Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again: Worldschooling in a Nutshell
I see a thousand faces blaze before my eyes. They morph quicker than I can breathe and I see that they are my friends, my family, ones tied to me by blood and soul. Then suddenly they are travellers met in the heat of the moment, ones known for all too short a time. From India to Transylvania, their faces echo, the memories we share rippling out across the 35 countries and 6 continents I have traveled to date.
And then as fast as flash lightning, they are gone and I am left wondering… Will I ever see you again?
I’ve been world schooled for the last eight years. The last time I set foot in a traditional school as a student was on the last day of second grade. I walked out of the school grounds with my twin brother on that hot Australian summer’s day, the goodbyes of my classmates still ringing in my ears, unaware of the fact that what I was walking out to was the real world.
In the weeks that followed afterwards, we tried to imitate a school-like setting. We had computers, curriculums, textbooks, worksheets to complete. We even bought a whiteboard! But we could all feel it, my mother, my father, my brother and I, with every stroke of the marker against that board. This was not who we were. And so we stopped the formulated, monotonous curriculums and one evening our parents asked my brother and I one simple, life-changing question: “What would you like to learn?”
The next few months were an ecstatic blur of everyday trips to the library, cooking lessons with dad, baking fun with mum, excursions to museums and enchanted maze gardens. We went hiking and swimming and running. We played games online, games called Virtual Hip Replacement and Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery and Simple Machines and How To Design A Cell Phone. We watched documentaries about everything from Meerkats to Mary, Queen of Scots but most importantly, we talked, for hours and hours on end about the world and what we loved.
One day, my parents surprised us with a trip up to Sydney to visit our grandparents. Once our week together was up, we were surprised, to say the least, when instead of turning South down homewards on the highway, we veered North and continued to drive on for another 550 kilometres to Coffs Harbour. We drove another 6000 before even thinking about turning back around.
And so, we took our learning on the road, embarking on numerous open-ended road trips across our home country of Australia, weaving our way up the east coast and into the deep heartlands, discovering the land around us and learning from the people that inhabited it. We travelled to Uluru, the sacred red centre of Australia where spectacular lightning storms raged and we felt the energy move beneath our feet. We hiked Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon Gorge, uncovering native wildlife and a new story around every bend. We explored the opal mines of Coober Pedy, went swimming upon the unspoilt sandy beaches of Rainbow Island, picked Bananas in Coffs Harbour and heard the kookaburras cry over the great fern gullies in the Dandenong Ranges. We got to visit the sacred Aboriginal APY lands where we listened to stories of the Dreamtime, went on dusty walks through the vast desert and slept under the wide, open starry sky.
We had our books and our Kumon worksheets, we read and did them every day, but we also saw with our eyes and listened with our ears and felt with our hearts.
And thus, we were Worldschoolers before the term even existed.
There seems to be a lot of misconceptions and different opinions on what World-Schooling actually is. I don’t believe there is only one way to Worldschool or only one way to define it. On the contrary, it is different for everyone and it is within each of its complexities and simplicities that make it so rewarding.
Along our travels, we meet with many families, couples and solo travellers, all curious about what our lifestyle is like, what Worldschooling actually is, and if maybe, just maybe, they would be able to do it too? Their questions come in swathes: Do you go to school? Do you have friends? Do you actually learn? Do you miss family? Do you ever… stop… for a little while at least?
The short and simple answer to all of these questions is “Yes.” But when the world is your teacher, you discover that the questions and answers you encounter along your travels are never short and rarely simple. The truth is, I do go to school. It’s just that my classroom is the world.
I’ve lived with the living descendants of the Incas, in a small community at 5000 meters high in the Peruvian Andes. I’ve gone to their church and heard their singing and seen their smiles. I’ve taken part in their sacred coca leaf ceremony, played hopscotch with their children and listened to the whispers of their Apus.
I’ve walked the entire 800 km (500Mi) Camino de Santiago del Norte through the north of Spain.
I’ve shared stories with the Berber people of Morocco high up in the Atlas Mountains, the peaks lined with snow and the horizon glittering with the gold sand dunes.
I’ve seen how places like the Ganga river in India can leave a constellation of tears on your lashes. I’ve zip-lined across the blue city and felt the hot breath of a camel bearing down upon my neck in the Jaisalmer desert. I’ve watched the fog and mist dance above the clouds in Darjeeling and seen the hot fire of a hundred candle flames illuminate a house as Tibetan Buddhist Monks bless it… and our ongoing journeys.
But I’m also aware of the impact traveling has had on communities worldwide. Locals affected by the rise of tourism and the inflation in prices that it brings. I am writing this blog in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, one of the best examples of these wild escalations in cost. We learnt from a local taxi driver that just 17 years ago when he first started working, his rent was 55 USD a month. Now, that very same apartment is 255 USD a month. This is as a direct result of travellers like us coming to visit, of tourists coming to vacation and of expats coming to live here. It’s a 500% increase in price, where real wages over the same timeframe have only increased by about 75%. So it begs the question to be asked, should we be traveling at all?
I don’t want my journey to be oblivious to the deleterious socio-economic effects that travellers influence. You see, Worldschooling for us isn’t just about learning about the rich culture, languages and history of the places we travel to; it’s about becoming aware of the realities that surround these locations, the challenges that the local people face on a daily basis, and wherever possible, it’s about becoming a part of that story in a positive way.
Part of this learning is engaging with the local communities ourselves and understanding the stories of the places we travel to. Stories are the connective tissues of the human race and listening to, learning and sharing the stories of a region with the world, just might be the differentiating factor that adds meaning and purpose behind your travel.
Approached in this way, we have found we can add value, without imposing our own biased cultural lenses and sometimes misguided need to help. Simply by listening to people’s stories, retelling them and sharing them with the world, the outcomes of our travels can have rippling positive effects.
While here in Playa del Carmen, we took the time to visit and speak with a local anthropologist who lives here on the Yucatan Peninsula and learnt what dedicated local people are doing to preserve the cultural uniqueness and stories for future generations.
This brought us into contact with Geronimo, cave diving palaeontologist, researcher and storyteller, who with his colleagues, have dedicated their efforts over the last 20 years to uncover the stories of the rich heritage of this region and perhaps even the story of the first migration of people to the North American Continent. Their discovery of La Mujer de Las Palmas (The Woman of Las Palmas), who lived here over 13,000 years ago, was incendiary in the scientific community and uncovered a wealth of knowledge.
Their dedication and efforts are so committed that they established the Museo de la Prehistoria De Los Ojos, (The Prehistoric Museum of Los Ojos), to tell the region’s story. Their self-funded efforts have not gone unnoticed. So rich is their storytelling that the University of Heidelberg’s Palaeontology Department is now working with them. But this place is more than just a museum; it is a gathering of passionate local storytellers dedicated to keeping a region and its culture alive. In a way, this is how so many tourists and travellers can have a positive impact on a region from their travels, as funding for these kinds of ventures are all reliant on donations, most of them self-funded by passionate people wanting to tell of the Yucatan’s origin story.
Tourist and travellers dollars in this instance can help to fund the future exploration of the subterranean cenote caves, which are hundreds of kilometres in length and ready to reveal their secret stories. These stories are more than just the stories of the local region, they could actually give us a significant insight into how the concept of our modern societies formed and evolved and perhaps divulge key secrets relevant to our future survival.
This is what Worldschooling is about for me. Digging deeper. Not letting what is presented to you on the surface dictate how you go about your life and looking for the stories that lie in plain sight. You just have to be brave enough to ask to hear them.
For it was this, the stories of the places we’ve been, the languages we’ve learnt, the cultures we’ve experienced and the people we’ve met that inspired me to pursue my passions, hone my love of literature and write my full-length fantasy fiction adventure novel.
I started writing my book Dawn of the Guardian at 12. I published it at 14. Four months after I turned 15, we took it on the road, embarking on my International Book Tour in October of 2016, bringing Dawn of the Guardian’s message and my story to over 7 countries around the world, visiting schools, libraries, bookstores and communities of learning, connecting with children, teens and adults alike. So far this tour has seen my family and I travel over 40,000 kilometres and the journey is nowhere near over yet.
WorldSchooling has allowed me to find my labour of love, to bring it into existence and engage my whole family in seeing it through, where every step of the way has been a learning lesson for us all in resilience, determination, persistence and strength, no matter what the odds and challenges that we are faced with.
But I’m not alone in following my dreams. Worldschooling has been the catalyst for many other children and teens to step forth and follow their passions. I’m honoured to know some of these incredible dreamers and doers and call them my friends.
There’s Noah Taylor, 15-year-old musician, recording artist and world explorer, who called an RV home for most of his childhood as he travelled all around North America with his family. At a young age, Noah was given the space, trust, and respect to craft his own unique life and is now on the cusp of releasing his own album.
There’s Hannah Miller, who from the age of 11 travelled the world with her family, visiting 26 countries. While Hannah travelled, she shared her stories through her nom du plume Edventure Girl, in a matter-of-fact / point-of-view style blog. While her parents took a more conventional approach to Worldschooling, opting for formal curriculum-based learning, it was Hannah’s traveling and experiences of the world, its cultures and its people that inspired her to go to University to study her passion of Geography. Today, while Hannah is at the end of her second year of Uni, having just received a prestigious international internship in her chosen field of study, she is also a self-supporting budding entrepreneur, who teaches writing via Skype, has ghostwritten a book, does paid freelance writing and is a musician and entertainer, who in the summer months in Canada, takes to the streets as a fiddling fairy, entertaining while earning her keep and doing the things she loves, living up to her pen name.
And then there’s Emily Pearce, who together with her family, have been traveling the world for the last eight years. Like Noah, Emily is a budding composer and musician, but she is also an illustrative artist with a passion for animation. Her songs are soulful and moving and perhaps quite appropriately describe the sometimes difficult situations you have to face when traveling the world and have to say goodbye to friends. Her lyrics from her song See You Again best sum it up… I wonder what you’re doing everyday, ever since I last flew away, and I just miss you to the point I want to kiss you, you mean so much to me. Your face makes me smile, makes me cry for a while, and I just want to see, see you again.
These are just a few of us in a growing community of like-minded children, teens and families, pursuing our passions, following our dreams, using the resources around us and the knowledge our travels have bestowed upon us to support ourselves in our ongoing journeys and share our stories in the hope that one day, it will inspire more families to find what is truly meaningful to them and embrace it as a lifestyle.
Today, there are many of us out upon the open road, and many more about to take their first steps. We represent a growing part of the future and Worldschooling is the web that ties us all together.
Traveling the world as a family, Worldschooling, along with Location Independent Living, has become a sub-culture. A lot of people might be skeptical, even cynical, but in fact, you might actually start to call this a bit of a movement, and never was this more apparent to me then at the 2017 Project World School Family Summit in Merida, Mexico.
With over 300 people in attendance and presentations and workshops covering everything from location independent living, to creating home on the road, to entrepreneurial endeavours of all sorts and even taking your very first steps to creating your own labour of love ventures, this summit was not only a place of congregation for Worldschooler families to come together and connect, but a space of powerful learning and budding opportunities for families wanting to take that first leap away from a sedentary lifestyle and set out on their own adventures.
This space, cultivated by Lainie Liberti and her son Miro, was the ember ignited as a flame for many of these families coming from places all around the world. It more than demystified the dark chasms of the unknown, provided a warm and welcoming environment for learning, and open informational exchange where everyone was willing to share and give.
One of the greatest myths that were immediately dispelled was the question of money. For many people, traveling the world is something they view as an out of reach adventure, something they cannot experience or give to their children because of the limiting factors of cost. The truth is, there are many different ways to travel and we ourselves have managed to live and travel around the world on less that $20,000 a year, visiting countries such as England, Morocco, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Austria and Spain in the same 12 months. However, there were also numerous single mothers at the conference, who divulged that they travel the world with their children for around $15,000 a year.
Traveling the world is not impossible. It simply depends on how determined and how willing you are to make that your lifestyle. It’s about choice. It’s about a shift in perspective. If you had the chance to chat with any Worldschooling family you’d realise that the majority of us are not independently wealthy, that we don’t stay in 5-Star Hotels or eat out at restaurants every night. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make this type of lifestyle happen and sustain it.
After six years on the road with my family, I can tell you that it takes a lot of work, a lot of dedication and a lot of love on all our parts to keep our journey going. We are all invested, individually and collectively in the projects that fuel the fire of our travels and it is only together as a team that we have made it so far.
We are also surrounded by a rich, global community of Worldschoolers where the hand of friendship is always extended. The myth is that as a Worldschooler you are isolated from your peers and unable to cultivate proper social interactions. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Every day heralds an opportunity to make a new friend. From RV parks across the United States to the top of a monolith in Colombia, from the plains of Transylvania to the ancient ruins of Mexico, your social interactions aren’t limited to those who are your own age. I have friends who are decades older than me and friends who are years younger than me and friends I share a birthday with.
As a world traveler, especially a 15-year-old, I get many people asking me questions about how I can sustain friendships while traveling. “Doesn’t constant travel wreck the proper dynamics of a friendship?” “What about relationships?” and the biggest one: “But aren’t you ever lonely?” It’s true that as a nomadic traveler you don’t get to see your friends every day. And it is for this reason that the forging of a friendship means all that much more to me. It’s those moments that so many teens my age might take for granted, those moments when you can laugh over a joke or watch a good movie or have a sleepover. These moments are treasured immensely because you don’t have them that often when you’re separated by entire oceans. And then there are those moments when for a few magical days, the stars align and out of 196 countries and 7 continents, you are together again. The truth is, that no true friendship can be wearied by words or by distance or by time.
As a traveler, you make so many new connections and new friendships that sustain you for the small amount of time you usually have together. But they are all the very essence of bittersweet, because you have to say goodbye, and one by one you must walk out of each other’s lives. Every new friendship, every moment spent with a friend is one that I cherish. As a traveler, you do have to say goodbye to your friends, but first… you get to explore Merida, Paris, London, Kuala Lumpur, Rishikesh, Playa del Carmen, Cartagena, Portland, Cordoba, Beijing and a thousand other cities with them.
So when I ask the question ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?’ I know the answer is not the one provided by the classic Angels song.
Instead, it’s a hundred different emotions coursing through my body. It’s a single smile suspended over time and space. It’s the way Emily sings her song and the way the faces I encounter stay sharp and clear in my mind long after they disappear from my sight. It’s the unknown and the uncertainty, pooling out before us like an endless golden thread. I believe we come into contact with the people we meet for a reason. We find each other against all odds at the ends of the world when the time is right.
But if I begin to miss you too much, then I will take that golden thread in my hand and follow it across oceans to find you and just when I think I cannot go a single step further, there you will be, meeting me at the crossroads. And I will see your face again.