When our family decided to put our life on hold and move to Spain for a year in 2016, it felt like a big move. It was a big move–a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Europe as a family before the boys went off to college. And so we took that to heart and tried our best to take on the continent–visiting 15 countries during our first year abroad. It was a whirlwind and an adventure we will never forget. We tried to squeeze everything out of it that we could, and I am pretty proud of just how far we got and all we saw.
Still, that decision to go abroad paled in comparison to the one we made a year later when we opted to remain in Spain. It’s one thing to go somewhere for a year, with a definitive beginning and end date, but it’s a completely different feeling when you decide to stay there. There is the sense of a real departure, a letting go of all you have known, with little more than a hope that your leap of faith into the unknown will prove to be the right choice.
Now, more than 3 years after we left the United States, we can hardly believe our good fortune. Were we just lucky? Courageous? A combination of both? It’s hard to say, but I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this experience has changed the course of our lives. Karen and I are obviously farther along and on the back nine now. However, for Jackson and Cassius, with their whole lives ahead of them, the decision to continue our adventure abroad as a family has been instrumental in them growing into the young men they are today and shaping where they may head in the future. It’s been remarkable for us to watch their respective evolutions, and we just feel incredibly grateful to bear witness to this special time in their lives.
Here in Sotogrande, our family has settled in to life, real life, normal life, albeit abroad. Jackson and Cassius have enjoyed the experience of attending an IB International School in a way we never imagined–with teachers continually inspiring them to be inquisitive students and develop new interests. They have made friends from all over the world (Spain, England, Russia, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Morocco, Germany, Sweden, etc.), and we have never seen them happier. It has been somewhat startling to see just how quickly Sotogrande International School became like home to them, and much of the credit goes to Jackson and Cassius, as they have leaped in and taken advantage of so many aspects of the school community.
Jackson has competed on the futbol and cross country teams, represented the school for Model UN and Student Council, and volunteered in Morocco through the school’s NGO The Kindred Project. Cassius has competed for the school basketball team, swim team, futbol team, Debate team, and has earned a role in the school play each of the past two years. He’s also done lots of work behind the camera, filming and editing graduations, sporting events, and other school sponsored activities. It’s been a great couple years for them, filled with dynamic teachers and interesting, stimulating, and enjoyable projects. As parents, it’s been so gratifying to see them having such an enriching and enjoyable time during their Middle School and High School years, and that’s made it all worthwhile.
Outside of school, Jackson has continued to play on a highly competitive futbol club, while Cassius has gone in his own direction–playing everything from Rugby to Padel tennis, basketball, boxing, and golf. They also both enjoy going to the gym, which they can do in our building with one another or friends from school. It is pretty ideal.
As for the old folks, we officially put down our tennis racquets and transitioned to Padel tennis. The Padel Tennis community here is incredibly vibrant, and they have embraced Karen and I and welcomed us with open arms. The clubs in Sotogrande are all public, are very social, and people always stay around after playing to enjoy a drink, watch a rugby match, futbol match, etc. We are the lone Americans here amidst people from the U.K., Spain, Norway, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, France, and all across the continent. Many of them have known each other for decades, and we have been touched by just how welcoming everyone has been to us.
Aside from our leisure time, Karen has continued to manage our properties in the US with impressive skill. This is no small feat, but she makes it look easy and has done an amazing job. She has travelled back to Los Angeles when necessary and helped us move seamlessly through the transitions of new renters, property upkeep, improvements, etc. This is an incredible amount of work, but Karen has used her real estate knowledge and interpersonal skills to assemble a great team of people to help her on the ground. As for me, I have guested in a couple English classes at the school and look to continue to find more ways to be involved on campus if I can be useful. In addition, I have continued to write, finished a draft of a book, and had nine short stories and a personal essay published. Last year, I was also accepted to join the Fulbright Specialist Roster, and I am eager to serve the organization in that capacity. Finally, I have also continued to serve on the Board of Directors for STRIVE – a nonprofit organization I really believe in that is focused on youth leadership. Honestly, we can’t complain.
Perhaps, most importantly, Karen has deemed me a worthy contributor to what she calls life management–laundry, dishes, dog care, paperwork, cooking, and cleaning. I thought all I needed in the kitchen was paper plates, a microwave, and one fork for each of us, but apparently there is more to it than that. I have come a long way and can now make an egg in a hat to Karen’s standard–something I once thought was unachievable. But it feels good to contribute to the family in meaningful ways and partner with Karen after she has carried the load alone for so many years.
Regarding travel, we have stayed closer to home the past two years. We have enjoyed wonderful trips to nearby Ronda, Sevilla, Tarifa, Bolonia, and Malaga, and we spent the past two Christmases in Lisbon and Amsterdam respectively. Cassius and I went to London to see the Browns in the fall of 2017 and we have spent summers in Germany and England. Also, each of the past two years, we have headed back to the Algarve in Portugal for Spring break. It is just a short trip from where we live now, and we all enjoy the beautiful Portuguese coastline.
Lastly, we have now had our 10 year old English Mastiff Pi here for more than two years. He is truly a senior now, completely blind, but he is a love. He has added so much to our experience, and we are enjoying caring for him in these older years. It seems like the least we can do after all he has given us.
So what’s next? Are we ever coming back to the US? I am not sure that we can answer that question, but if we have learned anything on this wild journey, it’s that we try not to think in terms of ever anymore and take things one step at a time. What I can say is that home is defined in many ways. Family, friends, teammates, coaches, teachers, mentors, and pets all contribute greatly to making one feel at home or a place feel like home. For now, we feel very much at home here, living in Andalucia, in Spain, learning a language, making a life, and most of all…savoring our good fortune.