#DareToDreamMaresme: British-born Jane Mitchell on relocating to Spain and discovering the beautiful Maresme Coast
The Maresme is a very beautiful area that combines the countryside (mountains and vineyards) with the beaches of the Mediterranean. It’s a particularly great area if you enjoy sport. You can run along the coast, cycle in the mountains and windsurf in the sea. The best bit is that you have all this only 20 minutes from Barcelona.
Although we have moved out of the city I don’t feel that we are far from it. We are walking distance from the local shops, the post office and the municipal swimming pool and gym. In the village you can also find a Pilates studio, an osteopath and a sushi restaurant. So we have a real sense of village life but my husband only has a 15 minute drive to work and you can get a bus from outside our door to the centre of Barcelona which takes about 20 minutes.
I think we all benefit from being a part of a mixed international community but the kids have a long school day in Spain. The majority of children go to school from 9am to 5pm from the age of 3. Then if they do extra curricular activities they often don’t get home until 7pm. My children go to bed around 9pm and although I am used to it now and it is the way of life here I don’t really agree with it. But generally things are very relaxed compared to the UK.
We are very happy with our choice of school (Hamelin International). It is a private, trilingual school that sits somewhere in between a concertada (state subsidised) and an international school. From P3 to P5 the children have more classroom time in English but once they enter primary education their lessons are split equally between Catalan, Spanish and English. Students have the opportunity to take the International Baccalaureate from 16-18. I find that the school combines traditional values with some modern teaching practices. Excursions and trips to the theatre also play an important part of the children’s education and the students are encouraged to be autonomous from a young age and it is normal (and actively encouraged) that they go on colònies for 2 nights from the age of 3. Shocking to some of my English friends who are parents but my children took it in their stride and enjoyed every moment of it and came back with plenty of stories to tell about the adventures they had.
I think we are happily integrated but not completely integrated. My husband and I both speak Spanish but our life is very international. My husband works for an American company with employees from 25 different countries. Although the school the children go to is international the majority of the children are Spanish or Catalan. I think about 25% of the students have at least one foreign parent. This means that the children have a nice balance of friends – some foreign and some local. The children are taught about local customs and at school they celebrate local festivities and we participate in events in the village. I think we are very comfortable living in the Alella but we will never be fully integrated because my husband and I don’t speak Catalan.
I don’t think you need to speak Spanish before you move to Barcelona (unless of course you need the language for work) and you can get by quite easily speaking English in the city. It is a very international city and you hear all languages being spoken. If you do decide to learn the language I think it is easier to take classes once you are here and can be immersed in the language. It goes without saying, however, that you can integrate better if you learn the language and it makes for a much more interesting life here if you speak at least some Spanish. In Maresme it is noticeable that more locals speak Catalan than Spanish but that has never caused a problem; they easily switch to Spanish.
Getting any kind of official paperwork done or documents issued here can be challenging. However many originals or photocopies you take along with you to any government office you are always missing something. That is very frustrating!
I generally don’t miss my family from day to day but when we had our first baby then I did really wish my Mum had been closer to home – for practical reasons and for emotional support.
I think the whole family has a great quality of life here. My husband has a 15 minute commute to work and we live near the children’s school so there is no stress at the beginning or end of the day. The weather is great – we wake up to the sun most mornings and that alone has a very positive affect. And we are all comfortable in a multicultural and multilingual society – hopefully our children will find it easy to adapt wherever they chose to live in the future.
I could not do without fabulous views from our house (village, vineyards and sea), Alta Alella wines and my girlfriends.
You can contact Jane on firstname.lastname@example.org