My wife and I just got done dropping our boys off for their last first day of school in Spain. It was fun and the usual beehive of activity. Many people, kids and adults alike, haven’t seen each other all summer and were reunited with hugs and greeting kisses.
What a difference a year makes.
Last year we were all a bundle of nerves, stumbling over our Spanish. A bit overwhelmed by the welcomes from our new neighbors. At one point I remember seeing our boys encircled by their new classmates. Bless them, they were eager to see who the new kids in their class were. But I could tell the excited pelting of overlapping questions in their hurried speech and invasion of personal space may have been a bit startling to our guys.
Fast forward to this year, and they grabbed mom’s phone to snap some selfies with their buds.
Some years ago, we seeded this dream. And there’s a great satisfaction knowing that it has bloomed. Much like a tree’s branches, our experiences have sprouted off in many unpredictable directions but the end form is still recognizable and beautiful.
Many other expatriate families that we met last year have returned home. I hear from some of them, mainly through text messages. One friend typed: “You made a good decision staying another year. Forgot how frantic life is in the U.S.”
Frantic. It’s true. Our lives are pretty much the opposite of frantic. I’m not sure what word is its antonym, but life here seems to flow. There are definitely things I miss about the U.S. but they largely revolve around family, friends, and conveniences. What’s striking is that I don’t necessarily miss the lifestyle – the hectic pace, exhaustive preparation and schedules. Those things do exist here, but in ways that feel more elective and to a lesser degree.
We still talk about “when we get back…” to the United States and the things we’re going to do or not do. It’s our way of acknowledging our former, pre-Spain lives and the things and people we miss. We do look forward to being back to familiar routines and geography. We also talk about what parts of Spain we want to bring back with us.
We’ve been able to spend a bunch of time together as a family. Our twins, now 10, seem to be walking that line between being little boys with stuffed animals and ever-nearing adolescents that periodically inquire about the past, the future, or how the world works. It’s great that we’re usually around to catch them in their chatty moments and to be able to fully hear them out.
I’d say both my wife and I wish our language skills were better at this point in our journey. We can get by with daily activities, but having any sort of meaty conversation still can only go so deep. Fortunately many of our local friends speak English that is better than our Spanish so the conversation can continue.
Our boys, on the other hand, don’t have this problem. They are immersed with local speakers for 7-9 hours per day most days. While I know they aren’t “fluent” and probably won’t be when we leave, they are damn proficient.
We’ve been lucky to have many visitors stop by. There is a great satisfaction that comes from “showing off” this place, the people, and how we go about things day-to-day. Likewise we’ve been able to meet and establish relationships with other expatriates and locals alike that will no doubt carry on beyond our time here.
Ultimately, I really feel fortunate in where we ended up. It feels like “home”. We’re here. We’re embedded, integrated. Just been a gigantic thumbs up all around. We traveled the entire month of August outside Spain and there were days toward the end when we ready to be home and there wasn’t any question that that place was here in Granada.
Our neighborhood has a long history of welcoming new faces from all over the globe and this year is no different. As I meet the influx of fresh families to take in their own year, I’m reminded at just how disorienting and new even the most mundane of tasks are. I’m looking forward to the upcoming year being much less about orienting ourselves and more about becoming a little better woven in with the local experience.
And just like that, in a blink, amongst all the excitement and newness, a year has passed. And I know the second may go by even quicker.
In the end, I’ve come to love and appreciate this place and its people. I think Anthony Bourdain summarizes it best in only a way he can.