When we decided to move to Mexico – five years ahead of our time frame – we knew that finding a great school for CJ would be a necessity in order to make our move a reality. So, like most people living in one country but needing to find something in another country, we turned to the internet for research.
Oddly enough, that was a much tougher task than I expected! Some of the barriers I kept running up against were:
- Terminology Barrier – While I was used to calling 7th grade “Middle School”, I’d soon find that not to be the case when searching for a school in the Riviera Maya. More often than not, your looking for the term “Secundaria” meaning “Second School”. You still find the terms Elementary School/Middle School, along with High School/High School (yes, twice.. just gotta click on the name to figure our which High School is Middle School and which High School is High School.. confusing, I told you) along with Primaria/Secundaria. And schools with titles of Colegio, Academy, and International.
- Technology Barrier – In the US, everyone has a website. Everyone keeps their website tediously up to date and we’ve become conditioned to go to your favorite Search Engine and look for whatever it is you want to know. But… don’t expect that to be the case with the schools in the Riviera Maya. I chased down so many websites, trying to read past the terms I didn’t know, understand a school system I didn’t know anything about, and to find a working “Contact Us” form!
- Communication Barrier – I’m just going to say it. Learn Spanish. Really. Even if you think you know “some” Spanish, and the person you are talking to knows “some” English. It’s a very frustrating, stressful process when you are handling something as important as your child’s future, but you can’t ask the right questions and you can’t understand the right answers. Nothing stresses me out quicker than to not be able to take care of my kids.
- Lack of Information, in General – Unfortunately, there just isn’t that much information available online, and when you are researching from a country away, it can be aggravating to not be able to find what you are looking for. Even more aggravating once you get to Mexico and see that there are way more schools “in person” than you ever saw online!
Eventually, after hours and hours of researching, and many E-mails and Facebook messages, we identified four schools that we felt confident would provide CJ with a quality education experience and a comfortable multi-culture atmosphere (i.e. speaks English, has a flexible attendance policy, isn’t an hour away from where we will be living, and has an acceptable curriculum that I could place in his HomeSchool Portfolio).
At this point we congratulated ourselves on a research job well done and decided to start packing our bags – we were going to do it, move 5 years ahead of our plan!
On our next trip to Mexico we planned to visit each of these four schools so we could pick one for CJ to attend. Well, turns out we only needed to visit two. The second school we walked into, we knew it was “the one”.
We walked into a lush green environment under a canopy of trees, natural pathways led to outdoor classrooms, birds were singing, children were laughing, and parents, after dropping their children off, were having breakfast at the bistro or participating in yoga class. Talk about a first impression. Coming from a public school background in the States, this felt like we had walked out of the “real world” and were on a Disney movie set!
We sat down to meet with the Principle and imagine our surprise when we found out he was from Louisiana – just a couple hours away from our home town! Talk about fate. Someone that would understand CJ’s culture, background, and mannerisms because his were the same!
The school’s focus was on creativity, technology, and the environment. A place where academics were studied, but real world experience trumped books and students were encouraged to engaged in their community.
And to top it off, they had a flexible attendance policy – something that was super important to us since both of us were going to still be working and having to travel to the States often.
Like I said, we didn’t even visit the other two schools, this was “the one” (although, turns out it wasn’t, but more on that later, keep reading CJ School Chronicles to find out more).
- Spend a little time learning the terminology of what you are searching for. It will make digging through dozens of school websites way more productive.
- Realize that the school websites on the internet are not the most reliable way to get information on Riviera Maya schools. Most sites are out of date – or missing. Most advertise all ages, but only after sending emails and waiting weeks for responses do you find out that they only serve up to 6th grade.
- Facebook actually has the most up to date information for most of these private schools. Facebook is big here. Find the school you want to research and check out their photos, their posts, and send them a message in Messenger. You’re likely to get a response much quicker.
- Speaking of Facebook, join all the Expat group pages around the area you want to move to (or have moved to). Ask them about schools in the area (you know, the ones that aren’t anywhere online) and ask for recommendations for schools you are looking at.
- Everyone – including schools – move at their own pace in Mexico. Don’t expect to send emails for information and have answers right away. Know this. Plan for it. Start searching earlier.
- Narrow your search to a few schools and then go see them in person. Don’t skip the schools on your list even if you fall in love with the first (or second) one!
- Don’t forget to ask about things like:
- Attendance policy (especially if you have to travel back and forth between the states)
- Curriculum (make sure it is going to line up with US schools standards if your child plans to go to college in the US)
- Meals (does the school have a cafeteria or do you have to wake up at 5:30am each morning and pack a lunch)
- Uniforms (are you going to have to search for some demanding dress code at the same time you are just learning where the stores are at)
- Books and Supplies (are they provided, or do you have to go somewhere to find them)
- And last but definitely not least, if you are not fluent in Spanish (yet!), make sure to ask your new bilingual school if all of their parent information packets, supply lists, rules, and correspondence is provided in English!
If you are thinking of making the move to Mexico and you have children, do yourself a favor and don’t rush this process. Take it slow and spend some time in the schools you are thinking of. Ask for a “trial period” for your child to see if it’s a good fit. It’s a big investment – not just financially, but it’s your child’s future!
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Good luck and Happy researching!