Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Visa Extension in Quito

Like many others we are in the stressful process of applying for a Pensioner Visa. Since we initially provided our attorney the necessary paperwork after arriving in July 2011, we have had the additional requirement of a Criminal Background Check issue to tackle and we did so earlier this month. But, of course as many of us have experienced first-hand, another problem arose to delay our visa application. The day our attorney submitted our Pensioner Visa application we only had 29 days left on our 90 day tourist visa, and we needed 30 days according to the requirements. This could have been avoided, but our attorney wasted 21 days by not informing us we needed the Criminal Background Check, as our application sat in her office after she had told us that she was going to use an Interpol report in its place. If I hadn't called to check on the status of our application, we may have never found out we needed to do our own Criminal Background Check. So, our attorney's error caused us to fall one-day short in meeting the 30 day requirement to submit our application. So, we required to extend our visa, so off to Quito we go.

With two daughters back in Atlanta that we help financially, and Nick's school expenses of $400 a month, we needed to make the trip to Quito and back as cheap as possible. After doing some research we decided to take the overnight bus to Quito on Wednesday evening. The bus company, Pan Americano, offered an overnight trip for $10 per person leaving at 10pm, and arriving around 7am in Quito. The bus was modern, with reclining seats, on-board movies, bathroom, and seats 40, but there were only 10 passengers, so we had room to spread out. One big problem though, NO HEAT! It was one of the coldest, and most uncomfortable bus trips of our lives! We felt safe, but it was just too damn cold to get comfortable. We arrived in Quito at 5:20am, and had to kill time until our attorney's office opened at 8am. Sitting in a cold bus station, and watching time drag by was not fun. Eventually, we got a taxi at 7:30am, and headed to our attorney's office to only sit there for an hour before our attorney's assistant arrived. We headed to the Immigration office after a quick stop to purchase proof of return tickets to Miami for $11.50, and then sat with others needing Visa's for the next two hours. After one failed attempt to get a 12-IX Visa, and several discussions with supervisors, and the head of the Immigration office we finally walked out with a 12-IX visa at 2pm.

Tired, and hungry since we hadn't eaten since the night before we headed to McDonald's, because is was near by, and we were hoping had a nice bathroom. McDonald's are the same around the world, and the one in Quito was no exception. It was clean, busy, and the food even tasted the same. Well, after our experience on the bus we decided we wanted to get home quickly, so we headed to the airport, and bought three one-way tickets to Cuenca on AeroGal for $201.23. We arrived home on Thursday at 7pm, exhausted, dirty, and ready to spend the next few days relaxing. In all it was a success, we extended our Visa for $30 each, and our attorney is submitting our Pensioner Visa application this week, and we should only need to return to Quito in a few months to get our Censo and Cedula.

The most important thing we learned during our 44 hour experience is you must have patience, and never give up hope that in the end everything will work out.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Private School Costs

As we have mentioned before, our 13 year-old son Nick is attending 9th grade (8th grade in USA) at Santana, a private International Baccalaureate (IB) certified school in Cuenca. It is a small school, with Kindergarten through High School, and the campus of multicolored buildings is situated in the hills above Cuenca. The classes are taught in Spanish with the exception of the English class, which is two hours per day. The majority of students in Nick's classes speak English as a second language, so Nick has had no problem making new friends. There is talk of bringing an International School to Cuenca similar to the ones in Quito and Guayaquil that teach classes in English. Even if that option was already here for Nick, Susan and I would have chosen Santana or another school that taught primarily in Spanish. Nick is currently interested in attending college at Georgia Tech University, which is a very competitive school. We are hoping that graduating with an IB degree from Santana, being bi-lingual, and having the experience of living in another culture will make him more competitive when he applies to college.

Below are all the cost associated with attending Santana for those who are considering a private school for their children in Cuenca. First a disclaimer, Santana is one of the most expensive schools in Cuenca, but it has also the reputation as being the best in preparing students to attend top universities.

Initial (one-time) Expenses: Total - $394
- Application Fee: $50
- Registration Fee: $118
- *Uniform Expenses: $131
- Required School Supplies: $95

* Uniform Expense consists of: 1 pair of Navy slacks, 1 long-sleeve turtleneck shirt, 2 short-sleeve Polo shirts, 1 Sweater, 1 Warm-up Suit (pants and jacket), 1 Physical Education Outfit ( shorts and jersey), and 1 pair of black dress shoes.

Sports Uniform - Shorts, Jersey, Warm-up Pants and Jacket, and Tennis Shoes

Formal Uniform - Navy Slacks, Turtleneck Shirt, Sweater, and Dress Shoes

Casual Uniform - Jeans, Polo Shirt, Warm-up Jacket, and Tennis Shoes

Monthly Expenses: $375
- Tuition: $200
- Bus Fee: $31
- **In-Home Spanish Tutor: $144

** In-Home Spanish Tutor is dependent on your child's level of Spanish fluency, and it is up to you to find a tutor. Nick had 5 weeks of Spanish prior to beginning school, so we have a private tutor, Flor Ortiz, who comes to our house Monday-Thursday afternoons for an hour and half each day. She is teaching Nick Spanish, and also helping him with any problems he encounters with his school work. This is an absolute necessity for Nick, and we expect to use a tutor for at the first semester, but possibly longer based on Nick's progress.

The 2011-2012 school year started on September 8, 2011, and the final day of school is June 28, 2012. We hope this gives you a good starting point if you plan to have your children attend a private school in Cuenca, and there are several good schools to chose from. The quality of a child's education is the result of good-quality teachers, involved parents, and a willing student. I won't try to compare an Ecuadorian school with a US school, because it has only been a week, but I will post updates as we go through our first year at Santana. Life is good.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cordova Family Dinner

Our friend Marta's parents invited us to their house for dinner on Sunday. Sunday dinner is truly a family affair for the Cordova's, because it includes four generations of family. Marta has eight siblings, and five of them live in Cuenca, and each of her siblings have children, and some even grandchildren. We were invited, because the family wanted to meet the gringos who were teaching English to two of the great-grandchildren (Joaquim and Juan-Jose), and helping Marta with her apartments.

Marta and her daughter Alexandra, who is a dentist, picked us up at our apartment at 1:30, and we drove to her parents house which is nearby. I had meet Marta's father our first week here when Edgar (building manager), and I were running around town getting parts to install our washer and dryer. He is a retired member of the National Police, and he spent a year in New Jersey training with the State police there in the 1980's, and he is very healthy 82 years old. Once we arrived at the house, we began the process of meeting the family. I lost count after meeting the first 20 members of the family. The meal was fabulous, soup and salad to start, followed by a dish consisting of large shrimp, vegetables, and rice. For dessert we had raspberries covered in the best whip cream I have ever had. Plenty of good food, two huge tables of people, and great conversation. Marta's oldest brother loves music, so we went back and forth inquiring to what kind of music, and artists we enjoyed. Marta's mother looked at me and realized I look a little like John F. Kennedy, and later Robert Kennedy. What is funny, is I have heard that comparison for the last 20 years, and to have Marta's mother point out the resemblance over dinner was surreal. 

After dessert, we all headed upstairs to the covered terrace, and continued our conversations. The family was curious why we chose Cuenca as our new home, and wanted to know all about our family. During our talk, we learned that Ecuador shares the same problems we have in the states. The middle-class in Ecuador is seeing a reduction in their quality of life, and families are spending less time together than they did even five years ago. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle-class is seeing the cost-of-living rising faster than income. It was nice to seeing Marta's 60 year old brother sitting next to his mother holding her hand as he talked, and seeing the grandchildren listening to every word their elders spoke. It was a truly special afternoon for us to be welcomed into the Cordova home, and to be treated as family. 

We  left at 5:45 to head home, and while we were saying our goodbyes, Marta's parents told us we are now part of their family, and are welcome to come to dinner every Sunday. It was a great afternoon for us, and so much more happened than what I have written here, but as we attend more Sunday dinners, and our Spanish improves, I hope to share more experiences of the Cordova family. Life is good.      

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nick's First Day of School - Ecuadoran Style


This morning Nick started the 9th grade (8th grade in the US) at Unidad Educativa Santana which is an IB (International Baccalaureate) certified, private school located in Cuenca. All the classes are taught in Spanish with the exception of English class which is two hours per day. School begins at 7:40 AM, and is dismissed at 1:40 PM which includes two 15 minute breaks, but no lunch, and classes are held Monday-Friday.

To prepare Nick  to attend Santana he had Spanish lessons for five weeks, consisting of two hours each day Monday-Friday. After researching and choosing Santana we had to go through the application process. First task was to complete the application package, which consists of a copy of Nick's passport, a letter from the Ecuadoran Ministry of Education stating Nick's meets the requirements to attend a secondary school in Ecuador, and approving Santana as his school choice, a Health Certificate, school transcripts for the last two years, and a $50 application fee. Once the application package was turned in and accepted we had to pay the annual registration fee of $118. Next, we had to go through the testing process, which included testing in Mathematics, English Language, Spanish Language, and Psychological testing, and personal interviews with Nick, Susan, and I with the school Psychologist, and the Principal.  Wednesday, the day before school started Nick was officially accepted, and we purchased his school uniforms for $108. Last Saturday, Susan and I bought Nick's school supplies for $89, so he was ready to go this morning.

With school starting so early, we got up at 6:00 AM (yuck!), and were out the door by 7:15 to look for a taxi. Usually, we can walk out our building and find a taxi within 5 minutes,  but not today, the first day of school. We had to walk up the street a good ways until Susan finally was able to flag down a taxi. We arrived at school with 5 minutes to spare, and stood in the courtyard waiting for someone to point us in the right direction. Luckily, the Principal, her name is Margarita said Buenos Dias, and explained where Nick needed to go to meet his class adviser. After meeting the adviser, Susan and I left Nick alone in a new school, in a new language, and we had no idea how he would survive the day. Susan, and I walked part of the way home before catching the bus, and once home had second thoughts on what we had just done to our youngest child. Would he understand his teachers? Get frustrated by his minimal understanding of Spanish? Or be an outcast due to being a gringo?

In the afternoon, at around 2:30 the school bus/van dropped Nick off in the front of our building, and Susan was as excited as if Nick had just come home from his first day school ever. Nick was smiling (rare for a teenager), and told us school was fine, he made two friends, but could only remember one of their names (Lucas). He said the other kids in his class speak English, and he understood a little of what the teachers were saying. He doesn't change classrooms during the day which is helpful, and the different teachers come to the individual classrooms to teach the different subjects. Santana limits the 9th grade to only 50 students per year, and Nick's class has 22 students. He arrived home hungry, since he hadn't eaten since 6:30 in the morning, so he grabbed a snack, and we headed out the door to his Spanish lessons in El Centro.

So, the first day of school is over, and we can relax a little bit, because it was stressful going through the process of finding a school, the application process, and finally starting school. We will continue to write about Nick's school, and hopefully this will help anyone with school-age children who considering a move to Cuenca. Life is good.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

School Supplies and Pizza

This morning we visited our friend Trish, and got a tour of her beautiful apartment. The apartment has amazing views of Cuenca, and a nice terrace full of plants. While there, she loaned us a TV stand, and two small space heaters for our apartment that she was not using, and Susan already has the heaters in use. Thanks again, Trish.

As we were walking up to the entrance to Trish's building we met an Ecuadorian gentlemen named Jaime who lives in the US, and is a ships Captain. As we were talking to him in English he mentioned that he was looking to rent out two apartments he owns in the building across the street from Trish. I mentioned our new website, and that we were offering to list apartments for rent, and handling the leasing process if people are interested. Well, he gave me his contact information, and he would like us to list his two apartments for him, so I am going to go over and take pictures of both apartments for our website. We literally bump into an opportunity that we weren't expecting, so I guess we now have six units to market and lease. 

Later, after a brief visit to our apartment by Trish, Susan and I walked to La Papeleria Monsalve next to the soccer stadium to buy Nick's school supplies. An employee of the store named Maria took the list we received from Santana, and helped us get everything we needed. Total cost, $89.11, and we still need to find a few things that the store didn't have in stock, but we have 97% of the list. The supplies were bulky and heavy, so we took a taxi home. The taxi headed in the wrong direction to our apartment, so we were a little curious what he had in mind, but later realized he didn't know where he was going, but eventually with our help he got us home.

Finally after running around we decided we wanted pizza, but didn't want to leave again, so I called Pizza Hut with hopes that we could place an order over the phone for delivery. Luckily, the manager speaks a little English, and we were able to place an order, and 30 minutes later we had pizza. The pizza was disappointing, and I am not going to order Pizza Hut again, but Susan and Nick liked it better than what I have been making myself, so at least they enjoyed it and I didn't have to cook. We had the typical Saturday night at home like we used to in Decatur, pizza, and a good movie (True Grit), so it was a nice way to finish the day. Life is good.

Friday, September 2, 2011

American TV in Ecuador

I consider myself pretty typical to the stereotype of an American when it comes to TV. I have a love of watching certain shows on TV and even would move my errands around to watch some of my shows. bad huh?
Now, that I am living the life of a retiree I have all kinds of time on my hands and I can't watch my shows or can I? I found a way with help of my hubby. Hopefully he won't regret it.
Well, when we moved to Ecuador I realized that our cable doesn't show my shows. Yes there are channels that have reruns and their in english with spanish subtitles but I want to see up to date shows.
At first I found USTVnow which allows me to watch basic TV for free, but I have problems with it freezing up on me and I would miss vital parts of my soaps :), but you can DVR it and then not miss any. If you do sign up for USTVnow please use this link so I can get credit and get FREE DVR points :)
Then I found channels on Youtube and I was able to watch my soaps anytime after they posted them that made me happy because I was not tied down to a specific time, but I can't find all my shows on Youtube.
On Facebook I have feeds from some of the shows I like to watch Combat Hospital, Bones, and Big Bang Theory to name a few and they have been posting about the new seasons coming up and I've been realizing that I won't be able to see them unless someone posts it on Youtube which has made me sad.
My wonderful husband came to the rescue he did some internet searching and found a FREE internet masking program Ultrasurf it is great I tried it last night and I was able to go to ABC and Fox and watched a few shows. Today I am able to listen to Pandora and it's making me smile.
Next, I will have to see if I can get NPR, I used to love listening to some of the shows.
I hope this post will help you smile a little more.

Our First Earthquake

Last night as Steve and I lay in bed getting ready for our slumber we felt the bed and windows shake. At first I thought it was us moving in bed, so we tried to recreate the shaking but we couldn't do it. We thought could this be an earthquake? It only lasted a few seconds so we just decided to go to sleep and look it up this morning.

Steve got up first this morning and reported to me that there was an earthquake near the coast of Ecuador it was 4.9.

Nick slept through it so we told him about it this morning. No big deal to him.

So we lived through our first earthquake! :)