Sunday, June 7, 2009

Living in Spain - Top 10 Learnings

For those reading through the lines of our blog, We (myself in particular) certainly misjudged a number of things in our approach to our adventure year. While overall we have had an absolutely spectacular time, we certainly have made mistakes along the way. I guess and adventure without mistakes and risks is not really an adventure, right? Looking back after 9 months, we have come away with some important and valuable insights and I wanted to take this chance to share our top 10: 10) It is not possible to fully integrate into the community of a foreign country in just one year. Those who have travelled abroad before said we’d need at least 2 years, and that is probably about right, if not longer. 9) It is very common to reach an emotional low point after 6-9 months in a new place. If possible, avoid making big decisions during that time, or at least realize that you are making decisions during a low. 8) It takes a huge, consistent commitment to speak a new language with any competency - it is far too easy to get lazy and revert to English. And the Spanish are all too happy and ready to practice their English with us! 7) An “adventure year” with kids is a bit of a misnomer – kids don’t naturally seek adventure and they are quite content in the present –what they crave is normalcy and stability (wives for that matter as well!). Kids don’t have an inherent need to seek new festivals or run with bulls. They will turn on you and make you pay if you drag them to too many museums and churches without building in sufficient play time. 6) If you want your kids to become fluent or at least comfortable with spanish, put them into a local public school. Sure it will be scary and hard for them initially, but they are much more adaptable than we give them credit for. Furthermore, make sure that if they do watch TV, it is in Spanish, so at least they can absorb something of value! 5) If you want a quintessentially Spanish experience, avoid living on the coast (perhaps with the exception of Barcelona). We learned the hard way that "Javea is not Spain", as is much of the Costa Blanca. 4) Changing languages for one year will not cause lasting harm. Given our boys were in such a formative stage, we were concerned that it would not be fair to the boys to throw them into an all-Spanish school and would interrupt their educational progress. The reality is… reading has been no problem for them – provided we provide captivating books a la the illustrious Beast Quest series! While they certainly benefited from a british-school education at XIC, we missed a great opportunity to have them learn Spanish. 3) While we certainly longed for the "romantic" image of Spain - a country where time moves a bit more slowly, people contentedly live in small whitewashed villages with minimal influences of modern society, and just a more simple way of life - such an image is more and more fleeting now that Spain is part of the EU. Furthermore, we realized that we needed something more. Our fondest experiences have been the many travels Suzanne and I have taken over the years. As much as it would be nice to be happy staying put, we felt a powerful urge to explore as much of Spain as we could while we were here. 2) "No pasa nada" is just part of the culture in Spain - it is the Spanish equivalent of "don't happy"! People just don't get wound up much (unless, of course we are talking futbol!). Sure, things don't always happen as told, but nobody seems to fuss too much. There is always manana... and learning number 1).... What it means to "live" in Spain is a misleadingly romantic concept. While it is often easy to romanticize another culture or place, in reality, living in Spain it is not so different than living anywhere else. People work, buy food, spend time with family & friends, take care of their homes and follow their daily routines, just like anywhere else. Of course there are differences, but the basic fundamentals are the same. It is safe to say that our greatest learnings came from actual experience - the good, the bad and the ugly. We have certainly come away wiser, and while some of our learnings were painful, I think they have enriched our overall experience. Sure, looking back, there were many things we might have done differently, but if that were the case, we wouldn't have had the same adventures we are enjoying so much right now. We have certainly been reminded that there are no "do-overs" in life - you take things as they come and deal with them as best you can. That's about all we can or should expect...

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