As a gringo who’s always wanted to learn Spanish and know the Mexican culture, living in Tijuana has changed my life. But my decision to move south of the border didn’t just happen overnight. It was more of a gentle acclimation, initially as a San Diegan tourist. Living in San Diego provides us that unique opportunity. There’s all sorts of social groups meeting on both sides of the borders that can help you begin dipping your toes into the immersion pool.
Turista Libre – If you’re in the mood for a TJ fun day with a bunch of other gringos visiting renowned taco stands, breweries, swapmeets, or attending a professional baseball game, water park, or authentic Mexican wrestling match, this tour group is for
you. Transportation to-and-from the border and festive party favorites aboard their bus are included with the cost of each event. The group initially meets on the USA side at the San Ysidro trolley station, making it easy for any nervous, first-time border crosser. http://www.turistalibre.com/
Tijuana Walking Tour – Just what it sounds like; informative walking tours of Tijuana hot spots and history. They’ve got various private/group touring options. Their six-hour Brews, Chews & Views tour, at just $20 USD, is a steal. And just like Turista Libre, Tijuana Walking Tour initially meets on the USA side of the border for easier crossing. http://www.tijuanawalkingtour.com
Baja Culturistas Meetup – This Meetup.com group visits all sorts of great spots in
Tijuana, Baja and beyond. If you want to meet other San Diegans soaking in the Mexican culture and getting out there to visit it all, these are your people. Trips vary from a few hours, to day-long, weekend and longer. http://www.meetup.com/Baja-Culturistas/
Paseo de Todos – As a cyclists, this group helped me the most to feel comfortable with initially getting to know Tijuana. Meeting every first Friday at 6pm at Mission Brewery in Downtown San Diego, the group rides two hours south, crosses into Tijuana and meets at the Avenida Revolución Archway at 8pm with the rest of our Mexican counterparts. If you’ve ever ridden Critical Mass here in San Diego, it’s basically that, but in Tijuana, and a little less chaotic. Paseo de Todos translates as “the Ride for Everyone” and the slower pace reflects it. You’ll ride two hours around the city seeing major parts. It’s an incredible way to spent a Friday night, even though your glutes will despise you on Saturday. http://www.facebook.com/groups/paseoDeTodosTijuana/
Los Cruzadores – Another great San Diego-to-Tijuana bicycle ride that meets a few times per year. Similar to Paseo de Todos, but this one happens during the daytime, typically on a Saturday. http://www.loscruzadores.org
Spanish Language & Cultures Meetup – This Meetup group really helped me out while still living in San Diego with practicing my Spanish. Great way to practice with other gringos who want to learn too. They get together around San Diego at restaurants, coffee shops and events. www.meetup.com/Spanish-Language-Cultures/
Tijuana Immersion Living – Remember, we’re here to help too! Just sign up for our email list
Educational / Language Sources
Learning Spanish and getting to know the fronteriza culture of Tijuana doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time, sweat, focus and lots of leaving ones’ own comfort zone. But hey, that’s part of what makes living in a foreign country an unforgettable adventure. Thankfully, there’s lots of resources available to help you out.
Tijuana 22000 – This book helped me so much with not only learning Spanish (each page
is written in both English and Spanish), but gaining insider knowledge on all that makes Tijuana a great city. A must read for anyone thinking of moving here.
Tijuana Tour Guide – Your typical city tour guide about all the touristy spots. Written, as well, in both English and Spanish. Get a free copy at one of the comite de turismo y convenciones de tijuana locations
Coffeebreak Espanol – The podcast that started it all for me. Primarily in english, this podcast is a great beginners’ resource for learning Spanish. Greatest part; the European host speaks in a thick Scottish accent.
News in Slow Spanish Latino – Just what it sounds like, you’ll hear news from the latin world spoken in a pace of Spanish slow enough for intermediate learners to understand.
English/Spanish Dictionary App & Google Translate – essentials for learning Spanish. Start off with the free verse of this app then graduate to the $10 premium version once
getting serious about gaining fluency. One downside; it’s English/Spanish-based (as in European), as opposed to what would be a more appropriate, in our case, USA/Mexico-based. It still crosses well though with most Mexican words and phrases.
Youtube videos Subtitulados – simply search for many of your favorite songs/videos by adding “subtitulado” at the end of the title and you’ll often find versions with added Spanish translation. Great for reading comprehension.
Let’s say, after all this, you’re strongly thinking of making the move to Tijuana. What next?…
If you already don’t have it, get your SENTRI pass. What’s SENTRI? Next to crossing the border by motorcycle, this is the quickest way. It costs $150 to process the application and, once approved, will last five years before needing to renew. This is the quickest way to drive across the border. I have a friend who crosses the San Ysidro border five mornings per week at around 8:30am for work in City Heights, San Diego. He tells me his average wait time is 10 minutes. If you know you’re going to drive across the border frequently, apply for this pass today. From time of filling, I waited two months for my interview. Once passing my interview, I waited another two months to receive my SENTRI card in the mail.