My year abroad found me on the pacific coast of Mexico in sleepy surf town San Pancho, little sister and neighbour to one of Mexico’s lively “Magic Villages” Sayulita. Here I volunteered in a centre called EntreAmigo’s that acted not only as the heart of the community but my home.
EntreAmigo’s is a community centre whose roots lie in providing education, protecting the environment and building an active community. The community centre includes a library, sustainable shop and extra-curricular activities for children and adults, as the hub of San Pancho it was a great way for me to get involved with the village and meet locals. My role was English tutor, sales assistant in the eco-shop and tour guide to visitors. Here I practised my Spanish with other volunteers. As San Pancho is only just making its way onto the tourist scene, there are still lots of people who can’t speak English – ideal when learning a language!
“I would help in a turtle sanctuary taking on evening shifts”
As my placement with EntreAmigo’s didn’t include accommodation I had to find my own. Since flights swallowed a considerable amount of my savings I chose to take on another volunteering opportunity that would provide me with a bed. I found Proyecto-Ecologico online and signed myself up. In exchange for a beautiful shared apartment just four minutes from the beach, I would help in a turtle sanctuary taking on evening shifts patrolling the beach, collecting turtle eggs and safely relocating them in the nursery.
A downside to this blissful exchange was that I wasn’t speaking Spanish. Living with an Australian, American and a Scot didn’t provide much opportunity to practise! Although this wasn’t counted as part of my year abroad qualifications it was some of the most fun that I had. Since you are only expected to work/volunteer for twenty hours a week during your year abroad, you’re left with a ton of time to make the most of wherever you are – so use it.
“San Pancho’s relaxed routine was a bit of a culture shock”
That said, for someone who’s used to being busy, San Pancho’s relaxed routine was a bit of a culture shock. But in-between volunteering work I soon realised a true Mexican day revolves around the tacos you’ll sample at dinner, how many margaritas you can have with lunch (answer: as many as you like) and spending as much time as possible in the water. A lifestyle I was more than willing to engage with. Everyone warns you about the difficulties of adapting to a foreign country, what no one tells you is that it will be so much tougher coming home!