English for Vocations Needed Here

It was not enough just to relax in Zihua. I learned that among the tourist hotels and array of restaurants, an impoverished population serves as the social lubricant that keeps the tourist industry humming.

I learned that there is a disproportionately high population of unwed teen mothers in greater Zihua. Yes, reproductive education could be a solution However, despite the psycho-sociological reasons for this inclination to happen, the fact is there are babies born that need to be fed. Such a baby becomes a burden to raise for the unwed teen mother, the father, and the families that support all three involved!

Eventually, adding up the multiplying families, the number of babies will take a toll on the economic wellbeing of the community because these they will need to go to school. Overcrowding an already over-crowded educational system will force some adolescents to work. If they find work, great. But without having graduated high school (much less university), those who do not continue their education will likely have a baby themselves.

In a tourist location such as Zihuatanejo, English for vocations that see the most tourist may be helpful. The obvious one are hotels, spas, massage therapy places, and restaurants. Along with targeted English vocabulary and situational (experiential) learning, students can concurrently be trained in useful job-specific skills.


Weekend 11: Zihuatanejo, Guerrero

Finally made it to Zihuatanejo, mom! You would have loved it here; it is an amazing place to be.

This weekend is a culmination of Día de Muertos, when the nation of Mexico stops and honors their departed loved ones on Nov 1 and 2. Around the end of August I had already been planning to use my one week off from researching (allowed by Fulbright) to relax somewhere in Mexico. While living in Guatemala, my mother came to visit. She mentioned that she wanted to go to Zihua, but we never had the opportunity. So, what would be more appropriate than celebrating her life in a place where she wanted to go, and on the special day of commemoration of the dead?

The receptionist at the hotel was sympathetic to my wish to set up a small “ofrenda” or altar in my room. She brought candles and the orange flowers that symbolize the sun. I brought the special skull from Cuernavaca made by a local artist. I arranged everything (as seen in the upper left corner of the collage. I learned how special this holiday is for the Mexicans, so being in Mexico, I wanted to give the celebration a try. I felt more at peace with the passing of my mom, which for years since 2009 has not been easy to process.

Midway Through My D.A.T.

iSad! Today marks the midway point of my four (wonderful and glorious) months in Mexico as a D.A.T. (Distinguished Award in Teaching) grantee. I love Mexico and am already sad thinking that I will leave my friends and neighbors, exactly two months from now, to resume teaching my ELLs at St HOPE Leadership Academy in Harlem, New York. I would love to return to Mexico…for vacation, for teaching, for the food, for anything!

As a “2016 Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program Participant to Peru”, I was invited to submit a summary of my Fulbright experiences for the 2016 J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board Annual ReportThe 2016 edition highlights the year-long celebration of the Fulbright Program’s 70th anniversary, showcasing the Program’s achievements, evolution, capacity – and power of alumni networks – to advance innovation, cooperation, and more peaceful relations in our high-stakes world, looking forward as much as it looks back.

 This is my submission.

Key Events in 2016, Thanks to Fulbright Grants

by Frederic Bernal Lim, MSc-Edu

The following are the grants that I received from the William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in 2016:

    • Fulbright-Hays Semester Abroad Program (Peru, July-August)
    • Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program (Mexico, August-December)
    • Fulbright Professional Development Grant (to attend MEXTESOL, Monterrey, Mexico, Oct 2016)

These Fulbright grants to Peru and Mexico focus on the inclusion of indigenous history, culture and identity in the modern world. I have chosen to combine these two acknowledgements of excellence in teaching into one multi-national and multi-ethnic inquiry project. At this time, this project is currently in development.

The Inquiry Project

Purpose: to collect and share digital stories of significant individuals, planned and produced by and for K-12 students from communities around the world, starting with Peru and Mexico.  The significant people featured in short videos by the students become the “First Heroes” of their digital narratives.

Objective: to develop global competence in K-12 students as they interview elders to discover stories of their family and local communities. By producing and presenting their rendition of their favorite story digitally to a wider audience through the First Heroes Project, local and global peers gain international perspective and mutual understandings from each other.

This is the one-minute Call to  Action for teachers to join the First Heroes Project.


This is the website FirstHeroes.wordpress.com where stories can be accessed for instruction as well as posts about improving digital storytelling. (In construction)

Screen Shot 2016-10-28 at 11.47.16 PM.png

Teaching ENL in Harlem, NYC

I teach in a charter school of 300 students in New York City. About 30% of them require ENL (English as a New Language) support from 6th through 8th grade. Students receive free lunch.

My ELLs (English Language Learners) are from immigrant families from Latin America, the Caribbean, West Africa, and the Middle East. My Project-Based Learning and instruction combines literacy, social studies, science, math, art, and technology.

The Significant Stories from the First Heroes Project will give my ELLs a window into communities in Peru and Mexico as they exchange stories, too. I hope that over time ingrained cultural stereotypes will dissolve through this sharing.


Active Alumni Network

My Fulbright awards this year have allowed me to expand my professional network, which has made this project successful so far in its initial development.

I hope the project continues to grow in innovative ways to elicit cooperation among teachers and students internationally toward more peaceful relations among communities.


Fulbright-Hays Semester Abroad: Peru 

During our trip to Peru, we met Eduardo Castillo, director of the Colegio Marianistas, in Callao, near Lima, Peru.

As a former Fulbrighter, Eduardo would like to implement this project in his school. We are now planning a return visit to   their school in February 2017, so that I can train teachers in a digital storytelling workshop.

Co-teachers on the Peru grant also want to help me improve my project. We plan to meet in New York after I return from Mexico. I look forward to working with Fatima and Carmen on related projects, for example, using puppetry to teach ELLs nationwide!

Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching: Mexico

During my Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program, I have expanded my professional network of teachers via other grantees from the U.S. and Mexico.

I have already contacted some of them to further connect me with educators who want to contribute digital stories from their Fulbright host countries.

For For example, Tim Flannigan from Rhode Island is in Viet Nam now helping students write about their communities through a specific Vietnamese poetry style. Tim and I will link our sites to showcase our respective students’ work.


Locations of Participating Schools

6-8 grade schools in Mexico

    • Iztapalapa, Mexico City: Escuela Secundaria
    • Tlaxcala, Mexico: UNAM campus, students of Aging Studies taking ESL
    • Canicab, Yucatán: Escuela Secundaria
    • Maxcanú, Yucatán: Escuela Telesecundaria and Telebachillerato
    • San Cristóbal, Chiapas: Escuela Secundaria
    • Monterrey, Nuevo León: alumnos graduados de una secundaria 


MEXTESOL Conference 2016

I presented my Significant Stories project at the MEXTESOL Conference with the support of the Fulbright Professional Development Grant.

Teachers now have access to the First Heroes Project; it was included in the 2016 MEXTESOL Proceedings. At the conference I promoted my project to key individuals:

  • Teachers interested in implementing digital storytelling in their classrooms.
  • MOOC developers of online classes in ESL, which is a teaching platform that I would like to some day emulate with the First Heroes Project.
  • The education and cultural sections of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.


Sharing the Pedagogy

Teaching the World Forum, April 2017

Marry Curran, associate professor of professional practice and associate dean of local-global partnerships, Rutgers Graduate School of Education, New Jersey, spoke at the MEXTESOL on storytelling in the classroom.

  • She invited me to propose my First Heroes Project at the Sixth Annual Teaching the World Forum on the theme “Local-Global Service Learning” in New Brunswick, New Jersey in April 2017.

TexLER Research Conference, February 2017

Rebecca Tapia, researcher and professor at Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP), Faculty of Languages, Puebla, Mexico, invited me to:

  • Propose my First Heroes Project at the 18th Texas Language Education Research Conference on “Educating Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students: Research and Practice” at the University of Texas (San Antonio) in February 2017.
  • Be part of her team in BUAP, joining researchers from other universities to do a needs analysis at an indigenous school. I would be more than happy to join them through another Fulbright scholarship grant.

Thank you, Fulbright, for making it possible for me to bring global exchange to many classrooms.

Frederic Bernal Lim

MEXTESOL Conference 2016

What an amazing week I am spending at the MEXTESOL Conference 2016 in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México! The Mexico chapter of the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages hosted this event and selected my presentation to showcase my Fulbright inquiry project on “Significant Stories” from communities in Mexico through the eyes of students in middle and high school.

I have already met several teachers (some of whom present their projects here) who are interested in implementing my “significant stories” project in their classrooms. They agree that teaching writing and speaking are difficult, but with my storytelling project the students can showcase their community and talk about themselves. Their finished videos will appear on this site as cultural “windows” to their worlds. I can’t wait to implement this project with my ELLs in Harlem, New York.


I had a chance to network with the people running academic and scholarly programs in Mexico at the U.S. Embassy-sponsored event and other venues. I also like the great museums here full of interesting historical displays and installations. The sections of the museum of history, for example, had a better treatment of the story of indigenous people compared to other museums I have visited so far.

This town seems far from Mexico City, but I learned that it has been a vital trade point between the United States and Mexico. Specifically, the rail routes crisscross vertically between the agricultural pains of the midwest and the industrial sectors of northern Mexico. The tracks were laid in the 1800’s (or so) when foreign invest in Mexico was high. The ports of Tampico and Veracruz were conduits for loads of products for Europe toward the east and Mexicans toward the south.

Opening Ceremonies & Networking!

The conference started today with as much fanfare as was possible to have in a huge conference room. There were about 2000 people attending! A marching band started off the inauguration of the event. They played the national anthem which was sung by a man at the podium. Behind him was a string of the dignitaries of English Teaching in Mexico–and beyond; I didn’t catch all of the people who were introduced.


It was at the opening ceremonies where I met Mary Curran, Associate Professor of Professional Practice and Associate Dean of Local-Global Partnerships at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, New Jersey. She also spoke on digital storytelling! She mentioned that I connect with Professor Ruth Ban who spoke on digital storytelling, too. I attended both of their talks and was glad to know that this form of teaching is getting serious validation.

Art Abounds in Monterrey

Besides being an important town for industries, Monterrey has three excellent museums. I had a chance to walk through Mexican history once more at the Museo de Historia Méxicana. It was yet another amazing museum curated by, I presume, the department of culture. I was not disappointed.

Of course, I wanted to know how this city in the north portrayed the indigenous peoples. My expectations were albeit, low before arriving just because more indigenous people populated the southern part of Mexico. I was wrong in presuming this! The displays about the indigenous people were balanced, not unilateral. The storyline was succinct yet many artifacts were set in modern casements. I liked the “Olmeca Babies”! See them in the collage on this post, top right corner.

In the center of the Macroplaza is a fountain that hints of those in Versailles, one in particular where the Neptune god is carried out of the waters on a chariot pulled by stallions. The fountain in Monterrey might be of Poseidon being pulled across the waters by wild horses. He holds his trident high. It can all bee seen from the floor of my hotel room.


Travel Outside of Mexico City

Take a plane for distances farther than 4 hours by bus. This is just my opinion, but even though it’s more expensive by plane, you get more time at your destination albeit a few hours. But that’s enough time to take in a museum!

Aeromexico and Airports

Buy your tickets online on the Aeromexico site. Use the old site because the new site has a bug which will crash at the end, after you find a great price and want to pay! Once you buy your ticket and get a reservation number, you might be prompted to call the Aeromexico office anyway if you pay with a credit card with a U.S.A. billing address. Even with an Amex Platinum card, I have to call the office. Pay with Mexican pesos, otherwise you will be charged US$15 fee paying in US$. If your credit card does not charge a foreign exchange fee, then pay in Mexican pesos.

The flights I plan to take within Mexico will depart from Terminal 2 (domestic flights).  It is very helpful to have access to the Premier Clubs managed by Aeromexico. American Express Platinum is a very convenient card to have if you fly frequently. Wi-fi, snacks and drinks, as well as more comfortable seats and cleaner restrooms. The program through AmEx Platinum is Priority Pass. As more people get a club pass, the less “elite” the access becomes so lounges can become crowded.

Returning to the United States, it has been very helpful to have Global Entry to avoid the often long lines at immigration. The US$100 fee is waived with the AmEx Platinum card.

Bus Travel

Make your reservations online. Choose from the various companies that travel to your destination. Make sure you have access to your ticket barcode on your mobile device to get on the bus and/or access the waiting lounge. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait with the rest of the passengers.

I used the bus terminal at Taxqueña to travel to Cuernavaca. It was a far better trip than I expected. Don’t be put off as I was when you get there via metro and see the parked busses and tarp-covered market stalls. Just follow the one or two signs to the Terminal. You’ll be as surprised as I was to see the ample , new building with ticket counters of different bus companies.

I have taken the tourist buses (Pullman type) to and from CDMX to Cuernavaca, Puebla, and Tlacala with different degrees of comfort as far as bus travel goes.

Car Travel

I haven’t driven myself; only as a passenger with a friend. I don’t recommend driving, but that’s just my opinion. As a driver or a co-driver, the app Waze is really good!

Travel Apps

Air travel


On the Fly



Uber and Taxi’s. (Link to a post about how I feel about Uber)



Destination Description


Credit Card

American Express Platinum + Priority Pass + Global Entry

Note: Visa credit cards are more accepted than AmEx. MasterCard is in between.

Onboard Entertainment

LAN Entertainment works on LAN flights (e.g. to Lima, Peru)

Gogo Entertainment is useless on Aeromexico flight.




Gearing up for the MEXTESOL is like living in a pressure cooker. I have all the materials I need to present, but the time! Where is the Time! Anyway, in a few days I’ll be in Monterrey. I’m looking forward to presenting my learning from my colleagues in English Language Learning at the convention, but also I “need” to explore the two museums of fame in the historic center. I want to know how these museums present the indigenous cultures in Mexico. Since Monterrey is in the north, they might have a different take compared to museums in and around Mexico City. We will soon find out!

Project, Day 6: Reflection

What a fun day today! The students have been working on their Significant Stories for over 2 weeks now. This was the “first run” of this unit plan with its own set of circumstances inherent to Mexico. The blessing I had was to find this Escuela Secundaria Tecnica with an able technical department. Vivi and Lupita have been supportive and helpful. The major unanticipated hurdle was the lack of sufficient wifi bandwidth in the homes of the students.

The technology and intra-communicability among our small working group was stymied by the variable types of internet service that these students have at home. All of the students said that they had a slideshow program on their computers, like Keynote or PowerPoint. Some had serious difficulty in figuring out how to make a smooth presentation with embedded video clips and narration! This is the reason why some of them had to work with Vivi and Lupita at school to finish their stories digitally. I will definitely need to create a How-To guide for this project.


For the brevity of time that had to work on this project, I am satisfied that the students got valuable information about their families. We had a 20 minute reflection exercise to tease out their outcomes.

Students Love

  • I loved that I meet my sister and the family of my dad who died in 2012.
  • I loved that I meet my aunts and uncles.” And found out that I had about 20 cousins!
  • I loved the time spent with Mr. Lim and my classmates. The stories of my mom were very funny and interesting; I learned much of her life, her childhood and her parents. It was so wonderfull.
  • I loved the way of teaching of Mr. Lim. I learned some words I don’t know.

Students Hate

  • I didn’t like that we have short time to do the project and that Mr. Lim will stay a short time in Mexico.
  • I didn’t like the homework of having to make the video because is very hard for me, even though Lupita and Vivi can help us.
  • I hope we have more time for realize this…
  • I didn’t like that my sister works a lot and I don’t have oportunity to question her.

Students Change Suggestions

  • I would change the form that we edit videos to be funnier [so that] students will pay attention to them.
  • That Mr. Lim shows us projects of other people, so we can [see] how we do the project.
  • I would increase the time with Mr. Lim because I wish I can learn more from him.
  • I would change the time that Mr. Lim stays in Mexico for more time…because I think he is a very good teacher.

Day 5: Collecting

It’s already been a couple weeks that the students have been working on their individual stories. I’m so looking forward to seeing them and to share their point of view of their communities, from interviewing someone they admire.

Today we focused on the technical aspects of collecting the recordings and photos of artifacts, editing, and uploading a YouTube or Vimeo video. I asked the help of Vivi and Lupita at the school’s media center to help. They are so helpful!