Freedom. Exploration. Experience. These three words are what define my TEFL journey in Guadalajara, Mexico, and I could not have been more than grateful for participating in this outstanding program.
To be honest, if you had asked me a few years ago if I had always wanted to become an English teacher, then I would have told you, "Not in a million years." It is not that I don't see teachers as inspirational role models but rather because I grew up with a lisp. I was afraid of speaking up in front of people. I frowned upon using my voice. I was basically a mute. Did I let that stop me? Nope.
In fact, here I am now: an Asian-American graduate of speech therapy, a quirky premedical student at Howard University, a young lady who desires to become a citizen of the world, and -- more importantly -- a proud holder of the TEFL certification. Have I made it to where I want to be? No. Did I become a better version of myself? Yes. Throughout my time in Guadalajara, Mexico, I have experienced and gained a better understanding of five invaluable philosophies that I will forever carry with me:
1. Your actions can be the highlight of someone's day.
The simplest action, even if it may be saying hello or taking a picture with someone, can make people’s day brighter. When I studied abroad in China, because of my Asian heritage, I blended right in – well, until I opened my mouth, of course. On the contrary, in Guadalajara, Mexico, there are not that many Asians. I was not quite a celebrity in Mexico as more “foreign”-looking friends were in China, but I did receive quite a few picture requests as well (to my surprise!). However, my most memorable moment was while I was in a shoe store. While shopping for some professional heels, a young boy saw me from outside and had the widest grin I had ever seen. His eyes were sparkling with happiness and joy, and he ran into the store with his father bowing to me, speaking Japanese. I bowed back and laughed, using my best (and mediocre) Spanish saying, “Hola, chico! Soy Americana, no hablo Japanese. Me gusta!” Luckily, his father spoke some English, and we had a sweet conversation. When the boy left, I gave him a hug and cheered him on. Although I might not have been the anime character of his dreams, I am glad to have made that boy’s day.
2. Your level of income, where you live, or your status in society does not equate to how you should be treated.
Don't be afraid to take off your heels, fold your jacket, and immerse yourself in another person's lifestyle. This is exactly what I did when I met street-painter Zolart. That day, although I wore professional clothes since I had taught students an hour before, I decided to get down on the ground and hear Zolart’s story. This talented painter had created the most beautiful artworks I had ever seen in the matter of a few minutes. He had dedicated a few hours of his precious time to teach me art techniques and show me how he paints. Just hearing about his lifestyle and seeing pictures of his artwork created one of my most memorable memories in Guadalajara.
3. Hear out other people’s advice but let your own decision be the final decision.
Don’t get me wrong – if someone tells you to stay away from a neighborhood or to run, you better do that. Don’t be reckless when your life is at stake; however, also do your own research. Coming to Guadalajara, Mexico, a lot of my friends and family members would inform me how dangerous Mexico is and implied that were I to go to Mexico, I would either be kidnapped or become involved in some kind of drug trade against my will. Did any of those happen? Definitely not! And, I am glad nothing happened to me. Guadalajara is an exciting place to be but definitely not as dangerous as media or your people may perceive it to be. For the most part, I felt completely safe in Guadalajara!
4. When you are focused on only one thing, you are able to learn an insane amount of information.
My instructor, Ms. Byrd, was one of the best instructors I have ever met. Through her years of experience as a TEFL instructor and as an English teacher, she shared her wisdom and knowledge of the best techniques for teaching ESL students. One thing that I particularly love about this course is that this course has a main instructor but also guest instructors once a week, such that we were exposed to a variety of teaching methods. In this one-month time span, I put aside most of the work that I had in the United States to dedicate my time to learning how to be an excellent instructor, and the amount of knowledge and experience I have gained was tremendous.
5. Embrace the culture.
Be open-minded. Get to know Mexican food, salsa dancing, and even the locals! Surprisingly enough, I have made friends while walking in the streets, while sitting on the bus, with my classmates, and even with my homestay mom’s grandchildren! The number of places you could meet friends while taking this course is endless. We watched soccer games together, had a BBQ, played card games, and even went salsa dancing together. So, take a chance. Step outside your comfort zone. Be social!
These five philosophies are only a few things that I have taken back and embraced from Mexico. The International TEFL Academy in Guadalajara, Mexico, left me with friends for a lifetime, memories with a heartwarming instructor, and a quote that I will always remember: “The one thing in life that you can change is yourself, but sometimes that makes all the difference to you and the world.”
This experience gave me experience, exploration, and freedom.