For Jackson and Cassius, a big part of their experience living in Spain has revolved around going to school. Without question, this has been the most challenging thing we have asked of them, and we are incredibly proud of the manner in which they head off to school each day. It is not easy, and they have each learned a great deal about persevering in the face of adversity.
From an academic perspective, we literally had no expectations for this year–other than that they go to school entirely in Spanish and try to take advantage of the experience. That seemed like more than enough to ask of them.
However, Jackson and Cassius have managed to figure things out regarding their schoolwork–which has been pretty impressive. They have a routine and are very independent. Cassius uses google translate when needed, but for the most part, they have been able to manage the workload. They brought home their report cards before the break, and they were pretty excited that they had been able to hold their own and succeed in their courses. This was no small feat.
However, the greater challenge has been the social interactions with students and teachers. In regards to the kids, it has been a unique experience to be the only English speaking students in the school. There has been a lot of curiosity about the boys and the United States that have brought them attention. At the same time, Jackson and Cassius are the ones who have had to learn how to integrate into their world, language, and culture. Kids here haven’t made that easy, and Jackson and Cassius have had to develop thick skins in order to weather some laughing, teasing, and uncomfortable situations. Being ages 15 and 12 is hard anywhere. Being ages 15 and 12 in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is harder. It takes a great ability to laugh at yourself and brush things off if you are going to survive here.
Interacting with their teachers has been equally challenging. They are very particular about neatness, organization, and how things are drawn (from math grids to art). And they have no trouble being harsh and unsympathetic. Cassius had a teacher hold up a drawing of his in front of the class and tell him that it looked like it was done by a 5 year old. And Jackson was asked to redo a crossword grid 4 times before the teacher shaped her hand in the form of a 0, placed it against her forehead and said “Cero!” It is pretty harsh. At the same time, there have been bright spots as well. One day, Cassius’s teacher gave all the kids books in English. They complained profusely, saying there was no possible way they could ever do the work in English–to which the teacher replied “Cassius does this every day.” And more recently, Jackson has received commendations from teachers for both his conscientiousness and his Spanish fluency–with some teachers even bringing him into Cassius’ classrooms in order to help translate.
There have also been some positive interactions with students in and out of the classroom. The boys play soccer together in a game at the lunchtime break, and they have earned some street cred with the ball at their feet. But every day really is an adventure that is almost impossible to predict, and school is clearly a work in progress.
Some people will likely read this post and think “I feel so bad for them” but we don’t see it that way at all. Although we are very empathetic about what they may go through on a daily basis, we don’t feel bad for them. This year is a gift–not a punishment. Life isn’t always easy. The world isn’t always fair. And growth occurs in the face of adversity, not merely with the wind at your back. Ultimately, we are are trying to raise young men, and Jackson and Cassius have grown so much in this environment. At the end of the year, they will be able to say they did something that is incredibly difficult, and we have no doubt they will be proud of what they have accomplished. We already are.