In the year leading up to our move to Granada, the most common question we received was, “What about school?” Most parents assumed we were going to send the boys to an international school abroad, but that was never a consideration. We wanted Jackson and Cassius to experience a different culture and the language was a part of that. And we wanted them to experience going to school with Spanish kids. So when we shared that Jackson and Cassius would be attending public school in Granada, some people looked at us as if we had 3 heads. What about the language? What about the curriculum? Is it a “good” school? Are you worried about college? One mother, who is currently sending her son to a hoity toity private school in LA even went as far as to suggest we would be subjecting our children to some type of cruel and unusual punishment. “That’s rough,” she said. My response was that if going to school in Spain for a year was the roughest thing they ever have to deal with, they will be darn lucky.

Despite our confidence in this choice, it did little to calm our nerves on the first day. Beyond its proximal location, we knew next to nothing about the school where the boys had been placed, and we held our collective breath that everything would be okay. We purchased the uniforms, acquired the necessary books, and dropped the boys off at 7:45 am on September 15th. We would have to wait until 2:30 to find out how their day went.


If you are going to have to wait anywhere, you might as well be “waiting” in a place as breathtakingly beautiful as Granada. So Karen and I walked into the Albayzin and had lunch overlooking the magnificent Alhambra palace. Pretty special to be able to spend days like this.

When we returned to school before 2:30, we watched the kids flood out of the campus. Many of the younger kids were playing happily in front of the school and parents were happy to see one another. Parents were arriving on scooters. It was quite a scene, and it brought back memories of when our kids were younger. In Spain, the younger students are let out 30 minutes before the middle school and high school kids and they arrive one hour later each morning. By the time our boys walked out, we were the only parents waiting for kids. We did our best to be sly and inconspicuous so not to embarrass them, but it wasn’t easy. Fortunately, they were smiling. The day had gone well. They had been welcomed easily by students and teachers.

Of course, there were a number of funny stories. Cassius was given a multiple choice test in one of his classes. He simply decided to circle the entire test and write “No entiendo” at the top of the page. Socially, the day was equally eventful, as some of the boys in class informed him that he had drawn the attention of some of the girls in their class. This led to requests for his Whatsapp number, and he seemed to enjoy the attention. Although he wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this information, the interest of the kids left Cassius with an overall feeling of success. Jackson’s day was less eventful. Having 3 years of limited Spanish at least provided some primer, and he has had his phone in Spanish for the past year. The kids enjoy hearing him speak Spanish in his American accent, and some of the girls wanted to know if he dyed his hair! πŸ™‚ Fortunately, Jackson knows enough Spanish to respond and, truth be told, he is excited about moving towards fluency. Although he has a ways to go, he has impressed us all throughout Spain, and he was able to engage in conversations from the beginning. This helped him make a friend in his class who is a soccer (futbol) player here in Granada.

We are obviously still in the very early stages, but now that the boys are 3 weeks into school, and I thought it might be interesting to share some things that are different about school in Spain to this point.

1) Secondary School kids (middle school-10th grade in the US) don’t change classrooms. They spend the whole day with the same kids in the same room, and the teachers move when a period ends. Apparently, the 5 minutes between classes is like bedlam with kids messing around, arm wrestling, laughing etc.
2) Every kid has their own desk. It is almost like when we were in elementary school all those years ago. They don’t have lockers and just leave the books they don’t need in their desk each night. They sit at the same desk all day and this makes things really simple.
3) They don’t change clothes for PE. They have PE two days a week. On those days everyone in the class wears their athletic uniform to school. On days when they don’t have PE they wear their dress uniform to school. Again…so simple.
4) There is no lunch, since lunch begins in Spain after school ends. However, everyone has a break at 11 and kids bring a sandwich (bocadillo) wrapped in foil to mow down on the yard while hanging with their friends.
5) They do much more sitting and note taking. We thought our kids would be bored (and perhaps they are!), particularly speaking limited Spanish. But if they are bored, they seem happy to be less active participants. They have told us that this makes class much more relaxing and laid back and they enjoy not having to be asked to perform and participate all the time. This also seems to contribute to the school day here being “much less stressful” in their words.
6) No Phones! Every high school student must turn in their phone at the beginning of the day. Kids use them before school and then must hand them in to the teacher at 8 AM. The teacher keeps all of the phones in a bin and then returns them each day before the students depart. But phones don’t come into play at all from 8-2:30. Perfectly simple and nobody makes a big deal of it.
7) Teachers are fairly accommodating. In Cassius’ class, they moved the kids who speak the best English (which is still very little) around Cassius so they could help him with little things throughout the day. Pretty cool.
8) All of the kids have English class. This has been fun for the boys, and the teachers frequently ask them questions or to assist or even demonstrate pronunciation. They do the homework by translating the English words to Spanish for practice, but it has been a lot of fun for them.
9) Our kids have the same teachers. Each teacher in secondary school teaches all the grades, so they each see Jackson and Cassius throughout the day as they move rooms. This has provided them with some continuity as well as an ability to share stories each night. Interesting.
10) They have less homework. It is early of course, but so far the kids have very manageable homework loads. The one challenge with the homework is that there are obviously some translation issues, so this certainly lengthens the time it takes for Jackson and Cassius in comparison to kids who are native Spanish speakers. Also, kids in Spain have beautiful handwriting. Although it is a lost art in the US, they take it seriously here, and the demands for neat work are considerably greater. This has also been challenging–more so for Cassius who writes in the same way he eats a hamburger. Very well and impressively…but neatness is certainly secondary.
11) Jackson and Cassius are the only two kids in their entire school who are English speakers. Many expat families in Granada live in the Albayzin, and we know one family whose son is in class with 5 other English speakers from the UK, Australia, and the US. However, here at Colegio Santo Domingo in the Realejo neighborhood, Jackson and Cassius stand alone. So far, they are wearing that as a badge of honor. πŸ™‚

That is it for now. The story may be radically different a month from now, but so far so good.


Add yours →

  1. Christie Thomas October 8, 2016 — 6:53 pm

    What a bonding experience for the boys! So glad they have each other.


  2. Christie Thomas October 8, 2016 — 6:55 pm

    Meanwhile, wth are you two doing other than fantastic long lunches?


  3. This is awesome it reminding me of how school is in South America when I was growing up.
    I will be able to talk in Spanish to Both of them soon they will learn fast, I’m very happy for you guys!


  4. I am so proud of my great nephews and how well they are adjusting. What a terrific experience for the whole family! Love to all, as always!


  5. Joseph family- the sense of adventure, eagerness to live life on your terms as you desire and insistence on experiencing this journey deeply- is all so enviable! May your time abroad continue to be as incredible as it sounds! Even though the boys might not have apple Brown Betty like we did , David, their experience and yours sound life enhancing! Xoxo, Kelly (and the Boston crew)


    • Hello Davidson Family! This is a long overdue thank you for your nice message! This has been an incredible experience for all of us–even if the boys don’t have Apple Brown Betty! Classic. Hope you are all doing so very well and having a great school year in Boston. Happy Thanksgiving!


  6. Hats off to Jackson and Cassius! Love hearing about your school adventures!

    Auntie K


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