Corinne Kowal talks about her moving experiences and setting up house and work in a different country.
We live in the barrio de Piovera in the Hortalezza district of Madrid. It is a green residential area halfway between the city and the airport and close to the Parque Juan Carlos I. Being residential it doesn’t have many neighborhood shops but has plenty of larger shopping facilities. While searching for a place to live we didn’t know yet which school our oldest son would attend but we knew it would either be one of the French schools near Arturo Soria or the German school in El Viso. We have a very lively boy and felt that living in the city center wasn’t the best choice. Furthermore my husband works near the airport here. In Brussels he had to commute an hour twice a day, so it was also important to reduce the time he spent traveling to and from work every day.
was a different experience from our previous relocations. Every relocation is different but the age of your children certainly changes a few things. When we relocated from Berlin to Brussels, our eldest son, Stanislas was 18 months old and didn’t quite realize or voice the change. However, when we made the move to Madrid he was four and well aware of things. Our second son Philipp was just under a year old when we came here. For us the major change of this relocation was the fact that we didn’t speak the country’s language prior to our arrival. We both hadn’t learned it at school and it was extremely frustrating for me on a daily basis.
We feel like we are back in a European metropolis. Despite it’s great quality of life Brussels felt like a small town arriving from Berlin. The second obvious thing is the weather. Seeing a cloudless sky three weeks in a row wasn’t something I was accustomed to. Other than that we had to get used to the Spanish times. Having a worker arrive at 2:00 pm after having said he would come in the morning, or having the post deliver a package at 8:30 pm was slightly surprising. The other difference lies in the fact that we live in a residential area where a car is needed, whereas in Brussels we had a supermarket, baker, butcher or newspaper stand at walking distance from our home.
My business, Corinne Kowal Interiors, was born out of my love for interiors and first and foremost my love for color. When we first arrived in Madrid I set up and marketed my business as a classic interior designer offering color consulting and interior design services.
It has since evolved tremendously having taken on at the very beginning of my time here a project for a foreign based investor who entrusted me with managing the renovation of his flat despite my lack of experience, based on the ideas I had suggested. This client has since become a repeat client and I have taken on similar profiled clients and carved out my niche market. Today I offer my expertise in a turnkey service providing increased rental yield and added property value to mostly foreign-based investors. I help my clients finding properties to purchase; manage their renovation and decoration and work in collaboration with Madrid’s best-known serviced flats companies to put them on the market. I also take on a few classic residential projects for clients decorating their own homes; Those clients often have busy schedules and are looking for some help to take the hassle out of renovating and decorating a home.
I studied fashion design but have always been fascinated by interiors. My parents bought an old house when I was a teen and I remember clearly having very strong opinions about old things being ripped out to be replaced by modern ones. After finishing my studies and working in the fashion industry for a few years, it became very clear for me that I wanted to work in interior design. I found a job in Paris working for a company producing high-end furniture and decorative items and learned a lot both from working with clients such as architects and decorators, and from attending trade fairs. I worked there for a long period of time (seven years) and toyed with the idea of starting my own business for a long time. The birth of my first son and the year break I took after his birth helped me to reach the decision to go for it. It was a long process that has involved working in several countries and restarting on the entrepreneur path merely months after arriving in Madrid.
Relocating my business has actually been much easier than I thought it would be. When I am not on site or sourcing products for clients I work from home. I didn’t have to look for an office or retail space to rent like other businesses have to. I started out with an autonoma status, which was really easy to get. I found a native English-speaking accountant who specializes in helping foreign entrepreneurs and who is taking care of all the legal stuff so I didn’t have to struggle with paperwork in a language I did not master.
vs. employed allows me the flexibility to organize my workload as I see fit. I drive my kids to and back from school and work in between. I can also work late at night or get up very early (which fits my personal rhythm better) to get work done before everyone gets up.
Our almost seven year old first attended a French Kindergarden, Pomme d’Api (avenida de los Madronos) before starting at the Lycée Français. It is a huge school with 4000 students and having know the German education system in Brussels, there are a few educational differences. However I was impressed by the care the educational team put into making sure to meet the individual needs of children. Ours smallest attended Baloo (avenida de Carondelet), a wonderful daycare during two years. It came recommended by other mothers and there simply wasn’t anything I could comment negatively. He will start Kindergarten at the Lycée Français in September, but Baloo will see me return shortly as I am pregnant with our third child.
I speak German with the kids and my husband French. As a couple we speak French. And outside of the house we speak Spanish. Our eldest now speaks French, German and Spanish. Our smallest who was six month old when we relocated understands both French and German but answers and speaks mostly Spanish with us. I think speaking Spanish is essential. Relocating to a country means embracing it’s culture and language and for me it is a must. How else will we meet locals and integrate the Spanish society? Having started to work shortly after our arrival mostly with people who did not speak any other language, I learned quite rapidly but mostly like children by listening and repeating. As I drive a lot, listening to public radio has helped me a lot. I took a few classes but my grammar is far from perfect. But at least I can communicate, express my ideas, and whatever I need to be done workwise (and that includes a lot of technical renovation related vocabulary).
It opens up your horizons like few other things. Speak about the move with your children and voice your concerns with them but don’t sweat the small details. In the first few months of living here I often joked with my then four year old about the fact that I did not understand when someone would talk to me and I really believe that he was relieved to see that I was facing the same dilemma as him but could laugh about it. Be ready to embrace the differences instead of trying to compare everything with your home town/country. Children can adapt extremely easily as long as they feel that their parents are welcoming their new life’s changes. www.corinnekowal.com
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