Monday, December 19, 2011

Mexico City Going Green

Continuing a long process under Mayor Ebrard, the latest large project is to close the city's largest dump, which has been receiving less and less refuse as recycling programs started several years ago begin to have an effect. I've seen this dump - huge does not describe it. I remember reading a stat some time back saying that Mexico City produces enough garbage to fill Estadia Azteca each day. That's a lot of garbage. BBC has the story.
Mexico City has closed its main rubbish dump, Bordo Poniente, which is one of the world's biggest open-air landfills. At its peak, hundreds of lorries were dumping more than 12,000 tons of waste each day. That figure had already been cut in half this year by new recycling and composting plants, officials said. Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said the closure would significantly help reduce the capital's greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Ebrard said his government would seek bids to establish a plant to turn the methane gas given off by the accumulated waste into energy. A cement company has agreed to buy 3,000 tons of dry waste daily to burn as fuel.
more stroy at the link above. Note: I've been away from posting for awhile, I apologize. My son was born two months ago and with family visits, work, a new baby, and holiday dinners and gatherings, it's been hectic. A new post to introduce Felix Joshua is coming soon.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Alebrije Parade Mexico City

Went to the 5th annual Alebrije Parade from the Zocalo to the Angel of Independence today, put on by the Museo de Arte Popular. This is one of my favorite events in the city and my daughter now 2 years 4 months old is starting to appreciate it too. She was a little too young for the previous two parades.

There were some 250 floats this time around, getting larger each year. The parade begins in the Zocalo and marches up to the Angel of Independence monument on Reforma Ave where each float is parked for a week while viewers vote for the best alebrijes. If you missed the parade today, take a stroll down Reforma any time this week to see them for yourself.

Some of my favorites...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Bigger Family

Finally! Our son Felix Joshua Courchesne Dixie was born at 9 AM October 17th, 2011, coming in at 8 pounds (3.75 kg), just two days before his due date. Another Mexican Canadian as I work on my hockey team.

His timing couldn't be better. My in-laws flew into town to give us a hand with the dogs and our 2 year old daughter during the hospital stay, arriving a mere 4 hours before the contractions started. They've been a big help.

We had our first night home from the hospital last night and as can be expected with a newborn, no one got any sleep. I'd forgotten about the sleepless first night with a newborn.

More pictures and posts to come!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Work Visa For Mexico - The New Process

All kinds of changes have been happening at the Mexican immigration department on policy and in technology for applying for and obtaining a work visa which was formally known as the FM3 - it is now simply called No Immigrante, and with fewer categories to apply under. Those which affect most foreign TEFLers in Mexico are Independent status, employer-sponsored status, and rentista which is what most retired snowbirds have.

All in all there have been few changes. Instead of a passport sized booklet, the visa in now a photo ID card. Some of the application process has been moved online and it generally takes a little less time now to process the visa.

There's a discussion about the new process over at Dave's ESL Cafe.

djpresidente begins:

I'm newly-arrived in the DF and in the process of applying cold turkey at a number of schools. In an interview yesterday, I was told that the process has changed so that you don't need a sponsor and there is one visa/permit for everyone not applying for permanent residence. I haven't found anything on the forum or the internet about this, so I thought I'd ask here, as it looks like a lot of people are going through the application process right now.

As I understand it, the old book has been replaced with a card, but that is the only change I've found so far.


PS If you know of any good job openings in the DF, be sure to let me know!

I reply:

I'm going into migra on Tuesday to renew my visa and to help someone get their first independent visa (no sponsor as you note). I'll post the most recent checklist here for new visas. At last check, the paperwork for the card is not much different from that for the old booklet.

There are apparently going to be more changes coming later this year though.

and I continue with:

For the moment, nothing has changed regarding the independent visa. You still need to pay for the visa at the bank using a form they give, and bring in the receipt, original and copies of your passport, original and copy of the application printed from the migra website, copy and original of your degree and/or teaching qualifications, and a letter in Spanish outlining what you intend to do independently and how you are qualified to do it. File that and they summon you back to complete the process bringing in photos and another short application, proof of address, take your fingerprints and it's done.

I asked some staff at DF migra about the upcoming changes but they had very little concrete to say. They did confirm that the rumour of no longer being able to turn tourist or business visas into work visas from within Mexico is not true.

The discussion continues, adding detail on bank deposits, taxes, and apostilles for foreign documents. More at the link above.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Success in TEFL

"The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore."
-Dale Carnegie

Success in teaching abroad - a not so easy goal to achieve it seems, after reading through some of the comments on popular TEFL web forums such as The ESL Cafe and ELT World. TEFL is not exotic beaches, easy money, and a 24 hour a day party. If you found my article thinking it was, then stop reading now. I'm going to talk about WORK.

Teaching abroad is a very select set of challenges to thrust yourself into. A new language, a different culture, strange food, and unknown risks are not what most people call fun. It takes a particular brand of daredevil or world-beater to see these hurdles as attractive. That particular brand of person is common among those that succeed in teaching abroad but the most important factor that each one knows is that it is imperative to have goals to succeed on, and the willingness to see them through.

I meet a lot of different people in my line of work in TEFL. Young recent college graduates, out for a year abroad to work on their Spanish. Retired folks from a variety of fields settling into a warmer climate. Career teachers looking for a different country. Thrill-seekers and people who just can't settle in one place. Many find their niche and do well in Latin America. Many others don't.

Defining success in teaching abroad has to start with defining your goals and finding the means to achieve them. The two most common goals I see - improving one's foreign language skills and turning EFL work into a meaningful career - are difficult and worth examining here.

"I want to improve my Spanish, so I think teaching in Mexico or Chile will help".

Teaching abroad is often seen as a means to earn your way through a year-long stint in a country while learning the language. While this is true, it's very easy to lose focus on improving your language skills by getting lost in teaching English. Leaving aside that much of your day is spent working in English, your social circle can sometimes remain in a rut - an English-speaking rut - of co-workers and students. It takes effort to find opportunities outside the class (and sometimes inside the class) to work on your Spanish.

The first thing you can do before setting out for travel and work is to restrict your job searches to schools that offer free or subsidized local language classes as part of a job offer or as an option. Many language institutes offer this to teachers if you ask. If such classes aren't available, your next bet is to look for local language course providers in your chosen country that offer classes at a price and schedule that fits with your EFL class teaching.

Think about expanding your social circle and trying out new activities. Learning the local language doesn't always need to come from sitting in a classroom. Look for local groups around other interests you have, such as sports, art, or museums. Think about things going on around you and have a willingness to dive in.

"I'm thinking of getting into teaching back home but I'm not sure it's the right thing for me. I don't want to invest years of study and a lot of money in this field and find out I don't like it. I think a year abroad teaching English will help me decide."

A common jump off point for teaching abroad is a TEFL or CELTA course - a four week intensive set of classes and teaching practice designed to cram a large amount of information into your head and get you out working at language institutes and schools as soon as you pass the course.

From here, it is again easy to lose sight of the goal. A lot of people see their initial course as the end of training. Spending a year in the classroom will give you a good idea as to what it is to teach, but building towards a career in this field means constant study, more courses, and finding the right ladder to better jobs be they at home or abroad.

When looking at your first job, it's good to ask about professional development. Some schools can connect you to further training such as TEFL for young learners or diploma courses such as the DELTA. Beyond EFL, the international school circuit is a great place to seek opportunities. IB training (International Baccalaureate) and workshops can be found everywhere and some schools will help pay for higher degrees through their international networks.

Teacher organizations and associations are great places to network and locate further training or leads to better jobs. MEXTESOL is an example for Mexico though there are dozens of others to choose from, not only locally but online as well.

These are the practical tips to success in teaching abroad but the real effort is in staying focused and working hard. The opportunities are there if you take them.

"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will." Vincent T. Lombardi

This entry contributes to the ESL/EFL Roadshow, a blog ring of ESL/EFL teachers and TEFL teacher trainers around the world. October's project is hosted by Ted at TEFLTips. Here is the Roadshow Roundup that shows TEFL Success as other teaching bloggers see them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What's with the price of avocado?

Ridiculous. 80 pesos a kilo...80 PESOS! I think it's cheaper to get avocado now in Canada where it of course does not grow in the 11 month long permafrost.

Mexicans scream CONSPIRACY! According to the BBC anyway...

Recently, it's felt as if the whole country has been talking about the same thing - and for once it's not football or the latest hit telenovela. Around dinner tables, in street markets and at work, it's the price of avocados that has been on everyone's mind.

From costing a couple of dollars per kilo earlier this year, avocados went on a constant price climb which appeared to know no end - rising all the way up to $5-6 per kilo. I heard of sightings of a kilo of avocados for more than $8.

In a country that takes its food seriously, this was a recipe for disaster.

Soft as butter and slightly sweet, avocado was first grown around 12,000 years ago in the south of Mexico. It's now a delicacy prized the world over.

But the origins of its name are not so elegant. The word avocado comes from "aguacate" in Spanish, which in turn comes from the Nahuatl Mexican native language "ahuacatl", referring to a certain intimate part of the male anatomy. **

In Mexico - where 40% of the world's avocado crop is grown - this fruit is sacrosanct. In fact, Mexicans are estimated to eat up to 8kg of avocado each, every year.

Avocados go with everything: they are a key additive to the delicious tortilla soup, a layer in the Mexican multi-level sandwiches known as tortas and - last but not least - they are the basis of that most famous of Mexican dips - guacamole.

And you don't want to mess with Mexicans and their food. Back in 2007, the rising price of tortillas - the flat-corn bread that is a key source of calories for the poor - sparked a series of protests around the country known as the "tortilla wars". So, with prices through the roof, was I about to witness an "avocado war"?

If I was, I had to find out the reasons for the price hikes. And here I discovered that there is something else aside from food that Mexicans seem to enjoy - urban legends.

Anger brewing

I talked to a security expert who claimed he knew the reason for the spiralling price. The great majority of Mexican avocados come from the state of Michoacan, in the west, a region badly affected by the presence of drug cartels.

The cartels, the expert told me, are expanding into the business of extortion, and are targeting avocado growers. The criminals demand a fee for every kilo that is transported through the dangerous roads of Michoacan, and that fee forced up the final consumer price.

Nonsense, the head of the local avocado producers' association told me. The cause of the price increase is simply a bad harvest.

Carmen, our cleaning lady, had her own conspiracy theory. "I blame the gringos," she told me. "Americans have taken a liking to guacamole, so all our avocados are heading north." Social networks were brimming with comments about how "aguacates" were quickly vanishing from Mexican dinner tables - and the anger seemed to be brewing.

But then, an epiphany. I was sitting in the back of a cab, silently hating Mexico City traffic, when an ad burst on to the radio - from a local supermarket, promoting a kilo of avocados for just over $2. Was it over?

At my local food market, I confirmed it. At most stands, avocados now are around $3 per kilo, and the prices still seem to be falling. But if there's something I learned over the last few months, it's that I can't always be sure that I'll be able to have my avocado - and eat it.

Thankfully, yes, the price has come down. I saw some at the local market for 30 pesos a kilo...still a bit high, but a much more reasonable price.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The TEFL Job Interview - Latin America

Here is an article I had published some years back, about the typical job interview you can expect when coming out of a CELTA or TEFL course and looking for that first job in Latin America.

Congratulations! You just finished your EFL teacher training, those grueling four weeks of sweating over coming up with interesting ideas for classes, of pouring over page after page of theory, of juggling type three conditionals.

Well you're all done. So what’s next? All this time, you've been dreaming about what wonderful new things you'll see and do in Santiago de Chile, in Buenos Aires, in San Miguel de Allende. You've also been worrying about apartments, about plane tickets, about work permits, but the most important event has yet to come: the job interview.

There's still a job interview? Yes, and all that hard work you did is about to pay off. But what will it be like? What will they ask me? Do I have to talk in Spanish?

Don't sweat it. It's probably nothing like what you are expecting. Knowing a little about what a DOS (Director of Studies) looks for in a teacher will help you do well in an interview. First, did you know that most Directors of Studies are from the UK, or the US? Your average DOS started out just like you are – teaching abroad after an initial intensive training course. Even if he or she isn't a native-speaker, it's a job requirement for them to be very good speakers of English, so either way, your interview will be in your own tongue.

You might now think that the next question has something to do with modals, or with communicative approaches, or inductive reasoning. You would be wrong in this case. Invariably, every DOS has the same worry – how long is this person going to commit to my students? This is easily the most difficult part about managing human capital. Too often, the pile of resumes on a director's desk is littered with the same acronyms and objectives. John Doe, CELTA, looking for a summer position, Jane Teacher, TEFL, can stay 8 weeks, and so forth. Most school directors know that it takes time for a teacher to develop a good rapport with students. They also program classes by semester or by level, lasting anywhere from 3 months to a full year. What they don't want to see is a teacher who can't complete a semester or level, since it is quite difficult to rebuild rapport with a new teacher halfway through a student's studies.

Should you be serious and professional or casual and open in the interview? The best answer is simply to be you. The person on the other side of the desk wants to know what you'll be like in front of a group of people - so be that person. An overly serious person may give the impression of having difficulties getting students to open up and communicate in the classroom while someone who comes off as too casual or not serious enough gives the impression of disorganization and sloppiness. The ideal? Don't be afraid to ask questions and make comments on what you see. Be friendly and smile, but stay focused. This is the person the students will see and a DOS simply must be sure that you aren't on either extreme.

What about grammar? The fear that most EFLers have when completing a training course is remembering all those grammar terms and rules. Yes, you need to know them. You are going to teach them after all. Most likely, you'll be asked to write up a demonstration class, or perhaps even deliver one to a few students or other teachers. You may be given a grammar point and asked to develop a class plan around that – introducing the point in context, running a few practice drills using it, then finishing with an output exercise that demonstrates student comprehension.

Know your students. Having knowledge of who your students will be will go a long way. During the job interview, you can win over any DOS by showing great interest in the types of student the school attracts. Aside from the obvious questions as to age groups and proficiency level, ask from where the school draws its students. Are they professionals, university students, exchange students, etc? Getting to know your student shows an interest in people and tells a DOS that you can connect on a personal level with your students, and most importantly, that you are flexible – ready to teach from a variety of platforms.

Sound simple enough? Of course, don't ignore the obvious stuff. Dress smart, be confident, and let this DOS know that you are the right person for the job.

Now, with that out of the way, you can focus on the important stuff. Getting your plane tickets, arranging accommodations, and discovering a new corner of the world. Good luck!

This entry marks my first article contributing to the ESL/EFL Roadshow, a blog ring of ESL/EFL teachers and TEFL teacher trainers around the world. September's project is hosting by Sharon of TEFL Tips fame. Here is the Roadshow roundup that shows Interview Tips as other teaching bloggers see them.