by Annie Lundahl, TABS
From Memberanda, Spring 2013
Navigate Latin America carefully, and you’ll discover a thriving market excited about U.S. and Canadian boarding schools.
I’ve eaten the best pizza on the planet in São Paulo (seriously), biked through Bogotá, made lifelong friends in Mexico, and learned that while Latin America is definitely not an uncomplicated recruiting region, its bright-eyed students will hook you every time. Like the terrain itself, the students are diverse and have a tendency to catch you by surprise.
If an international student body is part of your school’s vision, consider a few tips to aid in your Latin American recruiting efforts.
Build Year-Round Relationships. It can take years to make ties. They happen through embassy relationships, alumni, high school counselors, agents, consultants, and other education influences. If you have Latin American students at your school now, get to know their family’s neighbors and relatives. Word of mouth can be everything.
Feed on Existing Ties. One of the strongest predictors of international students enrolling in a U.S. or Canadian boarding school relates to the number of same-country, post-secondary students in the same area. The number of emigrants in the area is a second strong predictor. Take notice and make strategic partnerships. (The Institute for International Education’s Open Doors® provides a comprehensive resource for post-secondary data – www.iie.org.)
Be Open. Latin America is an agent-driven market. We can’t change this in the short term – it’s woven into the culture. Struan Robertson, Director of Marketing & Recruitment at Lakefield College School in Ontario – and a man who has been successfully recruiting in Latin America for over seven years – suggests we "train and educate the agents on the virtues of our schools, so that they know how to intelligently present them to their qualified clients."
Read Between the Lines. In Latin America, families often consider any form of financial aid to be "merit-based aid." It’s about bragging rights ("my child earned a scholarship") rather than actual need. Even $1,000 can satisfy that. Ask careful questions to determine their expectations.
Don’t Shut Down the "One-Years." If your school has a hard policy of not accepting one-year students, you might find yourself somewhat frustrated in Latin America. Instead, keep the conversation going and talk it through with families. You might be able to persuade them otherwise. Also consider that while it’s a risk to assume you could convert the student to four years, it happens more often than you think.
Venture Out. TABS Fairs are usually held in large metro areas, but Struan tells me that if you venture an hour or two outside the city center, there are scores of potential boarding school families – especially in Colombia. There are also agents located outside the cities that other schools might not have a relationship with yet.
Culture Matters. Shopping the local market, taking a bike tour, or enjoying a Mexican margarita doesn’t mean you’re "vacationing." Having authentic experiences in a new region helps you better understand the culture — and can lead to great conversations when meeting new families. Not to mention, market shopping can help you to understand local negotiation tactics.
When people say their school can’t afford to immerse their recruiters in Latin American culture, I like to gently suggest "your school can’t afford not to do that."
Some Latin American Advantages
- Time zones are closer to U.S. and Canadian time zones (versus Asia).
- The idea of going to school in the U.S. or Canada is very popular.
- There is a large Colombian immigrant population in Canada, and a large Mexican immigrant population in the U.S.
- The Brazilian government is offering millions of dollars to students who go to college in the U.S. (if they return to Brazil after graduation). Going to a U.S. boarding school greatly increases the chances of getting into a U.S. college.
Some Latin American Challenges
- The Brazilian school year is on a different calendar than is typically seen in the U.S. and Canada.
- Families have varying degrees of English language skills. It’s best to travel with translators.
- Latin American families are close knit, and the idea of releasing a child to a "land far away" can make them very uneasy.
- Brazilians have much closer ties with European boarding schools.