NowWeKnow reader Jeanne Walker explains how her family’s interludes away from island Britain have enriched their lives:
“The first time I left the UK, I had worked overtime as a nursing assistant to save money to work my way around the world. As it turned out, I stayed in France, where I fell in love with the country, the people and the language. I got a job as an au pair in Bordeaux, received free municipal French lessons, then got a job on a sheep farm, looking after a barn full of sheep and three gorgeous little children. No visas required, just my passport and E111. I came back speaking French and with the confidence to go to university.
“During my holidays at university, I worked in a bar in the south of France, again improving my French. These interludes were sweet relief to life in the early 90s, I can tell you!
“In 2007, when my boys were four, six and seven, I took them to stay in a (rudimentarily) rebuilt ruin of a house in a medieval village in the foothills of the Cévennes mountains. No visas or travel insurance, just passports and EHICs. This was the adventure of a lifetime. The boys went to school for a month in sandals, shorts and t-shirts, delighted not to have to wear uniforms, and we made the most fabulous, enduring friendships, rekindled every year since. They cycled through vineyards and swam in rivers and played with wood piles and insects in the garden. They said ‘Bonjour’ to the oldest grandmas they had ever seen, invented a game called ‘running through the ages’, became obsessed with gladiators and watched spectacular thunder storms roll around the surrounding mountains. Joseph cracked his head open. I didn’t have his EHIC card with me, but they sewed it up in the clinic, nevertheless. Obviously! Which doctor wouldn’t?
“Ten years ago, my parents-in-law moved to Andalucia and we have had countless happy holidays staying with them. We have had numerous visits to health centres with minor ailments over the years. No charge. Then, last year, our youngest went to stay with Nana and Grandad for five months. He went to the local school, made friends, was spoiled rotten by Nana, went out for countless tapas with Grandad and now speaks Spanish.
“Setting aside the economic devastation wrought on our country, my heart is breaking at the shrinking world I now inhabit. At the very least, we have had fun experiences, but my broad intention was to widen our children’s horizons. This is their world. I don’t want them limited to one tiny island because they were born here. I want them to take their gifts and talents and use them wherever they choose.
“Which of these do you choose? Broad or narrow? Expanding or shrinking? Inclusive or exclusive? Open or closed?”