Your interactive family guide to France as recommended by local mums | Last updated 3 months ago

Interviews

Kirstin Barton - Leymen (Alsace)

"Children start to read and write later in France than they do in England, but when they do, it is a rapid learning curve. It is quite intense also when they learn grammar, spelling and verbs and there is a lot to learn. There is not as much creative writing work as there is in the UK, but there is a lot of public speaking and learning by heart - which can be challenging at first. From what I observe, I think the system depends on children sitting still and listening hard in a traditional classroom setting, which is not what suits each child. I also think the children have to develop tough skins quite quickly as some of the feedback received is pretty direct! What I like is the frequent evaluation and very clear reporting system so you know exactly where the children need help. There is a recognition that different children need additional support at times, and there is a system for providing this in small groups, which in my experience has been excellent" (KB, March 2011)

  • Interview with Kirstin Barton

    What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Leymen?
    I am Kirstin Barton, 42 years old, and for the past 5 years Ive lived in a little village called Leymen which is in Alsace, just outside Basel (which is in Switzerland!)

    Why did you move there?
    We moved here because my husband had a new role at Roche in Basel, and we wanted to give our girls the opportunity to learn french and become bilingual.

    What is the area like?
    Leymen is a village of about 1200 people in the Leimental, a picturesque valley which connects several Swiss and French villages, perfect for walking and cycling. Leymen is part of the Sundau, in the south of the Alsace. The Sundgau is rural with networks of small and pretty villages.

    What nationality are you and your partner?
    We are both British

    How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
    We have two daughers. Kristina (Tina) who is now 11, born 17th February 2000, and Jenny who is now 9, born 19th May 2001

    What was your experience of relocating to Leymen with children? (if relevant)?
    We relocated to Leymen with the girls when they were 5 and 4, enrolling them straight into the local school. It made many things easier - for example, we met parents of their friends, and initially our social life was kicked off through school contacts. There was an inevitable learning curve with the language, which was totally new to the girls, and we had some early challenges over confidence with the girls as they settled in to school. These were worked through with great support from the teacher. We later discovered that my younger daughter had some emotional impacts related to the move which affected her confidence, and we used some professional Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) sessions which changed her (and our) life!

    Do you work and if so what do you do?
    I have a coaching business which I set up in France, www.alivetochange.com, and I also volunteer as a Girl Scout Leader, a Leader in a local Women Entrepreneurs group and at the school.

    Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
    We have now bought a home here, but rented for the first two or so years. The process of buying a house here is very different to the UK in many respects ,and ours was particularly complicated for various reasons. However, it only took 3 intense months from Compromis de Vente (committing to sell/buy) and the Acte de Vente (actual purchase). This took quite a lot of effort and a good knowledge of the language.

    How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
    I would say we are very well integrated within the village. The two girls are performing well at school and have lots of contact with their school friends who are all from local families. I sing with the girls in a local choir, which involves us in many activities. The girls have music lessons and gym locally too. My husband plays for the local football team and has a large network through this route. I help at the school by teaching swimming and in regular classroom support, so I know the teachers and children very well. I am also an elected member on the school council and help organise fundraising and social activities. We socialise with families in the village and attend the big village events.

    What language do you speak to your daughter?
    I speak in English to my daughter unless we are with a french speaker, in which case, I speak French


    What is your impression of childcare and education in Basel?

    Leymen doesnt have a periscolaire or cantine so there is no lunchtime cover. It is a small village school with classes of mixed school years. The school was very welcoming and was used to having children who didnt speak french as their first language (there are a lot of Swiss children there too). Some children in the village go to the International School in Basel (around 15 minutes drive, or a longer tram ride).

    What school(s) do you children go to and why did you choose it/them?

    The girls go to the local village primary school. We chose it because we wanted them to go to a small village school as they did in the UK, and also wanted them to go to school in the place we lived.

    What are the main educational challenges within the French educational system as far as you are concerned?
    Children start to read and write later in France than they do in England, but when they do, it is a rapid learning curve. It is quite intense also when they learn grammar, spelling and verbs and there is a lot to learn. There is not as much creative writing work as there is in the UK, but there is a lot of public speaking and learning by heart - which can be challenging at first. From what I observe, I think the system depends on children sitting still and listening hard in a traditional classroom setting, which is not what suits each child. I also think the children have to develop tough skins quite quickly as some of the feedback received is pretty direct! What I like is the frequent evaluation and very clear reporting system so you know exactly where the children need help. There is a recognition that different children need additional support at times, and there is a system for providing this in small groups, which in my experience has been excellent.


    What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Basel?

    Leymen is a village on the border of a highly international city, Basel. Leymen has over 30 nationalities represented, including many english speakers. The main advantages are that other incomers tend to know what youre going through, and are ready to help and socialise. The main disadvantage is that these can be transient friendships as people come and go.

    How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Basel?
    The locals in Leymen were mainly welcoming and very supportive, although some have had poor experiences with other nationalities coming into their village and hiking up house prices, not wanting to integrate, and not contributing to village life.

    Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
    The area is very family friendly. There are many village events for the whole family. There are great walking/cycling tracks from the village and it is easy to get into Basel where there are many activities and resources for all the family.
    Life could be improved with more out of school activities for the children.

    Are you able to recommend to other MumAbroad members in the area any local services (home delivery, plumbers, dentists, babysitters etc) or any activities, restaurants or shops for children in the area?
    Weve had a lot of work done on our house so can recommend several local firms. Also pleased with our doctor and dentist. Also know quite a lot about activities for girls aged 5-11 !

    What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Leymen with children?
    Start learning or improving your French - a little at a time. Pick a topic youre interested in or might find useful and based your learning around that at first. If youre having a baby here, write down some key "hospital french" phrases - things you might need to express to people who may not speak English (I didnt have my children here but have had three stays in hospital - the doctors tend to speak good english, but the support staff and nurses dont always.
    If you already have children and are thinking of relocating, take your children there and have a wander around to get a feel for the place - hang around the school at 11am or 4pm to see how the local children seem to enjoy it! You may well hear some of the Mums/Dads and children speaking english - there are a few english speaking families at the school - if you feel brave, approach them and introduce yourself! If you feel even braver, approach any friendly face and say why youre there! Or just contact me and I can show you around!
    Take lots of photos of the houses and streets and local area so you can talk about it before you come - help them feel excited about the possibilities. Pop into the Mairie and ask about activities for children in the local area - they may send you to Hegenheim (two villages away) where there is much more going on, but there are plenty of holiday activities locally through the "Portes de Sundgau" (a collaboration between several villages in the Sundgau).
    If this is an area youre interested in, please contact me with further questions.

    What couldn´t you live without in Leymen?
    The feeling of being in the countryside, the community spirit and activities, the excellent transport links into the city of Basel, Switzerland, the stunning views, our friends.

    What could you live without in Leymen?
    The walk up the hill after school (its steep up to our house)!
    The sudden variations of temperature and precipitation - especially in late winter and early spring. You never know what to wear or when youll be snowed in! (weather forecasters do seem pretty accurate though)

    (March 2011)