Michelle Wylie - General Care Projects in Mexico
My name is Michelle Wylie. I am 19 years old and from Brisbane, Australia. I had wanted to volunteer overseas ever since I saw a Projects Abroad stand at one of my school career fairs when I was 15 years old. Four years later, I finally decided to do it. After a lot of consideration I decided to go to Mexico, because I had never been to a Latin American country before and I wanted to see some of that part of the world. At home I study Psychology so I decided to do a Care placement.
My Care placement in Guadalajara
I was assigned to work in the school Nunutzi-Kie, which is a school for children with both physical and mental disabilities. I spent a month in this school in Guadalajara, Mexico in January 2013. It was without a doubt one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences of my life.
On arrival in Mexico I was greeted by one of the staff members, Jorge, who took me to meet my host mother Leslie. I was excited and nervous about the month ahead. I had travelled a lot in the past but I had never been anywhere by myself, let alone a country where I can’t speak the language. Jorge and my host mother were extremely welcoming and they both spoke English, which was a big relief!
For my first day in Mexico I honestly felt quite daunted. I remember walking around a grocery store where I wanted to buy an adaptor to charge my laptop and phone. I knew how to say ‘do you have adaptors?’ in Spanish but I was too scared to ask any of the shop assistants. This fear continued for the rest of the day. I wanted to blend in and I did not want anyone to know that I was not Mexican and did not speak Spanish.
The next day some more Projects Abroad staff members met me at my house and showed me where I would be working. I also met some of the other volunteers and was taken on a tour of Guadalajara. On my third day in Mexico I started work in the school. Another volunteer from Denmark started on the same day as me and spoke as little Spanish as me. As soon as I stepped foot in Nunutzi-Kie, I felt instantly happier and more relaxed. I can honestly say that it is the happiest place I have ever been.
All the children greeted me as though I was their best friend and the teachers and staff all seemed so pleased that I was there to help. As no one spoke English, I was forced to attempt Spanish and I quickly learnt that Mexicans are extremely patient and will try everything to communicate a message to you and to understand what you are trying to say.
On a typical day in Mexico I would wake up at about 8am to get to the school by 9am. It only took ten minutes to walk there from my house, which made things very easy for me. In the mornings I helped with physical education, which involved stretching and doing exercises with the children who were unable to walk. I then helped with the grade one class and spent the afternoon helping in the cooking class.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I stayed until 2pm and then caught the bus to the office for my Spanish lessons. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I stayed until 5pm to help with a pre-school class.
Weekends and accommodation
My accommodation was excellent. I stayed with Leslie and her dog as well as another volunteer. It took about ten minutes to walk to work and about half an hour to catch a bus to the city or the Projects Abroad office. The food was always excellent and Leslie was happy to cater for my vegetarian diet. The room was comfortable and Leslie always helped me or gave me tips about Mexico and getting around whenever I needed.
On weekends I often travelled with other volunteers. I went on a tour to Tequila, Chapala (a lake and town about one hour away), Guadalajara zoo, Puerto Vallarta (the beach about five hours away) and Mexico City. Some nights volunteers met to eat and go out in Chapultepec.
I encourage any volunteers going to Mexico to just try to offer whatever you can in your placements. As long as you are willing to help they will be extremely grateful. It helps to know some basic Spanish phrases if possible but just be willing to try. I carried around a Spanish-English dictionary with me and I quickly learnt that Mexicans are willing to do anything to communicate with you, even if it means pointing to the right word in my dictionary when they get desperate.
I made so many amazing friends in Mexico and met people from all around the world. I was so sad when it was time to go home and I had to say goodbye to the children, teachers, volunteers and Projects Abroad staff. I am so grateful for the amazing experience and I continue to keep in contact with many people I met in Mexico.
It was such a great experience and I encourage anyone thinking of volunteering overseas to go for it. Sometimes it’s scary being in such an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, but once you go and make friends and immerse yourself into another culture you will become a better person with the experience. Buena Suerte!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.