We are excited to talk to Michelle Walker, married to Aaron and like a couple of trail blazers, they moved to Spain and have never looked back. These guys don’t fit our typical Expat profile in Spain. We talk to them about their experiences with the move and having a ‘largish’ family in Spain especially during a pandemic!
Meet Aaron, Michelle, Florence (8), Daisy (6), Jude (3) and Ruben (16 months)
So, when did you move to Spain?
It was when Jude was six weeks old, September 2017. We lived in Gretton in Northamptonshire in the UK and all my family were there in the village. The idea came to me randomly one day, I was pregnant with Jude and I swear it was the hormones that did it! We were both self-employed and so could run our businesses from anywhere and when I suggested it to Aaron he was more than happy as he is quite adventurous. Also the weather was a huge motivator to move here for us. We’d been on holiday to Spain a few times – mainly with friends; the Canaries and a mainland coastal holiday and I had travelled a lot anyway so we knew a little bit about Spain but not a lot!
Whereabouts in Spain did you move?
We moved to Freila which is a small mountain village about an hour north of Granada. I was pregnant with Jude when we were looking and ended up buying a cave house as a holiday/getaway rental initially. It was something quirky. We owned properties in the UK and sold one and used some of the proceeds from that to buy the house outright. The whole process was very easy and done within three days. We didn’t have a mortgage so that sped things up. Then we moved here permanently.
What were the challenges to moving here at first?
Freila is a very traditional town, old ladies sitting watching the street from their windows, the kind of thing you see in movies. The language barrier was very hard at first as virtually no one spoke English. It made us have to learn Spanish phrases to communicate quickly and immerse. There were no English speaking families. The cave houses are really cheap to run and efficient which attracts a lot of retirees. In the Summer you don’t need aircon and in the Winter they stay warm. Food is really cheap! Tapas with a drink comes free so you’d buy a glass of wine for 1€ and eat for free. We made friends but it was a very different way of life for me because I’m used to going out and making friends with other Mums and there were no coffee mornings or play groups because that’s not a Spanish thing. Families socialise with families. But if we were in a park, the kids would make friends easily without a word of Spanish and that made it easier for us to meet their parents! Lucky Aaron and I get on because we had to spend a lot of time together initially.
What was school like in Spain for the kids?
There was a village school and they were so lovely. There was a teacher there who spoke English so she helped the kids immerse. Daisy was three and Florence was five and they didn’t speak a word of Spanish when they started.
How did the children manage without speaking a word of Spanish?
They loved it and they adapted to their environment and cracked on with it and they were picking up words really quickly. It must have been at about the 4-5 month stage when all of a sudden they could speak Spanish. No one spoke English to them at school so they were totally immersed.
What made you move to the Costa Del Sol, where you live now?
I was pregnant with Ruben. It was difficult with healthcare in Freila, not because of the quality of the healthcare but because of the language barrier. There wasn’t a chance of having a home birth there which was my preference but there were no midwives available to support me. Home births are not really done in Spain. It was getting quite difficult. There was a little bit of friction around ‘why we were here having a baby’ which seemed strange to me because I was from the UK and it’s not like there was any benefit of having a baby in Spain. I think they were just not used to seeing foreigners having babies in their town. I found they weren’t very open minded towards me when it came to having a baby.
Why did you decide to settle in Riviera Del Sol?
I researched different areas and the Costa Del Sol Hospital came up tops for having the right support for having a baby. Riviera is near the airport and it seemed really central. Also Facebook groups were invaluable to me for information and finding people of like mind and Mothers who were going through the same thing I was.
How did you find the house you are in now?
It was a fluke! I think I was pregnant again too. Coming from the cave, we were 2.5 hours’ drive away with three kids so we had to come down here and have a good amount of viewings sorted. I found six houses and made the bookings with estate agents but when we got here there were only two viewings left so that was a bit of a nightmare. The estate agents tried to find alternatives but with what was going to be four kids and two adults, the typical Spanish apartment was just too small. I wanted a house with a garden but I had no chance as there were no properties available like that at the time to rent. So I think we were lucky as the apartment we are in was the only one left! And it was perfect so we took it. So we moved in December 2018 and Ruben was born in March 2019.
How do you feel about living in Riviera Del Sol?
I love Riviera. At first, the A7 was freaking me out because it’s so hectic and there are so many shops and I thought it would be really busy and noisy but to be honest, where we live only 1km from the beach is nice and quiet and great for the kids.
What do you do for work here?
I used to be a Learning & Development Advisor with a big transport company in the UK. It was a great job but extremely busy, I was all over the country and never at home, and Aaron was in the army and away a lot and I’d just had Florence. We felt at this rate we would never see our child! So I threw the job in and started up my network marketing business which was great. I still dabble in that here but I now coach (which is part of my L&D experience). I’m coaching women to help them promote their businesses on social media, as well working with their mindset which is centred around creating confidence in business. Aaron is a personal trainer so his business is flexible too in terms of location and clients.
Lockdown in Spain – how challenging was this for you?
For me it didn’t change to what I do now as I work from home but home schooling was another story. The nurseries and schools were super nice about everything but the sheer amount of work coming through was impossible to handle and do everything else we had to do as a family. Also the kids were now not in a school environment but at home, so they didn't relate to the school work in the same way and often didn't want to do it. It’s difficult to make them do it as well. So we did our best but it wasn't ideal. The confinement of movement too for the kids and I was mammoth considering I was always out and about with them. But we survived.
How’s your Spanish?
I can understand a lot more than I can speak thanks to being in Freila. I think I generally have issues with stringing a proper sentence together so I’ve learnt a lot of phrases but my grammar is a bit lacking. Aaron and I had some tutoring in Freila together but with Jude as a baby it was hard as I had to try and do the lessons while changing nappies sometimes and missed half of what was going on!
What advice would you give parents with children moving to Spain?
Provided they have decided where they are going, get on local social media sites and ask as many questions as possible before you come. You will meet people who have already done it. Collect contacts and find people who can help you, mainly because it puts your mind at rest. Don’t expect to organise everything at once because things take time to sort.
And… try and relax about it because people get so worried and you don’t have to do everything in the first week. Go with the flow a bit and don’t think you need to know everything straight away. People think if they don’t get things done they will get into trouble which is just not the case. Remember to ‘smell the roses’ and enjoy yourself as this is why you moved. Go to the beach and meet other families.
Thanks Michelle for sharing your journey so far. Michelle and Aaron love the quality of life in Spain and have no intentions of returning to the UK at this stage. Also it might be worth mentioning that shortly after I wrote this article, Aaron completed a gruelling 61.13 mile run in 36 degree heat. He was one of three ex military colleagues, running seven marathons for seven services in 24 hours! They are the founders of the Adapt & Overcome Charity that supports the armed forces and emergency services with treating mental health issues through sport and fitness. They completed the challenge on 1 August 2020 to raise funds for the charity. This is the first fundraiser the charity has completed. Well done to Adapt & Overcome and a great cause particularly in these troubling times when many of our forces and emergency services are being stretched to the limit. Here are a few pics of when Aaron had finished the run. He looks remarkably well considering!