Monday, March 8, 2010

Please state your objective

Honestly, I've been trying to post this entry for almost a week now, but my schedule is just too damn frenetic. So the entry that was supposed to begin like this...

"Well, I'm here. After a canceled flight, 1.5 hours of frantic rescheduling, two super early mornings in a row, and 48 hours of lost luggage misfortune, I am here in Guadalajara"

... actually now encompasses an entire week in Mexico. A fantastic, crazy, busy, educational week that saw me doing a great deal. The first few days especially were really intense, but I'm getting into the rhythm now. We spend a lot of time in the classroom-- I've taught 4 practice classes already. Now I know how to make a lesson plan; now I understand the difference between present perfect and present perfect progressive; now I know how to correctly conjugate the verb "to drink," which always eluded me.

I live with a host family (grandfather, grandmother, parents, college-age son, and enormous rambunctious puppy named Bruno) in a peaceful neighborhood 20 minutes by bus from the center of the city. The house always smells like frijoles. My abuela cooks dinner and while we eat we often watch TV together-- last night it was the Mexican version of "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?" It turns out that my Spanish is much better than I ever would have dreamed. Not amazing, of course, especially as I still lack the ability to speak in future or past tense with any regularity. But I can communicate and my vocabulary is building by the day. I'm learning to use words like "entonces" and "conmigo."

I know to get off the bus 4 blocks past the big park, then walk past the old-style cafe where gray-haired men play dominos at pretty much every hour of the day, crossing Juarez and turning right past the mollete stand to school. On Friday night I drank tequila for 4 hours with an Australian, a Canadian, and a teacher from South Carolina. On Saturday I climbed ancient Mexican pyramids and ate some of the best fajitas of my life while watching pelicans swoop over a tranquil lake. Last night I enjoyed an evening of charming old people dancing salsa in the open air. In short: I'm settling into Guadalajara.

Settling in means I have more time for thoughts, and think I have. Spending so much time lesson planning has started to affect other parts of my life as its structured format bleeds into my world view and daily actions. The question of what materials I will need for a given activity becomes considerations about packing for a day trip or even to go into the city. How many minutes this activity will take calls on my time management skills, or lack thereof. And then there is the ultimate in existential questions. What is your objective?

In the context of a lesson plan, stating the objective is practical and easy. What is the goal of this segment of the lesson, or of the lesson in general? Do I want my students to grasp the difference in conditionals between "If I pop a bike tire I will have to buy a new one" and "If I pop a bike tire I might fall off"? Am I aiming to have them master the ability to write a solid summary? It's all entirely concrete and non-threatening.

That is, until the question ricochets off the boundaries of its neat form and starts bouncing around other important concerns. What is my objective here in Mexico? To earn a certification to teach English as a second/foreign language, for sure. But what about in addition? Am I hear to make friends? Am I hear to learn what it's like to live independently in a foreign city? To experience Mexico? To improve my Spanish? The answer to these questions affects my priorities and thus the life I will be living in this city. When to stay home and get enough sleep, when to take advantage of couchsurfing parties and fun drinks with classmates? Which is better, a homestay far from the city with the opportunity to practice Spanish but little independence, or a hostel where I can feel like an adult and take advantage of the city but lack the chance for language work? For now, the homestay wins out, but conflicting motivations remain.

And of course, then there's the larger picture. The question of an objective is scary to an aimless, uncertain 20-something like myself. It encompasses every uncertainty about my life path, my goals, my plans. What is my objective and can I fulfill it? Is my objective the quintessential journalist dreams of a recent college graduate, stoked or extinguished by economic troubles? Is it the back-up ideals of a year or two in Europe teaching? Is my objective to have adventure? To find love? To establish myself in a career I enjoy? Is it just to enjoy the sublime margaritas and Sunday morning tamale breakfasts?

Of course, life isn't a lesson plan. The bell is not going to ring; no problems can be solved with corny print-outs of 90s-style clip art or a dialog about going to the library. But thinking about My Objective seems to have come with the territory of my time in Guadalajara, just as much as mariachi bands, sunny days, and cafe con leche.

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