?
A: HELP! Provides housing in a comfortable and modern home near the language center. HELP! pays rent and utilities (gas, water, electricity). If requested, a host family may also be found for the duration of the program.
3. Will I have my own room?
A: Sometimes you will have you own room, or you may share with a volunteer of the same sex.
4. If I live with a host family will they speak English?
A: Probably not. There are some cases in which your little “brother” or “sister” will be very adept at English and they can be your translator, but often the children will be the only ones in the home that speak English to some degree.
5. What kinds of clothes should I bring?
A: HELP! will send you a list of recommended clothing appropriate to the season in which you participate. The standard dress code for teachers is semi-formal. Mexicans respect teachers very much and your respect towards them is shown as you dress in a semi-formal manner. Business suits are NOT necessary. Nice slacks or pants and a button down shirt are the norm. Shorts, t-shirts and “beach attire” are not appropriate attire.
6. What is the weather like?
A: In the spring (March – May) it is very hot and because air-conditioners are not common you will want to bring light clothing. The winter months are cool enough to require the use of sweaters and light jackets. During the rainy season (June and July) it is hot in the day, cool at night and rains come in the afternoon.
7. Are there foreigners in the city where I will be teaching?
A: In Puebla, there are many Universities that have exchange programs with American universities. In Tehuacan, there are very few and you, the other HELP! participants, and some missionaries from various denominations are the only foreigners you will probably see during your stay. There are Rotary Exchange students at some of the local high schools and some tourists visit local attractions during the summer months or for the Day of the Dead in November. HELP! has thoughtfully established programs in locations where teachers will be immersed in mexican culture and not in “tourist traps”.
Video: What is the atmosphere at Help like?
8. How will I get around?
A: In many cities, the school and teacher house are within walking distance. There is very good local bus system and mini-vans called “combis” that charge 6 pesos to ride. There are good local taxi services that charge $ 30 – $ 60 pesos to take you anywhere in the city.
9. Will I have free time?
A: Teachers are in class (instructing students) for 5 hours a day, Monday-Friday. You will probably spend about 2 hours a day planning and prepping lessons. For the rest of the morning/afternoon you will have free time to attend culture classes, study and practice Spanish, exercise, read, give service at hospitals or orphanages, take dance classes, go sightseeing and do whatever else you would like. Those participating in the TESOL Certification program will have TESOL classes and will study online for approximately 2 hours per day.
“Day of the Dead” in Chilac, a local market, Tehuacan’s City Hall
10. What are the living conditions like?
A: Do not worry, there is electricity and running water in every home. Paved streets may not be available in the neighborhood where you live, but the homes are modest and comfortable. Conditions in Tehuacan are comparable to small cities in the US or Canada.
11. Can I exercise?
A: Yes. There are many parks and free community sports centers near all of our locations. A gym membership costs around $ 300 pesos a month and the facilities are comparable to local small YMCAs. There are also local swimming pools where you can take classes (between $400 – $600 pesos per month).
12. What is the food like?
A: Forget Taco Bell and Chilis !! Mexican food is exquisite and Mexican restaurants in the US or UK do not even come close to the flavors you will enjoy while here. There are a lot of beans, rice, tacos, salsas, sauces, fruits and vegetables. Pozole, memelas, esquites and chilaquiles are local treats. If you do not like spicy food, you can tell food servers or providers to tone down the spice.
13. What if I am a vegetarian?
A: Meat is an important part of the Mexican diet. Many mexicans are not familiar with a “veggie lifestyle” – vegans, lacto-vegetarians, etc … are truly foreign entities. Beans, legumes, rice and corn tortillas, are eaten with every meal, so you can easily stick to your vegetarian habits. You can find organic food at the local markets, but it is quite expensive.
14. Is the water potable?
A: Tap water is not … but no one drinks out of the tap. Families here buy 20 liter jugs of water or boil water to drink. You May INITIALLY want to brush your teeth with a glass of bottled water, but after a few weeks your body will get used to the water and you will be able to brush like the locals. Tap water is not dirty, it is full of heavy minerals (no water softeners here) so it is not wise to drink it.
Mmmmm, memelitas Cactus, avocado and fruit Making handmade tortilla
15. Can I buy the necessities?
A: Yes. Deodorant, toothpaste, tampons, shampoo, cleaners and other personal items are available. Sam’s, Walmart and other large supermarkets are located near the school and carry most of the products you can find back home. If you prefer certain brands you may want to bring your own supply.
16. What is a typical day like?
A: Your schedule will vary depending upon what classes you are assigned to teach. HELP! has its own building downtown where most classes are held between 9 – 11 am and 4 and 9 pm. Between 11 and 4 you will be free to eat, relax and plan your classes. Most things in town close for the siesta between 2 and 4 when families gather to eat lunch. You will teach morning and afternoon classes but during your free time you can create your own Mexican experience.
17. Are there washing machines to wash my clothes?
A: If you live with a host family you will most likely have a washing machine available. Depending upon your living assignment you may need to handwash. Laundromats are available all over town that will wash, dry and iron your clothes for around $ 10 pesos per kilo of clothing.
18. How will I comunicate with my family back home?
A: You can call home (but it is very expensive approximately $ 2 USD a minute) or have them call you at the school when classes are not in session. The Internet is the best method of communicating – each of our centers and the teachers’ house has WiFi for the teachers to use during their free time. There are internet cafes on almost every corner where you can rent a computer for $ 5 – $ 8 pesos per hour. The Public Library also has a computer lab where you can get online for free.
19. Should I bring my cell-phone?
A: If you would like. This is an excellent way for your family and friends back home to call/message you hassle-free. It is also nice to have a phone to send text messages to local friends or your host family. There are very cheap phones that can be purchased onsite for about $20.00 USD that will come with 100 minutes of talk time. It is very easy to put credit on your phone — $100 or $200 pesos will probably give you enough credit for a month or so.
Video: What is it like being a foreigner in Mexico?
20. What is the mail service like?
A: The Mexican mail service is notorious for being slow and unreliable. Most packages are opened and things can be stolen. If you need something urgently, FedEx and DHL are the expensive, but reliable, way to mail important things like documents or valuables. Sending letters or post cards from Mexico to the US/Europe takes about 2 weeks and is reliable.
21. Should I bring my own bedding?
A: Bedding is provided, but you should bring your own towels (or you can purchase them here if you don’t want to take up space in your luggage). If you are “special” about where you sleep, you might want to bring your own sheets, or buy them at Walmart upon arrival.
22. How do people treat foreigners?
A: Mexicans are very friendly and accepting of outsiders. They like foreigners because so much of their music, television and clothing come from the United States and Europe. They will be very interested in you and may even give you too much attention.
23. Can I find clothes in my size?
A: Well, that depends on your size. The largest shoe for women is 9 (US) and for men is 10 (US). Clothing may be a little cozier than you would like if you are over 5’9 “. There are large American-style malls that carry shoes up to size 10 and clothing that is a little larger, though it can be pricey.
24. Will I ever have any vacation time?
A: Mexicans find any excuse to take a vacation – especially in the spring when there is a week off for Easter vacation. We follow the Public Education System holiday calendar. When you have a 3-day weekend or longer vacation you are encouraged to travel with other volunteers or with your host family. You will be provided with a semester calendar several weeks before the program begins so you can begin scouting out your holiday destinations.
25. Will I learn Spanish?
A: Yes, but the amount of language you learn depends on you and the effort you put into this endeavour. If you want to learn Spanish you will have ample time to practice with friends you meet. Interns from a local university provide Spanish practice for teachers who are interested in practicing conversation.
26. Will there be a guide to help me get around? ?
A: Each school has a local administrator who will help you get oriented during the first few days. The full-time staff is always willing to help you get your bearings. You will usually make friends that will be more than willing to take you around their city.
27. Are there religious services?
A: Yes. The Catholic Church has numerous chapels and cathedrals. Other denominations include Mormons, Methodists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witness and Evangelicals. There are no services in English, but this is a good opportunity to practice Spanish in a unique and very personal way.
Video: What is your favorite part about being in Mexico?
28. Do I need Immunizations ?
A: If you are current with your Immunizations there is no need get additional ones. You may want to check out the Center for Disease Control’s webpage to see if they recommend any vaccinations at the time you come to Mexico. Their website is www.cdc.gov. We recommend you have Hepetitis A and B shots. If you are unsure about getting an immunization the best policy is to do it – better safe than sick.
29. What if I get sick?
A: There are many capable doctors in all of our locations. Any type of antibiotics or medicine you may need – antibiotics, penicillin or standards like Pepto-Bismol and Alka-Seltzer – are readily available. If there is an emergency there are very good and modern hospitals near all of our locations. Help! also has a list of reliable doctors that we will help you contact and go to if needed. Medicine is cheap and of very good quality.
30. Will I be safe?
A: Yes, but it is always a good idea to be street smart – act as you would in any big city like Los Angeles or Philadelphia. After dark you should not walk around alone and you should always try to be accompanied by someone you trust. In the downtown area and during the daylight hours you are very safe and people watch out for one another. Petty theft and pick-pocketing are common so you need to be alert and not carry large quantities of cash or electronic equipment. More serious crime is fairly unheard of. The media portrays Mexico as a country where kidnapping and other crimes are very common – They are on the US-Mexico border and it is very disconcerting, but Tehuacan is very safe.
31. Can I carry cash?
A: It is a good idea to carry only what you need – perhaps $ 200 pesos at a time. There are ATMs that will allow you to take out up to $ 300.00 USD a day (plus bank fees). Scotia Bank and HSBC are the only foreign banks that have branches in our locations. Citibank has branches in Mexico City. All banks will accept transfers and wires. The dollar is equivalent to approximately $ 20 Mexican pesos (December 2016).
32. Can I use my credit card?
A: Yes, as long as it is a VISA. VISA is accepted at large grocery and department stores. To make purchases at the local small shops you must have cash (preferably small denominations – $20, $50 or $100 pesos). American Express is not accepted or recognized. Debit Cards are becoming more widely accepted.