People come to Huatulco for a wide array of reasons. I can't tell you how many times people have told Erin and I that they came to Huatulco for a month of vacation and ended up staying 6 months. After the 6 months, they went home to readjust their lifestyle to come back and live permanently or most of the year in Huatulco. At an expat gathering, someone will share their story with that general outcome and the group will laugh and shrug shoulders because it is a familiar story to us all.
Of course every story is a little different with personal twists backing up decisions but we can all agree on a few commonalities that enticed us to choose Huatulco. One of the major commonalities (besides sun, warm weather and a year-round ocean lifestyle, of course, let's be real) is lifestyle design. The more I talk to people considering the move to Huatulco, the more people express their desire to create their own lifestyle and to live life on their terms.
What is Lifestyle Design?
We often receive questions about designing your own lifestyle in Huatulco. How do you actually make the decision to move and pointed questions about work, money and everyday life. I've put together a series of articles to explore lifestyle design in Huatulco and to share some of the tools and processes that Erin and I and other expats have used to tackle this definition or re-definition of what it is that really gets us excited. See, the basic concept is not starting with the details, however ominous they may seem: what work will I do, how will I make money. But starting with an exploration of what excites you and designing from that. More on that in upcoming articles.
One Family's Story on Moving to Huatulco
I'd like to start out this series sharing an expat's story.
Mike Leon and his family chose Huatulco in much the same way many of us do. From living in Toronto, he and his wife moved with their 2 small children and have never looked back. Mike so generously shares his family's story with us and what everyday life looks like now.
Why did you choose to move to Huatulco?
After our very first visit to the area during the Christmas season, 2016, we knew we had stumbled upon our new home. Prior to boarding the plane “home” (back to Toronto) I had a condo booked for a month in the upcoming summer of the same year. We actually returned in the spring to find a place to live and a school for our children. We cancelled the condo booking and moved the same summer. Huatulco checked all of our wants for a new home: water to paddle, hot weather year round and most importantly, a safe home for our family. A new language, culture, traditions, even routines for everyone suddenly became overwhelmingly exciting and we never looked back.
What were the deciding factors regarding moving your kids to Huatulco?
With our second visit to Huatulco, came a new perspective. We were looking for reasons not to choose Huatulco, as it would have been the easier route. However, what we found was a community of friendly neighbors, where they were accepting of children being children… running around having fun and making noise. All of that is greeted with smiles and laughter, not annoyance like back home. Kids can be kids and Mexicans genuinely love kids. We also saw many families with young children and single women walking around much after dark, demonstrating this was not a dangerous town. Often affectionately referred to as the “Mayberry of Mexico,” it really showed on that visit and many times since.
What kind of process did you use to make the decision to move?
We had no idea prior to leaving for Huatulco that my family and I would be uprooting our lives for a great, big unknown. My wife and I were both teachers and I only had 12 (long) years until retirement. We realized if we were going to make a move like this, we should do it. My boys are 6 and 8 and my wife and I agreed the boys would definitely benefit from a move like this. Good or bad ahead of us meant an experience we could share together.
What About School?
In Huatulco, we have a few choices of public and private school for all ages and levels. They have IB (International Baccalaureate) programs here as well. There are also online schools and curriculum if anyone chooses to home school.
We chose to place our children in a private school. We were warned the public system in the state of Oaxaca wasn’t going to provide the education we were looking for. There are some very wonderful public schools with amazing teachers in the area, however we chose to place them in a private school.
In your opinion, what are the advantages/disadvantages to the Huatulco school vs a school from where you were living?
Being former teachers, we have a unique insight into the Ontario system. Programming is at times more challenging here, it is very traditional in the delivery of material and dealing with children. I am not referring to getting the strap or anything like that, they may not be up on the latest teaching strategies or programs. With that being said, we have been very fortunate to have amazing teachers that go above and beyond. We also take opportunities at home to work with our children on their English to progress with their native language. Our boys learned Spanish quickly once they started school. Watching their performances and their use of Spanish in class and with their friends gives us a smile each and every time.
How have your kids adapted to your new life in Huatulco?
Not having any Spanish was very hard for the boys when we first moved here. We were very fortunate to live in a condo with many young families, giving them an immediate community of children to play with. The problem of communication was quickly rectified when they learned to say, “Do you want to play?” in Spanish. Once they had this phrase, they were on their way. As they started school a little later after arriving in the summer, still with no Spanish, the first days were a little bumpy. There were a couple of behaviors and misunderstandings all around, as our Spanish was not at all better. Ever since those early days, it has just become their new normal. No second thoughts about what they are doing or how they are doing it.
Do your children like living in Huatulco?
They enjoy Huatulco very much. They are always excited to come home after a vacation. They have become beach-going kids after most of their lives being land-locked. They are outdoors way more than ever before. They each have a nice group of friends they look forward to seeing every day. However, we do occasionally hear their pleas for seeing snow again or visiting Canada in the winter.
How has moving benefited your family?
As a family, we were looking for ways to grow and experience new adventures. Huatulco provided us with new activities we were only able to do for short periods of time in the summer back home, such as paddle boarding. Walking or riding our bikes through the trails in the park to a new beach or looking for new birds and animals is a regular in our lives now. Time together was another thing we were looking forward to. The slower pace allows for more quality time together as a family.
How did you deal with family members’ opinions about moving to Mexico?
After living here for over 2 years, we are still dealing with family opinions about our move. Some of the opinions we deal with were made without knowledge, a visit here or even a Google search. Media has a heavy influence up north and often throws all of Mexico in one big bag. In the end, you can’t please everyone and stepping outside of the traditional system can be easily criticized. I knew who I had a responsibility to and we went ahead with the move. I would not have enjoyed living with this regret. We are living it now. We are doing it. There is a great deal of satisfaction in accomplishing a goal like this.
What kind of extracurricular activities are available in Huatulco for kids?
When we first moved here, we enrolled our children in swimming and futbol (soccer). They have since switched to Tae Kwon Do, which has 5-6 days of classes for about $30 a month. Most activities have a fee similar to this. The next activity will be triathlon training at a triathlon club, when they are ready to go. Dance, basketball, volleyball, music and arts to name a few, are some of the other activities we have seen available here.
Are there many other expat families with school-age children?
We know a few couples from around the world we have met through school. We are starting to notice more and more expat families moving here. We had neighbors from Quebec in a condo where we lived and our sons are in the same class.
How did you meet people/ make friends?
I walk everywhere I can and any chance I get as time permits. Being outside and being a social person, it was nice talking to new people. We have a really wonderful, international expat community here made up of a different types of people with different stories and all doing a variety of things. One commonality is that we all love Huatulco.
Do you speak Spanish? If you’ve learned, what was the process and how long did it take?
I was actually born in Mexico but I moved to Canada at the age of two. I did have opportunities to visit as a child but never picked up Spanish and thought it would never happen. I started with Duolingo, a great free app that we still use to this day. I also spoke as much as I could to anyone who would listen. It’s an ongoing process as I am not taking formal lessons but do feel I am beginning to grasp it. I now listen to a lot of Spanish music to help me along.
Do your children speak Spanish? How long did it take them to learn?
They are both fluent and my little one speaks like a local as he was learning sounds and how to read with everyone else, giving him a unique voice. He has a Spanish accent when speaking Spanish and regular old English the other times. They learned quickly in school. Being immersed was key for them.
What is your vision for your children’s education in high school and beyond?
I am not sure what the future will hold as Huatulco is changing all the time, and luckily, our kiddos are still young. New schools and services are popping up all the time in Huatulco. I am confident that as the community continues developing, the path for us with unfold. Presently, the choices for high school is basically a continuation of elementary in the private school and there is one well- regarded public school where students are accepted on an application-basis. Universities abound in Mexico and I know there are great quality schools to choose.
For tips on moving to Mexico with kids, see our article here. In our upcoming articles about Lifestyle Design in Huatulco, I'll share some of the tools and processes that have been successful for me and other expats. If you're looking into making the move, let us know how we can help!