Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Teaching English in Mexico City: How Much Will I Earn?

Factor your travel time into your hourly wage. 
Hey folks, it's reader question time. Bethany wrote me and asked:

My biggest question has to do with how much you can earn teaching ESL in Mexico City. 
Is it possible to save money, teaching ESL in D.F.?

The short answer is no, you can't save money teaching English in DF.

You can certainly support yourself and make a decent living but you won't be able to pad your bank account with insane amounts of cash. If that's your goal, countries like Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Vietnam, Taiwan, China, Oman and the United Arab Emirates provide impressive teacher packages that include healthy salaries and perks.

Mexico City is a better ESL option if you have one of the following goals:
  • You don't want to move far from the United States
  • You don't have a TSL certificate or other qualifications
  • You want to live in a low-cost country with bang for your buck
  • You're interested in easy access to beaches, archeological sites and Central America
  • You want to learn/perfect your Spanish
  • You don't know what to do with your life
OK, so what can I earn?

Chain English Schools

I'm talking about places like Interlingua and Harmon Hall. A few teachers told me that places like this pay as low as 40 pesos an hour. This is truly atrocious. You may end up working six hour days in their office with back-to-back classes which would be really draining. Some places charge you for training while others simply don't pay you at all during that period. For these reasons I wouldn't even bother applying at these places.

I worked at Interact in Polanco and I made between 80 to 100 pesos an hour at their school. It can be hard to get a robust schedule, though. You need to be around for a couple of months to rack up enough classes. They did pay me for training, though. And the payment was in cash and prompt.

It was a good place to learn how to teach since I didn't have a certificate but it definitely wasn't lucrative. And a lot of teachers burned out from the early morning/late night-heavy schedule.

Corporate Classes

Some language schools, such as Interact, have classes at company offices. For this I earned 150 pesos an hour. So, much better but travel time could be a concern.

Contact English Work

You'll find plenty of this type of work on Craigslist: people who find students and then hire teachers to go to their offices or homes to teach them. You're usually paid in cash or via a Mexican bank account (my husband comes in handy here). I've been paid between 180 to 225 pesos an hour. As you can see the pay is much better. You can also get substitute classes and do consultations.

However, you have to be careful about what classes you accept. Several of my bosses tried to send me to impossibly far locations. This would have been a complete waste of time. It can also be hard to get a robust schedule. You may end up juggling a couple of bosses plus some privates on the side.

Private Classes

I charge on a sliding scale. If my student is strapped I charge 200 pesos per hour for two 1.5 hour classes a week. On the higher-end, I charge 225-250 pesos an hour for two 2 hour classes a week.

Privates can be great but students come and go. Seriously, sometimes people just disappear. So this type of work can be really unpredictable.

Factor In The Travel Time

Your hourly rate actually depends on how long it takes you to get to a given class.

Say I make 150 MXN ($11.76 USD) per hour for a 1.5 hour class. I live in the south and the class is in the north. It takes me two hours each way to reach the class (not unrealistic in DF). So my real hourly rate: 56.25 MXN ($4.18 USD). Oh hell no.

Check out these resources that helped me when I moved to Mexico City:
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Hope this was helpful! Please post your comments or questions below.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Working Abroad: Ghostwriting Fiction (How I Did It and How You Can Too)


For those of you who don't know, I'll be self-publishing my first romance fiction series in April 2015 (sign up for my newsletter to be the first to hear about new releases).

Leading up to the launch I'm producing a series of videos about my journey towards self-publishing.

I decided to include this video here because it tells you all about how I supported myself in Mexico City via ghostwriting romance fiction (in addition to my ESL teaching work).

For those of us who live abroad and don't have work visas or can't find work, finding jobs online can be a lifesaver.

In the above video I tell you all about how I became a fiction ghostwriter and how you can too!

Curious about my segue into self-publishing? Find me in one of these eight billion places:
Interested in learning how to self-publish? I've found these books incredibly helpful:
Questions? Musings? Feminist rants? Post them all in the comments below!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mental Health Resources in Mexico for Expats


Me in Mexico City's Zocalo. The picture says "having the time of my life."
Yet my mental health journey remains undocumented by photography.
One of the most difficult things I found about moving from Canada to Mexico was trying to find mental health resources. I was used to having a family doctor who I could call anytime and provide referrals to services. I was also receiving free psychotherapy thanks to the Canadian health plan and seeing a psychiatrist for free. My drugs were covered by my medical plan at work.

It was mental health utopia.

In Mexico there wasn't free therapy, medication certainly wasn't free and I wasn't sure how to find a psychiatrist. And even if I did, what about the language barrier?

Keep in mind that according to the World Health Organization, mental health expenditures in Mexico only account for 0.65% of the government health department's total budget. This is not a country that has freely available and affordable mental health resources.

That said, I've managed to find access to resources that are reasonably priced, good quality and English speaking. The situation isn't perfect but it works.

I'll impart my wisdom below but first things first. Mental health maintenance is so important when you're living abroad. Existing conditions can be exascerbated and perfectly healthy people might become depressed or anxious due to living in newly strange and isolating circumstances.

Don't wait. Get the help you need so that you can enjoy living in Mexico (or elsewhere) to the fullest.

You deserve mental health help and support.

Onwards to the guts and innards of this post.

How Do I Find a Psychologist or Psychiatrist?

See the resource section below. I've listed embassy recommendations from the US and Canada. Everyone else can Google their embassy's webpage to find recommmended doctors that speak your language. If you can't find any such information don't be shy about calling your embassy. Here's a list of embassies in Mexico. This is important! Pick up that phone!

How Much for Therapy?

You can reasonably expect to pay about 300 MXN per session for a psychologist who normally charges about 700-800 MXN an hour. You will discuss your financial situation in the first session and how much you can pay.

This is a lot of money, sadly prohibitive for the average Mexican, but it is probably much less than you would pay for private therapy in your home country. Be honest with your prospective therapist about how much you can afford.

Psychiatrists don't offer discounts, in my experience, and cost about 800 MXN a session. That said, you usually only need two sessions, a consultation and then a follow-up meeting

Also, don't be afraid to shop around. Different therapists have different styles. Some will rub you the wrong way and some will gel perfectly. Choose the person who will help, not hinder, healing..

How Often Will I Go to Therapy?

Some therapists see you once a week, others prefer twice a week for better results. Sessions are usually 50 minutes each. 

Some psychiatrists also offer counselling but if you're just consulting them about medication you'll only need an initial consultation and then the occasional follow-up. If you're really strapped for cash ask them if you can do a quick follow-up for free via phone/email.

How Do I Get a Prescription?

In a pinch, Farmacias del Ahorro have a free clinic where the resident doctor may be able to prescribe medication. However, these psychicians are of dubious quality and are definitely not psychiatrists.

You'll be much better off seeking out a qualified psychiatrist to get your prescription (see resource section below). If you already have a prescription from your doctor at home, shop around at the various pharmacies (there are tons) to find the best deal. 

Beware of Mexican generic medication. Some are of very shoddy quality. Farmacias del Ahorro's generics have worked well for thus far. They certainly aren't bargains but they're a good deal cheaper than the branded version.

In general, medication in Mexico is not affordable. If you work for a legit company or your spouse/partner does for heaven's sake take advantage of any drug plan on offer.

Help! It's an Emergency

In case of a mental health emergency in Mexico dial 066, 060, or 080 for assistance. Please also refer to the resource section below for hospital recommendations.

Live outside Mexico? Check out Matador's post on how to dial 911 around the world.

Resources
  • Doctors and Hospitals in Mexico, a list that includes psychologists recommended by the Canadian government.
  • Hospitals in Mexico City, the US Embassy's list of approved hospitals. Includes free/cheap hospitals (in case of a mental health emergency), a psychiatric hospital and a counselling service.
  • List of embassies in Mexico.
  • Laura Elena Ferron-Martinez in Mexico City is a superior psychologist with good English. She's located in Condesa and offers a flexible hourly rate.
  • Sharon Blanco in Mexico City was my psychologist for over a year. She has excellent English, is located in Roma Norte and has a flexible hourly rate. Does Skype sessions worldwide.

Stay tuned for a post on other affordable mental health resources in Mexico, such as meditation groups, and tips on how to keep your head above water in a foreign country.

Was this post helpful? Do you know of any great mental health resources in Mexico? Have a story you'd like to share? Comment below!

** Disclaimer: this post does not constitute medical advice. I am not a medical professional and can only provide personal experience. Please seek out a physician for advice. **

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Finding an Apartment in Mexico City: The Expat Edition

Our gorgeous furnished two-bedroom apartment in Coyoacan. Yay!
This week I hosted my first Air B&B guest in our studio (and if you're interested in booking with us, well, mosey along to the listing and then click here for travel credit). She was in town for a job interview and had a lot of questions about how to find an apartment in Mexico City and where she should live.

I realized that a lot of expats probably have the same questions and since I've lived everywhere in this crazy city, I thought I'd share my collected wisdom. 

But first, where I've lived in Mexico City over the past two years:
  1. A sad collection of rooms with a shared bathroom and no kitchen in Zona Rosa (the worst).
  2. A shared apartment south of Izazaga in El Centro. The woman who was renting a room because her French boyfriend, who was at least 30 years older than her, had gone back to France for cancer treatment. Also sad. Also, a homeless guy tried to push his way into the entrance with me. However, the cat was super cute.
  3. A massive house in Escandon (south of Condesa) that had at least eight occupants, a closet that held Couchsurfers, a terranium with turtles and massive, endless rooms.
  4. A little apartment in Narvarte that was safe and cute, though the floor boards had a way of giving out when I did strenuous exercise.
  5. A gorgeous furnished apartment in Coyoacan with plenty of light, tube gas, combo wash-dryer and a location next to an amazing supermarket. THE BEST.
I'm giving you the lowdown on my housing history because where you live in DF can really make or break your experience here. Some apartments are nasty and unsafe and some are gorgeous and overpriced and then there's everything in between.

Where to find an apartment:
  1. Craigslist is a popular source of expat-oriented, expensive listings.
  2. Segundamano is also popular and geared towards Mexicans so you're more likely to find a fair price.
  3. CompartoDepa is where you go if you want to find a room in a shared apartment. Bargains abound.
  4. AirBnB. I actually found my first real apartment here. The woman rented the space in six-month increments. By the way, clicking this link will earn you $25 USD in free travel credit with AirBnB. Woot!
What neighborhoods to consider:
  1. La Condesa is expat central and perfect for young folks who like to be close to the party and upmarket retail. Leafy and safe with a great running track but potentially loud at night and filled with drunks and crazy valet parking dudes driving like maniacs. Also the rent is expensive but probably still cheaper than you're used to paying at home.
  2. La Roma (Norte and Sur) is close to La Condesa. It also has a youth vibe with plenty of cafes and bars but it's more chill. Central but tranquil. Great access to transit and nice little parks and cheaper than Condesa.
  3. Polanco is for those who want to rent a tony condo and have access to top-notch malls in a safe, tranquil neighborhood. Better for those with a car since transit access is not great and it's a bit north of the center. Also, the traffic is crazy there at rush hour and prices are high.
  4. Escandon or Narvarte. These neighborhoods are different (the former is south of Condesa and the latter is sort of south and east of Roma). Both are cheaper and very tranquil and residential. Good access to transit and close to downtown. Downside is that you won't get a lot of exciting retail or nightlife in either.
  5. Coyoacan is my home and my favorite. It's quite south but has good access to transit. Those who want to be close to the party in Condesa/Roma won't like it as transit in DF closes after midnight and you'll pay quite a bit to get a taxi after that. That said, it has a growing nightlife, beautiful and tranquil colonial streets, lovely cafes and cultural offerings and it's safe. My pick of the litter.
Cost?

This really depends. I've paid about 2500 to 3500 MXN to rent a room but you get what you pay for  -- a ton of roommates or a less than savory location. Look to pay 5000 MXN and up for a room in a nice apartment in a decent area. Think 7000 and up in Condesa. Some places will ask you to pay in USD. I think this is a ridiculous but it's up to you.

Our Air B&B space! We're getting a real bed soon.
This is completely promotional but yes, stay with us! I will make you amazing smoothies! ;)

What am I paying for?

Some apartments are all-included, like anywhere. Many more ask you to pay for gas,water, electricity and maybe Internet extra. Make sure to ask what's included and the average bill per month for services.

What questions should I ask a potential landlord/roommate?
  1. What's the security like in the building?
  2. Are services included or extra? How much? Is there wi-fi?
  3. What's the area like at night? You don't want to live in a commercial area that's deserted after dark.
  4. What are the neighbors like? Is there a lot of street noise?
  5. What kind of public transit is nearby? Or is parking included for my car?
  6. Who is the landlord and what kind of repairs can I expect?
  7. Is there laundry? If there's no dryer (dryers are not common in Mexico), is there a space to hang my clothes?
  8. Does the apartment come furnished? Is the kitchen equipped?
  9. Is there gas tubing or will I have to buy gas (in canisters from a delivery man)?
  10. What about garbage pick-up? Will I have to pay for pick-up or is it included? Is there organics and recycling pick-up? Not all colonias (neighborhoods) have great municipal services.
  11. Re: roommates what are your typical daily routines? Is there a cleaning schedule? Do you have people over/parties often? What kind of roommate are you looking for?
Questions? Advice? Please post them in the comments below! I'll be happy to answer any queries so go ahead and send in your question.

Resources:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

8 Days in Guatemala: My Nightmare Trip and What I Learned

Me at the beginning of the trip, loving the chicken bus. I still love the chicken bus, actually.
This is a post about doing too much on a trip with too little time. Prepare yourself for a sequence of disaster scenarios which involve blocked credit cards, being shoved off a bus because you can't pay for it, and hours on a cramped bus with your almost husband where you both wish the other was dead, or at least made of 100 dollar bills.

Let us begin.

It was a simple concept: I needed to renew my six month Mexican visa. A flight to Chiapas from Mexico City was reasonably priced while a direct flight to Guatemala City certainly was not. How hard would it be to simply take a bus across the border and see a few things? In eight days? And also call it your honeymoon even though you're not even married yet? And do it without a budget and much cash at all?

Oh boy.

First, let's take a little look at the transportation we took from November 22-30, so about eight days:

Planes: 2
Chicken buses: 6 (but felt like 1000) 
Ferries: 4
Tuk Tuks: 2
Taxis: 4
Minibuses/vans: 8
Regular buses: 3
Cars: 1 (on a tour)
Subways: 2

Places visited:

San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico: 2 nights (the first and last night of the trip)
Huehuetenango, Guatemala: 1 night
Quetzaltenango, Gautemala: 3 nights (exhausted)
Lago Atitlan, Guatemala: 2 nights (please I never want to see another bus again)

Lessons Learned:

Book Your Flights With Sanity in Mind
Flying in and out of the same place when you are traveling far from your original destination = NEVER A GOOD IDEA. You will lose an entire day just getting back and you will hate yourself for it. 

The money saved is not worth your sanity, no matter how much you love San Cristobal de las Casas. You will not love it when you stumble off a 12 hour return voyage that involved little food, no money and so many forms of transportation you can't even remember how to use your legs anymore.

Make a Budget

I had this half-assed idea that I'd have enough money to cover the trip. So did my almost-husband. SPOILER ALERT: we did not have enough money. This resulted in a particularly desperate scene where our shuttle bus company dumped us off at the Mexican-Guatemalan border because we didn't have enough cash to pay them. 

The driver gave us about 5 minutes to find some money we could get on the connecting bus. Of course that was going to be impossible. We didn't have any money. Still, we both soldiered on and found an ATM a zillion miles away and tried to get an advance on my Visa. Oh. Oops. My Visa appeared to be blocked. We desperately tried to find an Internet cafe with a microphone but yeah, no dice. So calling my bank was impossible. 

Finally, after a lot of begging we managed to get a hotel to lend us their wi-fi password. I called my bank, unblocked my card, and then got out the cash. When we finally got back to the border our connecting bus had, of course, already left. We still had to cough up the cash to pay for it and then pay for another bus to get to San Cristobal so we could make our flight the following day.

Also, I hadn't eaten hardly all day, it was hot, and Miguel and I wanted to kill each other. Travel NIGHTMARE. I will never, on the pain of death, repeat this scenario again.

Don't Call a Visa Run a Honeymoon

Trying to see eight zillion things in eight days with no money is not the time to try and take your honeymoon. Ever little bump in the road will drive you insane because you are supposed to be having a relaxing, expensive, romantic trip. Not some half-assed, cold as hell, cheap as fuck, crap vacation that involves being on a chicken bus (and squished against a window for three hours because a row for four people now holds about six and maybe a child or two as well). 

You will hate yourself, your future husband and anything anyone ever tried to call romance. A trip that might have been hilariously bad takes on a grim cast when it is supposed to be the most romantic trip of your life. You will eat your feelings the entire trip. And when you run out of money and eating becomes less possible, you will stick your nose in a paperback and try to forget you ever existed on this sorry earth.

Packing Light is Amazing

Oh, this is a plus side! Yay! After my eight month trip in Asia lugging around a 60L overcrammed backpack I definitely realized that less is more. Nothing is more frustrating then trying to drag around the equivalent of a dead body in weight on eight thousand types of transportation.

So on the Guatemala trip I only brought a small backpack and the following:

-one pair of full-length running leggings
-one pair exercise shorts
-bikini
-trail running shoes
-flip-flops (for hostel showers, non-negotiable)
-4 pair socks
-1 sports bra / 4 pair underwear
-four T-shirts (two long-sleeved)
-one fleece-lined hoodie
-face cream with SPF
-toothbrush (travel-sized)
-toothpaste
-travel shampoo
-deoderant (shared with boyfriend)
-soap in a plastic travel case
-Diva cup 
-travel towel
-comb, hair elastic
-meds (including Gravol, thank God)
-scarf (doubles as pillow on buses)
-one paperback book
-iPhone
-money belt (essential in Guatemala)
-passport. cash, cards

It all fit nicely into my backpack with room to spare. I downloaded the Highlands Guatemala chapter on Lonely Planet for $5 and read it off my iPhone so I was spared a hefty guidebook. I ended up washing clothes in the sink or just re-wearing them, whatever. Cleanliness is for squares.

I could totally see taking the same stuff on a much longer trip. Having a variety of stuff to wear is completely outweighed by the need to carry said stuff. Not having to check-in anything on our flight or stow away our backpacks on buses was the saving grace of this trip and kept disaster at bay. 

**

That's my disaster honeymoon from hell. There were actually some great times and I'll share that in a seperate post. Look out for photos and less rant-y stories in the next week.

And for those of you afraid for my marriage (in less than two weeks!) we are actually going to the beach in Oaxaca afterwards with my parents and his where we will hopefully chill the fuck out and take zero buses.

What was your worst trip ever? What happened? Have you ever run out of money in a really inconvenient place? Tell me about it in the comments.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Myth of the Radiant Bride: On Being a Grown Ass Woman and Getting Married

Photo by Seralyn Keen via Flickr.
Marriage. That transformative institution that makes a girl into a woman. Or a woman into a woman. Or an independent, self-supporting feminist into a girly-girl obsessed with stationary and veil lengths.

I had the good fortune to read Emotionally Engaged last year which prepared me for the roller coaster that is getting married planning a wedding. Simply put, marriage used to be a rite of passage where the bride left home and her parents to embark on a new life. Now most Western women have already left home, earn their own money and otherwise become grown-ass women when they get engaged and married. So the whole wedding hoopla with its gift registries, colour schemes and expensive gown is a way to maintain the aura of a rite of passage without, you know, it actually happening.

I feel sometimes like the whole white and lacy wedding thing is an exercise in repression so universally accepted (in the Western world) that many of us accept its trappings without examination.

There are so many facets to explore. But other than the rite of passage BS, I'm also fascinated right now by the myth of the "radiant bride." I am currently reading and loving loving loving Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth.

Women are obsessed with radiating light, a nod to divinity where radiance symbols redemption and consecration. Women can "glow" naturally and wonderfully. But unfortunately the beauty industry has co-opted this concept in a very narrow way. A way that must be purchased through highlighters, illuminators, primers, foundations, shadows, lipsticks and God knows what else. We are not allowed our own light. It is bottled and sold back to us.

I love this phrase from The Beauty Myth: "Real men are matte. Their surfaces must not distract attention from what it is they are saying ... But women of every status glint ... What women look like is considered important because what we say is not."

Women emit light in the process of giving themselves to men as brides, aided of course by a barrage of overpriced clothing, accessories, cosmetics and shoes. The package must be assembled properly so that it is soothing to the eye. The woman is a commodity, to be delivered.

She is not herself. She is to be given. She must be radiant, this grown-ass woman. Not matte. And of course she does not need to speak. Just to glow.

I know some of you are thinking, "Stop being so cynical, Bronwyn! This is your time to embrace romance and fantasy. Who cares what it all means?"

Well, I invite you all to enjoy your unscrutinized wedding fantasy in my place. For me, something is ruined when it is not scrutinized. When it is not analyzed for meaning. I want to know exactly what I'm in for. What all of these rituals and trappings really mean. What greater idea do I represent? Do I really want all of this wedding stuff or do I feel expected to want it?

I've come to the conclusion that I do not want it. I thought I did, because it was so engrained in me to. But recently I have felt very, very resistant to the idea of being powdered and polished into some glowing version of me that looks nice and quiet in photos.

The Bronwyn that my future husband is marrying is not nice and quiet. She glows for him, privately, in a way that can never be encapsulated by cosmetics and cultural ideals of "brideliness."

She is not a bride. She is a woman. Who just happens to be getting married.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Planning a Wedding in Mexico: Cue Fear of Change & Scary Life Decisions

Miguel and I, drinking to avoid thinking about the impending wedding.
A wedding is never just a wedding. It is a lightning rod for countless insecurities and fears. For me it's like the final "nail" on the proverbial "coffin" that I started building two years ago. That was leaving Toronto in 2012 to travel. Which ended up being a full-on lifestyle re-haul involving moving permanently to Mexico City, getting engaged to a Mexican guy and trying to figure out a new freelance career.

An entirely new life. Scorched earth, if you will.

It's not really a coffin. You could also say my wedding is like the final balloon that will lift my basket off the ground and take me away to freedom. But we all know I'm far too cynical for this kind of analogy.

What I'm worried about is that the wedding is a confirmation of my alienation from Canada. I really don't live there anymore. I'm far from my friends and family. Getting married to Mexico, with only my (small) family in attendance, underscores the fact that I've left my community and my ties to it are fraying, as is natural with the passage of time.

When you think about it that way all the trappings of a wedding that are supposed to excite you -- the beautiful dress, the honeymoon, the fancy dinner -- seem a little less shiny.

Happily, I'm not worried about my marriage. That's all good. It's everything else. The context. What the hell is happening with my life? How much longer will I be in Mexico? What's going to happen with my career? Am I ever going to live in Canada again?

I'm committing not just to a man but a life.

Someone give me a paper bag already...

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