When you are called Caoimhe in Spain, people struggle

Sinéad Galvin and her daughter live in Madrid, where she puts her experience to good use

Sinéad Galvin, who is from Listowel, Co Kerry, is an education consultant who helps families to find the best school for their child in Madrid. She is a bilingual mum of three who has lived in Spain for more than 20 years

Caoimhe is possibly one of the most mispronounced and misspelt Irish names outside of Ireland where people struggle with the mix of vowels and different sounds. At least my daughter Caoimhe González Galvin will most likely never have to fight for an email address or a personal URL, as I'm pretty confident that her mix of names is unique.

I first came to Spain when I was 19. It was love at first sight. Since then I’ve lived in many parts of Spain – Granada, Barcelona, Tenerife, Valencia and now Madrid, which has been my home for more than 15 years. I left Ireland to experience other parts of the world, but like a boomerang (or bad penny) I’ve always come back to Spain. I’m now a mum to three kids, married to my Madrileño and with my own business, so I am here for the long haul.

My native Spanish friends were oblivious to the differences that I noticed in schooling. I began to realise that I had an advantage that I could share with people moving their families to Spain

I met my husband many moons ago at a fancy-dress party. I had just completed a master’s in marketing and was working in brand marketing. I loved it and felt that I finally had a pretty good job. My Spaniard convinced me to move to London with him, and although I really, really, really didn’t want to leave my job, we agreed to try it for a year.


Time goes so quickly in London, and five years later we were still there and on the point of creating a little family. Caoimhe was born just before Christmas 2014, at St Thomas' Hospital. She was the most adorable little thing. Like all new parents, we were smitten. We assessed our new situation and decided it was time to move back to Madrid. Life as we had known it in London was over, and we both felt that Madrid was better for family life. I handed in my notice and my life as a supercool (I like to think so, anyway) brand manager at Unilever, and the three of us went off to Spain.

I returned to Madrid to lead a very different life from the one I had left five years previously. Daily visits to the playground took the place of cañas on some of Madrid’s finest terraces. Nights out with friends always involved prams. It is very common to see little kids sleeping in buggies while their parents are having dinner or drinks. Most babies start nursery at four or five months. Childcare is much more accessible here than in Ireland, and nurseries are more common than child minders. It is great for the kids socially, and Caoimhe really took to it.

The drawback is that usually the child-to-teacher ratio is quite high. It is 8:1 until the age of one; 14:1 for one- and two-year-olds, and 20:2 for two- and three-year-olds. As a result, teachers don’t have the time to really engage with the children. It is not their fault, as La Comunidad de Madrid, the regional government, has set these numbers.

Education in Spain is managed directly by each of the autonomous regions. School age is based on year of birth (January to December) and is usually quite rigid. It works for children who were born towards the beginning of the year, but for my three kids, who are November and December babies, it sucks. A typical school day is 9am to 5pm with a two-hour lunch break.

My native Spanish friends were oblivious to the differences that I noticed in schooling. I began to realise that I had an advantage that I could share with people moving their families to Spain. I know the country, system and culture, and I know the differences that you should be aware of and that will take adjusting to.

I set up an educational consultancy, Steps into Spain, to help families to find the right school for their child in Madrid. I use my professional and personal experience of Spanish schools, the system and the way of life here to ensure that parents are knowledgeable and informed about what to expect and can secure the best school for their child. Having made the move myself, I have a deep understanding of a family's needs when moving to a new country and the importance attached to finding the right school.

I love connecting with families and finding solutions to some of the challenges they face with an international move. A happy child is a happy parent, which is the central ethos of Steps into Spain, and one less challenge.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do