Category Archives: Education

Surviving Voluntary Exile: Overcoming Common Obstacles to Making a Successful Life Transition Online Course

If you’ve followed my blog for a time, you’ll likely already know that I have made it my mission to provide practical information and support to those, especially women, who have moved to Mexico, particularly rural Mexico.

I love my life in rural Mexico. However, that has not always been true. When I first arrived, the lack of basic services like water, sewage and electricity caused my daily activities to be physically (not to mention mentally) exhausting. I was often depressed. It took me years to find my happy space. Looking back, I can pinpoint several life-changing moments that propelled me to create the life I have now. This process is what I want to share with others who are struggling with life in Mexico.

To that end, I’ve created an online course via CourseCraft that I hope will provide support and guidance for those that most need it. This course is entitled: Surviving Voluntary Exile: Overcoming Common Obstacles to Making a Successful Life Transition and is designed to not only identify common reasons why you might not be living to the fullest in your new country but also what you can do to reduce, if not eliminate these obstacles to happiness.

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Since I know that finances are a concern for many who have moved to Mexico, (the pesos is extremely low right now) I have priced this course at $9.99 USD during the month of January making it the perfect time for you to enroll. I know, I know! I’ll never make any money that way! That’s ok. It will all work out somehow!

So if you are having a hard time adjusting to life in Mexico, or know someone who is, check out  Surviving Voluntary Exile: Overcoming Common Obstacles to Making a Successful Life Transition.

Why not make 2019 your best year in Mexico yet?

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Here’s what participants are saying:

So much of the information out there on moving to another country is either focused on those moving for work or for retirement and only focuses on nitty-gritty details. What about if you are moving for another reason, or if you have the life details ironed out but want to prepare for the emotional rollercoaster that is sure to follow? This course is different; it is really about the internal changes we experience and how we help ourselves not be overwhelmed by our feelings. I found it very helpful in conceptualizing how we can change our reactions to events and therefore increase our happiness. Not only that, but many of the techniques or info can be applied to other areas of our lives!

— Florence P.

I really enjoyed the Surviving Voluntary Exile course. I really feel that it has excellent information for anyone overcoming obstacles in their life ( aren’t we all?!). The course designer has used her experience to make the path for other women to be easier and to have some idea of the challenges they will be facing. She approaches the lessons with positivity and humor. She really has an excellent perspective on this topic. It leaves you feeling like you can overcome the obstacles that lie ahead, and her positive attitude becomes contagious. There are assignments each week that are uplifting and not burdening. It’s information that you can come back to again and again to help you be successful.

— Erica D.

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The cost of schooling in Mexico

It goes without saying that private schools are more expensive than public schools in Mexico. However, that doesn’t mean that public education is free.

Enrolling

Private schools require a downpayment called inscripción ( enrollment) at the beginning of the school year. It’s usually the equivalent of a month’s school fee. This holds your child’s place at the school. Should you decide not to have your child attend, you won’t get the inscripción fee returned.

Public schools require un cooperación voluntaria (voluntary donation) which can be as much as $500 pesos. Don’t be mislead by the name. It is not voluntary. You will not be able to enroll your child if you don’t have the bank statement showing you made the donation.

School fees

Private schools require a colegiatura (school fee) every month for 12 months. At schools that charge only 10 or 11 months of fees, the initial enrollment fee is doubled. The school sets this fee and the upper limit can be quite high. Schools in our area typically charge upwards of $2,000 per month. Schools in urban areas can have a colegiatura of more than $4,000 pesos.  

If you have more than one child enrolled in the same school, the school may give a discount to the second child. If you are a teacher at the school, you may also receive a discount. Each school is required to provide a certain number of becas (scholarships). It pays to inquire about those as well.

Public schools do not require a monthly payment. However, there may be additional fees for talleres (workshops) or elective courses. Public schools also give out becas. Our son had a becas of $400 pesos each semester for two years. It really helped out!

Uniforms

Both private and public schools require the purchase of at least 2 different uniforms. The uniforme diario consists of slacks, shirt, vest or sweater with school insignia for boys and a skirt or jumper, blouse, and sweater or vest with school insignia for girls. Both boys and girls must have appropriate dress shoes. Girls must wear medias (long socks) rather than mallas (stockings) unless there is extremely cold weather. The uniforme deportivo is the same for boys and girls, sweatpants, polo shirt and jacket with school insignia. These are only to be worn on days when the class is scheduled for P.E.

Uniforms can be pricey. Unless you plan on washing every evening, you’ll need to buy at least 2 complete uniforms at the beginning of the school year. Private schools often have the uniforms available for purchase at the school itself. Public school uniforms are bought where school uniforms are sold. You’ll be told at enrollment where to go to purchase them.

School uniform inspection is a daily event in some schools. Wearing a dirty or improper uniform may result in your child not being admitted to the school or sent home early. Make sure to bordar (embroider) your child’s name on the uniform or at the very least write his or her name on the tag. Sweaters and jackets are often lost and reclaimed by new owners without this identifying mark. There are places that offer embroidery service. Look for signs that say “se bordan nombres.”

Books

While both private and public schools are required to follow the SEP mandated curriculum, private schools add more books to the roster. It’s rare that the public schools use any books other than the free national textbooks, although not unheard of. In that case, there is a fee for any extra books. Private schools can have book lists of more than $3000 pesos. The English book set that I used as a teacher at the last private school I worked at cost $800 for a student book, workbook, and supplemental book.

Books must be paid for at the beginning of the school year. They are usually available at the school, however occasionally the school didn’t receive all the books and you’ll need to hunt them down at the libraría. With the other school fees, sometimes parents wait to purchase the books. However, the teacher typically starts using the textbooks on the second day of classes and the child without a book will quickly fall behind.

All books are paperback and must be covered in clear plastic contact paper. This process is called forrar and let me tell you, it’s anything but fun. Make sure to write your child’s name on the front cover of the book before you forrar. There are enterprising ladies who offer this service during the months of August and September. Look for signs that say “se forran libros.” Otherwise, you might want to watch this video a few times before tackling the task.

School supplies

Public preschool list

When you enroll your child, ask for the lista de útiles escolares (school supply list). This is the list of notebooks, required number of pencils, and additional material your child will need for class. It will also include things like a document folder, a ream of copy paper, whiteboard markers or chalk, manila folders, pens and other items that are for the teacher. Each school will have a different list of required items. Private schools require more items than public schools. Make sure all notebooks, dictionaries, and pencils have your child’s name on them although that still doesn’t prevent loss or theft entirely.

Public elementary school list

Notebooks are specifically described, so make sure you get both the right type and color. There’s a lot to choose from and it can be overwhelming.

Head to the papelería with your list. It’s easiest to just hand the whole list to the person behind the counter and buy everything at the same place. Many papelerías offer discounts if you get everything from their store.

The papelería will become your home away from home during the school year. Homework assignments will require all sorts of printed worksheets, maps, poster board, paint, styrofoam balls and more. When in doubt of exactly what your child needs, just ask the person working there.

Lunches

Not too long ago, SEP mandated that parents would no longer be permitted to drop off lunch for their children at the lunchtime. That hasn’t entirely prevented mothers and grandmothers from lurking at the gate and tossing a bagged lunch over the wall to their little ones.

Otherwise, you can send a packed lunch with your child in the morning or give them money to buy food available for sale. Most lunches cost about $20 or so. Keep in mind that there is ALWAYS a huge line. Lunch and recess together are no longer than 30 minutes. So if your child is waiting in line 10 minutes, then eating for another 10, he or she may only have 10 minutes for recreational activities.

Events

School events can be expensive. Schools almost always have events to commemorate Independence Day, Day of the Dead, Revolution Day, Christmas, Children’s Day, Mother’s Day, Teacher’s Day, and Father’s Day. The cost associated with these events varies from school to school with public schools requesting fewer donaciones (donations) than private schools. Depending on the event, you may be required to buy a special outfit for your darling child to perform at school or march in a parade, donate food items for a school-wide kermes (fundraiser) or alter, or participate/attend certain events yourself.

Field trips are rare at public schools but expect at least one trip during the school year with private schools. Transportation, food, lodging, entrance fees, and souvenirs are things you should be prepared to pay for.

Cleaning

Public schools have a required cleaning fund and cleaning rotation. You or your child will be expected to stay after school for a week every few months (depending on the number of students) and clean the classroom, public areas, and bathrooms. This is called aseo (cleaning). Yep. At the beginning of the year, the materials list will include a certain number of rolls of toilet paper and a quantity of cleaning supplies. Private schools typically hire a cleaning person for this function, although they may still require toilet paper or tissue donations.

Graduation

Every level of education has a graduation ceremony which requires a special outfit, certain fees and a mandatory event with optional misa (mass). Fortunately, here you can parcel the expenses out to a variety of madrinas/padrinos (godparents). Just keep in mind that if you are asked to be a madrina/padrino of a graduation, you’ll be expected to pay for a section of these expenses.

And that’s what to expect when your child attends school in Mexico.

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Schooling in Mexico

The educational system in Mexico has changed drastically in the 11 years I have lived in Mexico. Our son attended kinder (kindergarten), primaria (elementary) and secundaria (middle school). I have taught at the kinder (kindergarten) and primaria (elementary) levels here in Mexico. So I’ve been able to experience the system both as a parent and as a teacher.

A guardería is a daycare provider.

First, let’s talk about the guardería. This is NOT a school but rather a daycare. Children are eligible to attend starting at 45 days old and ending at 4 years of age. Literally, the day after a child is 4, he or she will no longer be permitted to attend. This has caught some parents unaware and lead to mad scrambling to find a kinder (preschool) that has space for their 4-year-old son or daughter. Although children can enter kinder at age 2, many parents prefer the guardería because of the extended hours.

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An estancia infantil is a government-sponsored daycare facility.

There are also estancias infantiles, which are government supported guarderías designed to provide childcare for single mothers who are working or studying. Children can attend once they are one year old until one day prior to their 4th birthday. If the child has special needs or is disabled, he or she can continue to attend until one day prior to his or her 6th birthday.

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A jardín de niños is for preschool and kindergarten aged students. 

Moving on to preschool. What is known as el jardín de niños (Garden of children) in Mexico is both pre-school and kindergarten. Some schools even offer guardería levels. Children between 45 days old and 2 years are considered lactantes (milk drinkers). Those between two and three years old are categorized as maternales (mothering). And beginning from age 3 years to 6 years the children are divided into three groups: primero (first grade), followed by segundo (second grade) and tercero (third grade).

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A private school offers both kindergarten and elementary levels.

The age placement has been a little troublesome to me because all children born in the year, whether on January 1 or December 31 were grouped together. This means that some children were a full year younger than their classmates. This age lumping continues through elementary, which seriously impacts the overall success rate of children born later in the year. Recently, some efforts have been made to close that developmental gap. Beginning in 2018, children entering primero must be 4 years old prior to August 1.

Third graders, mostly 5-6 years old, are taught to read and write. This may seem a little young for English speakers who typically learn to read at about age 7, however, Spanish is more of a syllabic language rather than whole word language and therefore easier to learn phonetically.

Although 3 years of kinder attendance is mandatory it seems only attending tercero (third grade) is strictly enforced in Mexico. From what I’ve seen, a child’s kinder attendance eases the transition to primaria (elementary school). After all, a kinder trained child already knows to line up, sit in a chair, work on classwork, listen to the teacher, ask to use the bathroom, do homework and so on. Most parents in our area try to send their children to a private kinder rather than one run by the government, mostly because of classroom size. Although by law, there can only be a maximum of 20 students per classroom, if there is a teacher’s aide, that number can be increased by 10. In reality, this number is often even larger.

Kinders tend to have more parent involvement than the other levels. There are usually parent/child events scheduled each month centered around the holidays. The school year runs parallel to the primaria school year which is currently 200 days.  Most kinders have a school day that runs from 9 am to 1:30 pm.

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Primaria is elementary.

Entering primero (first grade) at the primaria (elementary) level most students know how the basics of reading and writing in Spanish. Again, there is the issue of younger students who are just not at the same level as older classmates and fall behind although as of 2018, students entering first grade must have already turned 6 before August 15

Both public and private schools follow a SEP mandated curriculum. Private schools are considered better because of the smaller classroom size. However, having taught at a private school, I can tell you there is a trade-off. Although most of my classes had less than 20 students, about 3/4 of them had some sort of behavior or learning issue. Whereas my son’s classes at the public elementary school had anywhere between 30-40 students with 3 or 4 students having behavioral or learning issues.

Grades at all levels, with the exception of kinder which uses satisfactory/unsatisfactory,  follow the same protocol: 80% attendance is mandatory for grade completion. Students are evaluated on a scale of 10 with 6 being the lowest passing grade. At the primaria level, students can not be held back unless both teacher and parent get a waiver approved from SEP (board of education) so the lowest possible grade for an elementary student is 6.0 regardless of actual understanding of a subject.

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Notice the two names, one above the door and one in front of the door. Two schools share this building.

Attending primaria is mandatory until age 14. School times vary. In many areas, there are matutino (morning) and vespertino (afternoon/evening) schools using the same building. The hours for the matutino run from 8 am to 12:30 and for the vespertina 2 pm to 6:30 pm. Everyone wants the morning classes it seems, although there is no reason to think students learn any better in the morning. Besides, the teachers are usually also working two shifts at different schools, so even the teachers are the same.

There is also what is known as Primaria de Tiempo Completo (full-time elementary). The school day begins at 8 am and may either finish at 2:30 or 4 pm. The extended hours are meant to provide other extra classes that the regular school day does not leave time for, like English or computer classes.

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Secundaria is middle school.

The next level is secundaria (middle school) which is 3 years. Students may be as young as 11 when they begin but the typical age grouping is as follows: Primer año de secundaria: 12 años, Segundo año de secundaria: 13 años, Tercer año de secundaria: 14 años. Remember, schooling is only mandatory up until 14 years of age in Mexico, so there is a large drop-out rate at this level. There are also matutino (7:00 am to 1:40) and vespertino (2:00 to 8:10 pm) sessions at this level since many schools share the buildings.

Classes include algebra, Spanish, English, history, and Formación Cívica y Ética (Mexican moral values) just like in elementary school. There are art, music and P.E. classes as well. The best addition to the curriculum was the elective carpentry class my son took. The students in his school were given the options of electricity, carpentry, auto mechanics, bookkeeping or clothing design for their elective and had a taller (workshop class) twice a week for the 3 years they were enrolled at the secundaria (middle school) level. The idea was to provide marketable skills for the students should they not continue their education past this level.

Some rural areas do not have middle schools but do have telesecundarias where students are in a classroom and the teacher teaches from another location and class is broadcasted to the students. Believe it or not, students who attend telesecundaries have some of the best educational outcomes. Perhaps the fortitude it takes to learn this way is a good predictor of ultimate success?

Mexico has a fairly good setup to provide opportunities for adults over the age of 15 to complete their secondary education through the Instituto Nacional para la Educación de los Adultos (INEA). Considering that 63% of 25 to 64-year-olds in Mexico haven’t obtained their diploma from the secundaria, there is a huge need in this sector. Materials and classroom instruction are provided free of charge and teachers volunteer their time in both urban areas and remote communities.

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A prepa abierto offering early morning class or all day Saturday classes.

Preparatoria (high school) is the following educational rung to climb and is not mandatory. Students are usually between 15 and 18 years old and this segment is also 3 years in duration divided into 6 semesters. You may also hear the term bachillerato general used to refer to these years of study.

Considering most rural areas lack secundarias, even fewer have preparatorias. In some areas, students who are serious about their education take the bus every morning, sometimes for more than an hour, to attend prepa. Although most students still follow the traditional route, there is a relatively new online version available through SEP and other higher learning institutes. My son is enrolled in the preparatoria en línea through UVEG. He has one course per month to complete and will finish 6 months before his friends who are attending a regular prepa and with the same diploma. There are also Preparatorias Abiertas, which offer classes early mornings during the week or alternatively only on Saturdays all day to accommodate students who need to work.

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The local office of UVEG which offers online prepa and university degrees.

Similar to the U.S., a high school diploma doesn’t prepare you much for life in the real world. So students are encouraged to continue on to the university level. Although there are ample excellent universities available to choose from in Mexico, enrollment in higher education institutes is one of the lowest percentages in the world with  53% of 15-19-year-olds currently attending school past the required levels despite having the one of the largest population of young adults between these ages. This might be ok if these potential students were working, but about 20% of 15-19-year-olds are neither employed nor enrolled in school. Additionally, higher education does not equate more job opportunities in Mexico. In fact, Mexico and Korea are the only countries where more people with advanced degrees are unemployed than those who have completed only basic education.

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A satellite campus for the Universidad de Leon

Be that as it may, a 4-year bachelor’s degree at the undergraduate level is called Licenciatura, which is followed by a 2-year Master’s degree known as Maestría, and a 3-year Doctorado, followed by the higher doctorate of Doctor en Ciencias. Currently, about 23% of Mexicans aged 23–35 have a college degree.

Once you have completed a program at the university level and received your Licenciatura in the field of study you completed you can add Licenciado in front of your name. For example, I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Education from a U.S. university. Therefore, I am Licenciada (Lic.) Flores. People put great store by titles here, so if you are entitled to it, use one. Instead of Licenciado, engineers use the title Ingeniero (Ing.) and architects use the title Arquitecto (Arq.) but they amount to the same thing.

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This private school offers preschool, elementary, middle school and high school levels.

I hope this brief overview of the Mexican education system helps you navigate its murky seas a little better!

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Online Prepa

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Remember how part of my transition year included the fact that my son would no longer be attending school in town?  Well, he’s been enrolled 5 months now and here’s how that is going.

At the end of July, we headed down to the UVEG office in Moroleon in order to enroll my son in the online Preparatoria program.  He needed to actually take the entrance exam there in the office, I suppose to reduce the chance of cheating.  Well, as I didn’t need to be there, I dropped him off and went shopping.  I went back later to pick him up and the supervisor said that he had left some time earlier because he wasn’t able to take the examination.  Why wasn’t he able to take the exam?  Well, I set it up so that notifications from UVEG get sent to my Gmail account, not his and he didn’t know my password to get the link for the exam.  Well, alrighty then.

So we tried again the next day.  I waited this time.  I brought my Kindle and twirled around in a computer chair for about 2 hours while he completed the exam.  He tested out of the Introduction to Spanish course, but didn’t do so well in the other sections, well, he passed, but not enough to opt out of those sections of the course entirely.

So his first course online was Introduction to Computer Science.  Seems like a good one to start with.  Only he found it tediously boring.  When it came time to take the exam, he missed an entire section (because it was boring) and failed.  He had the option to do an extra credit activity (for a fee of course) and passed with a 77.  

The second online course was Online Classroom Study Techniques.  Again, this seemed like a good course, even helpful perhaps?  But just like the first course, he found it BORING!  He procrastinated and then the last day to turn in the exam he had made plans with friends, so rushed through it and guess what?  Failed again.  He did the extra credit activity and passed with a 70.

You can probably guess that I wasn’t a happy camper at this point.  As an incentive, I drew up a potential income chart.  If he scored above a 90, he would earn 500 pesos.  An 80 would earn him 200 pesos.  No earnings for grades in the 70s.  Anything below that, woe betide him.  He must reimburse me for the retake fees.  AND he would not be allowed to say at the little house in Sunflower Valley overnight until he brought his grades up.

The third online course was Mathematical Reasoning and he bellyached about that, but the first week he completed 70 percent of the course. He was doing well.  He had 80-100% correct answers on his activities.  Then he let it slide.  He logged on to complete the final section, worth 25% of his grade to find out that the course had closed the previous day, 3 days early, due to technical problems with the site.  So he failed AGAIN!

For some reason we couldn’t register for the recuperation activity, site problems I guess. So he would have to take the course over again.  

The next class was Text Analysis, not his favorite by a long shot. Upon registration,  I really emphasized that he needed to complete the course sooner rather than later.  The whole point of doing this online course bit is for him to learn how to manage his time effectively.  So far he hasn’t mastered that particular skill. If he learns something from the actual course he is taking, well that’s a bonus.  Call me crazy but time management would be something to excel at before taking more extensive(and expensive) courses.  I also threatened to send him to the downtown computer lab to do his school work daily.  If there are too many distractions (Minecraft, Facebook, Whats App) for him at the little house, well then, time to move to a distraction-free monitored zone.

This time, he really applied himself even though I know this was his least favorite course so far.  The report card came and he passed with a 71 the first time around. No extra activities needed, no redoing the entire course.  Yipee!  As a reward, the prohibition to staying at the little house in Sunflower was lifted. He now could choose one night to stay overnight per week.  IF he passed the next course, he’d be allowed to stay 2 nights.

December brought a redo of Mathematical Reasoning.  Since he had done well with the material the first time around, he rushed to completion a full week ahead of schedule.  He double and triple checked that 100% of the course activities had been submitted and we waited for the grade. 79.  Much better!

So, over the holidays, there aren’t any classes scheduled.  Wanting to get a jump on the new year, we went to register for his next class, English (he’d better pass this one) and much to my delight, beginning in 2018, all online preparatorio classes are free in the state of Guanajuato.  Oh, happy day!  I feel less guilty about quitting the book reviewer job now.  Of course, if my son fails and needs to do extra credit activities, there’s a fee involved but he must reimburse me according to the rules above.  He’s currently 14% through his total studies.  Considering that his classmates who continued their education at the local prepas will only be 25% through their studies next July, I think he’s making good progress.

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