The whole wide world lay before us…..
Once our decision to move abroad was firmly established, we needed to pick a country. When we initially looked at different countries that could potentially be our home, we considered Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay, Panama, and Spain. Chris quickly took Spain out of the list because it is very expensive and it has a high unemployment rate, which means crime and government stability are an issue. I was disappointed about that because I am a total Europhile. I love the European attitudes towards health care, work-life balance, parenting, and food. We also briefly considered Bangkok, Thailand and Gdansk, Poland as Chris had possible job transfer opportunities there with Laureate Education, the company where he works.
Back in the summer of 2012, these were my criteria for our new home in descending order:
1) Stable government
Call me picky, but I did not want to live in a country where the dictator changed weekly or a military group could barge into my home and demand I feed a group of soldiers. I wanted to live in a country with a stable government that wasn’t going to collapse at any given moment and change laws on a whim.
I wanted to live in a country where I could send my children to school without fear that they would be shot or kidnapped. Yes, I am picky that way. As an avid runner, I also wanted to be able to run by myself early in the morning without fear of being attacked. I would have loved to live in Mexico, my very own country of origin, but it is just not a safe place right now. It truly is a shame, as I think sharing Mexico with my children would have been a great experience. Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Panama all are safe countries with stable governments.
3) Spanish-speaking country
My parents, Papa and Pita, are immigrants from Mexico and speak limited English. My kids somehow communicate with them, but they cannot have in depth conversations. One of my main goals for this year abroad was for the kids to learn Spanish. This essentially limited us to Latin America (once Spain was crossed off the list). But I did not just want any Spanish speaking country. I wanted to make sure the Spanish spoken was slow, crisp, and pretty. For example, the Spanish spoken in El Salvador, Venezuela, Panama and Nicaragua is fast and choppy. The Spanish spoken in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Mexico is crisp and slow.
4) Good school available for the kids
During the fall of 2012, Chris heard of two job opportunities within Laureate Education, the company where he works. One was in Thailand and the other in Poland. He applied for both and we quickly started looking at schools in both of those places. That is how I discovered international schools and International Baccalaureate (IB) schools. Even though these were clearly not Spanish-speaking countries, the educational opportunities at these types of schools looked amazing. Neither job opportunity panned out for Chris, but at least we had a better idea of what to look for in a school after exploring the international and IB schools in Bangkok and Poland. I also found fantastic schools in Uruguay, Panama, and Costa Rica. The private schools I looked at in Ecuador looked good too, but at least on their websites did not look to be in the caliber as the ones in the other Latin American countries we were considering. The main problem with many international and IB schools, though, is that the classes are primarily taught in English, which defeated our goal of the kids learning Spanish. Costa Rica has two international schools in Monteverde/Santa Elena that are truly bilingual: Cloudforest School/Centro de Educacion Creativa and Monteverde Friends School. When I stumbled upon these schools during my agonizing search for where to educate my children in a foreign country, I immediately sent Chris an email that said, “These are it! Either one of these schools would be perfect!” Both were bilingual which was a perfect alternative to both a total Spanish school (Kara was worried she would fail everything) and a primarily English-speaking international school (I was worried the kids would not learn Spanish well enough). In a later post I will go into more detail as to why we chose Creativa over Friends. It came down to splitting hairs, but both of these schools are an absolute gem.
In my next post, I will explain the other 4 criteria I had in deciding which country we would move to:
6) Good infrastructure
7) Beautiful and Eco-friendly
8) “Walkable” city or town