Just before the start of the summer holidays, I collected my daughters from school and we made an impromptu trip to the beach. As they tucked up their dresses and paddled along the water’s edge, I noticed some holidaymakers looking at us with a combination of interest and envy. “What lucky children you have,” remarked one mother, “I’d love my children to grow up on an island like this.”
You only have to watch popular British TV programmes like “A place in the Sun” and “No Going Back” to know that more and more people are trying to escape the rat race and seek a better lifestyle for their family. And, when it comes to lifestyle, most people agree that Mallorca can’t be beat. Good weather, a cosmopolitan lifestyle, close proximity to the rest of Europe, cultural richness, and a low crime rate were some of the enticing factors that made our family leave England and set up home here. We wanted our girls to have a healthy, outdoor lifestyle and not grow up fixated with TV and videogames. The fact that we’ve still not connected our TV, proves that with sunshine and open space (and a good watering!) children thrive like trees.
But, of course, it’s not all sunny side up. Like all places, Mallorca has advantages and disadvantages. The reality is that however much a family may want to be in Mallorca, unless they’ve won the sweepstakes, the island has to provide them an income. Jobs tend to be centred round tourism and yachting and if you are not in these industries, and don’t speak Catalan or Spanish, you need to think of creative ways to survive.
Several parents I spoke to said that because so many people come to Mallorca to do contract work, they sometimes feel the island lacks a sense of permanence for them, and they are constantly saying farewells. It can be hard on both parents and children when dear friends leave because their job no longer allows them to live here. There’s also a sense that because some families are not sure how long they will stay in Mallorca, they don’t make an effort to get to know the island or integrate with local communities. This means they rarely make Mallorquin friends and miss out on some wonderful cultural experiences such as the fiestas that take place in the villages and towns of the island every month.
Then there’s also the fact that many foreign families have no extended family on the island, so children grow up without grandparents, cousins, etc. Fortunately, the boom in cheap travel means it is easier to arrange reunions, but as any child will tell you, there’s no one better for baking, storytelling and babysitting than granny and grandpa. The absence of aunties and grannies hits hardest over the long summer holidays when many parents are at their busiest, but have ten weeks to keep children amused and stimulated. Several institutions run summer school programmes, but these tend to be expensive and the hours are not always suitable for working parents.
It’s particularly difficult for the large community of “yachting widows” whose husbands work on boats abroad during the summer. “It’s hard when Dad is away for three months at a time,” said Lynne Wade, mother of Matthew, 4, and Sebastian, 1.
“Luckily we yachting wives tend to support each other, and there’s a lot to do with the kids. “As a mother who is often alone on the island, I really appreciate how safe it feels living here.”
Although Lynne, a South African and Nigel, who is British, have put down roots in Mallorca, they feel that not speaking the language puts you at a disadvantage. “I think that until you learn Spanish, you’ll always feel a bit of an outsider,” said Lynne. Whatever the nationality, there are few parents on the island who aren’t happy when September arrives, and the new school year begins.
When it comes to schools, there are many good ones to choose from. However, any family considering a move to Mallorca needs to know that most of the international schools have waiting lists and there’s a chance they won’t find a place at their preferred school. One of the debates that many parents have, is whether to put their children into one of the many excellent public local schools, or opt for a private international school. There are many factors that will influence the decision – not least the cost! And of course, as all the international schools are situated near Palma, if you don’t live within commuting distance, they are simply not a feasible option. There’s no doubt that children who attend the local schools learn Catalan and Spanish and become well integrated into island life, but many foreign parents are put off by the fact that as the language of learning is Catalan, they are prevented from playing an active role in their children’s education.
This thought is echoed by Zoe Welsh, mother to Andie, 12, and Lauren, 8, – pupils of the Capdella school Puig de Galatzo – and baby Alex, 18 months, who goes to the Puigpunyent guarderia. “Personally, I think it is a mistake that the onus is on Catalan in public schools, because from a foreign and practical point of view, Castellano is so much more international. While I agree that Catalan should be taught, I think Mallorcans have been sold short when one considers that the Mallorcan language has been virtually blotted out by the Catalan language. “Secondly, I think that if the Mallorcan language and traditions are instilled at home they will never be lost. Even though I am married to a Mallorcan, my children still celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween, because, as a Canadian, these are my traditional holidays.
“For us, the biggest plus of living in Mallorca with children is that they get to mix with children from so many different places. Both Andie and Lauren speak four languages fluently – Mallorcan (from my husband), English (from me), Spanish (they hear it everywhere), and French (they went to a French school in Palma for four years)¨. One concern, voiced by many parents I spoke to, is that while the education system in Mallorca is great for young children, it is not ideal for senior school pupils.
Sebastian and Lizbeth Galbraith-Helps moved to Mallorca from the UK eight years ago with their children Maxim, 14, and Olivia, 8. They are now leaving the island, primarily for educational reasons.
Apart from wanting to set up a tennis academy, they chose Mallorca because it would offer the children a multi-lingual and multi-cultural European upbringing with a good choice of international schools. Despite a growing business and a wonderful lifestyle, the couple recently made a difficult decision to move to Cape Town, South Africa, so that the children, particularly Maxim, could enjoy the type of large senior school that Sebastian and Lizbeth themselves attended.
“Maxim has consistently attained good results at Queens College, but as a tennis coach who has worked in all the international schools, I can see the restrictions that exist due to a lack of quality facilities. When we visited Reddam House in Cape Town we were blown away by the facilities on offer.
“There are so many things that the children will miss about Mallorca – not least their friends of all nationalities – but we think they will benefit from sporting and academic excellence and competitiveness that large schools encourage. “One of the other things that we hope the children will gain from living in South Africa is the chance to integrate with people from all economic and social backgrounds. There is so much privilege and wealth in Mallorca that we worried our children might grow up thinking it was normal to own a boat and have a swimming pool without comprehending the work that goes into realizing such things.”
It’s sad that Mallorca will, inevitably, lose some lovely families and bright young stars to bigger places, but, for the many families who put down strong and lasting roots here, this island still offers all the starlight they need.