ALLEM Mexico Exchange Program

The students of El Marino have had an opportunity to participate in an academic and cultural student exchange with schools in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico since 1984.  The Mexico Exchange Program (MEX) is sponsored by ALLEM and it is organized and operated by the families who participate.


The lead coordinator for the 2020 Mexico Exchange is Hilary Ketchum.  The Co-Coordinators are Debbie Jones & Raisa Lilling.  Claudia Akemann and Rebecca Anderson are the supporting coordinators.


All members of the leadership team have had at least one child participate in the Exchange and most of us have experience as a Chaperone.  We are here to lead and guide the process but your full participation and assistance is expected as soon as you are accepted into the program.  This is a GROUP EFFORT.


We feel that the opportunity to live as part of a Mexican family gives participating students an enriching and eye-opening view of a different culture and a new land.  It almost always provides the participants with an enhanced sense of self-confidence and independence and a new-found appreciation for their own home and culture.  It definitely provides them with plenty of practice in communicating in Spanish.  For many, the Mexico Exchange is the capstone experience of the Spanish immersion program at El Marino.


This document attempts to provide answers to the questions parents ask most often.  It won’t have answers to all of your questions, so feel free to ask any other questions that you like.


If you are interested in applying for the 2020 Exchange, please email mex@allelmarino.org to request an application. Student and Chaperone Applications are due Friday, February 14th.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long and when is the Exchange?

Your child will be in Mexico for approximately 17 days and your family will host for approximately 17 days.  These two things do not occur simultaneously. The dates are tentative and subject to change, but we anticipate that your child will be in Mexico from August 20 – September 7, 2020. In Mexico, they will be with their host family taking short trips and doing group activities for the first few days and they will be attending school for two weeks.  Your child will miss the first two weeks of school at El Marino. We will host the groups from Mexico mid-October through early November 2020.


Where will my child go to school in Mexico?

ALLEM has had an enduring relationship with Colegio La Calma:  https://lacalma.edu.mx/ a private school in the city of Zapopan (a suburb of the greater Guadalajara metropolitan area) for 35 years.  Colegio La Calma is smaller than El Marino and has classes from pre-K through 6th grade.  Colegio La Calma offers an intensive English language program (similar in some ways to El Marino’s Spanish program) and many activities and enrichment programs.  For the last 6 years, we have also been sending students to The Neill School https://www.neillschool.com/ , a newer partner school located several miles from La Calma. They have proven to be an enthusiastic host school with all the same qualities and characteristics as of La Calma.


Where will my child live in Mexico?

Your child will be matched with a child who attends Colegio La Calma or The Neill School.  We will send information about our participants to the directors of both schools in Guadalajara, who will select a host for your child based primarily on gender and grade level.  Your child will be placed with a child of the same gender who is probably in 5th grade, but may be in 4th or 6th.  We also try to match children based on their interests and personalities, but this is not an exact science.  We will also address any special health needs.  For example, if your child is allergic to dogs, we will make sure that the host family does not have a dog.  It is important that you inform us of anything we should know to aid this process at the time you apply.  Ideally, the child that your child lives with is the child you will host when he or she comes to Culver City.  Again, it doesn’t always work out this way, but that is the goal.


Is it safe?

There is crime in every major metropolitan area, including both Guadalajara and Los Angeles, and the “drug wars” in Mexico have certainly received abundant news coverage here in the United States.  However, it is important to keep the news reports in perspective.  Most of the drug war violence we have read about has occurred in Juarez and other border cities; Juarez is actually closer to Los Angeles than to Guadalajara.  Also, Guadalajara, which is in the state of Jalisco, has a much lower crime rate than other cities in Mexico.  The crime rate there is reported to be less than Los Angeles.  Moreover, La Calma and The Neill School are in middle class neighborhoods and the families that host our children are educated, caring and thoughtful parents who take great care with our children. In other words, our children stay with careful and concerned parents (just like ourselves) in a middle class neighborhood of the safest state in Mexico.  Perhaps the best way to keep the news reports in perspective is to understand that every time there is a report of a mass shooting in the United States, the families at La Calma and The Neill School get nervous about whether it is safe to send their children to Culver City.  We are all parents and we all have the same concern for the safety of our children.  In the end, though, whether to send a child on the exchange is a very personal decision and we respect every parent’s right to choose what is best for their family.  This program is voluntary and parent run.  If for any reason, you decide it’s not safe to send your child, your child should not apply.  This decision should be carefully thought out before you submit your application.


Would we host a child as well?

When deciding whether to participate, you must also consider your ability and willingness to host.  This is a two way exchange: every family must help with the hosting of the group that comes to Culver City from Mexico.  If you are able, you will be expected to host a child or chaperone in your home for three weeks when they visit in Culver City.  If, for any reason, you are unable to host a guest, you will be expected to help with a disproportionately large amount of the other hosting duties and help shoulder the expense of hosting. Some of the other duties include inviting chaperones to your home for dinner, acting as day guide and planning parties and excursions.


Who is eligible to apply?

Fourth grade students in SIP at El Marino apply in the second half of their Fourth grade year to go on the exchange in the beginning of their 5th grade year.  Only students who will attend El Marino for Fifth grade should apply.


Is my child ready?

Please also consider your child’s (and your own) emotional preparedness for this type of journey before deciding to participate.  Our goal is that every child and every family have a good experience with the program.  While the Exchange Program offers a wonderful opportunity for the child who participates with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure, it can be painfully difficult for the child who is not ready for such a trip.  It can also be hard on a parent who is not ready to have their child away for 17 days.  It is important that both the parent and the child be enthusiastic about participating.  The Mexico Exchange is not suitable for all ten year old children.  This program is for adventurous, mature kids who are willing and able to act as an ambassador for our school and our country.  It’s not something that should be taken lightly and it’s not something that a child or parent should be pushed into.  If you feel that you or your child is not yet up to this adventure, you should not apply.



How does my child apply and how many children are accepted?

You and your child should complete an application form and submit it ALLEM no later than Friday, February 14th, 2020.  It is important that all sections of the application are completed.  Late applications will be considered only after on-time applicants have been placed in a participant group or wait listed.  We can accept no more than 9 children into the program.



What factors do you consider in reviewing the applications?

We consider both social and academic preparedness.  This type of exchange requires that the child be adaptable, recognize and meet social expectations, and respect authority.  Children with behavioral issues are not good candidates for the exchange. Children who have issues with honesty are not good candidates for the exchange.  Academically, your child will be required to do the homework assigned by the school in Guadalajara, as well as keep up with certain work assigned by El Marino teachers.  They will return to school approximately two weeks into the Fall semester.  Children with poor work habits are therefore not good candidates for the exchange. Your child’s 3rd and 4th grade teachers and the Principal will be asked to evaluate these characteristics in your child.


If there are more than 9 eligible applicants, how are the participants selected?

Some years we have had more than 9 eligible applicants for the program.  Children who are eligible and are not selected for the participant groups are placed on a waiting list.  Below is a description of the method used to select the participants and generate the waiting list.

Level 1 Selection:  Children identified by their teachers and/or the Principal as being exceptionally good candidates are automatically selected as participants.  Children identified by their teachers and/or the Principal as being exceptionally poor candidates are declined.  Very few children fall into either one of these categories.

Level 2 Selection:  Eligible applicants who remain in the pool after Level 1 Selection may be automatically included as a participant if (a) their parent is chosen as a chaperone or (b) their parent has been an active volunteer for ALLEM.

Level 3 Selection:  All remaining eligible applicants are included in a lottery and are randomly selected to participate.  The lottery is also used to determine position on the waiting list if there are more than 9 eligible applicants.

There is an exception to this method.  If the SIP Exchange coordinators feel that your family did not meet the spirit of the hosting commitment when an older sibling was previously a participant in the exchange, your child will be declined.  This is a subjective decision and will not be made lightly.  We recognize that it punishes the child for the actions of the parent; however, every family must realize that the success of the exchange program rests as much on our ability to be good hosts as it does on our ability to send adventurous, mature, and respectful students.


Can I talk to my child in Mexico?

Yes, but we require that you limit your calls to once each week.  Experience shows that this helps your child adjust to the new environment and alleviates homesickness.  More often than not, your call will leave your child sad and homesick.  The calls are scheduled for Thursday evenings because they are usually followed by something fun for the weekend that alleviates the feelings of homesickness.


What if my child is unhappy with the host family?

It depends on the cause of the unhappiness.  A range of actions can follow, including assistance by the chaperones to aid in your child’s adjustment or, in extremely rare cases, finding a new host family for your child.  It’s important to manage your child’s expectations and you own when it comes to the connection that is made between your child and their host family, host brother or sister.  Some kids find a new best friend, some get along just fine but don’t find a deep connection, some don’t get along at all.  We can’t guarantee a “love connection” but we can assure you that we will handle each situation according to the attention it requires.  Safety is our biggest concern.  Sometimes the biggest lessons our kids learn are from learning to live with a family that is different than their own.


How much does it cost?


The approximate cost of sending your child to Mexico is around $1,000:

$100    Application Fee

$350    Roundtrip Airfare LAX/GDL

$150    Chaperone Airfare

$50      Excursion Costs

$50      Money for Chaperones incidental meals, emergencies.

$50      Souvenier Money

$118    SOS Personal Travel Insurance for your child(mandatory)

$200    ALLEM Foreign Liability Insurance


The cost of the parent’s weekend:

Airfare, Hotel, Excursions – varies by family


What is the parent’s weekend?

The parent’s weekend is optional but most families choose to participate.  You will be able to fly down and stay in Guadalajara over Labor Day Weekend.  This allows you the opportunity to reconnect with your child, meet their host family and also see the sights of Jalisco.  Last year we visited the Guadalajara Zoo which is considered to be the best Zoo in all of Mexico. We also had a big Fiesta with all of the families.  It’s an important trip especially if your child’s family is hesitant to send their child to live with you in Culver City.  When the families meet us, it makes a big difference in their decision to send their child.


Costs associated with hosting.  You will have an extra person living in your home, so you should anticipate increased daily living costs.  You will pay for all of the things for that child that you would pay for your own child, including small outings, such as, a movie, museum, or ice skating.  The children from Mexico bring their own money to cover their Disney & Universal Tickets, but your family or children may want to participate too, which will add expense.  Other expenses include small gifts for each member of your child’s host family and minor incidentals you may need to purchase for the child you host.


What are the excursions?

While in Guadalajara, your child will go on school outings with the other 5th grades students.  These outings typically include, the Zoo, the Aquarium and a trip to Tlaquepaque which is an artist community in a suburb of Guadalajara where the children are taught an art lesson in Spanish.  Last year they added a trip to a new Children’s Museum called “Kidzania” which was a huge hit:  https://guadalajara.kidzania.com/es-mx While the group from Mexico is here, we all go to Disneyland together. We will also most likely take them as a group to the California Science Center.  You may also choose to take your exchange guest on additional excursions as a family but this isn’t mandatory.


What do I do if my child has health issues?

Anything that may affect your child’s behavior or health while away from home MUST be disclosed to the chaperones and the host parents.  This includes medical conditions, medications, emotional problems, stress behaviors, and adaptive mechanisms.  We cannot overstate the importance of sharing this information with the people who will care for your child in your absence.  If your child has an on-going and/or serious medical condition, you should consult with your child’s physician to make sure the trip will not compromise your child’s health.  If your child sees a therapist, we request that you speak with the therapist to determine if this trip is suitable for your child.  If it is determined that your child’s health issues are too dangerous for the chaperones to handle, we would be unable to accept them into the program.


What if my child gets sick while they are in Mexico?

It’s entirely possible that your child could come down with a cold or have stomach issues while in Mexico.  We would handle the situation in Mexico the same way we would here in Culver City.  If your child needs to rest and stay home from school either the host parent or a chaperone will stay with them.  In addition to your own health insurance policy, you will be required to purchase and international policy which will cover any doctor visits or emergency visits when your child is in Mexico.  Guadalajara has very good doctors and hospitals.  You will be notified immediately if your child is ill or has an accident and be a part of the conversation on how best to treat any ailments or injuries.


Are children ever sent home mid-trip?

We reserve the right to take the unusual step of sending a child home mid-trip should the circumstances warrant it.  If, for any reason, the directors and chaperones determine that it is in the best interests of your child or the program for your child to return home before the end of the trip, the cost of the early return will be your responsibility.  Also, your child will return home unchaperoned, unless you elect to travel to Mexico to accompany your child.


How are the chaperones selected?

Adults interested in being a chaperone must complete and submit a chaperone application no later than Friday, March 20th, 2020.  We send 2-4 chaperones with each group.  Typically (not always), chaperones are parents of children participating in the exchange.  They are selected based on their experience and skill with children, their ability to communicate in Spanish, their availability to commit for 17 days, their history with ALLEM, especially the Mexico exchange program, and the results of the interview process.  The selection will be made by the Mexico Exchange Coordinators using input from the interview committee.  The chaperones are on duty at all times while in Mexico and they cannot expect to work while they are there.  They are responsible for all of the children and will be expected to undergo a training process that includes First Aid/CPR and Sexual Misconduct prevention.  It’s important to ask yourself if you would not send your child if you were not chosen.  If you would only consider sending our child if you are the chaperone, that’s not a good reason to be a chaperone.   You should feel comfortable sending your child regardless.  If you are chosen to be a chaperone, your child will be expected to turn to the other chaperones for assistance.  This program is all about fostering independence; helicopter parenting is strongly discouraged.


Are chaperone expenses covered by the program?

Some of the chaperone expenses are covered, including regular airfare and excursion costs.  The funds for this are provided by the parents who send their children to Mexico.  Chaperones must cover all of their additional expenses, including, but not limited to, a portion of the excursions and outings and the cost of host gifts for their host family.


Whom do I contact if I have more questions?

Feel free to contact the committee with any questions that arise.  The committee members are:

Hilary Ketchum         310-280-8612

Debbie Jones            310-420-2600

Raisa Lilling               310-498-2002

Claudia Akemann     310-614-3348

Rebecca Anderson   312-804-0921

This e-mail address goes to the entire committee: mex@allelmarino.org


You should also speak with families who participated in the exchange in previous years.  While most children and families see the exchange as a wonderful experience, there are those who do not.   Both groups can offer valuable insight and information.  If you don’t know any of the families, just ask around – they are everywhere.

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