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Living Conditions in Mexico

Communications

Mail

Mail can be received at the Peace Corps office through the Mexican postal system. Mail from the U.S. to Mexico takes about 30 days and from Mexico to the U.S. could take about twice as long. Mailing Address:  

(Your name)
Peace Corps/Mexico
Av. Universidad Oriente 202
Colonia San Javier 76020
Querétaro, Querétaro Mexico. 

Telephones

Mexico has good cellphone and regular telephone coverage throughout most of the country. While you are in pre-service training you will be provided a local cellphone to use for local and international calls. At the end of the three month training, you will have the option to buy the cellphone provided to you from the Peace Corps or purchase your own. It typically depends on your site and whether the same service is available. For international calls, most Volunteers use Skype or another VOIP. If you own a phone in the U.S. that uses SIM cards, you may consider taking it to Mexico where you can buy a local SIM card.

Internet

Mexico has a well-developed Internet system and Internet cafes are very accessible. In the larger cities, there are also locations with wireless access available to the public. The training center has two public computers available for trainees’ use. Please consider purchasing insurance for any devices that you bring to country.

Housing and site location

During pre-service training, all trainees live with host families within a 45-minute walking distance of the training center. Living with a host family is a fundamental element of culture and language immersion. It also helps enrich each trainee’s cultural knowledge and understanding, adaptation process, safety and security, and helps trainees to improve their language skills. The Peace Corps has certain requirements for family selection, but you can expect to live comfortably but modestly. The families where trainees stay have been highly rated by previous trainees or students. After swearing in and moving to their sites, Volunteers are again required to live with a family for at least three months. By doing this, Volunteers create a local network, become secure and better adapt to their sites. After three months, Volunteers typically look for their own housing within the security guidelines and rental budget established by the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps will provide you with a settling-in allowance to buy basic furniture and household items. Volunteer sites are located in a variety of medium- to large-sized cities and towns, in addition to small rural communities in central Mexico. The electric current is 110/120 volts. All electric appliances used in the United States will function well in Mexico.

Living allowance and money management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs. 

Food and diet

While the Mexican diet revolves around meat, beans, chiles, corn salsas, moles, dairy products, and fruit, it is much more diverse and varies greatly depending on the time of year, region of the country, budget. Regional variation in dishes is common and you should explore the Mexican cuisine! Vegetarians can easily find their food supplies, even though vegetarianism is uncommon. The training and host families are informed of allergies. It is important to respect your host family’s budget by buying any preferred tastes, brands, or special food within your own budget, as these may be imported and out of the range of your host family’s budget. In most cities you can now find a wide range of prepared and international dishes. In every Mexican neighborhood, you’ll notice that the ubiquitous taco stands provide a wide range of fast food that is hard to pass up and attracts people of all ages. If you want to start getting into the most common of Mexican foods one can find just about anywhere, you can look up information for tortillas, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, gorditas, tamales and many more, varying by name and by region.

Transportation

During Pre-service training, trainees mainly prefer to walk from home to the Peace Corps office, although they can choose to use public transportation (usually small buses). Most Volunteers primarily use public transportation to commute to work and for weekend excursions in their sites. Volunteers living in downtown areas tend to prefer walking; it is often quicker to walk than to drive. In some cases, host agencies provide shuttle bus transportation to and from work for their employees. In other cases, Volunteers obtain rides with colleagues or friends. Several Volunteers have bicycles, but these are used mainly for recreation and running errands and not for commuting to and from work. (Note: Helmet use when biking is mandatory for all Peace Corps Volunteers.) Cheap taxis are common in all urban areas. Mexico has an excellent system of intercity first-class buses and second-class buses are used to travel to every secondary city in the country. Airline travel, although somewhat expensive, is a viable option for long-distance travel. Volunteers are not permitted to own cars or motorcycles. With prior authorization of the country director, the use of rental vehicles for vacation travel may be permitted.

Social activities

Environment Volunteers live in rural or semi-rural communities where more effort may be needed to cultivate friendships. Even people who tend to be social may find it challenging to integrate their lifestyles in rural locations where local customs and traditions are keenly observed, and residents are expected to participate and contribute when important local events, festivals, and activities take place.

TEFL Volunteers are assigned to cities where they may have a greater choice as to how engaged they would like to be in community events. At the same time, cities offer a greater range of activities in which a Volunteer may participate.

Everyday activities where a Volunteer can integrate include going to the tiendita (small grocery store), small restaurants called fonditas, taquerías, or the local market to say “buenos días”. It is the norm to greet everyone and make polite conversation.

Birthdays and parties such as weddings or quinceañeras (celebration of a young woman turning 15) are good opportunities to meet people in the community.

Events of the Catholic church—the predominant religion in Mexico—are meaningful to communities of all sizes. These are typically accompanied by fairs dedicated to saints with masses or prayers, followed by concerts with local artists or dancing.

Alcohol consumption is common at community events and family gatherings. Depending on the community, gender roles may play a part in who commonly consumes alcohol. In smaller communities it is more common for Volunteers identifying and presenting as men to be invited to partake, but less common for Volunteers identifying or presenting as women. In some communities it is uncommon for women to drink alcohol, and excess—for both men and women—is immediately judged.

Other important dates with a lot of social activity are festivities such as Día de la Madre, Día del Maestro, Independence Day, Día de Muertos, Navidad and all the traditions involved around these festivities such as posadas (to commemorateJoseph and Mary’s search for an inn in the Catholic faith) and kermés (outdoor fair).

Cities and some communities have cultural centers known as Casa de la Cultura or Casa Ejidal where workshops or classes are offered; these are ideal locations to ask about the different activities in a Volunteer’s community.

Sports teams and leagues are very common in Mexico. The most common sport is fútbol (soccer); in some communities there are teams for women only and others for men only.

Adhering to the culturally appropriate dress code norms is important for formal or special social events. It is always important to ask a community member what is appropriate beforehand.

Professionalism, dress, and behavior

Professionalism in the Peace Corps requires an awareness of the host community workplace culture, community values, and your self-presentation. To maintain a positive, culturally appropriate professional standing within a host community or workplace, Volunteers may need to adjust their style of dress, hair style, facial hair, make-up, piercings, manner of greeting others, etc. to demonstrate respect for local culture and customs. How you present yourself, in both informal and professional settings, reflects you as an individual and as a representative of Peace Corps and the United States. In the U.S., dress (and other elements of personal appearance) may be seen as an expression of personal freedom and identity. In many host countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve, the way you dress and present yourself may be interpreted as an expression of regard – or disregard – for those host community members around you.

Volunteers are encouraged to spend time in their communities, to develop their language skills, and to get to know the individual members of their community to better understand their traditions, culture, and local norms. As mutual trust is established over time, there may be opportunities for Volunteers to adjust their personal appearance and dress outside of the more rigid local standards. Volunteers are encouraged to discuss these potential adjustments with staff and other cultural mentors.

  • Dress: Mexican culture places great emphasis on physical appearance. Regarding dress and appearance, Volunteers should observe and respect the local norms at their place of work. Education Volunteers will need to adhere to business casual attire for work at universities. Environment Volunteers will need field clothes and should wear casual, but appropriate, attire for visits to protected areas; they will need business casual clothing for work in schools. Shorts, crop tops, and spaghetti straps are considered inappropriate for all work environments.
  • Hygiene: Personal hygiene is very important, especially when living with a host family that may expect that the Trainee/Volunteer bathe daily, keep their room tidy, and their clothes clean, etc.
  • Hairstyles: Cornrows, dreadlocks, or natural hair may attract unwanted attention in the community (like people wanting to touch the Trainee/Volunteer’s hair).
  • Facial Hair: Short, well-trimmed beards are considered acceptable.
  • Tattoos: Visible tattoos are not uncommon in Mexico, but they may draw unwanted attention or pose a challenge to a Volunteer’s integration process due to the negative associations/stereotypes that some people attach to tattoos.
  • Piercings: Visible body piercings (other than earrings and small nose rings for women) are not generally accepted in professional settings. Wearing some types of facial piercings may make it more difficult to integrate into your community.