Interview with Rachael Swift, Mexico Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

My name is Rachael, I’m 26 years old and I am from Scotland.

What is your education level and background?

I attended university for two and a half years in Aberdeen studying politics and international relations but I realised it was sucking my soul dry and it was in no way making me happy. I decided to leave university. Whilst at university I had been working for a hotel chain who sent me to another of their hotels in the Aberdeenshire countryside to help out during the summer. What was meant to be a two week stay turned into 5 years working for them before leaving to take the TEFL course.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

Prior to this my travelling abroad had been limited to weeks in the sun and city breaks such as Dublin and Amsterdam.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

As a kid, I always saw myself as a teacher but never pursued it as a career which is something I always regretted. I loved working hospitality and hearing people’s travel stories but realised I had none of my own. Whilst doing some research into travelling and working abroad I stumbled across the concept of teaching English and the seed was planted!

What did you want to personally achieve with this experience, and have you succeeded?

One of the main things I wanted to achieve was actually doing it! It was three years between thinking about and stepping on the plane. I wanted to prove to myself that I could make the leap and travel to the other side of the world and prove to others that I could as well.

Did you apply for the program with a friend or on your own?

I applied for the program myself as most of my friends had either travelled already or were looking to settle down and buy houses.

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

I met someone briefly about a month before I left. She had taught in South Korea for a year and said it was an incredible experience. I was mostly relying on the testimonies on the TEFL heaven website that it was going to be a great experience.

What were some of your concerns before you began teaching abroad?

One of the major concerns I had (and still have) is my lack of the local language but I am luckily in a place where many do speak enough English for us to be able to communicate. I would recommend learning some of the local language before you travel as I wish I had learned more.

My other concern was the fact that I was heading to a course where I wouldn’t know anyone but that concern quickly disappeared when I met my fellow course mates.

 

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

What made you decide to do a TEFL course and choose TEFL Heaven?

Doing a TEFL course seemed like a no brainer! Without having teaching experience or any teaching qualifications I knew I wanted to get some certification before I began looking for a job. The TEFL Heaven course appealed as I would get practical experience in the country as well as having a job guaranteed.

What made you choose a face-to-face TEFL course over other options?

I had researched online TEFL courses and whilst it was a much cheaper option the thought of turning up to a country with no actual practical experience seemed crazy. Getting to experience the country first hand whilst doing the training was a great way to explore the culture and way of life before deciding for certain that this was where I wanted to spend the next few months of my life.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I took part in the TEFL Heaven program in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

Our course teacher has over a decade of experience teaching all over the world and his stories and advice were brilliant and helped me feel much more prepared. The teaching of the theory took place in the mornings and then the afternoons/evenings were spent preparing for lessons, teaching and exploring this great place. We also had to prepare at least one grammar workshop each which was very useful for refreshing my memory about all the grammar from my school days.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

I felt more prepared than I thought I would before taking up the course. Part of the course included 10 hours of actual teaching and there was support from current teachers in helping to plan those lessons.

How long have you been teaching in Mexico and how long do you plan to stay?

I am just in my second week of teaching and it has been a learning curve as most of my teaching during the course was to young adults and adult learners with classes of no more than 6 or 7. My classes have between 15- 20 kids each.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

The student coordinator from the TEFL Heaven course looked over my CV and adjusted it for applying for teaching positions. I was asked what type of institution I ideally wanted to work at and what places I wanted to work in. He then helped me to make contact with a couple of different places here in Puerto Vallarta and I had my first interview secured for the second week of the course.

What type of school or organisation do you work for?

I am working for a voluntary programme to help benefit some of the poorest kids here in Puerto Vallarta. The programme has no government funding and is run on donations. It’s really inspiring to see how generous people can be.

 What does a typical working week look like for you?

I teach five one-hour classes a day, Monday through to Thursday and teach 4 classes on a Friday. As the programme is based in the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta where there is not a lot of public transportation the programme picks the volunteers up at 9.30am from a central location and classes begin at 10am. I teach a 5th grade class at 10am and a class for Junior High kids and some of the local mothers at 11am. We then have an hour for lunch and then teach until 4pm (3pm on Fridays.)

What age group or range to you teach?

I am teaching 5th graders, 6th graders and some teenagers from the Junior High. I also teach some of the local mothers in the area. The 5th and 6th graders are a lively bunch and keep me on my toes!

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

The fact that every day is different! You can plan every single detail of your class but it can all go out the window depending on what kind of mood the kids are in. For me, the kids are just hilarious which completely makes up for the moments when I want to tear my hair out!

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?

I found my accommodation through a Facebook group for the area. It is a room in a shared house and is close to a bus stop and a couple of supermarkets. For those wanting to stay in Puerto Vallarta I would recommend beginning your search as soon as you get here. Whilst there is a lot on offer, many places are priced towards those with a bit more money than you would be earning in a typical job here. It is possible to find something but does require a bit of work.

 

COUNTRY INSIGHT

The buses here in Puerto Vallarta are an experience! I’ve never been on a fuller, bumpier bus! There are also no timetables or routes available to check so you just have to turn up to a bus stop and look for the bus that has where you want to go written on it! However, on the plus side you can get a bus from one end of Puerto Vallarta to the other for 7.50 pesos (around 40 pence). Always pay attention to the buses destinations as one day I didn’t and ended up on the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta with a bus driver who spoke no English and I only speak a little Spanish, that was an interesting afternoon!

‘Mexican’ food in the UK just doesn’t compare to the real thing here. I must admit I was a little apprehensive about trying the street vendors food (having a British mind set of health and safety!) but it so tasty and you can get some amazing tacos for around 15 pesos. Of course, if you eat at the stands in the main tourist areas such as at the Malecon then you will find yourself paying a little more but if you venture even just a few streets away from the main tourist areas you will not be disappointed.

The Malecon is the boardwalk here which is about a 15-minute walk and has great sculptures every now and again along it. In the evening, there are performances and lots of food and drink being sold. The views of the sunset are not to be missed from there!

There are lots of different walking tours around the city and there are many people and groups offering day trips to tequila factories, beaches, scuba diving, snorkelling etc.

Also along the Malecon there are plenty of bars, clubs and restaurants for whatever type of evening you fancy.

Be prepared for the humidity! Coming from Scotland I couldn’t wait to experience some hot weather but I was not prepared for the humidity. From June to October the humidity here is very high and I have seen some intense thunderstorms here. Though from November I am told that the weather is much more enjoyable and less uncomfortable. I have a new found appreciation of A/C as it has never been something I needed in Scotland.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: 1,800 pesos

Food: 3000 pesos

Other bills: n/a

Social life: 2500 pesos

Transportation: 200 pesos

Phone: 200 pesos

Would you say you are able to live comfortably on your monthly salary?

My monthly stipend comfortably covers my bills and expenses. Here in Puerto Vallarta living costs are a little higher than in other parts of Mexico as it is primarily a tourist destination and there a lot of ex-pats here. I am not in a position where I will be able to save for anything apart from my flight back but that isn’t an issue for me.

 

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

What advice would you give someone thinking about teaching abroad, and would you recommend teaching English in Mexico?

If you are thinking about doing it then please just go for it! I’ve been in this country for less than three months but I have taken the course, gotten a job and arranged accommodation.

Please don’t be put off by all the horror stories you hear about Mexico. I have found it to be a very safe place so far and I think that if you are sensible and take the precautions you would at home then you should be alright.

If you don’t already know Spanish then I would recommend learning some. It’s something I regret not learning more of before I came here. You can get by not knowing Spanish but the locals appreciate it when you try speaking the language and it can make teaching easier as some words just can’t be mimed.

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