- Tara Fisher-Munoz and her family moved from the US to Portugal in July 2021
- She said that safety and political issues inspired the move abroad.
- Both of her teenage children are now adjusting to life in Portuguese schools
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Tara Fisher-Munoz. It has been edited for length and clarity.
My husband and I told the kids in July 2020 that we would be moving to Portugal. Between the pandemic and the state of turmoil and division that the United States was embroiled in, we had to think about what was most important in life.
At first, they were a bit surprised. They had only ever lived in Austin and loved our neighborhood and local community. Once we discussed the reasons for moving, they agreed that moving to Portugal would be a great experience and opportunity. They were on board with it as they were having anxiety about going to school in Texas — active shooter drills had become routine since kindergarten.
Our daughter has now been in a public arts-based high school in Lisbon for three years, and our son has been in public school for two years, and they love it.
In Portugal, our kids had better lunches and schedules
When our kids were in school in Austin, the school schedule was 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and then sports and extracurricular activities afterward. The schedule changes yearly in Portugal, and the hours aren't the same daily. It's akin to a typical university schedule where the timings are different each day with different classes. For example, our daughter's schedule is currently 8:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. three times a week, 8:30 to 4 p.m. once a week, and 8:30 to 1 p.m. once a week.
They always get a one-hour break for lunch and have 10 minutes in between classes. Generally, we've found that the school lunches in Portugal are superior to the US. We are a vegan family, and the schools here offer one vegan lunch choice each day. I'm super impressed by the menu, with loads of fresh fruit and veggies. Our kids didn't eat school lunches in the US because they didn't offer healthy or vegan choices.
Interestingly, the school breaks and holidays are pretty similar to the US. They get two to three weeks of vacation in December, a short break for Carnaval, two weeks for Spring Break/Easter, and three months for summer. We typically spend this time traveling, and now that we live in Portugal, it's so much easier to travel around Europe.
Our kids have less homework
Another positive about Portuguese schools is that the homework load is lighter than it was in the US. Our son will typically have an hour of homework a day, and our daughter doesn't have much homework unless she's preparing for an important project.
I think it's better this way. Our daughter was doing high school online in the US because of Covid, but the workload was way too much. She was taking three AP classes and doing school and homework from 6 a.m. until midnight every day, including weekends. There was no work/life balance at that time. Our kids are now able to spend time with family and friends outside school and enjoy their time here because there's less of that pressure.
There are things we miss about school in the US
One thing I think the US does better is it provides more school-related extracurricular activities. We miss that aspect of school in the US.
Both kids were heavily involved in the musical theater program in their schools in Austin and they played instruments and participated in school sports. The schools that our kids are currently at in Portugal don't have many extracurricular activities. Portuguese schools focus on teaching the necessary subjects for future education and employment. Typically, the "elective" classes are just languages.
Another noticeable concern has been that the teachers go on strike frequently, which can cause some issues due to the last-minute nature of the cancellations. We usually find out on the day when we're turned away at the school gate.
Furthermore, we don't usually find out when the first day of school is until a day or two before school actually starts. This has been challenging for us as we like to know ahead of time what to expect. In the US, our school district would publish the school calendars three years in advance.
Regardless, we wouldn't consider sending our kids back to school in the US. The fear of school shootings prevents that. Thankfully, Portugal is a very safe and peaceful country. Our kids would only consider returning to the US if things improved.