Kayla Wu’s latest: Saying Goodbye to MI


Saying goodbye to MI

Next week is LiLi’s last week at her Mandarin Immersion public elementary school in San Francisco.

To continue Mandarin Immersion into middle school there are very few choices in San Francisco. The public middle school that both Mandarin Immersion elementary schools feed into carries the Mandarin forward but at a huge cost: electives. SFUSD has decided that the kids will not have access to the traditional middle school electives since it is during that period the Mandarin will take place. The school is also huge, over 1100 kids in three grades. There’s one established private that has MI too, and at least one other smaller private newish on the scene.

Since the established MI private wasn’t for us, like many parents I had to decide between sending LiLi to the this large middle that carries forward the Mandarin but offers no electives or putting her in a smaller all-day-in-English school. I chose the latter.

I’ll supplement the Chinese, hire a caregiver who speaks only Chinese, and continue to spend summers in China.

We travel in three weeks.

Kayla Wu and daughter LiLi went to China for a year

Kayla Wu is a Chinese American mom in San Francisco who sent her daughter LiLi to one of the public Mandarin Immersion elementary schools there. When LiLi was in third grade, Kayla decided to move the family to Beijing where LiLi could be immersed in the language and culture.  The initial plan was to stay six months but they liked it so much they decided to stay a year.  If it were not for Beijing’s bad air they would likely still be there.  Now that they have returned to San Francisco, Kayla and the family will continue to spend summers in China.

I met Kayla at my daughter’s Mandarin Immersion school. I admired immensely her courage and determination when she decided to pack their bags, rent her apartment in San Francisco and go to live in China for a while. Here is the first page of the blog she started a couple of years ago, enjoy it:

The Big Decision

Last week I made the ultimate decision to quit my job and move me and my kid to Beijing.  I have wanted to do it at least since spending the better part of last summer traveling around China.  My daughter, LiLi, is in a public Mandarin Immersion school in San Francisco, CA.  Her Mandarin is excellent and her accent sounds like a native, or so I’m told.  But, I’m also told that learning Mandarin in the US, even at a good school, means that at the beginning of third grade she knows a few hundred characters; if we were in China by now she’d know around 2000.  We have some friends who moved to Central and South America so their kids could learn Spanish and I’ve long thought that that was a great idea.  I’ve recently reconnected with them, read their blog, and been inspired by their courage and sense of adventure.  I also met a family this past summer in Beijing who decided then that they’d move with their family of three young kids.  The dad, from Ghana, said that Mandarin is going to be so important to our kids’ generation and that the place to learn it was right there, in Beijing.  A couple of weeks later they went home, packed up their house, and moved.  Since then I’ve hooked up with a whole cohort of expat families who have done the same thing for the same reason.   Since I have been telling friends and other school families about our plans, I’ve been asked how it feels.  It feels:  exciting; overwhelming; exhilarating.  Mostly, it feels “right.”  The last few days I’ve been reflecting on that, and the various considerations and pieces of the life-altering-changes puzzle.  A big piece is  Mandarin Immersion.  What better place to immerse my daughter in the language?  But there are other pieces too.  There are professional considerations, mid-life crisis ones (move to Beijing or buy myself a black Jaguar E-type?), getting unstuck.  Heritage is another big piece.  My father was born in China and left during a Japanese invasion in the 1930s when many Mainlanders fled.  He recalled running through a field as bombs were dropping.  He was the youngest of four kids and remembered my grandmother pulling on his arm to run faster.  He was about my daughter’s age when they left China for Malaysia, later coming to the US for college and medical school. So there’s a huge piece that feels a bit like I’m going home.  It’s odd because though I’ve traveled in China a handful of times, I’ve never lived in China.  Perhaps there is something to the fact that some hotels and the visa ap refer to US born Chinese (even half-Chinese/half-Caucasians like me) as “Overseas Chinese.”   We will move to Beijing in late January 2012.  I intend to write here some of our experiences and welcome you to join us on this adventure.  : ) -Kayla

Follow her blog to follow Kayla’s on her trip

Ecuador part-time. Ecuador a medio tiempo.



See family, have fun and save some money Every summer, back to my country with my kids, 11-year-old daughter Isabela and 8-year-old son Sebastian, we go. Initially it is just us, for a month or two, and then my husband joins us. From beautiful San Francisco, where we reside, we go.   For many reasons we go:





  • To immerse the kids in both the language and the culture of Ecuador. See articles: Mama’s don’t cut your umbilical culture or Familia Trilingue, that explain our trilingual live in San Francisco.
  • It is also important for me to maintain alive the connections with my friends and family.
  • To create a bond between my kids and their Ecuadorian family and cousins. (A long term bond with her cousins that thanks to Skype my kids keep and cherish: it is funny to see them dance to the same tune with their cousins miles away)
  • To save money and not have to kill ourselves with two full time jobs. Because living in Ecuador is at least one third cheaper than in San Francisco. Summer camps for the kids, if we do any, are also a third of the price


I would say that for the past 11 years, we’ve lived at least one forth, sometimes even one third, of our lives in Ecuador. The startup I worked for, when I had my first child, went out of business and I stayed as the main caregiver for my kids working just part-time or as a consultant. We’ve managed to stay living in the city with a salary and a half thanks to:

  • Living in the same apartment we bought 20 years ago when we both worked full-time
  • Sending the kids to public schools
  • Living modestly so we can travel as much as possible
  • Spending everything in the credit card so we could travel getting the tickets with miles we used to reserve a year ahead. Unfortunately, this won’t work as well any more as American Airlines has doubled the amount of miles needed for summer travel.
  • Subletting our apartment for the month my husband is in Ecuador as well.
  • Frankly, thanks to the fact that I have a place to arrive to in Ecuador.


As my kids get bigger, expenses are greater and we need to save much more than we do now for college, so I will need to and want to work full time. Also, as they get older, we will have less flexibility go, or they may not want to as much. For now, I’m very happy with the time dedicated to the kids and the exposure to diverse cultures we’ve given them.

Ecuador not only has a gorgeous countryside, but for a small country, it has one of the greatest per square foot vegetation, climate, culture and environmental diversity in the world. Therefore, it is an awesome place to travel around and visit diverse ecosystems and cultures. See video from Ecuador’s Ministry of tourism   For more information about traveling in Ecuador see Viva Travel Guides