Options for a family sabbatical overseas?
January 20, 2016 9:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm an American academic and I'll be on a partially paid one year sabbatical starting this July. I've applied for a funded program that would send my family and me overseas, but it's quite competitive, and I'm working on a back-up plan if I'm not accepted into this program. My preference is East Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa more generally, but I'm open to ideas. Where can I afford to rent a modest apartment or house and send our kids to an English-language school?

My family includes me (female), my husband, and our kids, who will be 11 and 13. We are a multiracial, black/white family, which makes us pretty conspicuous, and I'd rather not spend our year in a majority-white city (so I think this rules of much of Europe outside of the biggest cities). Of course, we also need to find a country where we can spend 10 months legally.

In terms of budget, we can probably afford up to about US $1500/month for housing (preferable furnished), and maybe $10,000 for school. I don't have firm numbers for that yet.

East Africa is my top choice, but costs for housing and international/American schools can be quite high. In particular, tuition runs as much as US$20,000+ a year per kid at the US State Department's assisted overseas schools. That's well out of our budget. I'm open to other schools if they're in English (we aren't looking for languange immersion for our kids), but many are still quite expensive. I don't want to take on homeschooling, in part because I want my kids to interact with other kids. I'm okay if my kids attend a good local school or a not super fancy private school (it doesn't have to be the place where diplomats and wealthy expats send their kids).

I do have a research project for my sabbatical, but that's flexible and isn't necessarily part of this decision.

Here's what I'm considering:

Sub-Saharan Africa: I checked tuition at the American schools in capitols in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda, and tuition for two kids added up to around $50,000. But maybe there's a great town with enough expats for an international school, but where it's not outrageously expensive? Or could we try a local school in South Africa or another English-speaking country? A friend suggested Ghana, but the American school in Accra is super expensive, too.

Latin America: I know some Spanish but I know very little about Central and South American cities, so if there's a nice town with a good K-8 school, that could work.

Europe: could we legally spend a whole school year in Europe? Is there someplace in the UK or Ireland where we could live in a smaller town and my kids could attend a local school? A place where there are other people of color? I know bigger cities are more diverse, but I can't I imagine we could afford London.

Asia: I know very little about Asia, but have concerns about being very conspicuous. But let me know if there's an awesome place I should consider.

Australia & New Zealand: At least we pretty much speak the language. Yeah, lots of white people, but I'm open to ideas.

Middle East and North Africa: Not really interested.

Canada & Mexico: Too close to home.

We lived overseas for two years when my kids were younger, and it was a great experience. I'm less concerned with the precise place and more for the opportunity to live outside the US for a while. Thanks for any suggestions, advice, and ideas you have!
posted by bluedaisy to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Chiang Mai is just so liveable, especially now during the "cool" season. Good infrastructure, stable. You could find a place to rent for less than your budget (google "residences" with monthly/yearly rates) but school tuition looks to be around $8K-$16K per year at an international school. Good hospitals with Western-trained doctors, easy to get around, safe, very low cost of living, yet still has some of the fast food options your kids might appreciate, a couple new shopping malls and cinemas. Here is the visa info; I'm wondering if your university would have more advice/help regarding visas. No getting around the fact that you will be conspicuous.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:55 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

London is about 40% POC, otherwise you are looking at Birmingham and Manchester as being diverse and then a drop off. All have good universities if that would be helpful. In terms of affordability you might look into funding as an inward scholar. There are a number of EU schemes that support the movement of academics into EU member states, if you find some then contact someone you'd like to work with at a preferred location they might well be happy for you to do all the work on the application as they will get some internal credit for accessing the funding. Funding is usually additional to salary iirc.
posted by biffa at 11:44 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm on a 1-year sabbatical right now (in my 3rd location. Mostly self-funded on that partial salary you mentioned, with a bit of artist-residency and project funding here and there).
I'd say the single biggest hassle we faced this year was visas, so start on that soon. I'd even say that before you've decided you should start looking into what's possible. Europe (Schengen) for example, won't let you stay more than 90 days (without leaving for another 90 days!) unless you have some kind of non-tourist visa (thankfully we had just enough work and a lot of help from hosts). Similar issues in Australia, where we managed a work visa. So if you have academic contacts in the places you're considering (or contacts-of-contacts), think about contacting them sooner rather than later, even if it's just for no-pay affiliate status and help with visas. Have a great time!

(Australia, btw, doesn't have to be so white, depending where you live. Maybe also consider a relatively progressive SA country like Uruguay?)
posted by Mngo at 1:07 AM on January 21, 2016

American type international schools are going to be expensive everywhere. If you look into TWinbrook8's suggestion re Chiang Mai, you might want to look at Thai schools that teach the Thai curriculum in English. Can't vouch for any of these, but even the cheapest international schools will break the 10k budget.
posted by Gotanda at 1:42 AM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

How old are your kids? Could they be home schooled for a year if you had good internet access? A lot of states have free online homeschooling curricula. Or you could hire a tutor, which would be cheaper than those schools. I'm appalled at their cost!

Also check your mefi mail, I sent you something.
posted by mareli at 8:11 AM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am not sure where to start. I lived and worked (at an international school- not ICS) in Addis Ababa for two years (until this past July). The city is quite expensive and renting a small clunker of a car is $25/day. It is VERY expensive to buy, import, and/or maintain a car. Public transport is generally not acceptable to expats with kids. You get what you pay for with good international schools. At this time, nothing else there for kids over 7 will come close to ICS. If you want high standards, there isn't much else you can do. 50k MIGHT cover two kids there. The school grounds are nothing like the outside city(WIFI, reliable running water and electricity!), and it is difficult to imagine what it takes to make that happen- and the wages it takes to get American school-quality educators. I doubt you could manage without a sponsored business visa (temp. residency follows) in Addis, though you could live in a nice place for under $1500/month. Basic food is cheap enough and the country is beautiful but the country produces very little and imported foods (cheddar cheese, okay chocolate) are astronomically expensive.

There are plenty of locals fluent in English all over the world, though you can not underestimate the differences in the culture of learning. Schools in Asia (where I have spent many years) may be quite rigorous, though are generally known for exam-focused learning and lack of practical and creative tasks. It is unlikely you would find a cheap school that wouldn't require much legwork keeping your kids on track for the requirements once they return stateside.
posted by maya at 8:47 AM on January 21, 2016

I don't have firsthand knowledge but maybe look at Belize? Belize is an English speaking country so there would be a variety of local schools your kids could look at, and apparently there are some good ones run by Jesuits. I don't think you'd stand out; I recall its population having a quite diverse look. And it's not expensive.

It's super hot though. Do you enjoy the true tropics? I couldn't live there, myself, just because of the punishing sun. But if you don't mind that, it might be just right.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:57 AM on January 21, 2016

What about Brazil? It looks like the American school in Brasilia's tuition is approximately $12,000 (I coudn't find information on the tuition for the one in Rio).
posted by ChuraChura at 10:26 AM on January 21, 2016

(There's also this blog entry which is a few year old but talks in detail about private schools in Rio de Janeiro).
posted by ChuraChura at 10:28 AM on January 21, 2016

There are good private schools in Ghana that most expats send their kids to which use the American curriculum, but cost less than half of what Lincoln (the "official" American school) does. Let me know if you want more information. I could send you some more details.
posted by ramix at 11:15 AM on January 21, 2016

The Phillipines is non-white, very navigable in English, and an extremely welcoming place. Local schools are generally considered poor by international standards, but you may find some cheaper private options than in some of the places suggested up thread as the cost of living is quite low and the level of English spoken quite high. There is a huge gap between how expats and upper class Filipinos live and how the rest of the country lives; you should keep this in mind when researching.
posted by asphericalcow at 1:47 PM on January 21, 2016

I'm coming to the table pretty late, but want to suggest that you look into IBO World Schools in Africa (or elsewhere). You can also learn more about lots of reputable (and much less expensive) international schools in Africa if you google AISA (Association or International Schools in Africa). If you would like any further information about either of these, send me a message.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 1:33 PM on February 26, 2016

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