On the roadschooling road again…


The original plan for our time in Europe was to homeschool/roadschool M, giving us flexibility to travel and because we couldn’t afford international school fees. However the first month in Spain convinced us that enrolling her in a local school would provide more opportunities to meet other kids, as well as being a much cheaper option for learning Spanish (private tutors wanted €30+ per hour!). We also discovered enrolling her in school would help me obtain my non-EEA family member residency card.

The walk to school

So we found ourselves seeking a school…

First of all, let me explain Nerja is small, mostly populated by elderly expats (friends of ours in their 50s tell me they feel like ‘yoofs’ here), and east of Malaga. This means there is very little info online for parents. Additionally, searching in English produces limited results – we struggled to even locate some schools on Google maps. Posting to the local expat Facebook group received a handful of vague replies as expat/migrant families who are here are either old, or long-term Spanish residents, i.e. they moved to Nerja after living elsewhere in Spain.*

So we had to search for a school ‘on foot’. We started at the school where a work colleague’s child attended, but they had no vacancy. Across the road at Nueva Nerja it was the same story. Here, fate intervened in a bad way, as they kept telling us to try a school with a name we could not understand (it sounded like Whack Him Her Error), but as we already had 2 other schools on our list, we thought we’d try them first before searching for a school we couldn’t even say the name of. We’ve since discovered this (Joaquin Herrera) is the best of an or’nery bunch, and the only school in Nerja offering any form of Spanish language support.**

M ended up at the next school we came across, the local Catholic school. They were initially very receptive, seemed cleaner and friendlier than the state schools (although for an Aussie parent the sporting and playground facilities are abysmal compared to home. But that’s for another post), and most importantly had space for her. The Director spoke no English, so the 3rd grade teacher left her class (unsupervised!) to talk to us. We came back the next day to complete the paperwork. It took over an hour, and again she was asked to leave her class (2 storeys above the admin office) to translate the forms for us. I cannot imagine this occurring anywhere I’ve worked – including China.


The school is the only one in Nerja with a uniform, and the frustrating process of trying to obtain the uniform should have been an omen. M missed half an hour of her first class while we waited for the parent who coordinated it to finish chatting, only to be told she had only 1 pair of shorts & a shirt available, and we’d have to order the rest in, and it would probably take a few months to arrive (from Malaga?? It’s an hour’s drive!). We did manage to find some 2nd-hand uniforms, and met a lovely family in the process, so things were looking up.***

I spent the first day in agony, waiting for the 2 o’clock finish, because we simply had no idea what to expect. Fortunately M came home over the moon, having made a lovely friend who spoke English/Spanish on the first day. This little girl pretty much carried M through her 3 months at the school. On days when her friend was away, M pretty much just sat there, wondering what was going on and was ignored by the teacher.


Right, time to shift my little homeschooler off her laptop. More about the joys of the Spanish (actually, I should say “Andalucian”) education system to come…

*I would not recommend Nerja for first-time expats unless you or your children are already fluent in Spanish.

**Nb: we didn’t move to Spain expecting the government to bend over backwards for us. Also, we did not plan to move to Spain – we are supposed to be in Germany. So we did not have as much time as other expats to research and prepare. Saying that (and I will rant at length in another post), as an education professional who knows firsthand the expectations placed on classroom teachers and schools to provide language support for migrant children in English speaking countries, I am fairly disgusted with Andalucia.

***This family had recently moved their daughter to Joaquin Herrera after some serious bullying incidents at our school. We panicked a bit, but at this point figured we had already organised everything so we would wait and see. Again, fate! We may have been able to switch schools at this early stage 😦



Scottish immigrants #blogjune 3

Brain family with Nicola
Aussie immigrants – the Brain Family with Scotland’s First Minister & Kate Forbes, MSP

This is turning into serial rants about immigration, but speaking of expats and immigrants, the Brain Family case has once again come to the forefront in British (and world) media. Their case fills me with despair, and a teensy spark of hope. I could easily be in their shoes. I am in their shoes in some respects – in the same desperate, futile situation where my whole family life is in limbo because of ridiculous UK Immigration policy which fails to recognise central London and the back streets of Dingwall are two very, very different places.


If you haven’t heard of the Brains, it’s all over the web, but lazywebs This is an Australian family who followed the same path I planned to – move to Scotland to study and then gain a “Post Study Work” visa and repopulate an area in decline. They managed to get into Scotland a few months before I did (because I was giving birth). By the time I emerged from post-baby fog and started preparing my application, the rules had changed. I’ve spent every moment since 2005 trying to find another way back.

Laggan family deported
Zielsdorf family in the Laggan store they revitalised

It’s the Daily Mail (ugh), but they’ve found another family (Canadian this time) who are in a worse position than the Brains. This family sold everything in Canada to buy a flagging local store in the Highlands and revitalise it, and are now being deported on a small technicality (we’re talking £8000 a year) because they cannot afford to employ a 2nd UK person in their shop. Despite investing over £200 000 already.


I completely and utterly understand their frustration. I can feel their tears. I’ve travelled through and lived in the regional areas where they are. I’ve befriended the locals, employed some of them. These areas are desperate for new blood.

The only hope is that these high profile cases will lead the UK government to alter their immigration rules, introducing points for people who migrate to regional areas, or get immigration devolved to Scotland.

I am blogging June #blogjune 1

rollercoaster of emotions

This week. My goodness. I wasn’t expecting migrating to Spain to be easy. I’ve moved to enough places to know better, but I’ve been left completely drained by the immigration doozies we’ve had thrown at us this week.

Some of them I can’t mention, as I’ve heard horror stories of immigration authorities trawling the interwebs to find evidence of potential migrants and using it against them. I’ve heard of people being refused entry to the UK because they “seemed too knowledgable of immigration law”.

One thing I can vent about is that I discovered I could not ship household goods to Spain without my residence card and 2 copies of my personal inventory IN SPANISH CERTIFIED BY THE SPANISH CONSULATE IN BEIJING.

The residence I cannot obtain until I arrive in Spain. The Consulate is in Beijing or Shanghai – a 2 day trip, maybe 3, on a work day. Not going to happen at this point in my contract.

So now we have to cull everything, because I plan to travel by train through China, spend a week in Thailand and 9 weeks in Australia before arriving in Spain, and I was kind of counting on not having to lug my daughter’s laptop and our favourite frying pan with us.

Searching for soul in China – ghost cities

My Principal at Ningbo International School was an old Australian teacher who was on (I think) his 5th wife, and who had lived in China a long time. He had what I thought at the time was a peculiar habit of having long, one-sided conversations in English with Chinese people who happened to bump into him. One of the most horrifying things he ever told me was as we were wandering through Wuzhen, one of the “six famous ancient water towns south of the Yangtze River”. He told me the Chinese government had knocked down this, and other, villages, and then rebuilt them to LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME. He said most people were aware of this, yet still the crowds came.

Wuzhen water village, Zheijiang Province.

The architecture is one element that illustrates the absence of heart. It’s all copycat designs. Speaking with Chinese teachers at school, they explain that at secondary school and university, plagiarism is not a problem, in fact some teachers would encourage it by providing pre-written essays for students to mark their name on, as the priority was to ensure all students passed, rather than on the quality of the work. It is not surprising that overseas universities are having issues with Chinese students studying abroad.

This “quantity over quality” idea is evident in our own apartment. There is no attention to detail. The “mahogany trimmings” are not only cheap plastic, but they are already falling off. Behind them, the wall was never painted. The interior walls that cannot be seen from where you stand in the lounge (e.g. the outer facing of the balcony) are unpainted. Quality and finishing just does not come into the equation.

When I mention this at work the other staff say it is a predictable outcome of rapid growth. This makes me think of China’s “ghost cities“. These 100s of sparkling new cities built to urbanise the country and show economic growth that stand empty around the country are well known. Actually, before they hit the news my mum, daughter and I took the overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai, and my mum couldn’t sleep because she was fixated on the idea that none of the cities we passed had any people in them. Turns out she was right.

The change in China in the last 10 – 30 years is remarkable. My Chinese co-librarian is local to this city, and until her early teens she worked on a farm in a nearby village. She tells me that now, the entire village has been moved into an apartment block. But the old people are unhappy – they have heard from friends that apartment living destroys their sense of community. The ghost cities intrigue me – I wonder if this is the population resisting the government’s drive forward?

If you haven’t scrolled through Kai Caemmerer’s photographic work “Unborn Cities“, please do. Many hours of reading Dystopian literature make these images unbearable. This is what humanity has become.

From Kai Caemmerer's "Unborn Cities" http://kaimichael.com/unborncities
From Kai Caemmerer’s “Unborn Cities” http://kaimichael.com/unborncities


Carrie Diaries #blogjune 7

My little Miss is away iceskating (in a mall – so Asia) and I’ve finally FINALLY managed to book our flights for summer holidays – with only 19 days to spare (but who’s counting?)

Seems like I spend most of my expat life searching for the perfect flights or hotels or ’24 hours in X city with a kid’

Zoning out now watching Carrie Diaries on PPTV (dodgy streaming app in China). Is it weird I like it far more than SATC?? Omg am I perpetually 17 in my head?? Actually the most interesting element is historical – 1985.

Win a free pass to NLS7

A very excellent conference for librarians – hands on and a focus on networking. We should be in Oz for all of July but not sure I will make it to Sydney 😁


We are happy to announce that three sponsored registration passes are now open to members of Australian and New Zealand Professional Associations (such as, but not limited to, ALIA, LIANZA, ALLA). These sponsorships will be donated by Jeff Cruz of the City of Sydney Libraries, Holger Aman of the NSW Law Courts Library and Sue Hutley of QUT Library.

What’s included? 

The sponsorships cover full registration for each of the symposium days and social events.

How do I apply?

In 150 words or less, tell us what you can bring to NSL7 to make it the best yet! We also want to know a bit about you, so give us a brief overview of who you are and what you’re passionate about. Please include your full name, contact details, and position and organisation or student status and organisation. Send entries to nls7committee@gmail.com. Applications close on June 30th, 2015. 

If I am successful, what…

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End in sight

We’ve finished all our holidays for the year, which means Summer is around the corner and we’re making travel plans.  It’s been a huge year of travelling. We’ve visited London, York, Scotland, Munich, Prague, Japan, Vietnam, Xi’an…and of course the wee trip home at Chinese New Year.

It doesn’t feel like we’ve done that much! I guess so much of our time is taken up with just trying to survive daily life in a small Chinese city.

Our plan for summer was Scotland, but we’ve decided instead to go to Australia. As my mum will be caravanning in the Northern Territory we are thinking of flying into Darwin and travelling with her. We lived in Darwin a few years back and it’s a brilliant place. It will be interesting to cram the 3 of us in mum’s Jayco. I think I’ll be booking hotels…

I am glad we have survived the year. Last time we were in China we stayed only 5 months and it feels like we’ve broken a record or something. A year isn’t that much really – plenty of expats stay in Asia for decades, but they’re mad Asia isn’t my thing. My heart is in Scotland and I’m fascinated by Europe. China was a complete accident last time I came – I had never ever ever remotely considered coming here. But that first chance job is what brought us back, and loads of my family have also travelled here because of us.

Roll on summer holidays though! Longest term in history…