"Relocating was relatively easy, adjusting was hard. It was most diffitcult for Josh who was 12 at the time. Initially, he missed his friends in the UK dreadfully, most of whom he had known since nursery school. The first year of Collège was very challenging but he ultimately made some good friends there. I did wonder during that first year if we`d done the right thing as French taught at school in the UK in no way prepares the child for the level of French required to learn at school in France. The teaching methods are very different, too. For Jake and Alice, who were 9 and 2 respectively at the time, it was much easier as younger children are naturally more adaptable and learning the language happens almost by osmosis for them" (PS, November 2011)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Le Lot et Garonne? Which part of Le Lot et Garonne do you live in ?
My name is Paula Swift, I`m 43 and I have lived in St Colomb de Lauzun, North Lot et Garonne, for 7 years.
Why did you move there?
My husband`s job involved spending a lot of time on the road, especially the M25, so we were looking for a slower pace of life with less time spent in traffic jams and more time at home. We knew the area fairly well already from having spent holidays here and wanted somewhere with lots of space away from main roads so that the children could spend time outside safely. Also, we wanted somewhere suitable to have animals.
What is the area like where you live?
Beautiful countryside and very rural . However, the next village along a couple of miles away has all the daily essentials and we are within 30 minutes drive of 3 towns. The view from my kitchen sink is fantastic, which is a bonus!
What nationality are you and your partner?
We are British
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
I have 3 children - Josh who is 19, Jake who is 16 and Alice who is 9. I also have two grown up step-daughters and a step-grandson who live in the UK.
What was your experience of relocating to Le Lot et Garonne with children?
Relocating was relatively easy, adjusting was hard. It was most diffitcult for Josh who was 12 at the time. Initially, he missed his friends in the UK dreadfully, most of whom he had known since nursery school. The first year of Collège was very challenging but he ultimately made some good friends there. I did wonder during that first year if we`d done the right thing as French taught at school in the UK in no way prepares the child for the level of French required to learn at school in France. The teaching methods are very different, too. For Jake and Alice, who were 9 and 2 respectively at the time, it was much easier as younger children are naturally more adaptable and learning the language happens almost by osmosis for them.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
My husband is a registered artisan, building and groundworks. I am involved with the administrative/paperwork side of things and being France there is lots of it!
Did you buy or rent your property?
We bought our property.
How did you find the process?
A year before we moved to France we spent a several weeks looking in our preferred area and happened across where we live now. There was a crudely painted for sale sign at the bottom of the drive. Coincidentally, friends of my parents had mentioned a property which might be of interest to us and it turned out to be this very one! The purchasing process was very easy because the same friends, fluent in French, accompanied us throughout the negotiating stages and to the Notaires etc so we were very lucky on that front.
How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
We are fairly well integrated now but it seems to take about 5 years to become fully accepted. Our French neighbours tell us that they have seen so many foreigners arrive, stay a few years and then go back to their country of origin that they like to make sure people are really here for good before committing themselves fully!
What language do you speak to your children?
At home we speak English when it`s just us. If the children have French friends over, we speak French (and my children can cringe at some of my efforts!) More and more, though, the French youngsters are wanting to improve their English so then it`s a bit of both.
What school do your children go to and are you happy with your choice?
Alice goes to the primary school, Notre Dame, in Monbahus. She started there in Maternelle and she is doing fine. After Collège and having passed the Brevet, Josh and Jake both had stints at Lycée but it just wasn`t for them. They now attend "The Old School" in St Colomb de Lauzun. It has been set up, and is run, by Joel Bailey and Julie Pollitt. It is fabulous! A dynamic centre of learning which draws out the best from each student. Josh has been studying there for about 18 months and has passed his GCSE`s and is now studying A levels. He is now achieving to his full potential having previously felt he was just "getting by" in the French system. Jake has been there since the end of September and is studying for his iGCSE`s and French A level, having already passed French at iGCSE level. Together with their team of inspirational teachers, Joel and Julie offer a range of "exam" subjects as well as sport and literacy classes. For example, Alice has been to Wordy Wednesdays which allows youngsters educated in France to become/remain proficient in English. After all, it`s important to be able to write and spell in your native language, something which can easily become neglected when living in France/abroad.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in
Le Lot et Garonne?
The advantages are being able to experience a different culture, learning a new language and being able to spend more time together as a family. Being a parent meant that it was essential to make an effort to integrate from the off. As for disadvantages, the education system can be a little too rigid and uninspiring but that is slowly changing. For instance, Alice does more art and sport now in CM1 than Jake did in the same year 7 years ago.
How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Le Lot et Garonne?
The locals were all friendly and our immediate neighbours were very welcoming, but as I said earlier it took a while to become fully accepted.
Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
There are things to do locally, especially in the summer months, and most restaurants are family-friendly. As my children are older, their lives (and mine by default) would be improved by a faster internet connection!
What advice would you give for anyone thinking of relocating to
Le Lot et Garonne with children?
Visit the area in winter as well as summer, investigate the education facilities available and move when the children are as young as possible.
What couldn´t you live without in Le Lot et Garonne?
My family of course, English novels, internet, M & S deliveries and just sometimes Cheddar cheese!
What could you live without in Le Lot et Garonne?!
Fog, flies, mosquitos, copious forms to fill in.