An interview with Scout on her first week of public school in Mexico

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Earlier this month Scout decided to drop into the local public high-school for a month of Spanish immersion. (Read about her first day of school here.)

This week I sat down with her and asked her about the first week of school. I inquired on facebook what you’d most like to know about her first week, and got some great replies. Thank you! So here you go, your questions answered by the girl herself.

Some of the photos are a bit rough since Scout had to use our prehistoric, original iPhone, but she did a great job of documenting her school day.

Take it, Scout!

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Has anything made you nervous? Were you scared on the first day?

No.

What do you do on a normal school day?

The students arrive at 6:45, when it’s still dark. They stream through the main entrance together and then branch off, going to their separate classrooms.  The door shuts at 7:05, and you can’t be late, because they won’t open it once it’s closed. You have to miss the whole day.

I go to my classroom (1-B), where students are talking and re-arranging desks. (They get moved around a lot during the day for study groups and missing people, etc..) The class has around thirty kids. My class stays in the same room all day, and the teachers cycle in and out for classes.

A teacher comes in after a few minutes, and we all have to get up and get on our feet. The teacher will sit down and settle in before telling us to sit down. We call all the teachers Maestro/Maestra or Prof/Profa (short for Profesor). No one knows their actual names. They are simply “Teacher” to us.

Then we all sit down. Depending on the class, the teacher will lecture, write things on the white board and have the students take notes, give assignments, and/or receive homework.  Not much homework is given out, and most of the work is done by lecture/note-taking, not books. The teachers give homework, though sometimes I don’t catch the assignment.

Recess comes for half an hour, and then more classes.

We get out between 1 and 1:30pm.

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What classes do you have?

Math, Science, Spanish, English, Geography, Asignatura (asignatura simply means “subject” in Spanish, and I have no idea what this class actually is), and Elective. The choices for elective are  sewing, computers, shop (heavy machinery, not woodworking), and cooking. I picked cooking.

Are the kids friendly?

Yes, definitely. The boys and the girls are all sweet and giggly like four-year-olds, even the older ones, who are like gentle giants. I like them.

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What have you seen that surprised you?

Basically, the lack of paying attention in class and how indifferent the teachers are. Often the kids chat in class and do their own thing. Some take notes. There’s a lot of talking. The teachers accept this. The kids seem to understand the material well-enough and can answer questions when they’re asked. I rarely see anyone with their homework done.

The school is bigger than I expected, but I’ve gotten used to it. Just more people staring at me!

How are the lessons…fun? Boring? Interesting?

It depends. Each class is different.

Math: Math is fun, even though I did pre-algebra years ago. I like it, I’m good at it, and teacher is interesting. When I finish the problems we are given, I make up my own and do them.

Science: I understand most of the Spanish, so I can easily follow the lesson while I write a letter to a friend, do homework for my Spanish tutor, write in my journal, brainstorm novel ideas, design henna patterns, make friendship bracelets, write poems, or do origami. Just my own stuff. Sometimes the teacher asks questions to the whole class.

Spanish: I listen and do the classwork. I understand about a third of it. Sometimes we split into groups and read to each other. My friend Margarita always makes sure I read too.

English: I do my own thing, but sometimes I listen because it’s sweet to hear the class trying to speak English. My friends ask questions and I help them. Sometimes I get hit by rolled-up balls of paper or paper airplanes with English questions on them. It’s sweet. Someone will wave to get my attention and then throw the question at me. Teaching kids English is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes I’ll ask my friends questions, like “What verbs do you know in English?” and they’ll start giggling and trying to come up with verbs. They know the basic ones…eat, run, help, walk, sleep. They don’t know words that are common but slightly more specific, for example: climb, kick, choose, hide, or glance.

Asignatura: The Asignatura teacher asks me to participate, and she gives me different versions of the assignments that are slightly easier for a non-native speaker, so that’s interesting. Other times she’ll have someone help me after she asks: “Who asks slightly more English than the rest of you?” Then a big argument breaks out about who knows more and who gets to help me. Sometimes she tells me to go work out outside on the bleachers if I want. I’m not sure why, but it’s nice to get out of the classroom for a bit. She might think it’s easier for me to focus there (it usually is) since there so much talking in the classroom.

Geography: The teacher doesn’t make me do the stuff, so I do my own thing. She has three chins and several snaggly teeth. I like her. I don’t know exactly what the class is doing…the teacher doesn’t write anything on the board, and I see no signs of physical geography (maps, globes, atlases, etc.) The teacher is very nice though, and seems to get the whole “not understanding the language” thing. On the other hand, the kids are pretty much like, “We’re talking. Why don’t you understand us?!?”

Cooking: I’m mostly not-bored in cooking, it’s fun and I already know a lot about it. During my first class we made a fruit salad…not exactly a challenge. I had to listen to all the kids discuss how to cut a melon for half an hour. I could have made the entire thing while they were wondering if they should wash the melon or not. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore, so picked up the knife and started cutting. With every cut, the other other kids oooohd and ahhhed like I was a matador in a bullfight. I heard them all saying “Ay, cuidado!!!!” It was hysterical. I tried to get another girl to try, but she was very timid and afraid of making mistakes. The second time we sat on the benches outside. I think they were doing exam prep, but the teacher mainly did paperwork the whole time, and the kids all chatted and played like it was free time. The third time I had to take an exam, which I was allowed to do as homework: write out three recipes in Spanish.

What do the local kids bring to eat for lunch?

None of the kids brings lunch, though we’re allowed to. You can’t eat in class (though I see people getting away with it with the not-really-paying-attention teachers.) We get 45 minutes for lunch, which starts at 10:15. There’s a big cafeteria with individual stands for juices, hot food, fruit, and condiments. There’s a separate shop for aguas frescas (bags of jamaica, limonada, or plain water with a straw) and there’s a separate stand for for paletas (popsicles).

The food is sopes, tacos, french fries, suspicious-looking-fried-hot-dogs, huaraches, tortas…the usual stuff. They’re small portions but it’s cheap….10 or 15 pesos at most. You buy a token (little chips of plastic) and then you exchange a token for a plate of the savory food. it’s simple. Most of  it looks good but tastes a bit dry. (Except for the hotogs. Those scare me. And that’s why I get them every day!)

There’s a small booth with basic basic toppings…salsa verde, a few red salsas, ketchup and salt. They also have a few fresh condiments (lime, onion, cilantro). The fruit is two types of mango (yellow and green), watermelon, jicima, cantelope, cucumber and oranges. I usually get watermelon or mango. The three toppings you can choose from are chili (hot sauce), dried chili and salt in a shaker, and chamoy, which is common here. It’s a distinctive sweet flavor with chile and salt, and it’s in everything here….candies, ice cream, everything. If you put chamoy on something, it’s in a sauce form. I don’t care for it much. I love spice with sweet, and I like chili on my fruit, but there’s something about the chamoy I don’t like that much.

Whatever chili is used, they put on tons, absolutely dousing the fruit. It’s swimming in red. When the fruit is gone, people drink the fruity hot sauce left at the bottom of the bag. I love chili on everything now (fruit, popcorn, and all crunchy snacks, etc), though as I said, I’ll pass on the chamoy, and I don’t drink the hot sauce from the bottom of the bag.

The popsicle vendor had basic homemade icicles for six pesos each (lime, strawberry, chocolate, tamarind, chile, coconut, pineapple, the usual), plus ice cream sandwiches and cups of ice cream for eight pesos.

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What is your overall goal for the experience?

To improve my Spanish and make friends.

How are the facilities and resources? The classroom, the books, etc?

The desks are super old—hard metal and wood. The most uncomfortable desks ever. And they’re too small. The walls are covered with 50 years worth of student graffiti, which is pretty fun to read. The fans are slow and clacky. Everything’s run down, peeling, or chipped, but I’m not bothered by it. It’s fine.

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graffiti

Do the kids watch Dr. Who?

No. There are no Whovians at this school, though you can find them in other parts of Mexico.

Then why is there a TARDIS graffitied on the wall by your desk?

No comment.

Do you understand everyone? How is the Spanish?

People here speak fast and string their words together. Also they commonly drop several syllables. At first I had to ask everyone to repeat everything, but I can understand them now and no longer notice that we’re speaking Spanish.

Are you providing anything new to your classmates?

English and crafty stuff like origami, mini-books, and friendship bracelets. I also show them how to write cursive, which no one knows, and teach them about life, countries and languages outside of Mexico.

What kinds of questions do the other kids ask you?

Which countries have you been to, how many countries have you been to, is it pretty in Canada, were you there for the Olympics (yes). Frequently throughout the day groups of kids will send over an ambassador to ask me the basics…name, age, grade, where I’m from.

What are your impressions of the curriculum?

It’s very easy. They’re doing basic pre-algebra in math and basic genetics in science.

Do any of the kids want to go to college?

I don’t know, they don’t talk about it. I doubt many of them are going, but that’s just a guess.

Do your classmates get to interact with many students from other parts of the world?

Never. I am like a celebrity or an exotic animal. They come in groups to see me and treat the girls around me like my handlers. “What has she been doing? What does she get in the cafeteria? How does she do in Math? Has she talked you in English?

Do they have access to technology in their homes like you do?

Not really. Everyone has a smartphone or small tablet, but that’s it.

Is it what you expected?

Yup, pretty much.

Do you want go back in the fall?

It’s fun, so I might if we’re still here, we’ll see.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nancy June 15, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Excellent review of your Mexican high school adventure. Thank you for the pictures too. Most interesting article.

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2 Maureen Bellinger June 15, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Great article. Love your take and admire you very much. You are the greatest!

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3 Renee June 15, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Thanks, Mo. I’ll pass that along.

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4 Jackie Trueblood June 15, 2014 at 4:48 pm

I enjoyed reading about your experience. Talkative students–ummm–that sounds familiar!

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5 Renee June 15, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Ringing a few bells, Jackie? 😉

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6 Linda fox June 15, 2014 at 4:58 pm

So glad the experience has been good overall. Scout is going to have reams of wonderful memories of her adventures to playback when she is older. I doubt she’ll ever be able to say “life was boring!”

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7 Renee June 15, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Linda, she’s loving it. She’s having a blast with the kids and doesn’t give a hoot about the facilities. And since she homeschools, the class content doesn’t matter either. I feel great, because if she can do something like this with no problem, she can do anything.

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8 Travel with Kevin and Ruth June 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Interesting, thanks for that!
Travel with Kevin and Ruth recently posted..A picture is worth a thousand wordsMy Profile

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9 Karen June 15, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Sounds like its turned out to be a fantastic experience for Scout…glad to hear that. And since the academics don’t matter, she can glean all the good and not worry about the rest.

Thanks, Scout, for your willingness to satisfy curious readers! We miss you!!
Karen recently posted..Laughter and Scorpion GutsMy Profile

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10 Renee June 15, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Cheers, Karen! Yes, she’s loving it. COmes home with lots of great stories every day, especially now that it’s world cup time.

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11 Sheralyn June 15, 2014 at 10:23 pm

She’s so brave to be doing this! I don’t know if I’d have been willing to do that at her age – I admire her for it! 🙂
Sheralyn recently posted..We Quit Our Jobs to Travel, Burning Bridges, and Other DetailsMy Profile

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12 Renee June 15, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Thanks for commenting, Sheralyn. Me either! There’s no way I would have done it at just-barely-13. Nope.

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13 Rose Calderone June 15, 2014 at 11:46 pm

That’s my girl!
She’s got ‘handlers’ already!
Rock STAR!
love you
Tia Rosa

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14 Patti June 16, 2014 at 12:08 am

“Never. I am like a celebrity or an exotic animal.”

I love this analogy; so astute! She’s incredibly brave, you’ve given her such a gift, to be a student of the world and it sounds as if she’s in a win/win situation. Well-done to all of you.
Patti recently posted..Matilda’s Story ~My Profile

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15 Loren Waller June 16, 2014 at 5:16 am

Great interview! Thanks for giving fantastic detail. My kids loved reading this too! And my son, being a chilli lover, thought it was awesome to hear the kids at school put chilli on everything! 🙂

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16 Renee June 16, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Thx, Loren. You would die if you saw the hot-dogs though. I think they contain 100% additives with no actual meat.

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17 Sara June 16, 2014 at 11:01 am

Thanks for such a great interview!
It really amazes me how a TARDIS can just pop up anywhere 😉

Whovians UNITE!

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18 Ingrid June 16, 2014 at 2:04 pm

That was great, I wasn’t serious when I said she should write an essay for your FB friends but I’m glad she did! The description of cutting a melon and how the students reacted was too funny. You are creating great memories, too bad Archie can’t go to school too!

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19 Cindy Benard June 16, 2014 at 7:04 pm

I loved the interview! Scout really brought it all alive for me – I could see and hear it! Great detail. Thank you.

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20 Renee June 16, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Thanks, Cindy. 🙂

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21 Stefan June 17, 2014 at 7:39 am

Great article! Very informative and will definetly get my kids to read this.
One thing, chili peppers on fruit? Did I read that right? Are you sprinkling hot chili peppers on your fruit dishes? Please clarify?
Thanks!

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22 Renee June 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Thanks, Stefan! YES, huge amounts of chili on fruit. Mangos and cucumbers with lime & powdered chili are popular snacks. In Morelia we used to love the gaspachos, which are cups of chopped pineapple, jicama, and mango with orange juice, lime, salt and chili sauce. They are usually served with crumbly cheese as well, but we usually skipped that. So good! At Scout’s last school the kids put so much chili powder on their fruit that the chili turned into a thick paste.

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23 Mark August 9, 2014 at 10:46 am

And chili sauce on popcorn, too.

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