Emigrating to Spain — or any other foreign country — will be one of the most formative experiences your children’s lives. And yours too!
Yet, as with any new adventure, emigrating to Spain will present hoops to jump through. Beyond getting the required visas and managing the international relocation practicalities that any expat will face, emigrating to Spain as an American family will demand much more from you in terms of research and planning.
You need to manage your children’s social, emotional, and educational well being to help them adapt to their new language and culture.
Follow these tips to ease the transition to make emigrating to Spain as an American family an unforgettable experience for everyone.
1. Educate yourself as much as possible in advance. I prefer spontaneity to preset plans in just about any life scenario. Travel especially. Winging your way to a new life abroad may work great if you’re flying solo or with your significant other. But not with children in tow. Research, investigate, and humble yourself to ask all the questions you might otherwise think are too dumb to ask, because they’re not. Expats love to help other expats so dig into expat oriented websites, forums and meetup groups. Don’t be shy. Facebook groups, and personal blogs of other American expat families who’ve moved to Spain are some of your best sources of real life, first hand information from people and parents who’ve really been there.
2. A little paid guidance with the right consultant will save you money, time and a whole lot of unnecessary hassle. This will be especially true if you’ve never lived in Spain before or have never relocated internationally. One look at those visa application forms and you’ll find all sorts of terminology you’ve likely never encountered before. Apostille of the Hague and International Health Regulations of 2005… Anyone? Anyone? And all those mundane realities of day to day living — opening a bank account as a foreign national, signing housing contracts, buying internet and local mobile phone service — will all take place in Spanish. The right visa and relocation specialist will help you tick off that to do list quickly and correctly, help you find housing, advise you on local schools and so much more. The sooner your day to day life is up and running efficiently, the more quickly you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your new family life in Spain together. Your children will tune into that relaxation and feel more settled and more secure as well.
3. Choose your children’s school in Spain wisely. Hint: Evaluating schools in a foreign country compared to schools in your home nation demands you consider factors far beyond mere academic offerings, campus facilities and schoolday schedules. This will be especially true if you’re children will be arriving in Spain with little to no Spanish, or if you’ll be moving to a place with no personal ties before you arrive. For more information on the topic of expat education and choosing a school overseas, including a list of detailed questions to ask specific schools, download Family Move Abroad’s free guide to Your Child’s Expat Education.
4. Build support networks from the start. Let go of your pride and be willing to reach out to strangers for questions and guidance. Ask your child’s school if they might pair you with a “buddy parent” — someone who doesn’t mind you calling them to ask questions. Lots of questions. A solid list of recommendations of the best grocery stores, hair salons, local events and a good pediatrician will make life easier when you’re brand new to a city and know absolutely nothing. Find ways to start meeting people and make new friends, both for you as parents and for your kids. Join a gym. Enroll your kid in an art class or basketball team. Sign up at a local co-working space. Certainly, many of those initial people you meet will remain simple acquaintances. But in time, some of those folks just might become lifelong friends. The sooner your kids start getting those birthday party invites, the sooner you and your spouse are asked by some locals to join them at the bodega for an afternoon “copa”, the less you’ll all feel like strangers.
5. Learn about culture shock, how to recognize it, and how culture shock symptoms might vary by age, personality type and other factors affecting your child’s adaptation. Speak to children openly about the changes they’re going to experience. Talk to them about the spectrum of feelings that might come up for them, both the exciting and welcome ones as well as the potential for loneliness and challenge. Start these conversations before leaving home. As parents, remember, just because you think you’re giving your children the opportunity of a lifetime by moving as a family from America to Spain doesn’t necessarily mean your children will think it’s the best thing ever. Expect at some point they will question your decision and possibly even resent you for it. Give your children permission to have their own experience and trust in the process.
6. Speaking of children having their own experience, be patient and accepting with how they approach their new life circumstances. Part of the beauty of living in Spain, versus just travelling through, is that you have time. Time to soak up the culture in all sorts of ways both large and small and that extends well beyond seeing monuments and learning about the thousands of years of history that predate their arrival. Trust that they’re taking things in and picking up the language, even if they refuse to speak Spanish in front of you. Honor their desires for familiarity and connection to the home they left behind. Make favorite comfort foods at home, and don’t try to force “paella” down their throat if they say they hate it. Find a movie theater that shows their favorite Hollywood films in VO (Version Original). Actively connecting their past to their present, will help them understand that not everything they once loved in their life has changed. Knowing that will make them more open to the new life in front of them.
7. And finally, the Spanish factor. Simply put, the more Spanish immersion you can give your kids (and yourselves) before your kids start school and begin interacting with peers in Spain, the easier the transition will be. This will be especially true for teenagers, and even more true if you’re sending your teens or older children to an all Spanish speaking school. So, what’s your level of Spanish? How about your kids? Can you put your kids in an all Spanish speaking environment either in Spain or elsewhere before you leave the States? This doesn’t have to equate to sitting in a dark classroom all day. Surfing camps, fútbol camps, cooking classes or any favorite activities taught in Spanish will complement classroom hours and make language instruction more personally relevant. If pre-arrival immersion isn’t possible, do as much as you can to front load their language development as soon as you get there.
Jackie Baxa is a mother, yoga teacher, and international relocation blogger writing honestly about the ups, downs, joys and challenges of moving, living and parenting abroad. Through her website, FamilyMoveAbroad.com, she helps families follow their dreams to forge a life in a foreign country. You can follow Jackie on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Credit image: Citys
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