Isabela De Jesus

Master’s in Mexico: Career Move Leads to Dream Fulfilled   

Isabela De Jesus wanted to earn her master’s degree, but that hope was fleeting as the years passed. Now, 10 years later, she’s seeing her dream come to fruition and all it took was a chance job interview…and moving 4,800 miles from home.

“When I graduated with my bachelor’s I knew I wanted to go for my master’s, but I was thinking for business,” she said. “I had gotten into a school in Lancaster, England, but didn’t get a scholarship.” De Jesus continued trying to earn one, but it just wasn’t happening.

While still at home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she started working as a teacher librarian at The British School. The idea of a business degree started to fade as a new goal came into focus.

“Working as a teacher librarian wasn’t my goal, it just happened to be what I was doing. I am Buddhist and the organization that I’m part of, we have these three pillars — education, peace and culture,” she said. “The education part was something that started to drive my life.”

De Jesus was encouraged by a friend to apply for the teacher librarian position at the Westhill Institute in Mexico City, some 4,800 miles from home. Everything was falling into place.

The Westhill Institute is an international American school located in the Santa Fe region of Mexico City, Mexico. The University of Alabama College of Education’s Office of International Programs partners with Westhill Institute to offer its teachers and employees the opportunity to earn a Master of Arts degree in Elementary or Secondary Education.  

Over the years, OIP has offered similar programs in Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay and China.

“So I applied, got the job and in the offer letter one of the benefits was a scholarship to Alabama, but it was in education,” she explained. “I was already leaning toward education and I was like, ‘I guess I’m going to Mexico City!”

De Jesus is getting her master’s in elementary education and currently serves as the elementary librarian and communications coordinator for the Westhill Institute where she hopes her master’s will help her further enhance her students’ experiences.

“At the end of the day I want to become a good library teacher because I know literacy is important,” she said. “They do this in the classroom, but also media literacy is crucial, especially nowadays.”

“I knew I could deliver this class they needed and with the master’s I got so many resources and skills that [Westhill] decided to give me a position as a coordinator,” she said.

De Jesus has been in her role since January 2019 and working towards her master’s degree started that February — which was intense and wonderful at the same time.

Isabela De Jesus exploring Oaxaca, Mexico.
Isabela De Jesus exploring Oaxaca, Mexico.

“During one month of a semester, two weeks it’s in person, the teachers come here, and it’s insane, it’s crazy because we are working full time and it’s exhausting. But the teachers are amazing and that helped.” The last week of the month is finalizing and turning in assignments.

De Jesus had these intensive months three times a year and would work at her own pace the rest of the year but with assignment due dates and checkpoints throughout. She credits her advisor for keeping her on track and supporting her.

“My advisor Julianne Coleman was great. She was so open to connecting with me and she helped me so much because writing academically in another language — it is tough. Any academic writing is tough, especially in a third language. She helped me improve my writing and I appreciate her so much.”

De Jesus’ first language is Portuguese, but she started learning English at 15. Working at the Westhill Institute has helped her sharpen that language skill and her Spanish as well.

She got emotional thinking about how she’ll soon be traveling to the U.S. for the first time in her life where she’ll receive her degree in Coleman Coliseum. It means even more for her family since she is a first-generation graduate.

“I’m really doing this for my mom,” she said. “But also, I believe this experience of graduating in an American school is once in a lifetime.

“This is something I’ll be able to tell my children — that my first time to the States was for my graduation.”


Jennifer Brady, UA Strategic Communications,