Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Global Classroom

I recently read this interesting article about the 'Global Classroom'. It discusses how for many families in western countries now, taking the family travelling overseas is more achievable than ever before. A long list of places that would be interesting, educational and potentially life changing for children is suggested, and I’m happy to say that we’ve visited at least one place on the list as a family (Chiang Mai) and would definitely recommend it for families.

Some take it a step further and make travel their life and the world their classroom on a permanent or at least semipermanent basis. We read a book called 360 Degrees Longitude before we left Australia and I guarantee you, it is just the inspiration you need to start dreaming big! On the other hand, just google 'worldschooling' to find out more!

I started thinking about the value for our kids of the year we have been having. We had the experience of on-the-road travelling in Thailand, and both boys were fascinated and learned so much. Xavier remembers very detailed things from that trip, and even Remy occasionally recalls things from Thailand, so it has made an impression.
I made travel journals for the boys to keep a daily record of our time in Thailand.

I wonder what imprint the bulk of our year away – our time in Bhutan – will leave on their life?

Certainly, the slower pace of life, the ‘normal’ routines we’ve established, the friendships we’ve made mean that they can really absorb life here, almost to the point that this becomes their 'normal'.
I really recommend an experience like this to families with young children – we were fairly burnt out from lack of routine, eating in restaurants and travel after about five weeks – it is so much easier now that we have regular bed times, food that is somewhat normal and a slower pace. We enjoy travelling when the opportunity arises, but it is good to come home (even though our home is still in Bhutan!).

Xavier is definitely having an unconventional first year at school, but I think he is gaining so much from the experience.

Here he is flipping Australian coins in our maths lesson on probability.

Some of the aspects of life that were challenging for me as a parent at the beginning of the year are less so now. I worried that we didn't have access to all their favourite foods at home for example, or all of the fun experiences like playgrounds, fun parks, birthday parties that are a common part of life in Australia.  But now both boys have come to terms with living with less – and not getting everything they want when they want it. Quite often we just have to say sorry, we won’t have any apples or bananas or whatever till the weekend, or sorry, we can’t get that in Bhutan. Most of the time they barely bat an eyelid. I no longer feel so convinced that children need all those fun parks, expensive toys and adult-generated fun to have a worthwhile childhood.

Xavier felt a huge sense of achievement for climbing to the top of Tiger's Nest.


Things that used to cause a lot of complaints at home like meal-times and brushing teeth are much easier here. There is much more of a sense of having to eat what is available whether you like it or not (no convenience foods, takeaways or even icecream/custard/yoghurt available as after dinner treats). Knowing that some of his classmates literally have no breakfast or lunch sometimes has had a sobering effect on Xavier – I see him grasping this with a new level of maturity and realising how fortunate he is.

Seeing children at school with black rotten teeth means that neither boy complains about teeth brushing. On the contrary, they go off and brush their teeth morning and night with little need for reminding. In Australia we talk about the consequences of not brushing, but here it is a visible reality.

Young children are generally very accepting of others despite differences, and I’m happy to see that the boys have made friends with all sorts of children here, without any prejudice. They are happy to play non-verbal type games, or understand broken English. Xavier often praises his friends when he notices their English improving – one playmate from India couldn’t speak English at the start of the year, but recently has started speaking beautifully (she is immersed in three languages here), and he is really enjoying her company. They have also had the opportunity to meet with many new adults (especially our BCF friends) who have treated them with love and care like surrogate aunties and uncles.

 An interesting part of not having many English speaking friends is that the boys have become 'best buddies' and get on so well together.

Here they are finding a hidey hole at Paro Dzong.

Both boys are definitely aware that English is not the only language in the world. They are aware that some people can speak multiple languages. They have both picked up vocabularly here, and have seen Bob and I struggle to communicate with people here in Dzongkha. Xavier has listened to half an hour of Dzongkha every school day at assembly and at other occasions so I think in the future he will be considerate of the enormous effort it takes to learn another language. Often as native English speakers we can get a bit self-important due to having mastery of the 'global language', but it is good for all of us to be surrounded by people who speak three or more languages fluently, and be put in our place a bit!

The children are having an opportunity to live in a small rural community so different to home. I remember once taking them for a long drive out to the countryside beyond the Gold Coast to see horses. Here we walk past horses and cows daily grazing on the side of the road. We talk about where milk comes from (Remy goes with Bob to the dairy to collect milk and cheese so hopefully has a good understanding that milk doesn’t suddenly appear in milk cartons!).Our main entertainment after school and weekends is going for a walk to the river, picking berries by the stream, walking to a monastery, or going for a picnic in the forest. All that fresh air and nature is so calming and good for the soul.

Remy and I bravely cross this scary suspension bridge!

Xavier, being that bit older has already got the itch to travel, and week by week he changes his mind about where we should go next. He is fascinated by all the countries of the world he hears of and now when a country is mentioned on the news his ears prick up, especially if he has a connection to that place i.e. Canada – that’s where Heather and Sarah D are from! We've got some good apps on the ipad (we do have some 21st century toys!) that are suitable for his age that extend his interest in geography and travel.

And so I have no doubt that as a family this will not be the end of our adventures. Although we’ll all be so pleased to settle back to a new type of ‘normality’ at home, I think it will only be a matter of time before we start the process of dreaming again. I think we have learned that as a family we value experiences over things (we came here with next to nothing and will leave with just our suitcases, but enormous wealth in memories), and so saving for the next adventure may not be so hard.

The intensity of this experience makes me inclined to a journey of a shorter duration next time, which will fit in better with school and work. We're thinking houseswapping maybe a great way to have an opportunity to have a deeper local experience somewhere (Paris is Xavier's choice!), and also cut costs.

I love how this photo sort of sums it all up.

Do you have itchy feet, and where would you like to take your children for an eye-opening experience?


  1. I wish that the opportunity was available to us when my children were younger. But still I don't know if I would be brave enough to do something like this :)

    1. Thanks Sandie. It's true that our experience is probably a bit extreme for some, but I loved in that first article that I linked to that there were many great destinations (including in Aus) that would be great places to go as a family. Even a shorter holiday has so much potential for learning and fun for kids.

  2. Very well put, Andrea. Inspiring and so true.
    To us you are all so adventurous but the reward is becoming obvious. Very happy for you.

    1. Thanks Dan. The most adventurous part I think was having the idea and going through with it, day by day we are just living life in an extraordinary place. We look forward to some worldschooling down Canberra way sometime soon:)

  3. Lovely post Andrea - so true. Above all, you have given your boys itchy feet that they will never, ever be able to cure!!! How perfect. xx