Of the primarily English-speaking nations, only Australia appealed enough to outweigh our desire to be closer to home without actually living there. (We British are famous grumblers – complaining is different, see, not at all British! - but what most home-based English people seem to complain about these days is that everyone in England is so miserable! The ‘Let’s live anywhere but here’ magazine market is huge nowadays.).
Since getting a job in a foreign country is obviously less complicated than setting up a business, we started with me. I’ve run informal drama activities, done productions, and taught drama right across the age groups from four to seriously grown up, so I could go anywhere that requires drama teachers. The only thing is that I am very happy teaching 11-18 year-olds, really love teaching IB Theatre Arts, and really don’t want to give it up!
So I logged on to the International Baccalaureate Organisation, to check out IB schools around the world: it turns out that there are 1,834 of them, in 124 countries.
OK then…. I was looking for English-speaking schools because, although the IB programme is delivered in English, French and Spanish, I know I can’t polish my French or learn Spanish to an appropriate standard for teaching. Still, most of Europe remained open to me, though it was generally private schools, like the one that I teach in now, rather than state schools.
(After posting this last night, I realised that it was actually two posts, so I've removed some IB/education stuff and posted it separately.)
France, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Netherlands, Greece – the list rolled on!
Quite apart from the practicalities of earning a living, I wanted to return to Europe and be nearer family in England, Scotland, France and the Netherlands, but also to retain our links with Arab culture – we’ve been in the Middle East a long time, and our son is more at home here than in England.
In the end, our choice of new pasture came down to a mixed bag of criteria: climate, economic development, culture, openness to foreign nationals, legal and governmental transparency, cost of living, property values, language, membership of the EU (taxes, health, pensions, law, human rights) – and a feeling!
So: Spain. Not sunbaked Spain or wet Spain or tourist Spain or British Spain (Enough of the expat – we wanna feel like pats one day!), but Mediterranean, historic, cosmopolitan, colourful, crazy, traditional, cautiously post-Franco, self-assuredly forward-looking Spain.
So: Valencia. Characterful but not defensive or chauvinistic; thriving and expanding but still a big town, not a vast city; midway between Andalucia and Catalunya, with the heartland of Castilia y Mancha, Extremadura, Castilia y Leon and Aragon to the west and northwest; and the rest of mainland Europe to the immediate north and northeast.
Valencia appeared immune to the corruption apparently endemic on the southeast coast, but there is a serpent in paradise after all, in the form of the now-notorious Valencian ‘land grab’ laws. Still, we plan to give ourselves two years to settle, become reasonably fluent in the language, establish Habibi’s business, my proper job, and a venture of my own, do plenty of WWOOFing, and generally become part of this place we’ve chosen to spend the rest of our lives in: and if the land-grab issue (now before the EU, I believe) isn’t resolved in three years’ time when we’re ready to buy our patch, we’ll be in a position to look elsewhere. Ha!
I remember when ladies of 50+ wore crimplene, carried shopping bags that bulged in solidarity with their ankles, and were definitely set, like over-cooked Yorkshire Puddings, into a shape and state which I knew instinctively would remain more or less unchanged until they got frail and translucent, with white, blue or lilac hair and walking sticks, and lived out their lives in excessively tidy rooms behind netted windows overlooking lawns edged with flowering annuals that no-one would ever be seen to weed. It didn’t bother me. I thought it was normal. Now that I’m older, and still very much alive inside, even if the vital signs have been a bit dodgy this week, my perspective is somewhat different. Vive la différence!
Vamos a la gran vida!