Bilingual is Better
Family in San Miguel Heritage Travel Immersion  Abroad

Amy and her family in San Miguel de Allende

Editor’s note: We are so incredibly excited to be able to share the first in a series of posts which will document an LA family’s incredible adventure as they move to Mexico for a few months so they can immerse their three children in the culture and language of that beautiful country.

I’m at the edge of a cliff with beautiful sparkling water below. The meadow is great where I’m standing, but I’m going to jump anyway – I have to know what the underwater world is like. I can climb back up to the meadow later on, no problem – it’ll be here.

I am so excited. I am nervous. I’m giddy one moment and anxious the next. I’m taking my three young children to live in Mexico for four months, specifically to San Miguel de Allende. We’re Los Angelinos, and we are all going to attend our prospective schools, play soccer, eat, drink, and be merry. That’s a little overkill, and greatly exaggerated. I know it won’t all be merriment.

For starters, my husband will commute to be with us. I don’t expect the estrangement from Daddy to be easy on any one of us. Most recently, my oldest (who is 7 years old) has begun to express ‘big feelings’ about the duration of our trip. Most of all, I worry how I will cope and provide support to my children, who will undoubtedly experience feelings of homesickness and difficulties with cultural assimilation while I might be feeling the same way, i.e. how will I reassure them when I flounder myself?! It’s a giant leap of faith.

Our goal had been to immerse our kids in another culture, another language, prior to their awareness of the fact that it was different and prior to their own maturity level to veto the idea. I want to normalize another language and de-mystify the ‘other’; I want them to have the peer social support that is found through schools and playdates and downtime.

I am an American, and I am grateful for what this affords me (like being able to study whatever I want, travel wherever I want, say or write without censorship, etc.), so I’m not defecting. I do feel, however, that there is a great deal to be learned from other cultures and people – and a huge world out there beyond our borders. I want my children to know that people live differently than we do in Los Angeles or California or the States. I’d like to say that the differences have no value judgement good or bad, but the truth is that I see some better and some worse differences. But, I am grateful to see the difference.

I want my kids to see the difference.

I want them to have choices as they grow, and ultimately, I want them to be happy. I don’t mean to be trite in the simplification of this process, but I’m trying to explain that I’d like them to know of more possibilities than they could ever be exposed to at home alone. It’s hard to know anything different, however, until you’ve come into contact with it – ideas, things, smells, etc. And while Americans might do things one way, I don’t think that there is one particular ‘right way’ but many routes toward our goals.  “Travel” Mark Twain wrote, “is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” It’s essential to my balance.

So, here we are – on a countdown to Mexico!  My parents think I’m batty and that I’m putting my family in grave danger, most people can’t understand why and why Mexico?, specifically. On top of it, a new travel advisory was just issued – ugh. I’ve doubted myself and my intentions for this grand adventure repeatedly, but I am also feeling empowered. We’ve bought one way tickets, paid our rent, and everything is in motion.

It started with my obsession of another language, Spanish. My husband and I made a pact early on in parenthood that we would only take our kids to Spanish speaking countries given the opportunity. Beyond the ability that it would give them to communicate in another language, I had done great amounts of research regarding the effect of bilingualism on the brain.

As an anthropologist, I treasured the opportunity to be with people who thought differently and had different cultural practices. We didn’t want them to learn another language in a void academic environment – I wanted them to understand the nuances of speech and words that don’t translate directly. I want them to know that people laugh and cry and eat all over the world – but they do it differently and for many reasons. I wanted another language – and culture – to become ‘normalized’ to them.

This isn’t the thing that most American families do, but I think it’s catching on…  my husband says it’s in the zeitgeist. But it was one of the first families we met while at a 4-year-old’s birthday party on our first trip to San Miguel who inspired us. We’ve talked in circles about the idea of living abroad; we finally decided to just do it. It sounds so cliché, so NIKE–like, but we did. Despite my mom’s apprehensions and our neigh-saying comrades, we did it.

And, so why? What do I hope to get out of it? What’s the point?  It’s true that I hope we all come home with fluid and romantic Spanish tongues, but realistically… I’m also hoping that it takes me/us to another place. Personally, I’ve let some of my own goals float away under the pretense of supporting my husband (& his career) and trying to be the best mom possible to my brood. I’ve inadvertently neglected the part of me that is only me – not that this isn’t a common theme in mommyhood, but hell! I am a modern woman, educated and capable. This next chapter of my life is intended to bring it all together.

The next 6 months are certain to be unpredictable, and I’m not naïve enough to think that it will all be beautiful (let’s face it, after only 3 weeks on a previous trip, my kids demanded pizza as a break from all that ‘mexican food’ – it’s what happens when you’re in Mexico, right?!). But I am at a place where I need to move forward, and I need to pursue my dreams. This has always been a dream of mine. Life is short.  I’m on the brink of change. I’m dorkily following Thoreau’s advice, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.”

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