Monday, February 18, 2008

Team 96 returns from Mexico

Global Volunteers' team 96 to Mexico finished their 2 week stint on February 16th. The 10 member team supported the host organization's English program through small group conversation classes and individual tutoring sessions.

A total of 420 hours of volunteer time gave nearly 3,000 students an opportunity to listen and speak with true native speakers, and gain a better understanding of American and British cultures. Volunteers also came away with a better understanding of Mexican culture.

The team's journal is posted below. Please read about this great team's experiences as lived through their eyes.

Carl Granger
Mexico Country Manager

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Journal Entry #12 – Thursday, February 15, 2008

Morning comes early in the tropics – or maybe it just seems that way when you get up at 05:30. In spite of it all, we made it in time for our 07:00 class.

We got a break in the morning, though. The students were celebrating Valentine’s Day. They are not alone, the adult population here makes a lot more of Valentine’s than we do in the States. The students were wearing costumes – some quite ornate and the set up little ‘Tiendas’ selling impressive items like bolsas, stuffed hearts, and food. Which I passed up because of my Moc’s revenge. The celebration meant that we taught one fewer class that day – but we still remember the 05:30 start.

After dinner and a siesta, we went to Miguelito’s. A very nice restaurant in an old classical building.

We also invited Esperanza and Dahlia. A quartet of accordion, guitar, guitaron, and tom toms played traditional and current songs. Our end of the table helped them by singing. I was a very mellow feeling and I found it easy to say ‘yes’ to my playing the violin Friday 2/16.

We walked back to the Senorial close to midnight and went to sleep with the sounds of music in our heads.

Thought of the Day: Grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Journal Entry #11 – Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thought for the day:

The mind itself can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven. –Milton

Thoughts – There is nothing neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so. –Shakespeare

The only thing needed for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Journal Entry #10 – Wednesday, February 13, 2008

If you view courage as a destination, you then pursue life’s challenge with enthusiasm.
Quote by Bea

In the evening, sitting in the Plaza de la Corregidora sipping vino blanco was a pre-Valentines delight. Heart shaped balloons, huge decorated boxes filled with surprises, plus various other inflated shapes paraded by.

Tomorrow’s schedule at the university remains a mystery due to the festivities for Valentine’s Day by the students. Flexibility will remain our motto.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Journal Entry #9 – Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The dawn patrol assembled at 06:30 hours – 2 absentees were recovered in time for morning briefing. The “Intrepids” of earlier have morphed into “hardened campaigners” with stoic acceptance of caffeine deprivation and non-traditional catering. The team have now fully developed their individual strategies to augment and complement their sometime sketchy assigned projects and doing it extremely well. Medals may be awarded!!

Many of us have been struck by the rapid growth of the QRO economy and how the benefits are being put back into the city. (i.e. buying overhead wiring, repairing infrastructure etc.) There is a district sense of optimism which leads students to see their future here other than the US. Indeed only 2 of the very many students I have met, expressed any interest in going to the US: one wanted to be a film star in Hollywood and the a poker player in Las Vegas. Allowing that their aspirations may be ‘slightly’ ambitious, it is encouraging that so many, many, other nice young people are confident in the continued development of their home city.

After another day of tiring but rewarding support the team returned to Base Camp for lunch.

The fully rested and refreshed team, led by our Commanding Officer Carl, marched to be more accurate strolled in a distinctly unmilitary fashion) to two blocks for dinner at the Fin de Siglo restaurant. Minnesota Bill’s personal language trainer, Mauritzio, was not on duty but Lorenzo looked after us well.

Nice evening – Parade dismissed 20:15 hours.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Journal Entry #8 – Monday, February 11, 2008

First of all, I must admit it is going to be difficult to maintain the high level of creative and detailed journal entries written by previous Global Volunteers.

We began our day at 8:30 am with the traditional Hotel Senorial breakfast served by Jesus. We finished our breakfast, daily meeting, and waited for the UTEQ van to pick us up.

Right before boarding the UTEQ van, we experienced a small crisis. Bea’s hair stylist, Daniel, called Bea on her cell phone. From what I gathered, he was worried Bea did not schedule her traditional haircut appointment. Bea solved the small crisis and we boarded the van.

We arrived at UTEQ on time and our day began at 10 am. The next five classes went exceptionally well. The students seemed eager to learn English, were very interactive, and intelligent.

The teaching day ended at 3:00 pm and we ate our usual UTEQ cafeteria lunch. We discussed the day’s events and shared stories over lunch. I sat in the front seat with Marcos. I tried to speak my usual “pigeon” Spanish (this is the term Ernie calls it) with the driver.

We arrived at the hotel at 4:20 pm. Some of us ate dinner at the hotel and some did not. To quote Marilyn: “Where is the salsa dancing?”

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Journal Entry #7 – Sunday, February 10, 2008

Once again the intrepid were up with a smile on their face and a song in their Valentines’ hearts to enjoy another day in Queretaro. Bill and Bea opted out of our tour and so did Tom. He related a tale of true camaraderie and adventure regarding his Saturday adventure. Again the intrepid are off to explore and savor the culture, cuisine, and craft fashions by quaint artisans.

We fortunate to have not only the well known driver, Ramon, from UTQ, but also his lovely wife, Gaudaloupe. First stop Bernal. Bill, Ernie and Marilyn searched for a road leading to the monolith. Very impressive – but insufficient time to complete the climb and charming town. Brief stop at the winery. Time to move on. Arrived at Tequisquiapan. Excellent lunch at Los Brazos – specialists in Argentinean beef. Pictures of bulls staring down at us. Ice cream, crepes and then to shopping. The groans were from Minnesota Bill and Ernie. However, everyone enjoyed walking around the town – being among the ‘real people!’

Shop keepers were pleasant and friendly no matter how badly we “habla-ed Espanol.” Uneventful return to the Senorial with our treasures. The city square were filled with people – however a cloud burst shortly after entering our “home away from home” put a damper on outdoor activities. Two fabulous days in colonial Mexico!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Journal Entry #6 – Saturday, February 9, 2008

Ah the weekend (fin de semana). At breakfast the ongoing confusion of who is paying for what appears resolved!

At 9:30, our intrepid band of travelers minus Tom who was off to spend the day with 3 caballeros. The intrepids finally boarded the trolley after crossing the street “mucho” times while Minnesota Bill had his shoes shined. We enjoyed the tour – made sweeter by the fact we were informed upon arrival @ appointed time and place that there was no English tour and actually there was no tour at all! Que Sorpresa! Tour was excellent. Historical sites, students with white mice, hitting rocks, photos all around.

Guide was new to the tour but knowledgeable and friendly to all. Post tour – some walked to aquaduct lookout point, some back to the hotel, and some to get bull fight tickets. After Ernie masterfully obtained “boletos”, all bull fight attendees met @ 3. Again the intrepid – minus Jane & Diane – but with the addition of Delia and Sylvain. All drove to Plaza de Toros. Another adventure! We all gamely climbed to the nosebleed section where we had an excellent view.

Ole was the word of the afternoon especially when the matador’s pantalones were torn and we saw more of him than expected! Afterward we headed to Hacinda Don Ramon – an excellent Mexican restaurant with salsa almost hot enough for Minnesota Bill. There we were happily joined by our two missing intrepid, Diane and Jane. Following a delicious meal and being serenaded with La Bamba, Celito Lindo, and other songs – the intrepids headed their way home in the first rain of their stay.

A nagging question remains: Where is the salsa dancing???

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Journal Entry #5 – Wednesday, February 7, 2008

After a short night, we all gallantly gathered at 6:30 am to board our fearless UTEQ van to journey to the school. We enjoyed seeing the city lights as we climbed out of the city.

Arriving at the school we stumbled to the teachers’ lounge, the Departivo de Idiomas where we awaited our teacher to take us to our first class. What terrific students to be in a 7:00 am class. We had several advanced classes today which were real nice. In one class we discussed the preferred way to drink tequila and I learned the word for shot glass “caballito.”

Fortunately, teachers come to the lounge to guide us to our classes. We break into small groups of 3-4 and each volunteer has from 2-6 or 7 students to converse with. All the teachers with whom I have worked had some specific plans on what we should do with the students; some asked us questions. I was amused that one student asked me my goal as a Global Volunteer. My response was to have fun by talking with them.

I have found my way from the building with the teacher’s lounge to the cafeteria by turning left at the three big dark rose colored bougainvillea. Then to get the pick up point we turn right at the single dark rose colored bougainvillea.

Our breakfast was at 9 am., 2 hours after our first class. The non-traditional breakfast has become traditional for some of us…yogurt with granola, cheesecake like pie, and coffee. This is very filling.

We returned to Hotel Senorial after our last class at 1:00 pm. We had five classes today. Great fun for me.

I got to sit in the front seat today and inflict my bad Spanish on our very gracious and patient driver.

After a lunch at the hotel of fruit, soup, calabaso turnover like dish, and beef in lemon sauce with a variety of desserts, we strolled down to the main market which offers a host of articles one can live without as a tourist. The fruit, meats, and fish were attractively displayed and refrigeration was provided when needed. Some friends bought Queretaro soccer shirts for grandchildren. Carlos kindly took those who did not want to walk to the market in his car. I bought some plums and cabbage. The stars of the market were beautiful birds.

After walking back to the hotel, we rejoined to go to dinner again at the Meson de la Corregidora on the plaza where we had enjoyed dinner on Sunday night. A young man serenaded us, but we were really wanting guitar music so we could talk more easily.

A very pleasant day!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Journal Entry #4 – Tuesday, February 6, 2008

Our wake-up call happened about 6 a.m. about two hours earlier than we are used to in the States. I shower first because I am fast but today, that did not matter since Bill announced he did not feel good enough to go to our teaching tasks.

I came down to our daily meeting with Carlos in charge and our group exchanged pleasantries. We were picked up by van and traveled to our school where we met the assigned teacher and met with the students in the first of five classes for today. I had four consecutive classes with very talented and prepared teachers and truly enjoyed both the challenge and camaraderie of the contact. We met for a non-traditional breakfast (cheesecake and yogurt) and returned to run chores. Lunch remained even more non-traditional with ice cream sandwiches and potato chips. I truly have pleasure in meeting the students but I find the beginners very hard work.

We all returned by van to the hotel and took a needed nap almost immediately.

Tonight, no walking the city to find a good restaurant: Carlos was teaching and we all ate at the hotel restaurant where the food was adequate and the conversation amiable.

No long and fast walks this evening, just relaxing mostly without hurried conversation.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Journal Entry #3 – Monday, February 5, 2008

Chirping, trilling birds – what a happy way to start the day!

After a short meeting for Janis’ thought of the day, Tom’s journal reading and last minute logistics, we’re off in the U-Tec van for our first day of teaching. A short ride through town, up the hill, and through new housing developments, we arrive at the beautifully landscaped university campus. Thirty friendly U-Tec foreign language teachers warmly greet us at a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit and chilaquiles – even too hot for some of our Mexican friends!

With excitement and some apprehension we went off with our respective teachers for 3 different 45 minute classes. Some teachers had specific assignments for us to work on, others wanted us to get acquainted and interact with the students using our own materials. We all found the students to be polite, attentive, and interested in what we have to share. They seemed to be having fun while making a good effort to practice English. What great young people for Mexico’s future.

During a light lunch and on the way home everyone was basically talking about their experiences with the students and sharing some reactions to the day’s events. All comments were positive and we felt the students responded well to all of our efforts.

The day ended with an evening walk down some new streets of Queretaro and a delicious dinner at a natural/organic restaurant – Las Neblinas (clouds), featuring stuffed nopal cactus leaves (penca de Nopal Rellena) and Jamaica or pepino iced tea.

Another very good day!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Journal Entry #2 – Monday, February 4, 2008

Today is celebrated as a public holiday, Dia de la Constitucion, a day in advance of the actual signing date of Feb.5. The constitution was signed in Queretaro in 1917.

The group had breakfast at the hotel, after which the free-time committee met, followed by a continuance of the volunteer orientation session, led by Carl.

Three goals per volunteer were presented, and sorted out to four main headings: To teach students, to promote understanding, to find fulfillment, and to learn about the Mexican culture.

During the discussion, Bill F. asked what the students expected or wanted from Global Volunteers, and
Carl said he would try to find out the answer.

The volunteers were divided into three groups and asked to list the 15 most important characteristics of a good team. Following this discussion, Carl told us about food and health concerns, and money exchange info – practical matters most important.

We walked to the restaurant Las Monjas for lunch, a great success. The food was excellent and the restaurant itself, housed in a former convent, was equally as stellar worth a trip in itself.

A walk back to Guerrero, a stop for some at Casa de la Marquesa, an 18th century Baroque mansion now a five-star hotel, and on to money exchange, the Alameda with its exhibit of archival photos of Queretaro, and the stalls of the vendadores.

We met at and were introduced to Alex, son of our team leader Carl. After a walk to the Plaza de Armas, we decided to have dinner at El Meson de Churcho el Roto.

Our first day of teaching awaits.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Journal Entry #1 – Sunday, February 3, 2008

Our first full day as a group at Hotel Senorial. After a breakfast during which we became acquainted with each other, and with several Mexican breakfast specialties, team leader Carl Granger began conducting our volunteer orientation sessions. He started by introducing himself in Spanish, asking our name, and having us ask each other’s names in as good Spanish as we could.

Following that, team members conducted life story mutual interviews and presented them. What a group! Highly accomplished, dedicated, and ready to begin the program at UTEK, just the kind of people Global Volunteers needs.

Carl then emphasized highlights of the service program manual, and the philosophy of service: the community requests Global Volunteers and directs them as to how they can be best used. We respond to their needs. Establishing personal relationships are vital.

At 12:15, Carolina Ezeta, Director of the Language Department at UTEK, spoke to the volunteers and thanked them profusely. UTEK is the leader of the 61 similar Mexican universities in the efficient instruction of English, and she feels this because of Global Volunteers.

After Carolina left, Carl spoke about Esperanza Rosas, the in-host coordinator at UTEK.

A lavish Sunday buffet lunch at the hotel followed.

After lunch, the options for our free time on Saturday and Sunday, February 9 and 10, were discussed by Carl. Ernie was named coordinator of arrangements for our activities, and Janice and Tom were named as his committee members.

Carl continued orientation with mention of the daily journal, the thought of the day, and a quick lesson in Survival Spanish.

He then led a walking tour to Jardin Zenea, the Plaza de la Corregidora and the Tourist Office, where Tom and Diane got separated by the group, to explore on their own. They watched musicians on stage at Plaza de Armas, and stumbled across the Governor’s Palace in which they took photos.

The perfect weather that we have had so far, blessed the large crowds gathered at the Jardin Zenea gazebo band concert, where we stopped in the evening on our way to dinner. Examples of Paso Doble dancing were enjoyed by the audience, and especially by the participating dancers. Then at Plaza de Corregidora a clown juggler and his infant son entertained.

We had dinner at Meson de la Corregidora nearby, which was also featuring the Superbowl on TV, as were several restaurants in the area. As the game proceeded, the face of our waiter fell during the final seconds of the game, since he had bet on the Patriots. He said that he had lost about 300 pesos, but nevertheless retained his good cheer, and thanked us for coming. Enchiladas Queretanos, Sopa Azteca, and other specialties were enjoyed.

Friday, February 1, 2008

QUERETARO, MEXICO: The glorious past – the dynamic present!

By Francoise Yohalem
Volunteer Team Leader

When I agreed to lead a team of volunteers to Queretaro, Mexico, I had already traveled extensively to more “exotic” sites south of our border, mostly in Central and South America, and I relied on memories of an earlier trip to Mexico - many years before…. This recent service program experience in Mexico gave me the opportunity to re-connect and fall in love with a country that is so close to us, yet so full of surprises and riches!

Queretaro: a fascinating city of contrasts whose quaint “heart” pulses with the memories of an illustrious past still lingering in the many gorgeous colonial buildings of its historic center. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (neighboring San Miguel de Allende is a Mexican national monument) and many defining moments of Mexico’s history come to life in Queretaro’s restored mansions, monuments, and public landmarks. One can discover them along the pedestrian walkways or around the several squares adorned with fountains, statues, and carpets of flowers.

From our hotel, located right across the street from the City Museum, we were able to safely explore this compact historic center, visit many of the churches, several museums, markets, while mingling with friendly families as they enjoyed the beauty and liveliness of their public places. But Queretaro – which I found very few Americans have ever heard of - is also a fast growing, dynamic, and sophisticated metropolis of 1.5 million habitants. It boasts a new international airport and hundreds of U.S., Canadian, and European companies with modern facilities that stretch into the mountainous Heartland.

Since 1988, Global Volunteers has been teaching conversational English at UTEQ (Universidad Technologica de Queretaro), and our host there is well organized, appreciative of the volunteers’ contribution, and intent on facilitating better communications and understanding between our two cultures. English as a second language is an important subject at the University, and students who become bilingual speakers will find better jobs. Our students appreciated the opportunity, the only one they have during their time of study there, to practice the English language with native speakers.

Depending on the student's level, we were able to engage in many interesting conversations, that turned out to be quite an eye-opener to us. Most of the recent polemic we have been exposed to at home about Mexican/US relations, has focused on poor Mexicans desperate to make it across our borders or hiding from the authorities, and how to deal with this problem. Yet, the students we interacted with (and we were told that the majority came from very poor families), were quite confident in the future of their own country and their own contribution to it. When asked where they would like to travel to, they spoke of exotic places such as Egypt… not Texas or Southern California. Most of them felt confident that they would find employment in this rapidly growing area.

In Queretaro, the contrast between the pride of the past and the pull of the future is everywhere present, yet the Mexicans we interacted with seemed to have found a comfortable balance. We definitively felt a strong sense of responsibility to the family and a commitment for the young to help their elders. Catholicism is a grounding religion for most, and the town’s beautiful churches are often filled with worshippers, yet there are many very progressive social initiatives that “push the envelope.”

We saw plays and dance performances sponsored by the city or state that were quite “unorthodox” and experimental, and exhibits that would have been censored in a City Museum here. We were impressed by the sophistication of Queretaro’s cultural scene, the variety of venues that offered high quality events – many free of charge! Our team took great advantage of this.

On a typical day, after the afternoon rest following our teaching schedule, when not eating at our hotel, we enjoyed delicious Mexican cuisine at a new restaurant, then attended a show or a concert at a nearby venue. We also could choose to watch a group of young people working on a spontaneous mural or make music, as part of a preventive state-sponsored program for “youth at risk” Or we could join local people in the main square (we especially loved the children in their pretty clothes) to enjoy Latin music, and watch elegant couples perform the traditional “Danzon.” Most of the time we were the only non-Mexicans in the crowd, but everyone was gracious and welcoming.

This year, Global Volunteers will be sending its 100th team to Mexico. We would love to have you join us!

Hasta Luego!
Francoise Yohalem