A Full Sponge

Well, my two years of teaching in Mexico are over. The day to day experience of learning another culture, seeing new and unfamiliar places, and handling unexpected situations has come to an end. However, my overall experience has not. When I went to Mexico, it was with a very intentional attitude of understanding the culture as much as I could, mimicking it, and being adopted into it if possible. These past two years I have been a sponge of Mexican culture. In a way, the analogy fails because a sponge is passive, but I was actively absorbing. As an example of the level to which I was absorbing, I have been much closer to saying certain words in Spanish (that I would consider inappropriate) than I have ever been tempted to say their English equivalent. Why? Because I took in every single word I heard, processed it, listened to how it was pronounced, listened to the grammar structure around it, said it in my head, practiced using it in sentences in my head, and wanted to utilize it to help me fit in better. Taking in became an unbreakable habit which didn’t slow down even for undesirable words or topics. The same goes for culture and customs. I wanted to understand every pop culture reference, know how to respond like a Tapatía (woman from Guadalajara) in every situation, and be able to sing along to popular or traditional songs. I would cringe any time I gave myself away with a basic language mistake or saw the look of “never mind, she doesn’t get it”. I wanted people to interact with me just as they would their Mexican friends.

I have been a sponge and a mimic, but now… I have nowhere to channel what I have learned. It doesn’t “count” here. Not that there are not people interested in my experience. Many people have sincerely asked me about my experience and I know several friends who will listen to me when I need an outlet. However, knowing a classic Mexican song does not help me fit in here. There will be few with whom I can share a bilingual joke. The Mexican idioms and street expressions I drilled myself in may not even make sense to other Spanish speakers I meet.I would ask for your patience if the sponge leaks on you a bit.

From what I have heard from various speakers, blogs, and personal friends, coming back home after an extended time overseas is almost as difficult as the initial culture shock. Though I am happy to be home, there will be grief and probably reverse culture shock. There will also be some relief as I can take a break from absorbing and mimicking to return to a familiar place.

So some of you may be wondering, is this where the blog ends? “As I Go, I Grow” is a travel blog isn’t it? Even though I am not physically in another country “going” somewhere exciting, I am still growing from the experience. I will continue blogging. For me, this is an important way to process my time in Mexico and the adjustment to life in the U.S. If you continue following the blog, you will probably see less travel posts for the time being, though I do hope to travel again in the future. I will continue to write about my teaching experience and my thoughts on various matters. I am also hoping to take this time to develop my fictional writing more.

What will be new on the blog? I will be writing about some of the observations I have made about Mexican culture, wrapping up loose ends, and writing about the experience of repatriation and reverse culture shock. I hope you continue to read along and give me your feedback.

 

Photo is my own of some of the good-bye cards written for me at my despedida (good-bye party).

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Take Two: Success!

Let’s do some compare and contrast between my first and second years of teaching, shall we? As I tell my students, let’s start with what is the same. This was my second year teaching 3rd grade at Lincoln School in Guadalajara. Even though I requested a change of rolls, I was again the Language Arts teacher for two groups instead of teaching all subjects to one group. I also continued my participation in a Mexican-led house church on Sundays and an American missionary-led Bible study/house church on Friday nights. Another similarity between this year and last year I would not have predicted is a change in housemates midyear followed by a change in co-teacher a few months later.

Has anything changed? Much, thank goodness! This year I actually started out with a competent understanding of the curriculum (good thing since I wrote it last year!) and felt comfortable with the standards my students needed to be successful. I also had a much better idea of strategies to use to help my students. I was definitely different as a teacher and I am even more thankful that my students were so different. I had a much more responsive class this year, hardworking and quick to follow instructions. It has been much harder to say good-bye to them than to my last class!

This year was also different because I had more opportunity to invest in the house churches. Last year I was mostly building relationships, getting a feel for where the church was already at, and praying a lot. This year, I had more opportunities to lead, informally and formally. Church is probably the part that makes me the saddest about leaving. I see so much potential for where I could have served next year. However, I also have faith as I see that God is steadily working in each community of believers and am seeing more people step up to lead humbly.

Salsa is a part of my life as it was last year…though I’ve gotten a lot better and the people I have met through salsa have become my friends. This year, I have been quicker to connect with them outside of our weekly dancing.

The house I lived in last year felt big, a little overwhelming, and very quirky. I am still in the same house, but with the help of Emma and the generosity of Margarita, the house feels much more cozy than overwhelming, and more artistic than quirky.

It is all a good reminder that though change may seem hard or sad, He is using change to bring good.

Photo is my own.