The first competence that comes to my mind right away when I think about my first 3 months of staying in Mexico is the public speaking. As a volunteer in the Vive Mexico association I was invited to different conferences around the country where I organized workshops for Mexican young people that were going to participate in an international work camp this summer.
I had some previous experiences in public speaking but as there were not that many occasions I still got nervous and got red while speaking.
I guess the first conference that took part in Queretaro was the hardest one as I did not know exactly what to expect. I was expecting to see just the youngsters participating in the workshop, but when I arrived in the room I realized that the event was institutional. In fact there were a lot of guests, representing the City Hall, that were giving their prepared speech full of nice words, encouraging the youngsters to make Mexico proud of them wherever they were going to do the volunteering experience.
Everybody dressed up as for a really special event and I was in my sport shoes, jeans and Vive Mexico t-shirt. I was relief when I saw that the institutional part finished, all the important guests shake hands, took their official picture and disappeared. I was now more relaxed because the workshop part was about to start. Still, as it was the first training with me on a stage in front of 30 people more or less, I was still a little bit nervous.
I could notice a very big step ahead in my second workshop, in Leon. There I was sent alone because of organizational reasons. I had my team supporting me, but the majority of the speaking and organizing was in my hands. I have to say I enjoyed it a lot, like the important person invited in the Ted Talks that take over the stage and speak for hoursJ. Besides speaking I also interacted a lot with the youngsters as I was there to share my experience and advice but also to hear their expectations and fears.
In this second conference everything went much better as I already knew that at a certain point all the high level guests were going to leave the room and I could stay in a relax environment with the youngsters, as the informal education requires.
I think I enjoyed it much not just because I had already the experience in Queretaro, but also because I was leading the conference. In all the other workshops I always coordinated myself with the others from the team. It always went good in this second case, because coordinating with others generates new ideas on how to organize the workshop depending on timing and number of people, but it also gives you less freedom as you have to put in practice the idea that the majority agrees on.
So, to conclude the topic of public speaking I could say that it took me just one workshop to get used to speak in front of a public from 20 up to 60 people. I guess that a factor that made it easier is the topic and the public I was addressing to. The topic, international volunteering, is known to me thanks to my various experiences of volunteering. What I mean is that I was always speaking about something that I knew, and most important, like. I still remember being anxious about presenting the data on immigrants in Italy and in Turin in the last 5 years and compare them by sex, age, etc. Well that was another experience where more knowledge was required and a lot of numbers involved. But speaking about international volunteering was much easier and I did not have to rehearsal the day before.
Also speaking to a young public, most of the time younger than me, made it all much easier and relaxed.
As I was going on with the workshops around the country I did not have any fear left in taking the microphone and speak. I think that what helped me more was participating and organizing often trainings. I guess that when you find yourself in the situation of speaking in public in various occasions you get used to it and even the hardest topic or the most exigent public will not be a problem anymore, or at least it will be a smaller problem.
Even if the workshop had more or less the same structure as we were always asked to organize a 4 hours training on international volunteering, me and my team had to be flexible and work based on the real number of people attending, on their interest towards the conference and so on. So sometimes we had to change dynamics, as there were too less people or to switch to a different topic as the public was not reacting much, or cut something as we had less time then we scheduled.
I developed my public speaking also during the first work camp that I attended in Mexico, where I had to give classes to youngsters of 12-16 years old. That was a big challenge, as at that age students were losing easily the concentration and had to find ways of making attractive whatever I was saying and involve them in the discussion and activities.
I guess that what I need to improve is the way of speaking in order to make it more interesting for the public so they can pay attention for a longer time.
I think that in this Mexican experience I have put in practice different work skills such as: organization and planning, decision-making, teamwork, time management, autonomy, initiative, problem-solving, flexibility and commitment. The workshops and the work camps I participated in made me improve and/or acquire all these working skills, sometimes applying more some of them and other time others.
Right from the beginning Vive Mexico asked me and my colleague Vera to plan a training for future group leaders. We received short indications on time and topics, so afterwards we had plenty of freedom to plan it.
We planned the training and decided the organizational part (place, tools we needed for each activity and dynamics suitable for 20 people).
That happened also during the workshops for future volunteers, as we needed to plan a different schedule for them and organize the activities.
At the beginning was a little bit difficult because we had only some ideas of activities, but did not know exactly how to connect them with the topics. We did not know either how much time we would need for each part, so we were like guessing more or less, remembering a little bit my previous experiences.
Vive Mexico let me and my colleague think about our own ideas of planning and only afterwards gave us advice to improve.
During these months I saw how planning and organizing changes based on the public: group leader training, future volunteers training, planning and organizing activities in the working camps in which the public was mainly between 12 and 16 years old.
After having the plan printed everything went much smoother, because we had the basic structure and in case of unexpected situations we were able to change some small things during the workshop. So, in order to have a successful training/workshop or any other event is important to have first a very good planning and organization. That gives to the participant a sense of trustiness and makes the event seem much more professional.
What I learned by planning is that details matter. Also preparation and thinking about different situation that can happen. I remember the case of a group leader that was going to buy food for all the participants taking for granted that there were no vegetarians or vegans. So, by planning and organizing I also became much more detailed oriented.
In different occasions here in Mexico I’ve put in practice and exercise personal skills such as responsibility, creativity, leadership, empathy, critical thinking, etc. But what I would like to analyze here is the self-awareness. During this experience I am also improving my person, getting to know myself more and my limits, going even more far away from my comfort zone. I also realize how some things don´t feel the same they used to just a few years ago.
I had the confirmation that I like to work with youngsters and that was what I was doing during the workshops and trainings. Until just a few years ago I was enjoying much more being a participant and taking part in the activities and leisure time with the other participants. Now I realize that is much natural for me to be a trainer, a coordinator, so that is the part on which I am working on more.
I think also that during the volunteering in Mexico I had the confirmation that my interests changed and I prefer dedicating a lot of my time to know the local culture, to have some quality time with indigenous people, observe their clothes, the social differences existing in this country and document it. This helps me understand more the environment in which I am living and being more conscious about the situation around me as well as appreciate more the city in which the workcamp or workshops takes place.
Thanks to my colleague Vera I also got closer to videos, as usually I was more into taking photos. I saw her while working and helping her made me discover a new area that I would like to continue exploring.
This experience is a continuous discovery of Mexico, but also a process of building my own person as this continuous exchange with the local culture and people enriches me and transform me into something new.
Deciding to come to Mexico was already a proof that I like to live in different environments and I always try to go out from my comfort zone. That is why I was already positive that I was going to be able to adapt in the local reality. Adapting to the local culture here in Mexico is a continuous process. Continuously because there is always something new to adapt to and also because I am always moving from one place to another. Mexico is so large that you can find so many different cultures, food and traditions that you always learn something new that you need to adapt too.
Some few practical examples are their perception of the time, the spicy food, the concept they have about vegetables, the time needed to solve problems, etc.
The time here in Mexico is different, as they always use the word “ahorita” meaning more or less “in a moment”. Ahorita can mean in 30 minutes as 1 week, so imagine when I have to wait someone. They have like a special way of communicating and understanding how much is “ahorita”. When you ask them “how much does it still takes you to arrive to the meeting place” they usually reply “ I am arriving” or “I am on my way”. I was used to an answer such “in 5 minutes” or “two bus stops and I’m there”. So, after 3 months I am still trying to adapt to their way of perceiving time, but is not easy not even for a person that is always late in Europe.
I am still afraid every time someone replies to me “ahorita”. Sometimes we fixed hours of meeting and Mexican made me wait from 30 minutes up to 1 hour, but for them this is not like a lack of respect. They don’t consider that they are losing the other’s person time. So, the first think in order not to get angry in this situations is to know this and to organize yourself knowing that you will see the person later than established. The problem arrives when you meet punctual Mexicans and you treat them like the latecomersJ.
Connected with times is also the fast of solving problems or organizing something. I am always stunned when I see that for some problems it can take days or weeks to solve it, but for other problems, usually unexpected everything gets solved just in a few hours. I am always amazed about it because is totally self-contradictory for me.
After 3 months I became addicted to spicy food but still I need to continually adapt to it because there is always a more spicy food that I can’t handle it.
I needed to adapt also to the concept of vegetables they have here when you eat outside. They usually ask you if you want vegetables in your food. First time I heard that I was so happy that my taco wouldn’t have only meet and spicy. I was already imaging my taco with meat and vegetables. Than my tacos arrives: tortilla, meat, fresh onion and coriander. From that moment on I don’t feel the same happiness when I am asked:” Do you want vegetables in your taco?”.
Living in a Mexican family made me dive from the beginning into the Mexican way of living, getting to know it, analyze it, criticize it in some moments, accept and put in practice the good parts of it. Is not always easy, but still it was never impossible to adapt. Sometimes, when I am in more extreme situation, I may wonder myself what am I doing or where am I, but that moment passes very fast and what remains is a nice moment that I can tell to my friends and laugh all together.