I was, like many other people before me, brought to Barcelona for work. My husband was offered a job that he liked and we were looking for a change from our lives in England. Since we both stemmed from different countries and cultures already, it didn´t seem a big deal to add another culture and language to the mix. Also, my son was just about to turn 1 and, as I was in no hurry to return to work as a teacher in a dynamic but ultimately intense inner-city primary school, I agreed to the somewhat drastic move, thinking that it would be an adventure.
My first years in Barcelona were spent in a hazy baby-filled bubble, with a second child added to our family within the first year of arriving. I felt very fortunate that by some random chance, I came across a lovely Catalan / English nursery, which brought with it a wealth of new friends and enabled our family to lay down some kind of roots in our adopted home.
Then the moment came that we had to start thinking about sending our first-born to school. I dutifully went to a number of Open Days for our local public schools and concertadas and realized, quite quickly, how important it was to have a pretty good grasp of Catalan, something, that at that point, I did not have. As a result, rather than having to rely on what directors and teachers were saying about their respective schools and educational projects, I would have to find other clues to how suitable the school was for my son. My teaching experience gave me an insight not afforded to the average family looking for a school and I utilized this to focus in on my family´s priorities. When I could communicate with directors or had a friend along to help translate, it was soon clear that the priorities of the school were not necesarily in line with mine. Also, more importantly, what the schools claimed to offering was not always what was actually going on in the classroom.
I knew, based on knowing my son pretty well by this point, that there were specific things that I was looking for in a school. These, of course, were not always what other friends and acquaintances were looking for for their children and this made me feel that I was perhaps expecting too much. I also soon realized that being a foreigner and being out of my home environment freed me from certain long-held ideas of what primary education should look like. Through my extensive research I discovered that Barcelona offered a wealth of different types of schools and educational projects, something that I found eye-opening, liberating and terrifying all at the same time.
I found that schools focused on different things to the schools I had worked in, for example the importance of socializing the child and the longer school day. The importance of the mid-day meal still amuses me today - I have yet to come across a school that doesn´t make a visit of the kitchen as part of the guided tour – this would NEVER happen in England!
Instead of feeling alienated and helpless in the search for a school, however, it paradoxically taught me a lot about the city I was now calling home and the people in it. It enabled me to really focus in on what was most important to our family without being held back by the self-imposed constraints of my own cultural norms. Now, many years on from that decision-making process, I can honestly say the research I did and the process we went through, gave us the roots that keep us in Barcelona. I helped us find the school we were looking for. Not the perfect school for everyone, but the perfect school for us.