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Teaching English in León, Mexico - Alumni Q&A with Kathryn Douglass
Written by: International TEFL Academy
Last Updated: December 18, 2020
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
I studied abroad in Ireland.
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Mexico and around Europe.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I had tutored an ESL student at my university, and then I worked for my university after graduating in the international education office. This office includes an ESL department and it was a real joy to be able to work with this department, its teachers, and its students. I had also wanted to go abroad again after having studied abroad in Ireland. I had begun studying Spanish so I had figured that the best option would be to teach English in Mexico and immerse myself in a completely different culture where English is not the primary language.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I was concerned that I would not be able to explain the intricacies of English grammar or pronunciation. I was afraid of being a horrible teacher.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My parents were not supportive when I made the decision, but they gradually came to accept it. They are still apprehensive and want me to come back eventually. The rest of my family seemed okay with it, maybe surprised, but my grandfather was the one who never had any doubt that this would be a great experience for me. Almost all of my friends were supportive and excited for me, except for one, who worries a lot about the dangerous parts of Mexico.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I wanted to teach English abroad, and I wanted to show potential employers that even though I did not have that much experience, I had a certification - and thus the proper educational background - to teach English. I chose ITA because other certifications were either too expensive or didn't have enough students to hold classes. I wanted to get the certification as soon as possible without having to worry about classes being cancelled because of low student turn-out.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Certification.
How did you like the course?
I really liked the course, though I wish there were more lessons on grammar. The professors were amazing - they were the kind of instructors that anyone would want to have in their classes. They were always happy to help me and answer any questions that I had. The practicum was great because I was able to have some experience to add to my resume. Some certifications only require 10 hours or less of practicum, but this practicum has to be at least 20 hours, which is fantastic because it gives you a stronger resume and experience. The tasks during the course were SO helpful. At first, I was worried about lesson plans. I thought that lesson plans would be the one thing I wouldn't be able to do. Don't get me wrong - lesson plans can be hard sometimes and having "homework" to do outside of the classroom as a teacher can be exhausting. But learning how to make lesson and activity plans with ITA has made the process a little bit easier, so thank you so much!
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I was hired immediately, and my TEFL training on lesson plans and teaching theories has been very helpful. I know how to organize my classes, I know how to approach students of different ages and levels, and I have been complemented a few times by my bosses, who had received positive feedback from my private students. I really owe my ability to teach English to ITA. Thank you.
How long have you been in Mexico and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been living in Leon, Mexico since September 2018, and I started teaching at the end of September with my current company. I just got approved for my working visa, so I plan to stay here at least one year.
Why did you decide to teach English in this location?
I have Mexican friends that live in Leon. I decided to start there because Mexico City is so big and there is so many people and too much traffic. Leon is smaller, and because I have friends here, I was able to rely on them for assistance when I first moved to Leon.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
During which months does your school typically hire?
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
I had an in-person interview upon arrival in Mexico.
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
You can enter Mexico with no visa - once you enter the airport, you get a tourist FMI card that you have to fill out with information about yourself, how you entered Mexico, and the date you plan to leave. With this card, you can stay in Mexico for 180 days, no problem. If you decide to work under the table, you will have to leave the country every 180 and enter again. You need to keep that FMI card because when you leave, you need to give it to the airline officials at the gate before you board the plane.
However, a few months into working, my boss told me that they would go ahead with the working visa process for me. They did the introductory paperwork (just saying that they have found a worker that they would like to hire). Then I was notified that I was approved for APPLYING for the visa, and received a document from Mexican immigration (my boss gave the document to me - he had received it). After receiving this notification, I talked with the person (I will call her K) at the academy who deals with the visa process.
1. To begin, I needed to make an appointment with a Mexican consulate outside of the country (to apply for a working visa, you have to leave the country and then come back in). I made an appointment for Tuesday morning in San Antonio, Texas, since this was the cheapest location to fly to from León and the fastest - you only have a few days off from work to make this visa trip. It's best to make this appointment for the beginning of the week, so that you can be back in Mexico by the end of the week and not have to waste time waiting over the weekend for a response from the consulate.
2. With this approval document that my boss received from Mexican immigration, my passport, two ID sized photos (take passport and ID sized photos just in case!), and my FMI card from September, I flew to San Antonio Sunday night (my layover was in Mexico City, so I gave my FMI card to the airline officials there) and arrived Monday morning. Tuesday morning was my appointment. I had to fill in a visa application form, pay $40 for it, give the immigration official my approval document, my passport, and my photos (these photos that I had brought were attached to the visa application form that I filled in for her). She asked me questions about how I came to work in Mexico. I told her how I was traveling, came across a company looking to hire English teachers, interviewed for them, and was accepted. She took a passport sized photo of me, then generated a Mexican ENTRY visa (using that photo she took) and attached it inside of my passport. She cordially welcomed me to Mexico. I was officially approved for entry.
3. This approval for entry simply meant that I had 60 days to enter the country to continue with the visa process. THIS IS NOT THE WORKING VISA ITSELF. I flew back on Thursday night, arriving to Mexico City. I went with every other foreigner through the tourist lanes in immigration at the airport, and presented my entry visa, the approval document that I had received before leaving for San Antonio, and a new FMI card to the immigration officer. The officer marked "canje" on the FMI card, wrote "30 days", and stamped everything with approval. This 30 days meant that I had 30 days from the day I entered the country to do the rest of the visa process.
4. When I returned, I needed to figure out exactly what where the requirements for the visa, so I had to go to the oficina de migración in Leon for information. The immigration officer gave me the list of requirements for the visa, which I took back to K. She worked with me to fulfill these requirements - filling out all the paperwork, procuring the proof of payment (one of the requirements is a fee of around $4000 pesos, which the company paid for me), and making copies of my passport, Mexican entry visa, and all the paperwork. Another requirement was three ID-sized photos. These needed to be professional (don't go to the pharmacy!), so I went to a photo studio right in the same area as the oficina de migración and paid $120 for 3 photos. I took all of these documents, copies, and photos to the oficina, submitted the paperwork successfully, and then waited.
5. I had been waiting for about two months before receiving another document saying that I am approved for the visa. Tomorrow, I will go to the oficina to pick up this visa, which is basically a little green card with my information and a photo of me.
6. I am approved to work for Academia Europea for a minimum of a year. This card is good for four years, and I must notify the oficina of migración for any change of address, job, or civil status.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers?
What is the best way to apply?
In-person - go to them and they will decide whether to hire you or not. If they do, they will give you an application to fill out by hand.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
I really like teaching here, though there are some cons. With my visa, I am officially a contracted teacher, and contracted teachers are guaranteed at least 100 hours a month with a base salary of 10,000 pesos a month. Any hours that I work over 100, I am paid additionally for. Hours per week depends, because when private students cancel in a reasonable time period before the start of the class, I am not paid for it. If they cancel too close to the start of class, or they just don't come to class at all within 30 minutes of the class starting, it is considered a no-show and I am paid for it. The groups are the more consistent ones because they almost always aren't cancelled, except for when the group is too small and needs to be shut down. As a contracted teacher, I will also receive health insurance through the national health insurance (IMMS), will have 6 days of vacation, and have national holidays off (including Christmas, Easter week, Labor Day, and all other Mexican national holidays).However, we are not paid for those holidays - Christmas, Easter, and national. For example, I will be paid only 3 weeks for April because of Easter week, and in January, we only received 2 weeks of pay because of the 2 week Christmas vacation period.
I teach Monday-Saturday. I work with teens, young adults, older adults, and professionals. I teach beginner, intermediate, and advanced, groups and privates. Saturday is the hardest day for me; I have two classes but each class is four hours long, so I teach from 8:30-12:30 and 1:30-5:30. I also have a company class - a private student who works for Ford - and I am paid travel expenses for that. The school has courses for children, but I opted not to teach those since I'm not especially good with children.
The school provides books and materials for you. The beginner level classes employ the method that the school created and is known for. You can create activities for these classes, but otherwise lesson planning is easy since you just have to follow the method. In all other levels, you can create your own lesson plans and activities.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Mexico has an interesting and beautiful culture, and the people here are very kind. Leon is known for Festival Internaciónal del Globo (Hot Air Balloon Festival) and the Feria León (The Fair of Leon). I went to both and had a great time. León is not the most beautiful of cities, but it's centrally located. You can easily visit other beautiful places nearby, like Guanajuato, Guadalajara, San Luis Potosi and La Huasteca Potosina, San Miguel de Allende, Aguascalientes, and pueblos mágicos (magic towns).
León has a pretty cool nightlife - the main street of the centro is Calle Francisco Madero and it is full of restaurants and bars. I hand out with a lot of the teachers and we usually go to restaurants, the park, the clubs, shopping, etc. Food is a little more expensive here than in Mexico City, but there are many great puestos (food carts), restaurants (Rockstar Burger is my favorite), and mercados (markets) where you can find delicious food.
How did you find somewhere to live?
I lived with my Mexican friends for the first three weeks. They helped me find an apartment in centro (downtown). The way to find housing in Mexico is to either go on facebook groups to find roomies or go in person to search for apartments. My friends and I took the car and drove and walked around centro, calling phone numbers of apartments we saw and considering the best options. We finally found one that was perfect. It's located close to centro histórico, so I am able to walk to stores and pharmacies. It's $2500 pesos a month, including all utilities, Wi-Fi, and laundry. What I'm renting is a room, not a full apartment. But I have my own bathroom, and there is a shared kitchen (I share it with 6 other neighbors).
Academia Europea has 3 locations. I primarily work in the location north-west of the city, but I have a bike. On Saturdays, I teach in centro, so it's about a 7-minute walk from my apartment.
What are your monthly expenses?
$132 USD/month for rent;
$70 USD/month for food;
Maybe about $30-50 USD/month for social activities;
$2-8 USD/month for transportation since I have a bike now. Transportation is expensive here ($11 pesos per ride on the bus), which can add up quickly. I bought a bike and now pay very little for transportation.
I bought a used phone from one of my bosses and it's a prepaid, so I pay as I go. A nice amount per month is about $8, and it includes unlimited text/calls to the US, Mexico, and Canada, and 2GB of data.
Traveling can be expensive depending on where you go. I don't travel every month, but during Easter week my friends and I went to Jalisco and Guanajuato. I did put up quite a bit of money for that, but that's mainly because I traveled the whole week.
How would you describe your standard of living?
It's a basic standard of living. I do not buy much outside of what I need (food, detergent, transportation, etc.). I break even.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
At least $12,000 pesos. I make between $10,500-12,300 pesos a month.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Mexico is definitely worth living and teaching in. I have learned so many things from living on my own in a different country and culture. I have learned a lot about adult life but also about myself. Mexico is an amazing country with a beautiful culture, history, and people. There are many schools looking for native speakers to teach English. Save up a lot of money before you go and consider where you really want to be. Follow your heart, but also be sensible. You must realize that life in Latin America is hard. It can be hard to make friends, but go out - do things you enjoy, and you will find people that like them too.
Founded in 2010, International TEFL Academy is a world leader in TEFL certification for teaching English abroad & teaching English online. ITA offers accredited TEFL certification classes online & in 25 locations worldwide and has received multiple awards & widespread recognition as one of the best TEFL schools in the world. ITA provides all students and graduates with lifetime job search guidance. ITA has certified more than 25,000 English teachers and our graduates are currently teaching in 80 countries worldwide.
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