from Franco’s SPAIN to COLOMBIA via England: EXPAT Files #6

I met Christian Zozaya a few years ago online through my school, Colegio Nueva Granada’s (CNG), website. He read a chapter of my book and asked to read the whole thing even though it was not yet edited – much less published. To my surprise and delight he wrote back with helpful cultural comments and edited some grammatical mistakes he had found in the Spanish.

He is writing a memoir of his fascinating life. I have two posts from Prof. Zozaya, the introduction from the draft of his memoir, Culture Shock and the text he wrote to commemorate the 75th anniversary of CNG (he was one of the first students). At the recent reunion in Bogota I was very pleased to run into several of his classmates and hear stories about the old days (my parent’s generation and the earliest days of CNG).            Cinda

Christian's friends dancing the Sevillana

Christian’s friends dancing the Sevillana

Born in Madrid the son of intellectuals (my father was an M.D. and my mother a Licenciada en Filosofía y Letras – roughly equivalent to a Master in Arts) my life was expected to be that of a well educated Spaniard. I would go to the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (a liberal school); college would be followed by graduate studies with a scholarship from the Junta de Ampliación de Estudios. Eventually I would be a respected professional living a life of comfort with the occasional trip abroad. I would probably speak, apart from my native Spanish, French and possibly have a good knowledge of the Germanic languages. It was going to be a nice, orderly, settled life but fate would not have it so.

The onsets of the Spanish Civil War, and afterwards of World War II were to change not only my life but that of millions of people. This book is about what it did to me and to a lot of kids who found their lives changed forever…

The Spanish Civil War broke out on July 18, 1936 and the government moved in November, first to Valencia and then to Barcelona. My family all tagged along. My grand-parents went because Antonio was a prime candidate for a firing squad given his Republican antecedents 1., and my parents because father worked for the government as head of the civilian anti-malaria campaign….

…in the spring of 1939 I was in England where my parents had sent me. Like hundreds of thousands of others…. (… to be continued)

1. Cinda’s note: Christian’s grandfather, Antonio Zozaya, was a columnist for liberal newspapers in Madrid.



Riding through a cafetal on horseback.


Reflections on the Earliest Years of Colegio Nueva Granada in Bogota (I attended from 1939- 1946)

I went to Colombia after having spent a year in England while my parents stayed in Spain to the bitter end of the Spanish Civil War. My parents did not want me to forget the English that I had learned during my stay in England so they enrolled me in the Anglo-American School in Bogota.

The school was backed by the oil companies. Exploration was intense in the Magdalena River valley and the companies had hopes of finding a second Lake Maracaibo. Their employees came to Colombia with contracts for several years. This was too long a time to keep a family apart or to interrupt the kids’ education. The solution? The Anglo-American School.


I bore the school flag for the Independence Day parade.

The school changed its name from The Anglo-American School to Colegio Nueva Granada during his period. The Colombian government had declared a state of neutrality during WW II and all the international schools had to adopt names that did not reflect nationalities. Le Lycée Français had to change its name as well; I think it became l’Institut Pasteur.

With time Colombia changed its neutral stance against the Axis powers. When the school moved into a building previously occupied by the German Club, the occupants vacated it in such a hurry that they left a photograph of Der Füehrer hanging on the wall. Eventually there was another move, to the former Japanese Embassy. It was on Carrera 3 and Calle 75, a steep climb from the end of the tram line to the gate. That’s when the school bought its first bus.

Although the principals were professional educators the faculty was made up to a great extent of the children’s mothers. One of the teachers was an English lady who had her ship torpedoed under her by a German submarine as she was crossing the Atlantic from East to West. Mrs. van Schjeik, a Dutch lady, spoke excellent French and she taught us during the first year. Mr. Righthouse, a South African lawyer (we all suspected he was working for MI6 – British Intelligence) taught us a second year of French as well as algebra and geometry. Whether professional educators or not they were all excellent teachers with a full grasp of the subjects that they taught.


With fellow Spanish emigres in the mountains. (Christian is on the left).

In 1947 my family moved to Venezuela. In the ensuing years I had several encounters with people from the old days in Bogota. Fast forward to today. My wife and I are retired university professors and we live in Venezuela and Baton Rouge.

Christian Zozaya

Cinda:   Time will tell if Christian is able to live out a peaceful retirement in Venezuela. I find his story fascinating and urge him to keep working on Culture Shock.                                                                                                                    Want to read more of his disrupted life after Franco and Hitler came to power?