Michelle Tsai: Fulbright, Mexico, Teaching Assistantship

Michelle with a friend in the main square during the bicentennial celebration

Hola from Mexico! I have been in Queretaro, Mexico for about 2 months now on a Fulbright teaching assistantship. Aside from teaching four days a week, I have been trying to absorb as much culture as I can. I recently started to take a class on how to make Mexican mythical creatures called alebrijes.

I feel lucky to be in Mexico for both the bicentennial of Mexico’s independence and also the centennial of Mexico’s revolution. The bicentennial was an unforgettable experience. Thousands of people swarmed Queretaro and joined in a practically week-long celebration with native dancers dancing in the streets, fireworks, and an independence shout lead by the mayor of Queretaro. It was complete madness!

As for teaching, I have an unconventional group of students in that all of my students are teachers themselves. It was pretty intimidating at first to teach people who are significantly older than me but my students made me feel welcome. I teach all levels, from those who do not know the alphabet to those who can carry a decent conversation in English. One thing I have found is that to really learn a language, one must practice it frequently and spend many years learning it. Many of my students are frustrated that they aren’t really improving their language skills from a once a week class. I didn’t realize until speaking with students about their struggles to learn, but I have been learning Spanish for over 7 years (and am still not completely fluent!). I am not sure why it is expected of them to reach fluency in such a short period of time with so few classes.

I have learned a lot about myself from teaching and just being by myself in Mexico. Oftentimes, I am not told what to prepare for a class until the day before or even 10 minutes before the class starts. The first time this happened to me I almost had a panic attack. I walked into a classroom full of about 30 students and had to create a lesson on the spot. I actually ended up going overtime and felt the students were not aware of my unpreparedness. Mexico has definitely taught me to be more flexible and spontaneous. Trying to make friends has been an adventure and has made me a more open person. I have made friends from all walks of life including a vibrant 80 year old woman, a homeopathic pharmacist, a professional soccer player, and a dancer who performs in a circus. All in all, my time in Mexico has been a blast so far!

Michelle in front of a giant alebrije, a Mexican mythical creature, which she is learning how to make

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