No one has embodied the principles and ideas of the “Jet Set Citizen” more than Maya Frost. Expatriate, entrepreneur, educational expert, exquisite! Maya Frost offers great lessons about what it means to be a global citizen in this interview.
Please tell us about your book, The New Global Student
Thanks for asking! It’s my first book, and though I had zero connections in the publishing world and was thousands of miles from any English writers’ conferences or other schmooze fests, I was fortunate to get an agent, a publisher and a contract with Random House within a few weeks of sending an initial email query. I navigated through the entire process—from pitch to publication—via email from Argentina. In fact, I never met my agent or editor until the book was already in bookstores!
In 2005, my husband and I sold everything and left our suburban Portland, Oregon lifestyle behind in order to have an adventure abroad. The tricky part: we had to usher our four teenage daughters through high school and into college in nontraditional ways. The book was inspired by the lessons we learned (and loopholes we discovered) that allow any U.S. student to get a personalized and exhilarating global education without spending a fortune. It’s a conspiratorial how-to guide for families looking for ways to avoid the traditional four-by-four model (four years of high school, four years of college) and help their kids discover their most thrilling and fulfilling opportunities for education and life in general. The new global American students are laughing at the lunacy of the current college-prep mindset, diving into higher ed early, and gliding into the global economy at 19 or 20 with a red-hot U.S. or Canadian college diploma, sizzling 21st-century skills (including fluency in at least one foreign language), outrageously relevant experience, a blazing sense of direction, and NO DEBT. The book was published in May and has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today, and Smithsonian magazine, as well as numerous radio programs (NPR) and online media outlets. You can read the reviews (and the first chapter) at NewGlobalStudent.com
How did your own daughters receive their education?
In four different ways! The oldest spent her junior year of high school as an exchange student in Chile, her senior year taking college courses back in the U.S., transferred at 18 as a junior to a four-year university in Canada, worked as a teaching assistant (TA) on campus and a virtual research assistant while living on a tropical island for a summer, graduated with a BS at 19, spent several months traveling in South America, then landed a job at a family health clinic in Harlem. After working there for a year, she began her master’s program (paid for by her employer) and just completed her Masters of Public Health last May. She’s now the program director for a nonprofit in her Washington Heights (New York) neighborhood and is passionate about her work. She’s 23.
Daughter #2 spent her junior year of high school on exchange in Brazil, graduated from high school early, and studied in six universities in four countries in three languages before earning her degree in Oregon! She did two internships in Manhattan—one for MTV International and one for a Latino ad agency—worked in an Irish pub, had a job in marketing for a while, and then moved back to BA. After spending a few months working virtually for an American company here, she is now thriving as a private English tutor. She’s 21.
Daughter #3 spent her junior year of high school abroad in Brazil, moved to Buenos Aires to join our family, spent what would have been her senior year finishing up high school online and taking college courses both virtually and at a local Argentine university, transferred to a four-year university in Canada at 18 as a junior, graduated at 19, and has spent the last few months working as a multilingual events coordinator for Norwegian Cruise Lines. She did her first four-month tour working the South Carolina/Bahamas/Bermuda route, and has had a fantastic time during her stint in the Mediterranean this summer. She’ll be based in Buenos Aires from December, doing the South American route. She’s 20.
Daughter #4 never attended high school in the U.S. She was the only foreigner in her private high school in Mexico for a year, moved with the family to Argentina, and took intensive Spanish courses at a local university alongside U.S. college students and worked with tutors from several countries in a variety of topics. She spent a summer studying at a university in Oregon, earned her GED (General Equivalency Diploma), returned to Argentina to attend a small American college, and then transferred as a junior to a private university in upstate New York, where she works as a TA. She spent the summer doing independent research in Argentina and is excited to complete her BS this December. She’s 18.
Many people seem to advocate skipping university to just go and work on interesting projects, do you agree with that view?
I think that can work out very well, especially for those who are unsure of their interests or those who are very clear about what they want to do and know it does not require a college degree. Many people feel that college is a time to figure out what you want to do, but it’s a very expensive way to do it! I think it’s smarter for students to have opportunities in high school (or during the typical high school years, anyway) to learn more about who they are and what they want and to begin college when they are really excited to do so rather than continuing on a certain path simply because it’s the expected thing. I believe that the best way to prepare students for life (not just college) is to give them a chance to learn in a wide range of settings. And though it’s certainly possible to be happy and successful in life without earning a college degree, it is something that my husband and I wanted to offer to our daughters and we encouraged them to dig in and finish in whatever way suited them. Many assume that you have to choose EITHER college OR travel, but it’s not an either/or proposition—it’s entirely possible to earn a degree quickly and inexpensively while incorporating plenty of adventures and meaningful time abroad. You don’t have to be a genius, either—it’s much more about clarity and motivation than I.Q.!
Can you give us a breakdown of how you earn an income?
I like to keep a few balls in the air. 😉 So, in the last couple of years, in addition to my advance for writing my book, I earn income from a $27 e-course I’ve sold for years about how to pay attention on my mindfulness site at Real-WorldMindfulness.com and also through my 30-minute $99 KickStart calls with parents and students who need a little guidance getting started on a new learning adventure. Because I live in Argentina, I try to schedule speaking events in clusters in the U.S. so that I can do that for a month or so and then come back.
How long have you been living in Argentina?
We’ve been here for over three years now and just love it. Though we initially moved here with our two youngest daughters, all four have spent time here and we think that at least two of them will end up here long term—although we know that things can change! We are not searching for a place to move and really feel that Buenos Aires will remain our family’s base for many years.
We came here originally after a year in Mexico, our “starter country”—many expats refer to a beginning place as the entry point for their life abroad and a time to figure out what they really want. We had a great year in Mexico but decided that we wanted to live in a big city with a vibrant creative community. We actually let our youngest daughter pick the city and country since she had the most school time ahead of her! She did her research and picked Buenos Aires. We moved down without ever having been here, and settled in immediately. We feel at home here and really appreciate the Argentine culture as well as the wonderfully supportive expat community here in Buenos Aires.
I have to know, is the dog poop on the streets as bad as everyone says it is? 🙂
Yeah, it’s pretty bad, but you get used to it and become quite good at avoiding it!
Did all four of your daughters move to Argentina with you?
We moved here with the youngest two, but our second daughter followed a few months later and after finishing college and working in New York, she is now living across the street from us! Moving abroad was the smartest thing we’ve ever done as parents and it gave our girls some incredible advantages in terms of language skills, flexibility, and a much broader view of the world and their own possibilities.
What is the cost of living in Argentina?
When we arrived three years ago, prices were considerably less than they are now because the country was still emerging from a disastrous economic crisis in 2001. I’d say things cost about 30% more now, but it’s still less than in the U.S. depending on the item. We rented for only a month, and it was harder to find a reasonable rental than a place to purchase for a good price, so we ended up buying a brand new three-bedroom, two-bath apartment for about $130,000US. We were very happy there, but with the kids out of the house, my husband and I decided to sell that and buy a new studio apartment in a different neighborhood to enjoy life as empty nesters! That place cost us about $55,000. We absolutely love the simplicity of our new home and the proximity to all kinds of fun things to do. Our monthly expenses (not counting tuition!) in the other place were about $2,000 per month and we’re spending even less than that now and living very well, going out for meals and other outings many times a week.
What is your visa status? Is it difficult to stay long term in the country?
We’re on tourist visas, meaning we have to take the ferry to have lunch in Uruguay every three months. It hasn’t really been an issue. Every country is different, and a lot depends on your own tolerance for risk versus an often frustrating application process. We’ve been able to live here, send our kids to school here, buy property, sell property and basically function as citizens (including paying taxes) without going through the process of getting more permanent residency, so it’s hard for us to see the benefit of jumping through the hoops. We know people who insisted on getting their residency even before coming here, and we know those whose tourist visas expired years ago and they’ve never worried about it or had any problems. Everyone needs to make their own decision about this.
You taught English for 5 years in Japan. Would you recommend that experience to others?
Absolutely! At the time, (from 1983-1988) it was very unusual for foreigners to be in northern rural Japan and we learned how to be respectful of the culture while also doing our best to represent our own in a positive way. Of course, learning the language was extremely valuable—my husband ended up starting an export company when we returned to the U.S. and used his Japanese daily for over a decade. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher, but for those who really enjoy connecting with others through language, it’s an unbeatable opportunity to learn, make friends, understand more about the culture, and make enough money to live abroad comfortably. I highly recommend it!
What is the future for Maya Frost?
I’m currently having a wonderful time writing a novel about a group of expats in Buenos Aires who are creating new lives for themselves. My husband and I continue to work with parents through our KickStart calls and really enjoy that. We’ll be heading up to the U.S. in February for more speaking and media stuff for The New Global Student and possibly doing some early promo for the new book. And there are always quirky little opportunities that pop up—I was just invited to fly to New York to do a segment for a cable television program, so we’ll see what happens with that. There are places we’d like to visit for a few months at a time—Cape Town and southern India are at the top of the list—but we’d really love to spend more time just exploring this beautiful country.