workaway family departing SLO regional airport May 2016
Q & A: Post WorkAway interview with the traveling family
May 9, 2017
Ruth's Herbal Remedies - Logo and Identity Design
Ruth’s Herbal Remedies: Logo & Identity
May 18, 2017

The Gift of Gab: Back to school in Cerdanya

School in cerdanya

The number of things we’ve learned about on this trip is virtually unthinkable, from the social hierarchy of domesticated bovine to the proper preparation of an eggplant. So some morsels of our newly acquired knowledge will clearly be put to more use than others. This month we concluded our tour of work-exchanging nomadism, but the learning is far from over. And the excitement remains as high-pitched as ever, or nearly so.

This month we are back with our former hosts, in their derelict hotel and healing resort in the breathtaking Spanish Pyrenees. But this time around, we’re paying monthly rent rather than exchanging day labor for room or board. Half an hour from the French border, and half an hour in the other direction from the micro-nation of Andorra, we are comfortably situated at ground zero in a state of confusion. This abandoned facility, while it has purported to be a kind healing spa, seems to suffer from more mental health issues than an overbooked sanitarium on a full moon. Even so, we can hardly tear ourselves away from the scenic beauty, the thermal waters, and the mystifying energy that pervades the premises.

Meanwhile, we have begun our search for a private house or apartment to call our own, and we’ve started looking at some local schools where we might send the kids. Sometimes it feels a bit crazy, enrolling our kids in a school that teaches in a combination of French, Spanish and Catalan, the trinity of official languages that comprise this cultural crossroads they call Cerdanya. After all, the four us know English, and we can speak German with varying degrees of success, but the romance languages of Catalonia are only marginally intelligible to us.

Furthermore, we’ve been exploring and growing increasingly fond of the idea of either home-schooling or free-schooling our offspring. So suddenly signing them up for full-time school seems like quite a departure. But in the interests of cultural immersion and language acquisition, sending them to school with the locals seems the most appropriate and necessary thing to do.

Over past couple decades, it has grown clear that the Millennials will probably be the first generation in American history to inherit a less prosperous world than their parents. The pie is shrinking, the disparity is growing, and the sense of upward mobility is largely evaporating. How then can we hope to create for our children an opportunity to become more successful than ourselves?

As a writer and a foreign national, we as parents are firm believers in the importance of languages, both native and foreign. And we know just enough about mental development to know that children who grow up with two or more languages develop critical parts of the brain, parts associated not only with letters, but also with math and logic; parts which, if not nurtured and promoted at an early age, will otherwise whither on the cerebral vine.

With this in mind, we are taking a leap forward, and trying to exude for our children an air of certainty and confidence. Yesterday we toured one of the schools, a small, alternative facility for ages 4 to 11, which loosely follows the philosophies of Maria Montessori and a local pedagogue named Jordi. Our kids had a look around, generally clung to our legs out of characteristic shyness, but didn’t seem the least bit concerned about the fact that the teachers and students were speaking primarily French and Catalan.

We brought a dear friend with us, a French Canadian who was able to act as interpreter between the school administrator and ourselves. In the end, we were very pleased and impressed with what they were doing. And I for one am convinced that the gift of multilingualism is the best possible thing we can give to our children.

Fred Hornaday once considered writing poetry for a living, but then thought better of it. Contact him with your questions and comments at

1 Comment

  1. m says:

    hey guys, you might be familiar with tim ferriss and his language quick-acquisition approaches- i just heard this sampling & thought of y’all: (it’s at minute 23 through about 25):

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