How To Stay Safe Teaching English in Mexico City and Abroad

You're going to go teach WHERE?
In my opinion, not enough attention is paid to staying safe when you’re a female ESL teacher in a foreign country. My experience has specifically been in Mexico City, but you could probably apply the basic rules almost anywhere.

I want to note that many ESL directors/business owners are men. And these men usually don’t understand why you’re being so cautious. They don’t fear rape and harassment like women do. That is not their lived experience. So they will be skeptical about why you, for example, don’t want to meet at their house.

Fuck those guys.

It is so much more important to stay safe than to put some clueless man at ease. Sure it may be awkward when you insist on meeting at Starbucks. He may be ticked off, thinking you’re assuming he’s a rapist.

But you know what? Any man who doesn’t understand your point of view, is not going to be a good boss. He’s not going to look out for your welfare and he’s not going to be considerate. Move on.

1. Don’t Go To Someone’s House for a Job Interview

When I first arrived to Mexico City, the owner of a small ESL business asked me to meet him at a certain address for an interview. So imagine my surprise when that address ended up being an apartment building in a semi-sketchy neighborhood. I rang the bell anyway. He came down. I asked him if this was an office building. He said it was his house. So, I just backed away, muttering excuses.

He looked pissed that I just took off but you know what? Him being pissed was way better than the remote chance that something bad would happen in that apartment.

Because it could. Once his door closes on you—anything could happen.

2. Don’t Go To Someone’s House for an ESL Lesson

Entitled business dudes will just assume that you’d be happy to skip over to their house to give a lesson. This is a world of no. Even if a reputable school has set up the appointment, chances are they don’t know this guy at all. They may have had a 15 minute interview with him but what does that really tell you about a person?

There are so many other safe third spaces to have class. Starbucks is ubiquitous and popular in Mexico City. Or you could visit their office. Or they could come to your apartment (if you have roommates, though this could be a risky move. I mean, now they know where you live).
Places like Cielito (the Mexican Starbucks) are a perfectly good option for classes.
Some students will give you flack that they don’t have time to travel and it would be so much easier if you’d stop being a pussy and just come to their house. Well, you don’t have time to be shut up in a room with a random stranger. Nobody got time for that.

The only instance when I will break this rule is if the guy is recommended to me by someone I know and trust. Even then, I’m picky about this. If the guy is just an acquaintance or work colleague, I still insist on meeting someone else. 

Your friend might insist that he’s “a good guy” and even get offended that you doubt them, but let’s get real—how well do they know this person? Probably not very well. Intuition that “he’s okay” is not hard fact.

I don’t fuck with my safety, people.

3. Nobody Gets To Drive You Home

Chivalrous students may offer to drive you home, especially if they’re leaving the office. Believe me, this is super tempting because the idea of facing the DF transit system after a long class might seem worse than hell on ice skates. You might even have a good rapport with the guy and welcome the chance to chat.

Here’s me being a killjoy again: don’t get in that car.

I speak from experience. I got in a car with a guy I’d just met in DF and even though nothing happened, he behaved in such a creepy way that I never made that mistake again.

Probably everything is going to be fine. But what if he doesn’t drive you home? He essentially has you captive in that car. Don’t take the risk. Make a polite excuse, put in your earphones, and brave that subway.
Yeah I wouldn't want to get on that crammed subway car. But better the devil you know...

4. Know Where You’re Going

I’ve turned down a bunch of classes because the location wasn’t safe. Unfortunately, an ESL boss might try to send you to a bad neighborhood at a bad time of night because they just want to make a buck off you.

So get a second opinion. Ask a local about the neighborhood or Google it in a pinch. Make sure the transit to get there is safe. The subway/buses/Metrobus are fine in DF but some buses in Mexico State can be dicey. Make sure if it’s at night there is a safe way to walk to the location from transport.

And make sure that it’s safe to walk from transport to your house at night (I learned this the hard way when I lived in El Centro in DF. I was coming back from class late and a homeless guy tried to attack me because my apartment building was on a dark, deserted side street. Man I had bad luck when I first moved here).

5. Boundaries

If you’re teaching in Mexico, some guys are going to treat private English lessons as a dating game. It’s an easy way to get access to foreigners and many of the teachers are young women. If a student is interested in you, of course he’s going to invite you for dinner after or to go out dancing on the weekend. Accept this invitation and he’s going to assume you’re interested in him. Trust me on this.

I had one creep-tastic student who would follow me after class to Subway where I’d grab a bite to eat. Uninvited. He invited me to his birthday and I stupidly went. I did invite the guy I was dating however. And you should’ve seen the student’s face when I showed up with another guy. This was not a friendly invitation.

You think you're just grabbing pozole together. He thinks he's on a date
Even if the guy is cute and you have a good rapport, if he’s significantly older he may just be interested in you as a plaything. A lot of guys with big corporate jobs may see you as a fun dalliance that can easily be ended—something they’re entitled to with all their money and big fancy job. I mean, it’s your life, but go into it with open eyes.

I knew one girl who taught a guy at his house. He had an important position in an American multinational. Things got romantic and because she was really young, she fell for him hard. And because he was older and not looking for anything serious, he treated her like garbage. A world of pain ensued.

A final note…

Listen, I don’t mean to scare the living crap out of you. Much of teaching English is fun and safe and fine. You teach at an office or a school or Starbucks and you may get some creepy vibes, but mostly it’s all cash money and grammar.

That said, you’re in a foreign country where you may not know many people, you don’t know who to call, and you don’t know the language/rules. And believe me, dealing with the police in a place like Mexico is an exercise in disaster, especially if your Spanish is bad. They may not believe you or not care. Really.

So stay on the safe side. Carry a cell phone. Let someone know where you’re going and when you should be back. Ask them to call you at a certain time to check in. Don’t let your desire to please people or make money trump your safety. There is plenty of work in Mexico City, so don’t take shitty stuff that makes you feel unsafe.

What’d you think of this post? Have any tips of your own? Comment below!


Jasper said...

Seems sound advice! One thing I'm wondering is when the private student is female, should the (female) teacher be similarly cautious? The other thing is coffee shops in Mexico - do the owners mind people using them to give a lesson?
Keep up the posting,

B.Kienapple said...

Hey Jasper. Thanks for reading! Big chains like Starbucks and Cielito--it's really common to see people giving English lessons there. As long as you buy something, you could stay all day in those places. Mexicans in general are pretty relaxed about that kind of thing. It's not a culture where they're going to hurry you from your table, EVEN if other people are waiting.

As to your other point, I'd be cautious going into ANY stranger's house. An office or coffee shop is always a better bet. But admittedly, I've gone into the homes of women and families without too much concern--though I always bring my cell and have someone call to check in during the first class. I'm generally trusting in those kinds of situations, though a bit of caution never hurt.

Jasper said...

Thanks for your answers, B.

Unknown said...

Hi B,

Great article! As a single woman here in Mexico, I especially liked the Boundaries section. I lost sight of this when I first got here (Oh, it's just cultural differences!). Wrong.

So important to trust our instincts!

- Amber

B.Kienapple said...

Hey Amber, thanks for this! Yeah, when you first get here everything is fun and flirtatious and new. But it's important to remember what YOU want and what you're willing to give. xo B.

lumivasos said...

Agree as a Mexican male, beware If you accept a invitation of something most of them they will want to "charged you" in the door of your house, they will be nice and all that stuff buuuut... beware about to say where you live (not only with dates, in general beware of all) women and men, even in co-workers, boss, and new friends, some neighbors are "nice" but the most of them have grades of danger most for a lonely woman, even the Mexicans woman, Coyoacan the place in the pic is a good neighbors to live, one of the "safest" in México but the danger is laten in all places. I also live in Coyoacan and you can hear often about robberies, most of them, new cars or luxury cars and bikes... and B. Kienapple don't forgive the "Jarocho" coffee (better in taste and quality) that cielito lindo and starbucks, but you can teach in the jarocho coffee.

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