A few of you have reached out and inquired about where the blog posts have gone during our second year in Spain. As many of you know, we tried our best to share some stories of our year abroad last year, and it seemed like friends and family enjoyed them. It was also a way for us to chronicle our adventures for Jackson and Cassius, who will someday have the blog to look back upon–we hope with great fondness.
However, when we decided to remain in Spain for another year, I was uncertain as to whether the blogs would continue to hold interest. One year is a sabbatical. But two years feels like something different, something more permanent. A move, really, and I wasn’t quite sure that our life abroad would continue hold a similar interest for others. Alas, it seems that some people have missed it, and so hopefully those of you who have wondered about our whereabouts will enjoy a few new blog posts and updates regarding the past year and what lies ahead for us.
To remove any suspense, I want to begin by saying that our family has decided to remain in Spain for the foreseeable future, paperwork permitting. We love it here. Our kids are thriving and happy, and we are planning to be here, at least until the boys finish high school.
So the questions have now shifted from “Why are you moving to Spain for a year?” to “Why are you staying in Spain?” and I hope to shed some light on that decision in this blog that will help people understand why life here is so appealing and what it offers us as a family. If the two decades leading up to our move placed our careers at center stage, this phase has moved family to the forefront. And Spain, for all of its challenges, is all about family. Family before work. Family before friends. Family, and time with family, above all. As one of our friends Manolo says, “In the US, you push your kids out as fast as you can. In Spain, we keep them close for as long as we can.” It’s different.
One of the most extraordinary things about being forced out of your comfort zone in the way that we have over the past two years is that you learn so much about yourself. You learn things you didn’t know through all of the years you’ve lived in a routine, developing habits, gaining confidence, and becoming productive. When those things are removed, it’s terrifying, but it’s also exhilarating. And we have felt the gamut of those emotions.
Living abroad isn’t for everyone. And we realize that we are traveling a path that is unconventional. But one thing Karen and I share is that we’ve always kind of done this. And we have often felt unconventional. We frequently made decisions that went against the grain, and coming to Spain has only reinforced the idea that there are so many viable ways to live in this world. There isn’t one way to be or one path to travel or one way to think. And despite the challenges of moving to another country, we’ve discovered other aspects of life we hadn’t found in the United States, and we just feel incredibly lucky. Below are a couple of things regarding our life in Spain that we are particularly grateful for….
1. Safety – It is safe where we live, incredibly safe. Yes it’s a bubble in some ways, but there is so little violent crime or danger, and this has offered our kids freedom and independence they have never known, while offering us peace of mind we have never had.
2. Cost – Spain is just less expensive. Universities are free. Public health care is free. And the most expensive private health care runs a family less than $4,000 a year. And people here can pay between $500-$1000 a month to a rent an apartment with a view of the Mediterranean. In Los Angeles, that’s simply not possible.
3. Overcrowding – Karen, in particular, can’t believe that there are still places on earth where the natural beauty hasn’t been overbuilt in nice climates. Spain is one of them, and it is a different world altogether to move from a place where there are nearly 20 million people in a 60 mile radius to a place where fewer than 10,000 people (Sotogrande) live year round. To give you a sense of this, there is not one single stoplight where we live, only roundabouts and a few stop signs. That isn’t to say life is better, but it is certainly easier–from driving to go grocery shopping to riding a bike to walking to Padel or the beach. Some might consider it boring, but there is a tranquility and calm that arrives with spaciousness that we have gravitated towards.
4. Balanced Lifestyle for Kids – Kids here are encouraged to do lots of things and explore different interests. Perhaps there are drawbacks to this approach, but it reminds us more of our childhood. Cassius has played four different sports this year. He is in the school play and the Debate club. There is time and encouragement to be more than one thing. It’s refreshing. Their schoolwork is dynamic and interesting, but they don’t bury them in nightly homework. It is challenging but not overwhelming and it hardly dominates their existence. This has made us very happy as parents who want our kids to be balanced. And most kids here also don’t take the SAT, which makes high school a bit more enjoyable as well.
5. Stress and Parent Pushing – The families and kids at Jackson and Cassius’ school are educated and accomplished. But they don’t push their kids in the same way we do in the states. They don’t get tutored. They don’t obsess over their grades. And while some go to Oxford or Cambridge, others head to trade schools or directly into the workforce. The parental role is supportive but not overbearing. But more than anything, parents seem to accept that every kid is different and that is okay. They take their kids for who they are, and they don’t seem overly consumed with a perceptual pecking order based upon where their kids head beyond high school or where they end up.
6. Community – We have experienced a sense of community this year that is special. In Los Angeles, I experienced a wonderful sense of community through LA SCORES, but we didn’t experience it much outside of my work. Some of this may be our fault, but I can only say that our family has been welcomed here in a way we never imagined. At the Padel Tenis Club, Karen and I have been embraced even though some people have known one another for decades. And the kids feel this at school, futbol, and rugby. So why the difference? If I was venturing to guess, I would say because community here is formed, not merely while participating in an activity, but sitting, eating, talking, and drinking afterwards. People don’t rush to the next thing. They always take time to spend moments together, share a laugh, taste paella, or have a beer. This isn’t so much a choice as a requirement, and anyone not willing to partake would likely be considered rude for departing. It is as if they are saying “what could be more important?” It’s quite a lovely sentiment, and we have been touched by the kindnesses we’ve received this year.
This isn’t to say that we don’t miss things about the US. Of course, we do. Spain doesn’t have In N Out Burger, and we are a long way from family and friends. Karen misses pancakes. I miss Rockstar. Cassius and Jackson miss Marty’s, and Target is nowhere in sight. No place is perfect, after all. But living in Spain has a lot to offer. It is offering our family a life that suits us well. And although we never imagined we would still be here continuing our journey abroad, we feel overwhelmingly positive about our decision to be open to new opportunities, keep learning, and see where the road takes us.