On the roadschooling road again…

Previously…

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.

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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.

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Uniform

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 😦

 

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Our shipping is here, or “winging it”

Getting our stuff from China to Spain has been an ongoing headache.

April

Discovered we were moving to Spain, not Germany. Interesting discussion with other staff about whether it’s “movers”, “removers” or “removalists”. Located a Chinese shipping company relatively easily via colleagues at school.

June (few weeks before move)

Researching “life in Spain” and stumbled across dire warnings about bringing goods from overseas, including not being able to ship personal belongings without proof of residency (e.g. student visa, work permit, residence card). Won’t have any of this until 3 – 6 months after arrival. Looked into shipping to family in the UK, but again, not enough “proof of relationship” to get through customs. Considered shipping to Australia and then sending it onward once I had residency – round and round in circles, dark days. A few times I almost passed out from the anxiety of it all.

Didn’t contact Chinese shipping guy immediately, as sneaking suspicion he was “winging it” and quite possibly had never sent anything outside China before despite “international movers” claim. My suspicions were confirmed as he refused my offer of additional paperwork only weeks from the move. I contacted numerous other shipping companies, but at the end of the day their costs were at least double his quote, if not more.

Decided to sell the superfluous stuff (the cool things I’d accumulated after 2 years in Asia *sob*), and send 1 or 2 bags of things we really couldn’t part with via DHL or similar (for about the same price as the entire shipment *double sob*)

June – a week before we depart China

Lo and behold, Johnson (the shipping agent) replied! “Don’t worry, I know about this (residency requirement) and I have a plan”. His plan involves stashing my things in with another family also going to Spain (but with citizenship or residency already in the bag). Dubious, I was forced to trust him as we had run out of time for any other scenario.

June 25th

Johnson came, and despite his assistant being a tad rough and careless with the packing, seemed to know what he was doing. Paid the 7000RMB and crossed my fingers.

Mid-September

For the past 4 months I have wondered silently if we will ever see our things again. We’ve been in Spain about 3 weeks with no sign of shipping. Contacted Johnson. He said “Don’t worry, it is on it’s way”, but a couple weeks later, still nothing. I emailed again, and this time received the curious reply “I sent by air express as I think this will be quicker for you. It should arrive soon”

Now, one of the reasons Johnson was able to provide me with the best quote was because he intended to send slowly, by sea. Air express sounds very curious and hopefully I won’t be getting a new bill.

Late October

WEEKS of confusion later, the shipping has arrived. During this time, Johnson vanished off the radar and I started getting calls and emails in Spanish relating to my “import” and mentioning “storage fees”. I dutifully completed the forms they sent, hoping I was writing in the right places. Discovered by accident on the phone to company that they thought I was importing goods from China to sell, and I was about to be charged an exorbitant amount of tax for old shoes and teddies. A few confusing conversations later and I was asked for “proof” our things were used, and why they needed to be moved from China to Spain.

GAH. 4 days later, still no replies to my emails sending them everything I had and asking for clarification.

YESTERDAY

Suddenly a truck pulls up outside our window and someone starts shouting my name (surname/first name haha). A burly guy gets out and starts passing boxes over the back fence for me to lift inside (!). Waives away my attempts to provide ID, takes €24.20 in tax, and drives off.

Of course, the moral of the story is: everything will be okay. It got here despite all my worrying.img_6551

 

 

Settling in

https://www.etsy.com/listing/123205210/

Hectic times! We arrived in Nerja and had about half a day on the beach before we were forced to urgently find a new place to live. Finding something bigger/better than S’s crappy bachelor flat was always on the agenda for after we arrived, but we did not realise just how awful his place was (picture an underground prison bunker), AND THEN WE GOT RATS (again)! M and I panicked and moved to a hotel, but with the cheapest hotels around €60 a night we were desperate for a place. With limited options available we jumped at a place that gave us the option of vacating with 2 months notice (it’s for sale). It’s grand to have a place again (and not have to listen to rats fighting above your head at night) but it’s a good 45 minute walk from town – hardly ideal when you’ve just arrived in a place and need to do large grocery shops, and buy things like bed frames and pot plants. As we’re on a strict budget while we live in Spain (at least until I get residencia and can work), we are trying to avoid getting a car, but the bus service is rubbish (€1 each way, and it’s 10 minutes walk to the bus stop, only goes on the hour, doesn’t go at all between about 130 and 430pm), so it’s been a little disheartening.

For instant happy, just buy plants:

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Roadschool Maths lesson today: how many more pots do we need, and how much will it cost to fill the pallet?

I’m not the only one who has discovered the calming properties of gardening. Just catching a glimpse out the window makes everything seem better. Then I googled “pallet gardens” and suddenly discovered we have a problem – pallets can have toxins in them (due to needing to be pressure treated to kills bugs) so aren’t great for growing food, unless they have a little “HT” on them, which means “Heat Treated” and safe. Our has this…

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We have the HT! But what else is lurking in the timber???

BUT if you aren’t sure what was carried or stored on the pallet, this could also lead to toxic poisoning. GAH! Considering S found this one on the roadside on his way home from work in the early hours of the morning, we will just grow flowers in this one!

Pallet garden advice here and here

Most apartments have terraces – usually more than one (our current place has FOUR), which is awesome. It’s cool to look out from the rooftop and see the ocean (considering we are a good hike from it!). The dream is to fill the terrace with cool plants and loungers, and spend our days up there…

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Terrace dreaming…

Similar to the UK, most places here are rented fully furnished – not empty like Oz. This is a plus, as we sold all our furniture before moving to China in 2014, and it gives us a breather from having to spend more of our savings on stuff.

Anyway, I was going to post about our trials so far with trying to get Spanish residencia, but this was much happier!

¡Hola! España

We have arrived in Madrid – to flamenco, hot chocolate and churros, and the delicious freedom that comes with free, (hopefully…) unlimited wifi.

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Out the AirBnb window

We’re AirBnB-ing it near the Estación de Atocha (Madrid’s largest railway station). We were met by Ricardo, who is from Portugal. He has left his 2 children in Portugal because he had concerns they wouldn’t adapt or pick up the language (?!), so he was interested to know how Matilda has moved through life in Australia, China and now Spain. She moans constantly and her dream is to live in one big house surrounded by all her family, and she constantly makes me wonder if I am a cruel parent for dragging her round the world all these years.

Saying that, although she is all in a muddle after 2 months in Oz with family, I think the years are paying off now she is older. She turned 11 right before we flew, and this is the first overseas travel we’ve done where she has jumped straight back into it, and we’ve had none of the drama and tantrums (me) that have sometimes plagued our past travels.

I booked Madrid for a week as initially we thought we’d have paperwork that would be done more easily in the capital. That plan changed, but now we have a chance to explore before we transition to our new life as unemployed folks who cannot afford to travel!

I’ve been hit by terrible jetlag so our first few days have been slow, and yesterday (Monday) was bureaucratic – SIM card etc. We have discovered not much (business-wise) is open on the weekend in Spain. Also, similar to Asia, things don’t open until mid-morning (gah). Can’t say much about the evenings yet as I keep falling asleep at 5:30.

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Metro trumpet player

Getting around: we got a Madrid Metro Tourist Card on the first day. I am not sure we will end up taking enough travel to justify the €40,20 (1A/1C), mostly as the main line from our apartment to the city is closed for maintenance. We met a friendly local girl while we were trying to buy the ticket which made it all worth it. She is teaching English, has worked in Costa del Sol and was able to give me some advice. It made our first day a little bit special. On the 2nd day a random guy played the trumpet in the carriage for our entire trip. So the Metro has made our “good beginning” in Spain.

I think I’m going to cave and also pay €31 to do the Madrid Tourist Bus. These are good for getting a feel for a place, and the city does feel like it is kinda sprawling. I also want to get Matilda excited about the history, and it’ll sound better coming through headphones than from me!

SIM card: Spain’s prepaid mobile plans are even more rubbish than Australia. I really thought Telstra had the monopoly on “world’s worst Telco”, but there you go. €15 for 28 days with 1.5 paltry GB, 50 mins talk and NO SMS with Vodafone. Other options are apparently Orange and Movistar.

So, it’s been less museums and history and more bureaucracy and falling asleep on the couch at 5:30pm so far!

Viva la adventure lol.

Non-immigration related post #blogjune 5

Dali
Dabaiyi wedding in Yunnan Province (China Daily)

My last day as a Teacher Librarian will be Friday 24th June, so this *sort of* counts as a “library related” post (if that’s even a #blogjune rule?). Decision on shipping/removalists is still pending, so I’m not entirely sure which day we will actually leave, but we do have a bit of a plan about where we will spend our first few days, weeks, months… of Freedom.

Itinerary

24th June: last bottle of Tsingtao in Qingdao.

July: 2 – 3 weeks travelling China, mostly by train and mostly in Yunnan province, home of majority of China’s minorities and apparently the “trendiest destination for China’s exploding domestic tourist industry”. Well, I guess after 2 years here we’re starting to think like locals. We’ve been to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong a few times, we’ve seen the warriors in Xi’an, and we’ve even had a weekend on the lake in Hangzhou and one on the beach in Shenzhen. These all tended to be “city trips” and I do not want to leave without seeing the scenic sites. Just irritating it has to be in July when it will be super hot!

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I think Yunnan can be considered a scenic site.

Current itinerary depends on a lot, including the possibility of meeting up with another school librarian who has been working in Tianjin and has a daughter the same age (that would be brilliant!):

  • Qingdao
  • Nanjing : ancient capital, location of many (rather violent) historical events
  • Wuhan : port town for Yangtze cruise (which was initially part 1 of our itinerary but, alas)
  • Chengdu : pandas!
  • Lijiang : deep in Yunnan country. Tiger leaping gorge, in my mind home to China’s “colour”. This is where the miniorities are, and much of the costume and landscape and ‘idea’ of China. I really want my daughter to leave China with a lasting impression of the place as interesting and diverse. Even if that is getting less and less so.
  • Kunming : well, at first I wasn’t convinced but after a closer look it sounds like an interesting city.
  • Guiyang : Guizhou province – hoping to find some hand papermakers in this region.
  • Guilin : beautiful. Has to be done.
  • Guangzhou : airport, although I have heard there is an ancient village that is also a hub for printmakers – Guanlan printmaking base – and if there’s time I want to explore.

Thailand for a week (sigh. Hard life). Hoping to find printmaking workshops!

July to September: the magical Land of Oz. My family don’t know we’re coming as this was not on our original itinerary, but as it happens it would be better if we put off arriving in Spain until after the tourist season (July/August). I was looking at Croatia and Romania, but a few things have gone down lately with my family and us ‘dropping in’ will hopefully distract from the not so cool stuff going on.

September: Hola Espàna!

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.