The following article was written by me and published in the Early Spring 2023 edition of Juno Magazine https://www.junomagazine.com/
(Vicki Sigston reflects on her family’s decision to make education an international adventure)
First I guess I need to explain this term, “WorldSchooling”.
I am not a big fan of labels for labels sake but I do believe they can be helpful, and sometimes vital, to be able to make sense of who you are and who your community is.
As a family (Mum, Vicki, Dad, Kristian and two boys, Jake and Dexter) we are long term home educators. Our 15 year old left the traditional school environment aged 6 while our 7 year old has never attended school. This means we have plenty of experience of educating in what is, to the majority of people, a rather unconventional way.
We know that children who are home educated absolutely can, and do, make long term and important friendships with peers. We know that they can access qualifications when and if they want to, that they can attend groups, clubs and pick up hobbies. We know they will learn to read and be confident with numbers when they are ready.
All of that is a no brainer to us. We have utter faith that children can be educated to a level they are happy with, that suits their academic and creative needs, and that gives them a positive outlook on life away from the prescribed curriculum of a state or private classroom.
But we began to wonder about stretching that a little.
What if, as well as not being in one school, they didn’t have to be in one town, in one country, or even in one continent.
What if we could travel while education happened.
What if they could learn about ancient Greece in the Greek Islands.
What if they could marvel at the ancient Egyptian pyramids while in Cairo.
What if they could be inspired by stories of Olympians in Athens.
I feel the need to pause and add a footnote about our beliefs around parenting. People parent differently. That’s a fact and a necessary one. We are not all the same (adults or children) and so the way we raise our children will not be the same. I would never, ever, suggest that home education, worldschooling or any of the other ways we choose to raise our children are the definitive, final or “right” ways. I respect choice. That’s as simple as it gets. I hope for that in return.
I also want to mention that I am painfully aware that our current lifestyle is not achievable by everyone either. The way our family approaches life is our story and it’s personal to us just like yours is to you.
So, what if we could teach our children about World War 2 as we walk along the memorial that sits next to the river Danube. What if we could talk about the French revolution while wandering along the Champs-Elysees.
What if “bucket list” moments of travel could be had in our day to day lives.
As we crystallised these ideas and reached a point where our home life and careers allowed, we decided that some wandering was on the table. We decided to go and explore a little, see some of the world. Maybe somewhere else in the world would become “home” or maybe we’d end up back where we started but we knew it would be a wonderful journey finding out.
Of course we needed to think about the practicalities. First would be financing this adventure. Kristian has been working in the tech industry for the past 4 years and this means that as well as being lucky enough to have flexibility around his working hours, as long as there is consistent internet he can work from anywhere. (Alongside tourist/work/visa rules of course, these change all the time and so keeping an eye on those things is important. However there are more and more countries and companies willing to be flexible with, so called, digital nomads and so it’s getting easier and easier to work remotely as you travel).
This means he works for a lot of the time that we are traveling, taking breaks or holiday time when it’s not so easy. He summed up his working weeks as “office life Monday to Friday with a vacation every weekend”.
Our children were on the whole enthusiastic, full of ideas about which countries to visit, what sights they wanted to see, what food they wanted to try. But there was some hesitation too. Would they miss their friends and family too much? Would they struggle living with only the possessions we could carry on our backs and in our luggage? Would they miss our day to day routine?
If something good came out of the pandemic which hit us all so hard, it was the knowledge that we absolutely can stay in touch, in real and meaningful ways without seeing people face to face. Of course video calls and text conversations can never truly replace the feeling of sitting alongside a friend, but as an interim they do work. So we were not afraid of losing touch with those closest to us. It had also shown us that lessons, classes and interests that the boys had partaken in for years could be attended digitally. Piano for instance, a portable keyboard and a willing teacher on the end of a Skype call has not just allowed our teen’s musical education to grow but even given him the ability to take grade exams (and pass with flying colours). Not forgetting the fact that his Dad has also started lessons too!
With the idea settled and the required planning, organising and reorganising done, we packed up a couple of suitcases plus a backpack each and set off in October 2021. We decided, by family vote, that we’d give it 12 months and then take stock (spoiler alert, we sailed past the year mark when we had the opportunity to join other traveling families for Christmas in Bulgaria in 2022).
Our first new “home” was on the Greek Island of Kefalonia. We rented a villa from family friends and used it as a base to explore the island and the Greek mainland. Since then we’ve tried all sorts of accommodation and traveling styles. We’ve stayed in some places 3 months, and others just a week. We’ve slept in private rentals, Air BnB’s, hotels and overnight trains! We’ve also been lucky enough to join up with other traveling/worldschooling families at organised hubs where we’ve spent time living in ready made, “pop up” communities, all socialising, growing and enjoying life together.
Some of our favourite experiences are the housesits we’ve booked. Booked through a company we have a membership with, they involve staying in a family home and looking after sweet pets while their owners are away. We’ve really enjoyed all the animals we’ve looked after as well as all the new communities we’ve been able to spend time in.
As well as all the homes we’ve stayed in we’ve collected quite a list of transport options too. Flying has been a big part of our travels, but trains are a close second, especially in Europe where it’s so cheap, reliable and easy to navigate. We’ve also occasionally hired cars but this tends to be more expensive and we save that for the more remote areas we visit. Our youngest son has a list of all the different modes of transport we’ve used, the more unusual including tuktuk, sailboat, hot air balloon and his brother driving us across the Nile in a motorboat.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing of course. We miss people, sometimes painfully so. We missed the birth of a new niece which felt very hard and when a dear friend’s father passed away it was tough not to be able to be physically present to support them.
We’ve experienced small earthquakes and ferocious storms in Kefalonia and Cyprus, been stuck in Athens in the worst snowstorm the city had seen for 40 years, spent 4 hours longer than planned on an overnight train through Egypt and spent countless hours translating train and bus tickets when we have found ourselves a little lost and unsure about where to go next.
We’ve also had plans stopped dead in their tracks. On a brief visit back to the UK we discovered our youngest son needed some emergency surgery. He is, thankfully, absolutely fine and we all coped admirably with the last minute changes to plans but I won’t lie when I say that that was a hard few weeks.
But, putting all that to one side and homing in on the positives I’m not at all surprised none of us are ready to give this lifestyle up just yet.
Our boys have attended music and sports groups with local children in multiple countries, they’ve volunteered for animal charities, hung out with new friends and, as well as meeting new people they have kept those new friendships alive with text chat and video calls as we’ve moved on. They’ve had Christmas days exploring in Athens and ski-ing in Bulgaria, birthdays in cities and waterparks and they’ve picked up the words needed to say thank you and ask for chocolate in at least 5 languages.
As parents we’ve experienced all of this alongside them plus a renewed sense of family. We’ve spent more time together as a unit than most people will ever be able to do and we’re so grateful for that.
We do get asked how we manage to find time as a couple too. Obviously I don’t need to go into too much detail but let me say that sipping cocktails overlooking the Mediterranean sea at sunset while the kids play on the beach with friends or cuddling up with hot drinks and blankets during a thunderstorm in Budapest have definitely been incredible couple bonding experiences.
So, why do we Worldschool? Because, at least for now, it works for us. We love the freedom to explore, to try new things and meet new people. We love coming back and touching base with friends and family and feel honoured to have our tribe behind us cheering us on. We love being able to see the things we want to learn about right there in front of us, to see, smell and touch parts of history. We love being inspired by new people and new experiences that we just wouldn’t get from staying in one place.
One day it might change, we might settle down again and if and when we do, I don’t believe we’ll ever look back on this time with anything other than the thought “I’m so glad we did that, what a wild ride it was”.