Teaching Language in the Yucatan
Fresh-Faced in London
As I stood on a carriage on the London tube, I thought "Here I am, no seat again, armpit in face, on the long commute to work". I figured there had to be something better out there. I was a fresh-faced arts graduate, optimistic about London life, yet finding I was constantly strapped for cash and forever waiting in line. I went onto a website appropriately named ‘Escape the City’ and found a job posting for a ‘Communications Officer’ at a nonprofit language school in a small town in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. A quick Google search revealed that this location was filled with amazing ancient ruins, beaches, cenotes and lagoons. Reading more about the job, I instantly fell in love with Na’atik’s story: a woman from outside Washington, D.C., falls in love in a small Maya town named Felipe Carrillo Puerto and sets up a school which celebrates Spanish, Maya and English through affordable classes and scholarships for locals.
One Way Ticket
I applied for the job and set up a Skype interview with Catherine, the founder. I left work at seven in the evening and headed to a nearby café. It was March in England, still crisp and cold, but beginning to demonstrate the early signs of spring. Once we connected on Skype, I instantly felt great warmth towards Catherine. We immediately laughed and joked and her passion for the project was infectious. We decided to speak once more after that, but things looked fairly positive. Over the next few weeks, I spoke with her current staff and Catherine a few more times. Before long, she had offered me the job. I called my partner, Pete, and told him the good news, “We are moving to Mexico!” We downloaded some Spanish audiotapes and held a ‘boot-fair’ to get rid of as much of our stuff as possible. We hosted a farewell party and purchased a one-way ticket.
My Job At the School
Once I arrived, I was rapidly absorbed into the team. Our school has two main groups: the local students who learn English and our study abroad program which invites visitors from all over the world to have immersive Spanish or Maya classes and live with a welcoming host family. My job was to fundraise for the first part and manage the second part. I soon learned that everything in the school is connected: the study abroad students’ fees help subsidize the costs for local students, the local students are often members of families that host our study abroad.
And I love my new job, which is diverse and never boring. One day I’m taking a student on a walking tour, the next I’m handing out flyers in a local (40 per class) primary school and singing English songs. At the moment, we are grant writing to obtain funds for an exchange program with students from the United States. Tomorrow I will finish editing videos for our crowdfunder, where we will raise money in order to keep costs down for the local students.
Part of the Community
This school is a beacon in the community. It is a place where locals can read books. Here at Na'atik, they have teachers who will pay real attention to their education. Though Na’atik is fairly new, many of our scholarship students have become the first in their family to go to a university (many to study languages). It is a place where international visitors can experience the ‘real’ Mexico, away from the tourist areas of the Riviera Maya. You can see the poverty here, but more starkly, you can also see the amazing kindness of the people, the history of the area and you can get to know the families. In five years, Catherine and I hope the school will have a second floor library and a study space for our study abroad students, regular summer exchange programs and more local students choosing to continue with their education.
I really love this town. Locals describe it as tranquilo and I think this is apt. Every day when I wake up and cycle to work, I see the children excitedly filing into class, or I am able to take time to chat to a student about their ambition to work in the film business. Each day, I am filled with the sense that I am exactly in the right place, not an armpit in sight.
Poppy Damon traveled from London to Yucatan to work at Na'atik. She hopes you enjoy her story and that you will consider a donation to Na'atik. To donate to Na'atik's crowdfunder, check out their Start Some Good page here. Na'atik aim to raise $1,500 to go towards keeping costs affordable for local students. This fundraiser runs until December 31st. Na’atik is a 501c3 nonprofit so donations are tax deductible.