Stuck

When I was 15 I went to Toronto for 4 weeks to learn English. It was brilliant, I had an amazing time and more than anything I learned a whole lot, not only about living abroad, but mainly about trusting myself and sticking to my guts. After I landed, there I go to the immigration line and when I got to the window.... red flags everywhere... a 15 yr old travelling alone, they got very suspicious. I had papers from the school, my visa was right, but they had to do their job.

Into a little room they took me, my English was so bad at the time that they had to find a translator and on top of it all, I couldn't understand why they didn't believe me. I am glad that this wave of self-confidence came over me and I was just telling them over and over why I had traveled all the way from Brazil to Toronto... to study English!!!

A couple of hours later they made some phone calls, the school also confirmed, that indeed, I was meant to be going to school there. Alleluia, I was free.

Funny enough, or not, the first time I went to Switzerland I got stopped! Again! Maybe I just look suspicious... apparently, the schools pass on the information to immigration about any foreign students they have and this school hadn't done it for me. This time wasn't so bad, I was 20, knew my place in the world kindda thing, plus the Swiss are super organized, it took only a few minutes and I was off.

If you find yourself in a situation like that, all you can do is stay calm. Immigration will do their job, we are entering a different country and they've seen it all. A lot of times they get it wrong, and unfortunately, I truly believe that they do. But I also believe that most times they are right. If you have nothing to fear, then you will be fine.

airport

What Are you Going to Do about This Travel Bug in 2015?

A lot of people are content where they are, without travelling, and that's absolutely fine. Isn't this a wonderful world because of our different opinions? Now, there are people who always wonder... what would it be like to see this place and that place... what would be like to speak this language or live like them?

Sometimes it's a dream and it doesn't have to be only a dream. Put it into paper! Write it down! Visualize it! Believe!

Since it's almost 2015, and we are all setting goals, thinking of what we did in 2014 (or didn't do), I've created a worksheet to give you a little push... You can print it and stick to your wall or save it to your computer screen. Best of all, it's free!

(I'm planning follow up posts for these tips in due course, stay tuned)

Expat goals 2015

Forget about how to lose weight or how to stop smoking goals (although, they are valid...), let's set "let's live in another country" goals!

Enjoy!

 

How to Find a Primary School in London - Part 1

Disclosure: I'm only talking about State-Funded primary schools in London because this is my experience, although I do believe that the system works the same way all over England (and the UK), London is where I lived.

Schools in London

London is a competitive place. Not only at work, but also to find a flat, or a good school for your kids. Like everywhere there are good and bad schools, you might live in an affluent area and have a not so good school just around the corner, that won't help you when you need to enroll your kids. My advise is, if you are planning on having kids (or have kids) and you care about your children's education, but can't afford private schools, do your research on schools, and try to find a flat very near it, it's your best chance to get into the school you dream of.

Because London is a city where mostly both parents work, if you don't have a childminder, your kids will probably go to the early years (nursery), my daughter was in an awesome little school. They were amazing and she learned so much! I loved it and she loved it. Unfortunately since we left England, I've heard that they've brought it down to build flats in its place. Such a shame. Children go to early years school until they're about 4-5, then they start primary school :-(

Some schools offer nursery or preschool, from age 3, but even if your child is lucky enough to get into it, it doesn't mean that once they start reception (kindergarten) they will have a secured place. And most preschools do not offer after-school care, so you still need to pay for that afterwards and find a way to drop your child off wherever she/he goes to after. A huge pain, I tell you. I didn't have this problem because like I said, she was on full day care at the other school, in which she went full time.

Tools

After you've decided where you are going to live (or if you have an idea), you should use a few tools to help you compare schools:

  • Read their Ofsted inspection reports. Every few years the govt will send inspectors who will check everything in the school, speak to parents, students, watch classes, eat the food, etc. They then will prepare a very comprehensive report and not only provide information about the school, but will make suggestions on what the school can do better and even make little notes to the children. I found this report to be the most useful tool.
  • Visit the schools. All schools have (should have) open houses where you will walk around, visit classrooms, speak to teachers and find out about the selection process. Some schools are more strict then others.
  • Check the performance tables provided by the UK government. In these reports they compare year on year test results, give you data about the pupils, school denomination, etc. This site is good because once you input the postcode, they give you a map with the schools you can apply for, it narrows things down for you and make your life a tad easier.
  • School websites: Once you have narrowed down your favorites, stop by the website, read newsletters (if available), see what after school activities they offer, school lunches menus, check out their open to the public events. For example, my daughter's school always did a yearly summer fair, so when I was doing my research, we went to it, you can speak to parents, ask questions, see what kind of atmosphere it is and if it matches with what you are looking for in a school.
  • Speak to your neighbors!
  • Ask at the nursery staff that your child goes to (or will go to), the teachers probably have kids going to the same schools, or hear things from parents, so they are a wealth of information.
  • Ask any parent that live around you. When I got my child in the school, I mentioned to a parent about the letter that I wrote to the school during the application process, the thing is, they required that my daughter had to be baptized, and although we are Catholics, she hasn't been and I couldn't prove that she was. I wrote a letter explaining the situation. This mum, whose son was 1yr behind Victoria, was panicking, she really wanted him to go to that school, but she lived right behind another school that she didn't like, she did the same thing I did and apparently it helped her as well, she later told my father-in-law.
  • Oh, before I forget, another helpful site is the dept for education in the UK, they offer publications, news and links to the major education websites.

Since this is such a huge post, I've split it. Part 2 of how to find and apply for a primary school in London is here.

Morgantown - My experience as an Exchange Student

Morgantown - My experience as an Exchange Student

If you read my about page, you will see how the taste for the expat life started. My next move was to Morgantown, West Virginia. My, oh my, it was tough. I was very shy at school and guess what, nothing was like you watch in the movies, surprise, surprise... I wasn't the youngest anymore, we were all equal, but we weren't, and being so shy, it was hard for me to accept and be accepted.