Trip to Mexico a teaching, and learning, experience

June 17, 2005|by JANET HEIM

As the melodies of Mexican music fill the air in Eve McGrory's Northgate townhome, she is transported back to a place of fond memories. McGrory's memories of a recent trip to Mexico aren't of luxury hotels or of fancy travel packages.

Instead, her memories are of the people and the culture she was exposed to through her trip with Global Volunteers. McGrory, 67, spent two weeks volunteering in Dolores Hidalgo, an historic city known as the Cradle of Independence in Mexico.

It is where the revolution that overthrew the Spaniards began in 1810. It is in Mexico's central plateau near Guanajuato, a city known for gold and silver mining.


There was little time for sightseeing - McGrory's team had Sunday and Monday off - so many volunteers chose to stay on afterwards to travel.

McGrory traveled with her sister who is a psychiatric social worker in Long Island, N.Y., and 14 other American volunteers, including a pilot, an archaeologist, retired college professors and a grandmother and her grandson, who was a recent college graduate.

Many in the group keep in touch through e-mail and a reunion in Minneapolis is already planned.

Their team had a full schedule of teaching conversational English to students at a technical university in Dolores Hidalgo, as well as other schools.

While the students were taught English by university teachers, most of the teachers spoke English as a second language.

It provided a unique opportunity for the students to practice speaking English to volunteers whose first language was English, said McGrory. She doesn't speak Spanish, but learned some while volunteering.

"We were so well received," McGrory said. "The students couldn't believe we'd spend our own money and vacation time to do this."

An active volunteer in Hagerstown - with the Washington County Board of Elections, with St. Ann's Catholic Church, at Paramount Elementary and training as a volunteer at the newly opened Discovery Station - McGrory had never done global volunteering before, but said she made up her mind to do something for children.

"It was not just an opportunity to serve, but an opportunity to learn," McGrory said. "I'm retired from teaching, but not from learning."

McGrory took early retirement at age 59, after 22 years as a second-grade teacher at Old Forge Elementary. She had worked for the FBI for seven years before that.

She was married to Richard McGrory, a local attorney, for 40 years before his death five years ago. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Global Volunteers is a nonprofit organization based in Minnesota that offers short-term service opportunities in 19 countries. The organization has been around since the 1980s, with an underlying mission to spread peace and goodwill around the world, McGrory said.

Projects can range from construction to teaching English to childcare to medical assistance. McGrory advises those interested in travel with a service element to it to research the company well before traveling with them.

McGrory's trip was from Feb. 26 to March 12. She said the hardest adjustment was getting used to the elevation, because Dolores Hidalgo, a desert city of 40,000 in central Mexico, had an elevation 1 mile above sea level.

The volunteers had to walk uphill two miles each day to get to the university, which was an effort for McGrory even though she keeps in shape by walking, swimming and playing tennis.

She applauded the Mexican government's efforts to set up technical universities in poorer areas so young people can learn a trade. She said some of the students live in homes with no running water.

McGrory had traveled to Mexico several times before, but said the trip with Global Volunteers took her to exotic places she didn't even know existed. The volunteers pay their own travel expenses and stayed in modest hotels throughout the trip.

While this type of experience may not be for everyone, McGrory said she got back as much as she gave. She'd like to do a similar trip within the next two years.

"It's so important that we reach out to others," McGrory said. "It certainly broadens your perspective. There are wonderful people all over the world in extreme situations."

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