30 Oct Mumpreneur Sarah Gemba tells us about her life as a mum abroad in Seville
My name is Sarah Gemba. I’m 39 and I have been living in Seville permanently for about 15 years now.
I studied in Seville in college and loved it, and knew I would one day make it back for life.
We live in a sleepy village called Valencina de la Concepción which is about 15 minutes outside the city of Seville. It offers tranquil village life with the opportunity to live in a big house with a yard, and yet it’s a quick commute in to the city for work, culture and social interactions. Our tiny town has lots of history and culture and the people are very friendly and welcoming. I feel we have been able to integrate in to the village rather quickly since moving here about 5 years ago and can’t imagine our life elsewhere!
We are renting our home in the village with an aim to purchasing this house or another one in the village soon. I have both bought and rented previous properties in Spain and found the process to be easy and manageable.
I am American and my husband Daniel is Spanish. We have 3 children – our daughter Manuela was born in October 2010, our son Lorenzo was born in March 2013 and our second son Daniel Thomas completed our family in December 2015.
Each birth experience was completely different for me. Manuela was born via C-section (because of breech presentation) in one of the city’s public hospitals (Macarena) and it was overall a pleasant experience. The only complaint I had about the C-section is that it was treated like a surgery instead of a birth experience, and as such my husband was not allowed to scrub in, which was frustrating. Lorenzo was a swift, natural birth at the same public hospital with no medication because he came so quickly (ouch!) and Daniel was an induced, all-day labor birth at the other public hospital (Virgen del Rocío) that was quite a different experience, but beautiful nonetheless. I had been followed carefully for his birth as a high-risk patient, and my care was great. In between Lorenzo and Daniel, we suffered two traumatising mid-term miscarriages (both at 5 months along), which were unpleasant, scary and sad, but probably would have been awful anywhere in the world.
I am the owner and operator of Spain Savvy, a boutique travel design company focussed on creating personalised itineraries for travellers in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
We are very well integrated, mostly due to the fact that my husband is Spanish and we have family and lots of friends native to Seville.
I speak English to our children whenever possible, and my husband speaks to them in Spanish. It’s true that our lives are mainly in Spanish here but I have been pleasantly surprised that my children have managed to pick up English just from hearing me speak it to other natives and in their communications with my family in the U.S. Our travels to the U.S. have been a significant factor in motivating the children to learn English. As a foreigner here I do think at least an intermediate level of Spanish is necessary for survival in this city.
We are generally pleased so far with the small public primary school in our village. My children have all attended daycare/nursery since 6-9 months of age, and public school starting from age 3. As long as you get involved with the school and hold regular meetings with your children’s teachers, as well as stay on top of the communications (which can be a bit lacking), it seems to be a solid educational experience. Ours are still young (the oldest is in 3rd primary now), so we will have to see how they progress in to the later years. There are also many good options for semi-private and private education in this area of Seville (Aljarafe).
An advantage of being a parent from the international community is obviously that your child will grow up bilingual with a little work on your part. A disadvantage is that you may not know the ins and outs of the system or be privy to special privileges or other insider perks that tend to be so prevalent in this culture.
I have always felt very welcomed as a foreigner living in Seville. People are always fascinated about what brought me here and want to know more about my home culture.
There are lots of families and children in Seville and opportunities for activities with children are growing all the time. There is a great newsletter I suggest families subscribe to that offers a weekly update on child-friendly activities in Seville, called Sevilla con los Peques.
Other recommendations to mums in the area would be to join the American Women’s Club (AWC) chapter in Seville that organises lots of activities for every walk of life, and especially for families. There is also a wonderful Facebook page called Mums in Seville that is a wealth of information for recently-arrived expat families.
Relocating to a new country and adapting to a new culture takes patience and understanding – the locals won’t always do things the way you are used to them being done back home and that’s OK. Just remember you live in a beautiful city with so much to offer. Seville, and Spain as a whole, is very welcoming to children and families, and I think it’s a great place to live!
I couldn’t live without my circle of like-minded expat friends, most of whom are also mothers. Having them to rely on through thick and thin has been priceless.
But I could live without the bureaucracy that you find in every single process! Nothing is easy here, which is why living here requires patience, but sometimes I wish the government would finally get their act together and start simplifying things for its residents.