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Relocating with Family to Barcelona: What You Need to Know

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Relocating with Family to Barcelona: What You Need to Know

Moving to a new country can be tough – adjusting to the culture, learning the language, obtaining the proper documentation, and missing friends and family back home are just a few of the many challenges that present themselves. However, moving to a new country with your family can be even more difficult and brings about its own set of unique obstacles. On the one hand, it can be nice to have a familial support system when in a foreign place. On the other, having a family with you means juggling many different needs, concerns, opinions, and emotions. There certainly will be bumps in the road, but by going in prepared, the adjustment can be made much easier.

What are the most common challenges for families relocating to Barcelona?

When moving, families encounter many challenges that those who are moving by themselves may not have to deal with. For example, when choosing which neighbourhood to live in, the safety and “family-friendliness” of the area must be taken into account. Should you live in Gràcia, the Eixample, maybe El Born? Parents might also consider which neighborhoods have good schools.

Should you send your kids to a public school, private school, or “concertada” (partially funded by the government)? Perhaps an international school like the American School of Barcelona is more appropriate? International schools will likely be more expensive, but they could also make the transition easier.

Another common dilemma families face is figuring out what to do with all of their belongings. While a person travelling by themselves may just sell or throw away many of their possessions to start afresh, this is more difficult to do in families, as many small children have attachments to their things, particularly favorite toys or games. Since much of the housing in Barcelona is in apartments, it may harder to accommodate all your previous belongings, especially if your family was living in a house before. 

Another complication with family relocation is reconciling the various cultures. We consulted with Krysta – one of our licensed marriage and family therapists – on this topic. She says: “I find the most common challenges are how people work to balance living in their own culture while blending with the new culture enough to make it home.  There are all kinds of processes for assimilation. There is also the topic of  the ‘third culture,” expats blend their passport country with their new place, while not fitting in either so having to make a third space.”

Is it common for adolescents to take longer to adapt to a new country than younger children?

The process of adjusting to a new country is generally easier for children, but it can quickly become more difficult after about the age of 15. One reason for this is that younger children are much quicker at picking up language. After a critical window of time, learning a new language becomes significantly harder. In the case of Barcelona, there are two languages to learn: Spanish and Catalan.

Furthermore, older children are likely to have invested a substantial amount of time and energy into various friendships and relationships. At a time when peers are often seen as more important than family, breaking a teen away from their friends is likely to lead to some resistance or even outright rebellion. Fortunately, social media can assist teens in keeping in contact with their friends even while in a different country.

It’s also important to note that moves can be particularly challenging during other major transitions such as puberty or school changes. Krysta explains: “I find that a huge factor is whether the adolescent feels like they were part of the decision making process for relocation, including starting a new school, making new friends, and choosing the new country. [This helps them] to feel as though they have some inner locus of control about the process.”

What skills and strategies do you suggest to help cope with family relocation?

While the stressors of moving to a new country should never be underestimated, fortunately, there is  a wide breadth of knowledge on the topic.

For younger children, it’s recommended to maintain regular schedules and routines to foster a sense of familiarity. Explaining the move in simple words using toys and stuffed animals can also be helpful.

As stated above, the transition tends to be tougher with older children; above all, it’s important to remain empathetic and tell them you understand how they’re feeling and know how difficult the move must be for them. Krysta contends: “families need to be equipped with emotional regulation skills: identifying emotions as they come up, and being aware of how to grieve losses well. Be aware of personality and relationship styles and, coping skills that fit for each individual and family. Find ways to cultivate curiosity about the new home while building a sense of home with each other.”

Our therapist Sarah adds: “It’s also important for the parents  to find support, maybe with other expats or relocating families, so they don’t feel alone and can share and hear similar stories. Reach out from the start. Don’t wait until you find yourself very sad or facing a problem.”

If you could give one piece of advice to a family thinking of relocating what would it be?

Every family’s experience is different, and some may find the transition easier than others, but it’s crucial to go into the move knowing that it’s not going to be easy and that there will be challenges emotionally and logistically.

Be ready to adapt and take on whatever obstacles are thrown at you. By preparing properly, you can start the next chapter of your life on the right foot. In a place as incredible as Barcelona, the enchantment of the city can make the setbacks worth it.

For more information, visit expatchild.com or book a session with one of our trained therapists at Therapy in Barcelona.

By Claire Suisman

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