Well, we had a big milestone this week– we passed the six month mark of living in Spain! It felt a bit strange, since six months IS a long time, and it also feels a little like we’ve been here six years– the first months of moving to a new place are so packed with memorable and challenging and exhilarating moments, that it seems like we should have been here for ages now in order to be able to experience all of those things.
I thought it would be good to write down where we’re at, six months in.
Overall, we feel settled and El Puerto de Santa Maria is beginning to feel like home. We love being here. And there are still things we’re getting used to, or wish were already resolved.
One big thing is Amelia’s school situation. Of all of the adjustments here, the school thing has been my biggest challenge. There are so many dimensions to how the public school system assignments work that just kind of blow my mind– things that would just never be the case in the USA, Germany or England. It’s taken a lot of persistence, patience and flexibility. And we still don’t know which school Amelia will be attending when things start up again in about three weeks. We’re really hoping that she can go to the good neighborhood school, which is a four minute walk from our house. But she might be attending a school in town again. Both are reasonably good schools, and we are thankful for that. And the best news is that Amelia is totally OK with attending either one. What a champ.
Amelia has both American and Spanish friends. I love the kid culture over here, and although she has always been good at making friends, it’s much easier in this corner of the world than it was in England– most kids are very outgoing and used to playing with anyone who walks up to them. I love that, and so does Amelia.
A few people have been asking about the language situation. Amelia had about three months of Spanish school before summer vacation started, and she handled the challenge beautifully. It certainly helped that there was a very sweet American boy in her class that was always happy to translate everything for her. I suspect that she speaks and understands more than she actually lets on, because she quickly realized that not understanding could get her out of all kinds of school work and garner her plenty of special attention! We are working on that issue, of course. I was about her age when my family moved to the Philippines, and it was around the 6 month mark that I just went from working hard to learn to just speaking the local dialect. She is good with language in general, so I expect her to make that shift in the coming months. She has become much more bold with using the Spanish she already knows, and definitely speaks it more freely if no one in the room speaks English. I am thrilled for her that she will be acquiring a second language.
This summer, she has had the chance to attend a few special camps and programs on base, and that has been a great opportunity for her to become friends with more American children. This is so nice, because I do want her to be able to experience commonality and cultural identity with other American kids. She is in VBS on base this week, and told me that she was saying the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time! It’s hard not to feel like I’m failing a little in these kinds of cases, but I also didn’t grow up in the USA, and so I forget a lot of these things. I’m just glad that she can be in groups like this and pick up the things we miss. We plan to get her signed up for Girl Scouts this fall, and I am excited for her! More than anywhere else we have lived, we have a lot of opportunities to spend more time with the American community, while not sacrificing any involvement with those around us in our adopted country.
Something that is unique about the base that Jeff is working at now is that it’s not an American base. Rota is a Spanish base that shares its space with the U.S. Navy. There is no American flag flying there! (Except for on the 4th of July.) This means that many jobs all over the base are occupied by Spaniards, and there is a lot more mixing going on. I love that. Jeff can actually practice his Spanish there, and it’s easier to make connections with Spanish families.
We have been set up with two different Spanish families for language and cultural exchange, and it has been fun getting to know them! It’s also great to have people to call if we have a problem or need advice about anything. We look forward to getting to know them and other Spanish families better.
As I’ve already mentioned, there is a lot of stuff going on at the base, and this is the closest we have ever lived to one of the bases Jeff has worked at. We’re 10 minutes from the gate, and not only has that made Jeff’s commute pretty awesome, but it’s meant that we can do a lot more on base. Honestly, I can count on one hand the number of times I went on base in England and Germany. Now, we are there as a family at least twice a week. Mostly for our ballroom dancing classes, but it’s also nice to be able to shop at the commissary for some things we can’t find easily here (Larabars!). The first time I walked in, I felt like was entering an Albertson’s. I know most of you won’t find that special at all, but it felt pretty incredible to me– really wide aisles, air conditioning, familiar and pleasant American grocery store smells, etc. We’ve been at this expat thing for a long time (nearly five years), and I think I miss certain things about the USA more now than ever!
Jeff is all settled into his job and loving it. The number of kids they work with is much lower here, so he has the opportunity to find a lot of new ways to network and support families. Today, he is hosting a developmental playgroup at a swimming pool. So, he is basically having a pool party today at work. (Wink.) His clinic is very small, and he really enjoys his (few!) co-workers. Overall, the pace is relaxed– we are in Southern Spain, after all!As for me…
There have been so many good changes, and there are still some real challenges. Let’s start with the challenges, so I can end on a positive note after!
It’s easy to become somewhat isolated here. We don’t have long-term neighbors on either side of us (just vacation rentals) and since Amelia has so far been attending school in town, I haven’t had the chance to meet many of her classmates’ families, or meet the people you would normally get to know around you if you were walking your child to the local school. (Fingers crossed for some good news on that front soon.)
In England and Germany, it was really easy for me to go without a car. Sure, inconvenient sometimes, but I was close enough to town to walk anywhere I needed to get to. We are not near town, and things are generally really spread out here. I can walk to the beach, which is awesome. But I am still really missing the feeling of being involved in the city’s daily life, walking to and from town, visiting the butcher, my favorite market vendors, the international food store, etc. I like feeling like I am familiar face, and I don’t feel that way here yet. (Except for the people who clean up the beaches and the fishermen in the morning! They see me on my wonderful morning walks, but we’re not really chatting with each other at this point.) If Amelia doesn’t end up at the local school, we are getting a second car.
Which also brings us to food shopping… We have found sources for organic produce and good meat, which is huge… But ordering those items means sending an email and picking up a bag of stuff at the gate by the base. Not exactly the romantic sort of shopping I like to do. And I honestly despise going to grocery stores here. Although I used to look forward to my trips to Trader Joe’s in the U.S., now all of us put off going to the supermarket for as long as we possibly can. That does make our grocery budget lower, though! Anyway, I am not so much complaining about stores here as I am saying that I miss the type of food shopping I used to do. We’ll definitely need to make more trips to the Cadiz Central Market– I love that place, and am so glad it’s just a 40 minute drive from us.
One cultural thing I’m finally getting used to is the greetings. It’s not that I couldn’t do the cheek kisses that are traditional in Spain– what really threw me for a loop here was the Americans! Some Americans shake hands when they meet, and then some Americans hug people… a lot. I was not used to meeting someone for the first time and then hugging them, and then hugging them to say goodbye again. And so, an American would come towards me, and I would have no idea what was about to happen– lots of Americans here have also picked up the habit of kissing everyone! I didn’t know if I was supposed to be shaking hands, hugging, or kissing! Always. So. Awkward. But now that I’ve been here (with these very multicultural Americans) longer, I can usually figure out what’s going on!And now for the best things.
Well, first of all I am actually, truly, really living in Spain. Six months later, it still shocks me every once in a while. I recently had a friend ask me if it was as great as I had always imagined it would be. And the answer is YES. I love it. I am amazed and thrilled and thankful. Especially when we go to Cadiz. That city just blows my mind every time. It is SO Spanish and romantic and beautiful. We don’t feel like we need to go do and see a bunch of stuff when we’re there– just sitting at a restaurant, being there is enough.
I love getting to speak Spanish. It had been about eight years since I had really gotten to use my Spanish, and I have to say that arriving here with the ability to speak the language felt like a serious super power. I had poured so much of myself into learning it years ago, and it was all of a sudden a huge gift to myself. (This stands as my Public Service Announcement telling you to GO LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE now! It’s awesome when you are able to use it, even if it’s years later!) The Spanish I learned is Central American, and just like American English to the British, it sounds funny here, and a lot of things don’t translate. Apparently, it’s kind of amusing to many Spaniards! So now I am trying to figure out all of the things I’m saying wrong, and relearning some things– grammar still works, though, and the bottom line is that I can communicate!
The most amazing thing that has happened since we moved here is that I have reopened my bodywork practice. Although I was sort of working in England, I had very little business. About a month ago, I got approval from the legal office at Rota to have a home-based business, and started seeing clients here in my home office. I was not prepared for how quickly things would take off! It’s been one month, and I am so pleasantly surprised and amazed by how many clients I have been able to treat. No one else in this community does the type of work I do, and there is a need for it. Because of our arrangement with the Spanish base and the local government, I am not allowed to see Spanish clients, but there are plenty in the US Navy community that can use my services. Honestly, this is why things have been much slower here on my blog and with social media– I am still working out the balance between all the different things I am doing.
I love getting to meet people in my community, and being able to help them. That is something I have truly been missing in all of the previous years of living overseas. This feels so good, and it’s such a privilege!So, our life here is feeling full. We all have a lot more going on than we did in England, and that feels pretty good– even if it’s a little bit of a shock to the system. We enjoy the routines we have built, and that there is always something to do, and ways to get involved with our community. But we also miss England. Most days, I wake up thinking about Suffolk, and about all of the things that are in season right now, that we won’t be able to forage. We miss our long walks in the woods and countryside. We miss a lot of the cozy things. And of course, we miss the (rather few) friends that we made there. To be honest, I am so relieved that I miss England. As I explain to Amelia, that means that I experienced good things, good people, and happiness there. We are already experiencing those things here too, so we are doubly thankful for all of the goodness in our lives.
Thank you so much for coming along with us, asking interested questions, and cheering us on through it all. Life is such a good adventure.