Finding Home in a New Land: The Power of Community

An inspirational english teacher and entrepreneur, Jennifer Richmond has been living in Argentona with her husband and 3 children for 14 years. She founded the English school Tandem Escola and also the online platform Teachers for Peace, which supports women and children displaced by conflict through free virtual classes, emotional support, and a global network of volunteer educators.

Here, she shares her powerful and inspiring story.

I am incredibly grateful to be part of the Maresme Connect family. Although I don’t participate as much as I would like, knowing there’s a supportive community of international women hosting regular events and sharing similar challenges is immensely comforting.

Born in Mexico City, I understand the importance of international communities. My maternal grandmother moved to Mexico in the 1950s, and my father’s family had been there since the Mexican Revolution. Raised as an American in Mexico, I attended the American School and was part of the American Society. We spoke English at home, and I spent summers in the U.S. Despite having dual citizenship, I never felt truly Mexican (even though my heart is Mexican), and I didn’t feel fully American either. I love Mexico and identify more as Mexican.

In Mexico City, I started volunteering to teach English to adult learners who had never had the opportunity to receive a quality education. I saw firsthand how limited access to education perpetuated the cycle of poverty and hindered opportunities for those in lower socioeconomic classes. This inspired my passion for education and made me realize the power that education has in creating positive change in individuals and society as a whole.

After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Educational Psychology from Endicott College in Boston, I returned to Mexico City, where I met my future husband from Argentona, Barcelona. It was love at first sight. We had two amazing children, Mia and Marc, who inherited three nationalities (Mexican, American, and Spanish). We decided to move to my husband’s hometown of Argentona in the Maresme to have our third child, Marta.

I fell in love with the Maresme immediately. Argentona felt like the village from “Beauty and the Beast,” where you greet the baker, the butcher, and the townspeople as you walk down the street. After living in Mexico and the US, I found the culture here to be warm and welcoming. The idea of it taking a village to raise a child took on a new meaning for me after moving here, where it is still safe enough for children to walk to school and where everyone knows everyone.

After moving to Barcelona, I founded Tandem Escola, an English academy where I help children unleash their inner English-speaking genius through innovative and fun methods. Soon after, my husband and I, along with our three children, welcomed three foster children into our home. This magical experience saw our foster children, who were the same age as our kids, eventually reunite with their families, thereby extending our own family. We are immensely grateful for this experience, which reinforced the importance of community and support.

Raising young children facilitated my participation in town events such as the Giants, the Diables, and the Ampas. I was asked to participate in the town hall and am a proud part of Tots per Argentona. When COVID shut down the world, I, like many others, thought it was the worst possible scenario. Transitioning from a lively village life to lockdown was challenging. I had to close my school and move online. However, I learned how to use Zoom and Google Classroom, creating a community of friends from all over the world—also third-culture citizens.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, many of us rallied to support children affected by the war. This led to the co-founding of Teachers for Peace, a collective offering free lessons via Zoom to children and women suffering from displacement. My village Argentona opened its arms to 21 refugee families from Ukraine. Together with my husband and children, we decided to host one family, which grew and grew, and to date, we have now hosted 11 people since the war began. The village people and government supported this, providing clothes and food, making it very easy for us and the other families in the village to host the refugee families. This reinforces my belief in the importance of community, especially in a fast-changing world.

Of course, there were challenges too. My husband’s last name is Catalan, so when we moved here speaking mostly English and Americanized Mexican Spanish, the teachers at school would say to my kids, “Your last name is Catalan, you need to speak in Catalan,” and my children chose Catalan as their preferred language. For many years, this worried me. I spent an ungodly amount of money on a private school that claimed to be trilingual but wasn’t. If I could recommend one thing, it would be to check if the school has a PTA or AMPA. If it doesn’t—beware. Private schools in Catalunya are owned by private entities and people—they are businesses. Unlike in Mexico, where private school is often the only option due to a poor public education system, Spain has wonderful free education. I had to put some of my preconceived notions—like private school is better, you need to have insurance if you want good medical care—aside. This is simply not true, especially not in the villages of the Maresme, which offer an amazing public education system, medical system and community.

Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t care what language my children spoke to me in as long as they spoke to me. I put them back in public school, which had better English and education than the private school. My children became friends with the kids in town—their best friends lived down the street instead of three towns over. They joined village groups like the Diables and the Skateboard Club. I stopped pushing my children to speak in English and learned Catalan myself. Our household became a Cata-Span-glish home.

Now my eldest is 17. Being my first, she is the one I pushed the hardest to speak in English, and as most strong-willed daughters do, she pushed back by only speaking to me in Catalan. Nonetheless, she has just completed a year abroad in California and glided by with A’s and B’s in all her junior subjects—including English! Funny enough, though, she still only speaks to me in Catalan. My other two speak just as well—when they want, to whom they want.

If I were to give any advice to new women moving here from abroad, whether it is their first time or they are expert expats, it would be this: Catalunya offers an idyllic setting for a fulfilling life. Don’t worry too much about the language—immerse yourself in the culture, meet the people, join the giants, the devils, and the castellers. There is something special about being part of the international community—it changes you. You learn to speak global English so that everyone understands. You learn to respect and become a global citizen. Living in the Maresme is magical—it has that small-town vibe where everyone says hello to everyone. When you get bored, just go for a walk, and for sure, you will bump into someone to talk to.

Now, my husband and I have been in Argentona for 14 years. We have found a nice balance between the local society and the international society. My children are international, embracing all their cultures. Living abroad and being part of the global community of Teachers for Peace reinforces my view that we, as women, must stick together and share our experiences. There is a unique power in our international community that can inspire and support us all.

Find out more about Jennifer’s English language school  Tandem Escola. Read more about the Teachers for Peace initiative and how you can get involved.

Read more inspiring stories and articles about life in Maresme