Ever since I handed in my notice at work last week, everyone’s been amazingly supportive, constantly asking me about teaching, the places I’ll visit, the things I’ll see, what I hope will come from it, when I’ll be back. Not to mention the heaps of hilarious photos of Mexicans in sombreros and ponchos that have been emailed to me while I’m in the middle of a call with a passenger.
But one conversation I had with two of my colleagues last week made me really proud of myself and what I’m doing:
Girl #1: Are you going to be paid for teaching out there?
Me: Yeah. I’ll be getting a proper job and living there for a while.
Girl #1: How much do TEFL jobs pay in Mexico?
Me: Well, for the majority of full-time TEFL jobs I’ve seen in the big cities at schools or language centres, it usually equates to about £400-£500 a month. That’s a rough conversion.
The girls’ jaws drop.
Girl #1: I’d be livid if I saw that in my paypacket. I’d be like, ‘Where the hell’s the rest of my pay?!’
Me: It’s a lot cheaper to live out there, remember. Plus, that’s a really good pay compared to a lot of the poor families in Mexico .
Girl #1: Pffft!
Me: I’m not doing it for the money!
Girl #2: What are you doing it for then? (in a mocking tone) The love of the job?
Girl #2 laughs. Girl #1 shakes her head like she can’t believe it.
This kind of conversation has one theme that’s been consistent during my teaching plans: Moola.
Some people react in the way my two colleagues did. They can’t believe I’d move to a country where I’m “obviously going to get murdered” and take a paycut so dramatic even though I remind them time and time again that prices in Mexico are not what they are in the UK.
And then there are the fellow EFL teachers who warn me not to teach in Latin America because “there’s no money to be made there at all. Go to Japan or South East Asia.”
I didn’t show interest in this line of work for money. I’m not doing it for the money.
The truth of the matter is that while money provides food and shelter, it can’t buy me the things I crave the most in life: adventures; exploring other culttures; life experience.
I became fascinated in Latin American culture last year when I was planning a RTW trip. A travel agent had suggested I go to South America instead of the United States to save myself a bit of money. Like most Brits, my images of South America were made up of what we’re fed through the media and films: a dark and dangerous place known for gun-toting drug dealers and kidnappers. Why would I want to go there?
But then I began to do my research and really fell in love with the sound of every single country in South America … and Central America … and Mexico.
Soon, my RTW trip turned into a Latin America trip.
And that’s when I came across Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries.
Like me, Ernesto was in his early twenties and embarking on a trip around Latin America. What started out as a party every night soon turned into something bigger. Ernesto discovered the poor, the sick, the repressed and the minorities, long shut out by the fat cats who ruled and took over the lands. What he saw changed the course of his life. He could no longer return to Buenos Aires to become a city doctor. He knew he needed to do something bigger for those people he’d met. He’d use his strengths and become a doctor of the people.
The Motorcycle Diaries overwhelmed and inspired me. I knew I wanted to help others too. But what were my strengths? I couldn’t be a doctor; I’d failed Science in school.
I had a degree in English. That had always been one of my strongest subjects.
And that’s when it hit me. Learning about the poverty and prejudice that still exists in Latin America, I’d also learned that the majority of children drop out of school at the age of 11-12 to start working to help their family.
Adults who attend English classes are there because they want to be. Learning another language often gives people more opportunities when it comes to working, earning money and providing a better life for their children. By teaching people my first language, by using my strengths to provide knowledge and education, I knew I could make a difference too.
It may sound like a naive, young and idealistic thing to say but, jeez, since when was there a rule that everyone had to be cynical and unhappy about their jobs? I might not end up the great revolutionary that Ché did, but if I manage to help people in the smallest way through teaching and/or volunteering in the countries I already feel so much passion for, why shouldn’t I feel good about myself?
I feel a connection to Mexico, Central and South America that I’ve never had while learning about the other countries around the world. The more I involve myself in reading about them, watching their films, listening to their music, getting ready to taste their food and learn their language, the more these countries touch my heart.
I’m not doing this for the money.
I want experience; I want to travel. But, most of all, I want to be on my death bed and know I made a difference.
And this is something I’d, once again, started to forget. When I signed up to learn how to become a teacher, I was filled with passion and determination. I knew there was no way I wouldn’t succeed because that’s how badly I wanted it. I’d never felt so determined about something in all my life.
But then that word started to haunt me: Moola. I know I don’t have as much money as I should and the list of things I needed to buy in order to take with me were adding up. The panic attacks were coming on strong again and I wondered how I’d ever be able to support myself if I ran out of money and ended up on the streets.
Everything came crashing down and my emotions were all over the place once again.
But friends and family stubbornly refused to let me lose it. They snapped me of it. Taking on board advice given to me by the wonderful Rachel and Rachael (now enjoying their lives in Guadalajara and San Cristóbal de las Casas respectively), talking to my best friend and my parents about how I was really feeling, and finally cracking open my teaching books to discover that the need to teach really does feel completely natural, my blood pressure was finally lowered and my passion and enthusiasm for what I want to do was restored.
I’m right back where I want to be. I’m excited again and feeling positive about what I’m about to do and I now know not to take things so seriously (I mean, who cares if I run out of money? Worst-case scenario: I have an emergency credit card that’ll help me get home). I need to enjoy every last minute of this ride and the journey to come, and I can’t help but feel incredibly happy and lucky to know that I really am chasing my dream.
25 Days to Go!