How Expat Kids Integrate into Spanish School and Society

Published on 25/01/2011 in Kids in Spain

Schools and Education in Spain Guide

Will Going To A State School Make It Easier For My Child To Integrate Into The Local Spanish Community?

Schools and education in Spain ebookMany people regard sending their children to a local state school as a form of integrating and it is true that it is a step towards integrating into the local community. However, integrating isn't as straight forward as it seems. If you are living in a touristy area you should check that the school actually has 90% Spanish speakers. If not the English speaking kids usually end up hanging around together and pick up the language at a much slower rate than expected.

Also, it is worth bearing in mind that although the Spanish and I am actually referring to my experience of the andaluces, are friendly, helpful and gregarious people, it is difficult to make interaction with parents beyond the school gate. You have to remember that most people remain in their home town where they have their friends and family connections so there is no need to make friends with outsiders.

You tend to find that spanish extended families spend their spare time at the weekend together so children play with their cousins rather than school friends. There are even fewer oportunities for foreign children who live on new urbanisations as you tend to find that the local children live in the older parts of towns.

Will My Child Be Bullied For Being Foreign?

According to a Professor of The University of Alcala, Iñaki Piñuel "bullying affects 23% of children between their second year of primary school and first year of bachillerato".

There are always bullies regardless of language and culture so who can predict if your child will be bullied or not wherever you live in the world. In my own experience I haven't witnessed children being bullied on the basis that he or she are foreign. They maybe referred to as a guiri (foreigner) but it usually isn't a term used with malice.

It is a misconception that in Spain, society leaves children to get on with it and doesn't interfere in bullying. In fact, there are efforts to tackle bullying in schools. Of course internet bullying is becoming more and more pertinent too especially since online games such as Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters are very popular amongst primary school age children. To be honest foreign children aren't usually a target for bullying by spanish children because of their nationality. On the contrary, most of the bullying is done by foreign children to foreign children.

Why Does My Child Only Hang Around With The English?

This is a common complaint made by parents who only mix with other expats. Your children will learn by example, the truth is unless you spend your weekends socialising and mixing in spanish circles, your children are likely to subconsciously gravitate to other children that they feel share common interest i.e language, culture etc. As strange as it may seem, perhaps your child does not get invited to play with the spanish children. As gregarious and warm as they can be it can be difficult to access Spanish friendship groups even for children unless you are bursting with confidence and determination.

If My Children Go To International School Does This Mean That I Am Preventing Them From Integrating?

Ironically, many of the Spanish state schools along the coast have higher numbers of English speaking children than the private Spanish schools or international schools. More and more affluent Spanish parents are realising the benefits of an international educational experience for their children so when they can afford to they are opting out of the spanish state system and sending them to private British/ International schools.

Such children are taught in English in class and play with their Spanish speaking counterparts in the playground, the reverse of what happens in the Spanish state schools with the English speaking children. In some respects, English children may be successful at picking up Spanish because the types of parents that send their children to private international schools actively encourage their children to strike up friendships with English speaking children.

Guide to schools in SpainIt will also depend where you live. If you live in a very Spanish area and you allow your child to play out in the street, they will also have the chance to speak Spanish. A friend of mine who lives in a very upmarket part of Marbella, has only Spanish neighbours, many of whom have children that attend the local British school. Her English speaking daughter who also attends the school mixes with these friends at home. The only problem in her case, is that the level of English of these six and seven year olds is just too good and they do end up all speaking in English!

Parents might also be a bit smug to know that where English speaking parents are often criticised for not being able to converse with their children's teacher or parents, Spanish parents of children in British/ International schools are often guilty of needing a Spanish teacher to translate, sending children to school without equipment that they were supposed to bring and turning up late becuase they don't speak English or understand the cultural expectations. 


This was an extract from the Eye on Spain ebook "A Guide to Schools and Education in Spain".  It contains a wealth of information and advice to help ensure that you kids enjoy a great education in Spain.

Click here to find out more about the guide.


Written by: Susan Pedalino

About the author:

Women In Spain

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