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Good education for my son in a developing country?

Hello dear members of the InterNations community. My name is Tani and I am a single mother with a 5-year-old son. My son is due to start Kindergarten next year, and I would like to move us to another country for at least the next few years (and possibly forever), so he can grow up with a different experience and more of a global consciousness. But I have been feeling increasingly discouraged about whether it’s actually possible to find what I’m looking for, especially as it relates to his education.

I definitely want to move to a developing country rather than a developed one, and I would ideally like to live somewhere with abundant natural beauty (ie. not a big city – mountains and forests/jungles preferred) and with a strong local community (ie. not completely overtaken by tourists or expats). But I also want to make sure my son gets a good education, and I’m worried about the prospects for that if we follow this dream.

I am currently working on making my income independent of location, but I will probably not be making enough money to send my son to a private or international school. And I am concerned about the quality of education he might receive at a local public school, in a small town, in a developing country. I have to say I feel fairly ignorant in wondering about this, which is why I’m hoping you all can help. There may well be several developing countries with great education systems (Cuba comes to mind of course). I certainly hope that there are; I just don’t know what’s out there.

My standards regarding education are also a bit unusual. While good academics are of course important, I’m actually more concerned with the emotional side of the school experience. My son is very active and energetic, and plenty smart, but he is very sensitive emotionally. I'm worried that his spirit would be crushed in a school/local culture in which teachers are very authoritarian and kids are really hard on each other. I know some amount of this will happen anywhere, but I am hoping to find a place where the overriding culture is socially gentle, and where attention is paid in schools to the development of the child’s whole spirit/personality rather than just their ability to memorize facts.

In all my travels, I have most been able to imagine myself living long-term in Cambodia or Mexico, and I have community in both of these places. Mexico has a lot going for it (my son’s dad is from there and we have a good relationship with his family; it’s a short flight home to visit my own family in California; and plus my son has dual citizenship and we are both fluent in Spanish). But I worry that the agressive youth culture and disciplinarian school structure would be traumatic for my sensitive son. Cambodia calls strongly to my heart and I would LOVE to live there (plus it seems to have the cultural gentleness we’re looking for), but I worry that that the academic side of a public education would be seriously lacking, and there’s no way I can afford the international schools there. If any of you who have lived in Mexico or Cambodia have ideas on how to handle the schooling issue there, I would love to hear them.

Any suggestions or feedback from any of you, about any aspect of this, would be much appreciated. Do any of you know of any developing countries where we can live surrounded by natural beauty, be really immersed in local culture, and yet also have access to schools which are both decent academically and provide a compassionate/nurturing social environment? Are there places that even fit most of these criteria? And is it possible for us as US citizens (my son also having Mexican citizenship) to immigrate to them, and for my son to attend public school as a foreign national? Expat parents, how have you dealt with the schooling question, and what has been the impact on your kids? Are there other options I don’t know about or haven’t thought of?

Thank you so much in advance for sharing your thoughts. I am so grateful to be able to ask these questions of a whole community of people who have already taken this leap. Thank you all!!

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