CJ School Chronicles Rewind… Lessons learned from his first year of school in Mexico

Wow, well, for those of you waiting on an update from “Week One” of his first year, I apologize this is coming to you 3 years later! Turns out living in Paradise is not as laid back, slow, and simple as you would imagine and we are usually running non-stop to get things done and accomplished around here. I guess we are like every other busy household in the United States, just we aren’t in the United States.

But for those of you who were following, or just stared following (which, by the way, if you have kids and are thinking of moving to Mexico and want a realistic view of the hoops you’ll have to jump through and how to match expectations to the reality, make sure to go back and read all of the CJ School Chronicles and I promise to keep them more up to date going forward!), then he did great his first week. Actually he did great the entire year, but we did have quite the year of adjustments!

A few things we, as parents, learned his first year:

  1. That even smart kids, like Banner and Honor Roll, advanced learner kids, will struggle to maintain their good grades when you’ve uprooted them and put them into a new, foreign environment. We used to be those parents that knew what he was capable of, so when anything lower than a “B” came across in his schoolwork, there was a price to pay. Um, not so much anymore. First huge lesson was we had to lower our expectations. Oh, not our expectations of CJ, just our expectations on what a “good grade” was for a 7th grader who was now being taught in Spanish, being taught classes he’d never been exposed to before, and surrounded by people from a different culture. Our expectations became more effort based versus grade based. We expected him to give 110% effort, show up, do his work, try his best. But… if that was not enough to get a “good grade”, we accepted the grade he received as “good”. This meant his actual grades dropped, but it also meant that our “A & B” student was now a “C & sometimes D” student, and that was OK as long as he tried his best and was truly not capable of doing it. Because it wasn’t his intelligence that the grade was reflecting, it was his capacity to produce a result that matched the new school system.
  2. That even when you think you are prepared for a 30 minute drive to school, you really aren’t prepared. 30 minutes there, then you have to come back, only to turn around and go again in the afternoon. Thank goodness we ended up at the school in Puerto Adventuras and not Playa del Carmen, which would have been an hour to get there! AND that is if there is no line of cars waiting to get past the security check at the gate to the community. So easily two hours out of my day. And yes, I know people in the states have long commutes and may even laugh at this, but we were used to school being 5 minutes down the road, so a huge adjustment for us, and one we quickly started looking for alternatives for. Turns out that almost anything you want done in Mexico, you can pay someone to provide that service for you. So after asking around, we found some children that lived in Tulum that attended his school and their parents had found a transportation company to bring them to school. Since Akumal is halfway between Tulum and Puerto Adventuras, it was easy for the transportation company to add a “bus stop” to pick him up in the morning and drop him off. Thank goodness! To get two hours back into my day, it was well worth it!
  3. That even when you have money to pay the bills, actually paying them requires quite a bit of effort. First, we have to pay the school. And to pay the school, you have to hand deliver it to the office between 9am and 2pm. Too late to just drop him off at school and pay, and too early in the afternoon to pay when picking him up. So this added another trip to the school into my monthly schedule. Oh, and don’t forget – like I did several times – that you have to have the actual “payment card” where they keep track of all the payments, or you can’t pay. After I forgot it a few times, I learned to keep it in the glove compartment of the Jeep! But the good news, you can use a credit card! And no, we weren’t charging his school on a credit card, but using it for the ease of payment. If not, that is two trips to the ATM on different days (because there is a max limit on what you can take out at a time), pray they have money in the machine (which 50% of the time they do not and you have to find another machine – and these machines, well, the trustworthy kind, can be 20-45 minutes away), and take out pesos to pay. So, using a credit card was a relief when it came to paying the school. BUT, then you have to pay transportation. And they do not take credit cards. And even more, you can’t just hand them cash. So a pretty common way of paying people in Mexico, or at least in Quintana Roo, is to bring cash to the OXXO (the convenient store), along with a photo of the person you want to pay’s debit card, and deposit your money on their card. Very strange for us at first because it is not something people do (at least that we are aware of) in the states. At least it was just one trip to the ATM, then a trip to the OXXO, and then a photo of the deposit to the transportation company. And then done until the next month!

And I think that is enough to process for one day! But his smiles? Oh, well worth it!

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