jueves, 7 de noviembre de 2013

Spanish Schools and Immigration

Well, in the end it is not really the bad Spanish economy and employment situation that has made us make the decision to leave Spain but the terrible educational system. And yes, I feel I can judge that it is indeed a terrible educational system. I, myself, was a teacher for 13 years before changing career directions, my parents were university professors -- my mother specialized in teacher education, and I have participated in the local version of a parents' organization that is crippled by not including teachers (and not because the parents don't want the teachers involved).

My oldest son had already been sent to the States to study because he was not able to effectively get through his Sophomore year at high school even though he is intelligent enough just a lazy student. We accepted that as to a great extent, my son was to blame although I had difficulties accepting the lack of support provided by the schools and lack of interest demonstrated by the teachers. Then we had a fiasco with my second son at the school. My second son tries hard, works hard and is able to complete his studies more than adequately. The result of the school administration's complete and utter incompetence was that we pulled my second son from school at the beginning of the school year (which started about a month after school had started in the States), and sent him to the States to start his Sophomore year there. 

The whole situation with the school left me heartsick and feeling that the time had indeed come to make a move -- the map had been laid out for us and we needed to start on a new road.

Anyway, in order to get my son to the States in time for his first semester subjects to count, we needed to act quickly and within two weeks he had started school there. I owe a thanks to Plano ISD and to American Airlines who allowed me to change his ticket last minute (paying through the nose) and also allowing me to accompany my son all the way to the gate because that is what you want to do if you are a mother leaving your son at the airport for him to fly half-way around the world.

As soon as he left, I started the process to have my husband allowed to immigrate to the U.S. and it is complicated and long. People I know had done this a year before had a completely different process to go through (which took about half the time). Just figuring out the forms you need and where to send them is difficult. Also, it isn't enough to be married to someone for over 20 years and have three kids with them. I need to sponsor my husband and because I am not a resident in the U.S. yet, I had to find another sponsor for him as well. The other sponsor could not be my brother-in-law because, besides the fact that he is already doing us a huge favor by taking in both of my sons, he now has 6 children and a wife under his care and economically it is possible that he couldn't sponsor my husband as he may not reach the poverty threshold for all of those people.

Like I said the forms and instructions are complicated and difficult to understand. From what it said the second sponsor needed a letter from his employer so I did not believe my retired 75-year-old father could be a sponsor, I asked my cousin who graciously said yes (another person I will never be able to repay). Later I found out that my father, who has a fixed income, could have been the second sponsor all along.

I sent the first forms and documentation out in mid-October together with a check, and received an email from the government that they had received them about a week after they were sent. The email at least gave me the peace of mind to know that the documents had not been lost in transit. Then we wait.

In late January I received a letter stating that the documents had been sent off to the Visa Department and that we should expect contact in a month's time. As the letter had taken over three weeks to arrive, the communication I received by email took only a week longer. It requested an additional payment which I made, a form signed by my husband, and then the actual sponsorship forms. I had great difficulty understanding whether these forms could be sent by email or whether I actually needed to send them in the mail. I finally decided they wanted everything sent to them in New Hampshire -- I have a Master's degree in linguistics and wonder what people who don't read very much do to understand what the instructions are getting at. I like being sure I am not doing something the wrong way and called the embassy in Madrid to try to figure out whether we needed to send out an additional form that was mentioned. The man in Madrid was very nice and between the two of us we decided that this next form would be requested later on in the process and presented to the embassy. I hope the State Department agrees with us.

Now being me, most of the documentation we will be needing I found back in October or requested from the pertinent authorities back then. I realized they wanted something to prove that my husband had fulfilled his military responsibilities to Spain -- which he had back in 1983-1985 and I remember clearly because we were going out at the time. There is a document from the military here which is commonly called "la blanca" which he was given when he finished his military service. The document is printed on white cardboard and I believe my husband gave it to me with other military memorabilia when we got married (20 odd years ago). I don't think at the time that I recognized that it was a document and not a souvenir and I have no idea what may have happened to it (maybe the thief that broke into our house in 2001 took it -- I'll go with that). So now we have to figure out how to get a certificate that states that my husband does not need to do any military service here in Spain which we should be able to get but this is Spain and well, I guess we will cross that bridge when we get to it.

martes, 10 de julio de 2012


A friend of mine who has recently moved back called me 5 days before leaving rather desperate as even though she had not had trouble with having American Airlines accept her cat as baggage, she did not yet have a reservation number for her cat and her travel agent was concerned that it had not come through by then. She had reserved her direct flight on American Airlines thinking that it would be easiest on her 18 month old daughter and since the airline said they accepted cats thought that was it BUT after checking around (5 days before flying at probably one of the most hectic times), found out that American Airlines would only accept the cat basing themselves on if weather temperatures would never be over 80 degrees. Well, when she figured out the language (because it wasn't quite that straight-forward) she realised that they were not going to accept the cat because even if it was under 80 degrees in Madrid, it was never going to be under 80 degree in Dallas when they landed.

She called around and found out which airlines do accept cats in the cabin with passengers - Delta is one, I think Luftansa provides air-conditioning to pets flying as baggage-- and she was lucky that my sister was in Spain on a short holiday and flying Delta. Well, between us we managed to convince my sister to do a favor and bring the cat back with her (my sister, the saint, was travelling alone with her four daughters and now a cat).

J, the cat's owner, called Delta and found out exactly what we would need to bring the cat. She also found someone to keep the cat for the weeks between her leaving and my sister's leaving (allergies at my house). They also brought the cat an hour and a half north to us in Vinaros.

Anyway, the cat arrived. We sequestered it in my empty laundry room for the night, giving it food, water and a clean litterbox -- I don't think the poor thing used any of it. At 5:45am my sister and I mashed up an anti-anxiety pill for the cat, made her take it and got her into her carrier for the 2 hour trip to the airport. We did not have a problem getting the cat on the plane, she got x-rayed with the rest of the hand luggage and got on a plane to Atlanta with my sister's family. A bit of wetness and smell was detected towards the end of the flight but they made it without incident to Atlanta.

In Atlanta, the first step is to go through passport control and then pick up your bags. After this you take your bags through customs and since my sister had a cat they had to deal with the agricultural customs agent. He wasn't interested in looking at the cat's passport, no, he wanted to see the cat's orifices, I am assuming that he thought a cat being brought into the states by a mother travelling with 4 children was at high risk for being used as a drug mule because if that is not the case, I have no explaination for it. My sister told J. that the good news was that the cat was not hiding any drugs and the bad news was that she was raped.

Finally, they did manage to get through and even managed to make their conecting flight to Dallas where J. met them to pick up her cat.

I have two large boxers that are somewhat deformed and are on the ugly side of the spectrum but we love them very much and they are very good and sweet. I already know that there are airlines that refuse to take dogs with short muzzles (like bulldogs, pugs and boxers - because they can have respiratory issues) so I guess we would have to fly in the winter on an airline that would accept them or I will have to do my homework and find out if Luftansa really does have a climate conrolled baggage compartment for pets.

jueves, 7 de junio de 2012



Who likes doing their taxes? Here in Spain we file by the end of June, in the States it is by the 15th of April.

On the second page of our American passports it says that we need to file our taxes in the U.S. as well as filing in the country that we are living in (in my case, Spain). Way back when this warning first started appearing on our passports, the American colony (of 4 or 5) around me asked the Valencian consulate and we were told not to bother filing because unless we earned more than 80.000 U.S. dollars we did not have to pay (and this amount goes up every year). I don't know anyone here who earns over 80.000 dollars so we all forgot about it (it is difficult, we haven't done it before, blah, blah -- end result -- nobody filed the U.S. tax forms).

Well, now people are going back and finding difficulty because for administrative reasons, banks and sometimes schools or landlords are requesting the tax forms to grant mortgages, enroll students, rent apartments to returning citizens. And we don't have this done -- very bad I know.

I reasearched it for myself, called the Embasy in Madrid who immediately emailed me some information, called the IRS office in Paris and spoke to a very nice young man who told me more about how to file etc. and I called a CPA living in Madrid. The CPA gave me the impression that I was owed money back for the child tax credit thingy. Well, that sounded great and I could claim 4 years so in my head I was saving and spending the $14,000 it came out to be (3 kids all under 17). Of course, when I actually calculated the taxes with the help of my accountant (who is so proud of himself for doing American tax returns), it is a tax credit not free money and if I had to pay American taxes (I don't) would reduce the amount I would have to pay.

I still have to send my tax returns to Austin, TX (don't ask me why they go to Austin, TX -- I imagine an anthill of IRS workers dealing with weird foreign-looking American tax returns). I need to get a document (from 2009 that I can't find) and take them to the post office. In the end, I am doing what the nice IRS man in Paris told me to do -- filing only three years and it wasn't so bad. I can almost do it myself.

martes, 22 de mayo de 2012

First post

Leaving and Going Back Home?

This is my first post and I need to tell you a bit about myself. A bit, just the important parts.

I'm orignally from Oak Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. I moved to Spain in 1990 right after I finished my Master's degree to marry my husband who is Spanish. We now have three children, 16, 15 and 8. My eldest son, Quique, is already living in the States with my sister to study because  the secondary schools here are basically impossible to deal with for him. He is finishing up his first semester there and will come home for summer. He is our advance guard scouting out the terrain where we may end up living.

My sister moved to Dallas in the early 90's so now when I go home, I go to Dallas and Dallas is what my children know as their "home" in the USA. Everytime I go to Dallas, I can go a bit further on my own but it doesn't feel like home to me but obviously I would prefer to live near my family and I really don't think I could last out a Chicago winter after having lived on the Mediterranean for 20+ years.

I am sure you have heard about the economic situation in Spain recently as, I guess, they have been mentioning it in the news all over the world for about the last month but it has been bad for the last four years. Personally, I fear for my job and if I lose my job I don't think I will find anything else around here and so I am looking worriedly to the future and thinking that I will have to leave Spain and go back home.

I am going to use this blog as a diary of worries, fears and to show the evolution of my journey either back to the States or the evolution of how things change here allowing me to stay.

For me going home is a frightful thought. All of my adult life has been lived in Spain, in our town of around 30.000 people. The normal things I have gone about doing here, I have never done in the States. I have never bought a car, rented or purchased a home, had a "real" job, gone to the doctor or dealt with the health insurance stuff that I hear about, had a child, registered one of my children in school and hundreds of other things that belong to normal life and these things are very different here. Sometimes they are easier and sometimes more difficult.

Right now, here one of the talked about things is the cutbacks in education. Teacher's salaries have been frozen and their bonuses eliminated. The government wants to change the September exams to the end of July. September exams are exams for the classes the student's have failed. Student failure here is very high and over 37% of the students do not get the diplomas they should get when they are sixteen. Now at the end of May, we still do not know what is going to happen. The government has asked the teachers to provide classes to failing students during July (school is out around the 20th of June) but I have read that the schools are not accepting this. The situation is uncertain in education just as it feels everywhere. No answers seem to be available.