YOU’VE JUST GRADUATED from college and you have absolutely no idea what to do with yourself, so you drive from California to Alberta for no other reason than someone invited you to serve beer at a music festival.
Somewhere between Jackson Hole and Missoula you get word that a family friend is looking for teachers at a high school in Mexico, no experience required. Hey, you have no experience, you should apply.
Three weeks later you are sitting at a Goth bar in the provincial capital of a state that borders the state that borders DF. This is your new home (not the Goth bar, this random city just a little too far from the cultural mystique of Mexico City).
Over your first authentically Mexican Corona you discuss with your new coworker, a friend from college, your optimistic aspirations for this new life: you want to make tons of friends, travel throughout the country, have lots of parties, start a band, become fluent in Spanish, become friends with that haggard metal singer who is trying to approximate Ozzy Osbourne’s voice.
Within your first hour of your first day of school you realize that this school is a facade. A shiny new building with no textbooks. A state of the art computer lab with no working computers. Students in the classroom with no intention of learning. Everyone implicitly understands that this private school exists as a brochure to show to the parents of children who were kicked out of more legitimate private schools. They could send their children here to maintain their appearance as members of Mexico’s growing upper middle class.
The school is on the fourth and fifth floors of an office building, above a bank and a convenience store, below a marketing agency and the headquarters for a medium-sized steel manufacturer. All of the organizations in this building have exactly the same purpose: to minimize cost and maximize money.
On the second day of school you fill out forms to get the FM3 (efe eme tres) work visa. The director says at the latest you’ll get the visa in October. After the third day, you come home frustrated. You know these students don’t have a passion for education, but maybe you could inspire them, convince them to explore the depths of their minds, to fight injustices, to improve the world.
You write out a curriculum for the principal, which includes requested textbooks and other teaching material. Weeks later you’re still teaching from Wikipedia, and are assured that the textbooks that were supposed to arrive last month are still on their way, ahorita.
It’s okay, there aren’t really textbooks on Hip Hop Studies or Comic Theory, because you just made up these classes. You are ostensibly preparing these students to become the foremost experts on Eazy-E or Aristotle’s philosophy of humor in all of Central Mexico.
But the students and administration still don’t seem to care what you’re doing. This makes you feel like you’re wasting your post-college youth, especially when you spend each free period on the facebook (it was before they dropped the ‘the’ or capitalized), seeing how other friends were advancing their careers in New York and San Francisco. This discontentment turns to anger; in the classroom you yell at students who snicker behind your back. You give wanton detentions and unnecessary busywork as punishment for bad behavior.
At the end of every school day you feel like shit. As you’re preparing your Hip Hop Studies lectures you start contemplating the notion of truly “not giving a fuck.” If Tupac can overcome all obstacles by not giving a fuck, you realize that this strategy will help you survive the year (hopefully before you get assassinated by Suge Knight).
You stop yelling at students, and just ignore them, and plan weekend trips while they’re busy with arbitrary pop quizzes. You countdown the minutes till class ends. You always schedule your big trips on payday. But the money is never around. Every day the director says he’ll pay you tomorrow.
Right when you get totally pissed about not getting paid on time he laughs, tells you to chill out, and gives you your money and “a few extra pesos for a beer.” He’s perfected being an asshole: consistently be a jerk, and then occasionally do something nice so you forget about the exploitative things he’s done. You apply your mantra of “not giving a fuck” to the administration too.
Aside from school life everything is pretty good: you have parties, you make music, you make an appearance at a battle of the bands, you make out with a groupie, you make friends with locals. You could do this forever! And then after a few months, you realize that you can’t. This town is incredibly boring for a foreigner in his / her early twenties, because everyone interesting has already fled to Mexico City.
Your social scene is either hip Mexican teenagers (who still go to your high school) or midwestern North Americans whose interests you don’t find interesting. You spend most of your time by yourself writing, walking around aimlessly, eating, napping. On a weekly basis you socialize with your Canadian buddy, but that just consists of him making you watch The Last Waltzwhile you sip on caguamas of Indio.
You start thinking that this drudgery is completely unbearable. But you look forward to Semana Santa; you’ll go back home to California for a weekend. Then all you have is a few months left here. You can do this.
You head to the airport on payday. The money still hasn’t arrived into your bank account. The last thing the director says to you is: oh, that money will be in your account, ahorita.
You’re pissed but whatever, you’re going home to see your friends and family. You leave school at lunchtime, and take the bus to the airport. On the ride to the airport you listen to Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” It’s a song about acceptance of other people doing things you don’t like.
You get to the airport, and the woman behind the counter looks confused. “Why don’t you have the tourist visa sheet?” “I have a work visa, you don’t see that in the computer?”
“No, you need to go to Room 23.” When you speak with the immigration officer, he tells you that you’ve overstayed your tourist visa. You tell him that you have an FM3. He looks on the computer and says “oh, your visa is still in transit.” It’s been six months since the director of the school allegedly sent in your visa. Since the visa is still in transit you aren’t able to leave the country.
You get pissed. You’ve already paid for your flight. You aren’t willing to give up that ticket. Fuck that guy for lying to you, and never paying you on time! UGH! You ask if there is anything they can do to get you on that flight. “You could cancel your visa and just leave the country — do you have the original visa on you?” You know exactly which drawer that visa is in. You grunt. You are livid, but decide to take an hour bus ride back to pick up the visa.
On the bus ride back you listen to “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” This time you realize that the song is about accepting other people, but that as a free-spirited individual you don’t need to take their shit. That you need to look out for your own best interest, even if that means breaking commitments. Just walk away. You repeat that on a loop in your head as you pack your bags. They’ve wronged me, so I’m out of here.
You catch another bus to the airport, you run to Room 23, they cancel your work visa, they stamp it with a word in Spanish that you’ve never seen before; you think it means “deported” but the man behind the counter assures you that it doesn’t mean deported (which is frustrating because it would be cool to say that you got deported). You are scheduled for the next flight to Los Angeles. And you’re happy because all of this being taken advantage of is over.
On the plane you look out the window, and can make out the city you lived in. You wonder if Mexico beat you, because you couldn’t play by its terms. You wonder if you’d totally skirted responsibility because you feel entitled to be treated well at all times.
You wonder if everybody in your town thinks less of you now. You wonder what your family will think. You wonder how you would do it again in the future. All you know is that you made this decision because it seemed right at the time.
This piece originally appeared in Matador Network.