The decision to take a family sabbatical

Williamsburg Bridge
Leaving NYC…

We’ve made a big decision. In six months my wife and I will both leave great jobs and the city we love – and have called home for the past 12 years – New York. We are doing this to take a one year family sabbatical in Cuenca, Ecuador.

It all started last summer while we were all on vacation visiting family in Northern Europe. Our older kids, 12 and 10 at the time, would spend eight weeks there. My wife managed to negotiate one month off from her employers so she and our youngest daughter would stay there for a month. I, on the other hand, had one week! While nearing the end of my week, just starting to feel my body and mind unwind, I concluded one week is just not enough time.

Maybe if I never lived in Europe myself, where month long vacations are the norm, I wouldn’t have seriously considered the possibility of an extended break from work. But I have lived in Europe, and there I experienced the benefits of a more healthy work-life balance. With that in mind, and with my one week vacation over, I started planning a way to actually achieve my goal of an extended break.

Today back in New York, another dynamic is occurring. Our older kids, now 13 and 11, are barrelling towards teenage-hood and quite honestly the changes have caught us by surprise. Maybe we weren’t paying attention close enough, but we’ve all developed routines and independent circles of friends with little to no overlap. This has awoken us to the very real fact that our children will be leaving the nest sooner then we think. Like most parents will tell you – don´t blink because it goes by quickly.

I started thinking – if the kids leave the house tomorrow or if something were to happen to me – what would I want to gift them? It would have to be something I can afford; something they could keep for the rest of their lives and something they could leverage professionally. I immediately knew the answer because, for years, I’ve carried the guilt of not imparting this asset earlier, when its easier for children to absorb it. The answer is another language – specifically the Spanish language.

The guilt comes from the fact that I am a native Spanish speaker myself.  Although born in Brooklyn, my parents were Ecuadorian immigrants to the United States and therefore only spoke Spanish to me as a child. They eventually learned English, but till this day we speak Spanish among ourselves. I am thankful that my parents insisted I speak Spanish to them and taught me to be proud I was bilingual. However, when my children were born another language was introduced into the mix. As you may of guessed my wife is from Northern Europe and she is determined to teach our children her mother-tongue. Therefore, we had a decision to make – speak three languages at home, since we spoke English to each other – or sacrifice the Spanish language. After some soul searching and admitting that all my formal education has been in English, I reluctantly faced the fact that my Spanish was not strong enough to be my primary language spoken to children.

You can see where this is going now. Combining our desire to take an extended break, my wife’s openness to change and my guilt, we’ve decided to leave our jobs for a year to live in Cuenca, Ecuador so our children can finally learn Spanish. We hope this immersive cultural experience will help all of us improve our Spanish, explore the South American continent while bringing our family closer together. Each family has a finite window in which to create familial experiences with their children, because they only stay children for so long, and we are determined to jump through that window before it shuts down on us.

While researching our move to Cuenca, I found many helpful resources regarding retiring in Ecuador, but very little regarding moving to Ecuador with middle-school children. Therefore I hope this blog serves as a resource and inspiration to families all over the world, who feel that window coming down, to take a family sabbatical, explore a different culture, learn a new language and create another chapter in your life.

If you have any questions feel free to ask and they may become the inspiration for a future post.