Friday, March 28, 2014

Teaching in Chiapas, MX....3 weeks at Instituto Tecnológica de Comitan

At ¨Las Nubes¨
Ricardo’s thoughts on teaching in Comitan:
Since my days in school, I have always dreamed of being a teacher and have tried to be one as a volunteer here in Mexico.  Last year I began my journey by teaching English conversation classes two days a week in a high school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Now I have graduated to a different environment, here at the Instituto Tecnológica in Comitan, Chiapas, Mexico.  I began a 3 week conversation course with business topics as the source material, having 2 classes a day for 3 weeks.  Enough said as I now have a much greater respect and admiration for all the teachers in my life and the world. I would like to give each and every one a big hug and a new car if I could.  During this time my classes were between 20 and 40 students with many conversations outside of class - enjoying their thoughts or just having fun.  I feel that when you teach someone or just listen you are giving back to the world that has given you so much, except in this case I got the better part of the experience. I am looking forward to continuing this type of class in the future and maybe in different places in the world with my sweetie Susan, who also has been teaching reading and pronunciation classes having 3 classes per day. To summarize here…after every day’s sessions my daily naps have never been deeper nor longer.
Our house ... second floor
Beaautiful downtown Comitan

Susan’s thoughts on the Comitan experience:
Once again I am faced with a discussion of differences and/or comparisons. I wrote several months ago that I was going to stop making comparisons and I think at that time, I was talking about comparing myself to others. Living in another cultural and traveling as we do has given me the opportunity to talk about differences and comparisons of cultures and I just cannot help but use myself and my culture as the basis of my comparisons. My goal is not to decide that one is better or worse (maybe that is my personal growth) but just to note and confirm my observations after three weeks immersed in a Mexican culture teaching at a University in Comitan, Chiapas, Mexico. This city, larger than San Miguel is a working class city with commerce as its main business. It is not poor, nor backwards in any way and the Pan American Highway runs right through town, in fact it is our bus route to school each day.  
View of Comitan from Mirador
  • ·         People are very friendly to outsiders – we are living in a small Mexican neighborhood where no one speaks any English. We are living above a very large water bottling and delivery company and whatever we ask for is given to us in a kind way. The apartment was provided to us by the Instituto Tecnológica de Comitan where we are working. It is simple but large and very comfortable with a small kitchen and all the basic necessities.
  • ·         Every weekday morning I go to a dance/exercise class. I am the oldest, whitest, tallest, thinnest (first time for this in my life) and just basically stand out in this crowd but I never feel uncomfortable and they just treat me like I have always been coming to this class. I can really see the difference in the way the Mexican women can dance and move their hips. I get the footwork correct but after three weeks I still cannot move my hips in the way that they can. Perhaps it is in their blood but I will keep trying. I also noted the differences in the way Mexican women dress, both in exercise and on the street. They seem to be so much more comfortable in their bodies and with their curves then we were in my younger days. They dress more sexily and wear very tight clothes to accentuate their curves. I spent most of my life trying to hide the little bulges here and there and they are happy to show them off. I think there is much to be learned from them about body acceptance.
  • ·         There are no grey haired Mexican ladies – do they color their hair or just never go grey? Clearly, I stand out in this manner.
Birthday party for Daniel with
Jorge and Maricela
Pineapples growing at Las Nubes
  • We have not found ANY healthy (and certainly no vegetarian) restaurants in Comitan. In three weeks, we have eaten only one meal out of the house. Richard made oatmeal every morning for both of us and I packed our lunch for school every day and came home to make dinner before our evening class. Shopping was also a bit of a challenge until I finally found a little vegetable store in our neighborhood. There are no large grocery stores within walking distance to our home. The only option we had for bigger shopping was to go to Walmart (ugh)! This probably reflects the fact that Comitan is not really a tourist destination, but on the route to many beautiful natural areas in Chiapas.
  • Time….oh my, could I go on about this. Having grown up in the USA with German parents, I only know one way of behaving – being on time and using my time in a very efficient matter. Richard grew up in a similar culture, even with a Latina mother. Mexicans have a completely different idea about time. I don’t think any of my classes ever started on time (even though I was always there on time) and the end time was also flexible. This is not just true here in Chiapas, but throughtout all of Mexico. It was more apparent here as I was living and working with only Mexicans so was on their schedule, not mine. I do not know how a country can run with this type of time management. Also, no one ever seemed to know when other events were happening on campus that would cause students to be in another place other than class. (exams, presentations, assembly events for the whole school). Suffice it to say, this was a difficult situation for me. The amazing thing is that this Insitituto Tecnológica de Comitan is probably better run and more organized than many other schools (2000 enrolled students).
  • Happy and relaxed – that is the lot of the people. Nothing to complain about here – when we went for an all day trip with some friends we just ate our picnic lunch and then just sat around for several hours relaxed on the grass – talking, napping, laughing – no cares in the world. I think had it been in another culture we would have felt (I should say I would have felt) that it was time to either go home, or go somewhere else. Just “being” is fine with the Mexicans. Spending time with their families and friends is much more important than anything else. 
My night class for 3 weeks
  • Now a bit about my students, and the teaching experience. I don’t think I ever had it as a “goal” like Ricardo, but I do feel good when I give of myself to others. I enjoyed the fact that all of my students were voluntarily taking my classes – we were reading the Francisco Jimenez book “The Circuit” that we read in San Miguel de Allende. The students were prepared reading each chapter in Spanish before the class. At first all were very shy to read in English but as the weeks went on they were much more comfortable reading out loud. We will have a “Skype conversation” with Francisco Jimenez in April with all the students on the campus who have read the book. Richard and I will return to Comitan for that event. The students really enjoyed the days when we talked about some of our expressions, slang and of course, curse words! In this way, young people are the same in all cultures. (fart=pedo....always good for a laugh!)
  • Here is a strange comparison…toilets and toilet paper. If any of you have traveled to Mexico you know that many places require tp to be placed in the garbage bin because of antiquated plumbing. I have also noted in some areas that there are no toilet seats…and have heard it is because people steal them. Well here in Comitan it is the same….no places with toilet seats. When I first got to campus I also noted that there was no tp in any of the restrooms (thank goodness I know to carry my own). I did have the courage to ask in the office one day and was told it was also because people steal it. All the people in the office have their own rolls in their desk to carry to the ladies room. Am I comfortable with this cultural difference….I think not!
  • Rivers at ¨Las Nubes¨
  • There are many beautiful natural resources in Chiapas. You may remember my blogs in Sept/Oct 2013 of some of the places that we saw on our last visit to Chiapas. This time we went to Las Nubes and enjoyed a day with Artemio, Natalia and their son Luis.
  • Waterfalls through the tunnel at
    Las Nubes

    Artemio, Natalia and Luis at
    Las Nubes

    Always ready for a dip!
    All these for $2.00!

Thank you again for sharing our adventures with us. I am grateful for so much in my life and travel is one for sure. I do not think I ever realized as a youth how valuable this experience is, especially when there is time to really immerse in the culture. This 3 weeks has been great for confirming for both of us our love for Mexico, the culture and the people.