by Janelle Schroy
Are we teaching our children that they have the power to design their own lives, or that they can only respond to a scripted future?
“Don’t you ever worry that you are spoiling your children with all these epic experiences?” he asked in sincerity.
I paused. Dumbfounded. I looked out across the street, then returned my friend’s gaze, struggling to process the question he just asked my husband and I.
We were two couples eating at a Turkish cafe while our kids played on the playground nearby. They had their kids in traditional schools, and he and his wife were successful, connected, and well off. They were following an excellent script of the way they should live and raise their kids, at least according to American standards.
They were visiting Turkey just for a week-long school break, and we happened to be in the same city at the same time.
We were educating our kids in country #24 (for the kids) while schooling and working remotely as we traveled full time.
We’d known this couple for many years, and they had been asking what we’ve been up to this past year, and we had just finished sharing some of what 2022 has held for our four kids, who were currently ages 5–12.
- Seven weeks in Argentina, exploring Patagonia, Argentinian culture, learning Spanish, tango, and being part of the grape harvest
- Several months of exploring 10 countries in Europe with a Eurorail train pass [France, Monaco, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, and Vatican City], spending a few weeks in place, studying art history, world cultures, and digging deeper into French, German and Dutch language studies
- A month on the island of Cyprus studying the fragile ecosystem of the Mediterranean and working with local government on sustainability efforts, working on their Greek language skills, learning about the history and geopolitics of one of the most strategic islands in the Middle East
- Six weeks in Turkey living on a farm in a village, studying Islam and the Turkish history, a 2,000 mile road trip exploring historic sites such as Ephesus, Pamukkale, Troy, Bursa, then several weeks living in Istanbul (the ancient crossroads of Europe and Asia)
We explained that we were about to head into
- Five weeks in Israel digging into the three faith traditions which claim Jerusalem as the Holy City, slowing touring the sites that are important to the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, experiencing the high holidays such as Yom Kippur and others with local families
- Seven weeks living in key areas of Italy such as Rome, Tuscany and Lake Como, working on all of our Italian language skills, studying the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, and participating in the Tuscan harvest season
- Six weeks in Spain and Portugal for the holiday season, ending the year with further art appreciation, more immersion in the Spanish, and deep diving into stories that shaped European history.
In the new year, we shared — we’d be crossing into Africa from Gibraltar for a few months of exploring ancient history and the desert ecosystem in Morocco and Egypt, before heading “home” to South Africa where our four children were born when we’d lived there for a decade.
Is he seriously asking if I’m worried that I might let my children experience too much goodness, beauty and joy resulting in them not be able to function as normal human beings? I thought to myself, fiddling with my spoon as I stirred my coffee.
I gathered my thoughts before replying, but husband beat me to it with a well-thought out response.
“No. Actually, we believe the more of the world we show our kids, the braver, wiser and stronger they will be, not to mention more resourceful, kind and empathetic.”
Nodding his head, our friend responded.
“That might be true,” he said, “But at some point, reality will hit them hard. They’ll need to show up to a job and work their 9–5, not be late, listen to a boss. They won’t get these mountaintop experiences every day. It will be the grind.
“Not to judge,” he said, “but your children are seeing a new country every month or two! They have the freedom to learn on the go. They see world landmarks and mind-blowing landscapes all the time. What if they grow up and just can’t cope with REAL life?”
“The grind.” There it is. “Real life.” That ugly monster.
This idea comes up over and over when talking with adults. It’s as if one’s life must be resigned to the “sawmill experience.”
Show up every day. Grind away. Survive. Get paid. Suffer. Do it all again month after month, year after year. It’s as if these adults believe life has to happen to you rather than you having the power to design it.
Sadly, for most people, the grind is the only thing they’ve ever known, all they’ve ever imagined. They think the freedom to choose how to spend one’s days is only for the elite, for those born with a silver spoon in their mouth. It’s for trust fund babies and the like.
We lived a decade in Africa serving the poorest of the poor. I worked among people who were struggling to feed their children, people who live in tin shacks made of scrap metal. We were part of teaching entrepreneurship, and they taught us too. They taught us so much. They were people who were brave, strong, creative, and smart.
And in those ten years, there’s one thing I learned:
There are NO barriers for those who have the audacity to create.
Audacity? Yes. Audacity.
Audacity to believe that you can do something different than those around you.
Audacity to believe that you have something new to offer the world.
Audacity to believe that you have the power to design your own life, rather than your future being dictated to you.
The dictionary definition of audacity is the willingness to take bold risks.
Is it a bold risk to take my kids out of school and take them to 50 countries around the world?
I’m betting big that their childhood won’t be spoiled by all those epic experiences.
I’m betting big that they’ll learn through experience that the grind isn’t the goal. Resigning one’s life to the grind is a result only of a lack of creative thinking / execution, nothing more.
I’m betting big that alongside all these epic experiences, they’ll also see the hurt and pain and brokenness in the world, and that they’ll feel empowered to bring a redemptive edge to any job they do or venture they start.
I’m betting big they’ll be the ones who will be healing broken places and restoring what’s been lost.
After processing all this in my mind, I looked across the table into our friends’ eyes and said confidently,
“If there’s one thing I want my kid to learn through, it’s that they can design their own lives. There doesn’t have to be a grind for them.
There can be joy! Every day mountaintop joy.
By showing them a wide spectrum of world cultures, by introducing them to creativity in 50 countries, by immersing them in art and history, languages and faith traditions,
I actually DO hope they emerge spoiled.”
Truly, I hope they are spoiled for choice about where to live, what to do with their time, how they enact change in the world and how to create community. This wide-awake perspective comes from one thing — intentional exposure to the big, beautiful world that’s deep, wide and rich.
It’s from this exposure that children receive a big gift — the audacity to design their own lives, and believe that they can do it. They can make money. They can love what they do. They can control their time. And most importantly — they can affect change.
Here’s the thing: Exposure doesn’t just come from full-time traveling like we do.
We are the extreme case. I’m an 8 on the Enneagram (personality profile) and my husband is a 7 on the Enneagram. It’s written in the stars that we would do something extreme like sell everything and take our kids on continuous journey to 50 countries.
But this deep and rich exposure can also come from educational family travel that is done in short spurts or seasonally: 5 days here, 3 days there, 2 weeks there, a summer here, or even a gap year. Continuous travel really isn’t the point, nor should it be the goal. It’s not a fit for everyone.
Exposure which leads to the audacity to create is about making travel educational rather than merely recreational.
Anyone can do it if they really believe in the idea.
Do you have the audacity to design a a new focus in your family travels? One of deep intentionality and purpose, filled with history, art, culture and adventure?
If yes, let me know how I can help. I coach families in this area. Here are some options for how to engage:
- Read more articles on this journal on Medium: Inspired to Learn
- Join my Facebook community called Educational Family Travel
- Email me to set up a private coaching session: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Watch our family’s journey on YouTube to get a sense for what educational family travel looks like in action for us
I can’t wait to meet you. Let’s talk about educational family travel. It’s my favorite. 😍