My Way on the Worldschooling Highway

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Did you know there is a global community of families who call themselves ‘worldschoolers’?

For these families, learning while travelling and living in other countries is a primary way in which they meet their children’s educational needs.

Some families may ‘slow travel’ their way around the world and enrol their children into schools as they go, whilst others are full-time home educators who may or may not have a faster pace of exploration – or an entirely different method of exploring the globe, which I hope to describe in this article.

When I discovered the term ‘worldschooling’ about a year ago, it occurred to me that it was a very fitting label for my own family’s lifestyle.

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Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic, January 2016

I was inspired to write this piece in response to a discussion I was party to in which it was assumed that worldschoolers are nomadic families who are on the road full-time.

I wanted to challenge that perspective – I say that worldschooling comes in many guises. I don’t believe full-time travel is a necessity and there are many ways in which you can explore global culture without even leaving your hometown.

I do believe worldschooling entails at least some first-hand experience of a different country each year, in the midst of plenty of global education in other forms – yet even that sounds arbitrary to me, especially knowing how my own family’s journey to the worldschooling concept has developed and how much of our journey has been moulded by chance rather than by design.

Full-time travel may well be the aim of many worldschoolers but there are many different levels of this educational philosophy – no definite border between ‘worldschooling’ and ‘not worldschooling’, no matter how many actual borders have been crossed.

So, without further ado, here are 10 ways I feel my family are full-time worldschoolers without being full-time travellers . . .

1) Taking every opportunity for a trip

By the end of this month (September 2016) we will be able to count 5 trips abroad in the space of a year. I think that’s pretty good going!

Our 5 trips cover 5 countries within 2 continents (Portugal, Morocco, Czech Republic, Greece and Italy).

Most of the travelling will have been completed as a single mum. In fact, I always used the excuse of being a single mother to stop me embracing the idea of travelling full-time – having now discovered just how many single mothers actually are travelling full-time with their children, I will have to drop that excuse!

All but one of our trips were organised just weeks in advance as we leapt on cheap fares and made spontaneous decisions to travel, and four of them were partly or wholly organised alongside other home educating / worldschooling families.

Whilst myself and my children keep a wishlist of places we’d really like to visit, we don’t turn down invites to places not on our list – we suspend expectations and are willing to take opportunities just to see what happens. This was certainly the case when visiting the Czech Republic in January (I’m usually a sun-seeker!).

We also follow the path our home education journey takes us on – our imminent trip to Italy was originally inspired by watching a documentary about volcanoes (cue chat about Mount Vesuvius, cue decide we should visit Pompeii, cue take next available opportunity to plan a trip there).

2) Hosting travellers through Couchsurfing and Workaway

We have been hosting fellow travellers in our home via Couchsurfing for over 5 years now. The majority of these travellers seek cultural exchange with locals, meaning there is ample opportunity to learn about other countries, cultures and languages.

If I combine our own trips with the sum of our hosting duties, we have spent approximately three-quarters of the past year in daily contact with people from other countries.

Our favourite guests to host are fellow families on Workaway. These families, whilst not necessarily following the same lifestyle as us, believe in the value of travel, cultural exchange and volunteering. They usually stay with us for at least a week, during which time we work communally – I benefiting from adult help, my children benefiting from live-in friends, and the guests benefiting from free accommodation and local knowledge. We have made some wonderful friends through this and some reciprocal invites to their homes in other countries.

3) Hosting language students

I put this in a different category to Couchsurfing and Workaway, as when I host language students I’m paid expenses for being a host mother to teenagers and children as young as 10. Suddenly being the responsible person for up to another 3 youngsters is an entirely different experience to hosting an adult Workaway guest who is there to help me out!

The tables are also turned somewhat in that we have to ensure our students get the most out of their time in the UK – the aim of their trip is to have an immersive language-learning experience, thus we must give them as much opportunity as possible to practice their English and learn about our life here: on the surface, it’s about their learning journey, not ours.

However, our experience of this so far has made a real impression on my kids. “Remember when those Chinese girls were here and …” still starts many conversations in our family. The nature of the students’ visit means that topics related to global education are always on the cards for mealtime conversation, said mealtime conversation often digresses into the students’ own language, and my younger children witness older children embarking on international travel without their parents.

4) Spending time with friends of other nationalities

My children are frequently exposed to other languages and cultural ideas when we spend time with friends of other nationalities. For those who have come from a significantly different cultural background, we see how one’s country of origin has a big impact on matters of hospitality, parenting norms, personal space and socially acceptable behaviour – the contrast can seem more evident in one’s own country when you are generally surrounded by your own cultural norms.

Perhaps the most topical issue to navigate as a mother has been that of parenting techniques – often a hot potato amongst friends of the same background, but all the more so when you recognise Western consumerist imperialism in modern parenting practices. In this respect, I have found myself denigrating my cultural background as friends of other backgrounds seek to emulate it (I’m thinking of traditional/biological norms of motherhood such as birth, breastfeeding and baby-care practices, and the consumer products and services that have been put in the place of a mother’s arms).

Yet openly making cultural comparisons with people I trust is like a petri dish that helps me observe and develop my own beliefs and mental scripts in a safe space (opposed to the influence of the ‘us vs them’ rhetoric that the mainstream media dangerously peddles to the masses). This is important as my beliefs could well shape my children’s beliefs, and how we communicate with some of these close friends also informs how we communicate with my daughters’ relatives in Morocco.

I hope my children can learn from these relationships and see that it really can be about making the most of our similarities as human beings rather than letting our differences come between us.

These relationships can be about finding the things that work in different cultural systems and creating your own personal culture around it – and being confident in your own identity actually makes it easier to figure out how you fit in to the wider world.

5) Of maps and stamps

This is basic but it keeps geography and travel at the forefront of our daily lives: we like putting maps on our walls.

Our living space is adorned with a large world map and a map of Morocco, and our kitchen with a map of Europe.

Our letterbox is often blessed with Postcrossing postcards, random but inspiring glimpses into the lives of individuals in other parts of the world. These cards are addressed to the children and usually include little bites of information about the card’s subject and tastes of other languages.

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Anyone can do this and for us it is a constant source of inspiration to actually go and see the world. When the postman keeps bringing you messages of hope that you will one day visit Michigan or Hong Kong or Prague (oh, we did that one!), it’s a constant invite and reminder to step outside our home comforts.

The world map planted a seed when FreeToBeP developed the desire to visit Russia just based on what he could see on the map. That seed has already started to sprout as we begin making contacts in Russia and I cost up a trip on the Trans-Siberian railway!

6) Raising mixed-race children

Our worldschooling adventure really began with a 2-year-old FreeToBeP and a fateful trip to Morocco. I now have two daughters who are half-Imazighen (the native people of North Africa).

I feel a deep responsibility in bringing up mixed-race children in a multicultural society that is at odds with itself; a society in which some people look with disdain upon anyone who cannot tick ‘White British’ on their census form. Identity is often a big topic in the lives of those born of two different racial backgrounds and it is with both honour and trepidation that I start to teach my girls about their heritage.

But what an honour! To have such a wealth of cultural discourse based upon bloodlines from two very different countries and cultures. Four-year-old FreeToBeZ is already very aware of her mixed background and it has led me into a deeper understanding about white privilege and subtle forms of racism, which will surely form the backdrop of many an informal home ed PSHE lesson.

Aside from these more sensitive issues, we also collect resources that could inform my daughters’ understanding of their paternal heritage as they grow, from Tamazight language resources through to modern anthropological studies of the Imazighen tribes (tentatively referred to as I am nervous of the sense of ‘othering’ and exoticising that these studies can smack of – something I am ever nervous of in my own accounts). These resources help me to clumsily fill in gaps that I keenly sense in their absence from the traditional mountain life that their father’s family lives.

My daughters are privileged with all the opportunity and freedom that a British birth certificate brings. Yet how sad I am for them that they cannot understand the unwritten stories of their ancestors that their ageing Imazighen grandmother can tell in a language that they do not know.

Rather than the sense of being “neither here nor there”, I hope my daughters grow into worldly women who feel comfortable in different settings – and may our worldschooling journey nurture that.

7) Exploring all the facets of your homeland

In order to get the most from our travels to far-flung places, I believe an appreciation of where we are from and knowledge of our own heritage helps. We may or may not be proud of our cultural heritage, yet knowing one’s self is often key to truly knowing what is outside of ourselves.

Travelling with true awareness of global concerns involves being aware of our own cultural history and the social capital we may or may not be privileged by.

With this awareness, as well as exploring the well-known icons of your homeland and its history, why not seek out evidence of other countries and cultures within it? There may be places of worship that are different to your own (if you have one), expatriates of other countries, people whose first language isn’t the same as yours, specialist world food shops, and public networks or events that support multicultural communities (examples in my area are the South West Dorset Multicultural Network and an annual Dorset One World Festival).

Now more than ever in a social climate in which casual racism seems to be rearing its ugly head, it’s important that we forge interfaith and intercultural links with people of different backgrounds.

Saying that worldschooling journeys must involve trips to countries other than your own ignores the richness of what you have been brought up around, especially in a diverse society such as ours. Yes, our dominant culture will always be the most obvious in our own homes, but there are people and places in your own country, town or even village who have much to teach you about the wider world.

8) Language learning

For language is not just about words and translation – the more you learn about language and linguistics, the more you realise how relative the world is based on the words we use and the way in which different concepts are expressed in different languages.

It is difficult to learn a language without also being exposed to cultural and religious concepts associated with that language, and (I find) without therefore becoming fascinated with those parts of the world in which that language is spoken.

My own forays into various languages has come as a result of our chosen destinations rather than preceding them, but the breadth of knowledge that an interest in language opens up is astounding. For example, did you know that there are over 6000 living languages in the world?

The world of languages and linguistics goes far beyond actually being able to speak another language, and travel can be a natural consequence of being fascinated with such subjects.

FreeToBeP is currently intrigued with Italian having decided that he wants “to play that game” I play on my phone – he’s referring to my Duolingo course. The advent of smartphone apps and online peer exchange have made language learning all the more fun and accessible, and can easily complement a worldschooling lifestyle whilst sat on your own sofa . . .

And to then put it into practice and learn a language in context on the move is perhaps the best lesson we can give our children about how language acquisition naturally works (no textbooks necessary!).

9) Plan a world adventure

We’re considering taking less frequent trips over the next couple of years in order to plan The Big One.

Although short trips to European destinations are well within our budget and other practical considerations, if I want to run with FreeToBeP’s Russian dream then we’re in for saving some pennies first – and if we’re going to book the Trans-Siberian railway, we should probably go the whole hog and take the route all the way down through Mongolia to China (China also being on FreeToBeP’s wishlist!).

Whilst the need to stay put and save up could feel like stagnation, the expectation of a trip flavours many of our family discussions. Planning for a long-distance trek could take months in itself.

We are currently packing for our trip to Italy and recent conversation has often turned to the language, food, sites and history of our destination – these discussions around our dinner table at home are part and parcel of our worldschooling life. The actual trip abroad does not exist inside a bubble, it is the culmination of a dream made real thanks to a period of research and planning.

Indeed, part of the fun is in the itinerary planning, and this is something you can let the kids loose on – thus when you arrive at your destination you’ll have a good idea of each family member’s hopes for the trip.

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10) Networking with other worldschoolers

As well as fellow travellers within our local home education circle, we make an effort to connect with other families in different locations who share a similar lifestyle.

As worldschooling families network and meet, more and more events are being organised especially for those following this way of life and a number of worldschooling communities are developing around the globe.

Earlier this year we attended our first worldschool event in Plitra, Greece. As a travelling single mother, these events have the added attraction of inherent friendship and support whilst losing none of the sense of adventure. Whilst I have the company of fellow parents, they are places where I can be sure that the children will also have peers to play and learn alongside.

We have learnt that distance and language doesn’t have to be a barrier to friendship as we build relationships with people in different parts of the world. My children’s social experience is often very different to those who spend their days in a classroom with 30 peers sharing the same age and hometown, but herein lies the heart of the worldschooling message – yes, some people live their lives very differently to us, but a different way doesn’t equal a wrong way.

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FreeToBeP and his sisters’ cousin in the Atlas mountains, Morocco

In conclusion, I hope these suggestions have gone some way to explaining how worldschooling is not bound by one set of rules and may look as different for each family as home education itself does (ah, and what of the experiences of those worldschooling families whose children actually attend school?).

I like to think that our family’s past year has been a comfortable middle ground – the excitement of travel tempered with the security of a home base. Part of me feels like we’re living the dream whilst another part lives vicariously through the blogs of families having a full-time, nomadic lifestyle which leads them to truly immersive experiences in far-reaches of the globe.

If you’re travelling the world full-time with your family, I’m in awe of you (especially if you’re doing it as a single parent)! But perhaps the next ‘worldschooling’ family isn’t there yet and are making the practical, emotional and logistical decisions and actions to get there one day.

Until that time, I believe they have every right to describe themselves as worldschoolers if that is their educational philosophy. With a zest for travel and a passion for meeting and understanding other people , you can’t go far wrong.

If this post has piqued your interest, it’s topics such as those found in my 10 Websites for Teaching Global Citizenship that keep me eager to see myself as a global citizen and keen to keep my children in contact with people of varied backgrounds – and to keep on exploring those varied backgrounds first-hand!

Please feel free to share your own perspective and experiences in the comments below – it would be wonderful to hear of other families’ journeys.

It’s Maybe in the Language: Linguistic Relativity

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Disclaimer: the blog author receives commission on sales made via product links on this article.

“Maybe.” came my answer, much to his frustration.

“Maybe? What is maybe?” he would reply. “Yes is yes and no is no.”

My daughters’ father and I regularly use the Arabic word for ‘maybe’ in our conversations (‘imken’ in the Moroccan dialect), yet it never occurred to me that ‘maybe’ could be quite an abstract concept, a prime example of linguistic relativity.

For me the word ‘maybe’ speaks of possibilities, keeping one’s options open and looking out for chances. It’s about not ruling anything out.

Conversely, he was continually exasperated by my maybes.

I’m Mercurial and live in my head, occupying a land of dreams and ideas and a million maybes. To spend enough time with me is to be party to those ideas – whether or not they surface as tangible realities in the physical world is another matter entirely.

I enjoy the process of exploring new ideas and brainstorming logistics, often wondering out loud to those who happen to be in my company at the time, utilising that company as a form of feedback regarding the potential viability of a venture.

I may then completely discard the original idea and move on to the next distraction, leaving more earthy types floundering like fish who find themselves in a deserting riverbed. My girls’ father is one such flounder, precisely the sort of man who should never have pursued a Gemini woman.

Yet the idea of things only ‘maybe’ happening seemed to fit the relaxed Moroccan lifestyle quite well – you’re never quite sure something will happen until it actually does, with so many exchanges left hanging under the banner “insha allah” (“God willing”).

Eventually, I compiled a list of words I initially wanted to learn in the mother tongue of my daughters’ father, a mixture of Tashelhit and Tamazight, examples of the indigenous Imazighen languages of North Africa. These languages, now predominantly spoken in Morocco and Algeria, are thought to be the closest surviving languages to Ancient Egyptian (more about that in Helene E. Hegan’s book The Shining Ones: An Etymological Essay on the Amazigh Roots of Egyptian Civilization).

Upon asking him the word for ‘maybe’ he replied, “There is no word for this in my language.”

Well, that could explain a lot.

We think of our language as being capable of explaining all the realities and facts of the world around us, and yet there remain many concepts that are not succinctly contained within a single word – if the concept exists in our culture at all. Here are some examples.

Even though the English language has a vast amount of words compared to most others, it goes to show that they still don’t necessarily capture everything effectively, and that languages with less populous vocabularies will almost certainly not reflect our own lexicon.

Guy Deutscher explores the issue of language shaping our world views in his book Through The Language Glass, a fascinating insight into the way our vocabulary moulds our perspective.

Whilst some extol a need for a single world language (usually English) for business purposes in a global market, a monolingual world would be a dull world indeed. A single language quickly becomes a single culture, and with the loss of each language (thought to be about one per fortnight) comes the loss of world heritage.

Each and every word enshrines a wealth of history and preserves cultural artefacts in much the same way as a piece of pottery or an item of artwork. A word may not be palpable but it has undergone the processes of conception, growth and evolution, always reflecting the point in time in which it exists.

Deutscher explores such history in The Unfolding of Language, an inspiring read that led me to question my own snobbishness when it comes to topics such as grammar and ‘textspeak’. So much of what we consider ‘proper English’ is but a contraction of what it once was. Why, there even maybe grace in an ‘ain’t’.

The single word ‘maybe’ was itself, originally, two individual words . . . But to contract it out of existence to ensure we are only ever faced with the path of ‘yes’ or the path of ‘no’? Forget textspeak; within the broad spectrum of the English language, to get rid of the possibility of possibility would be tantamount to Newspeak – with a very big maybe dangling over the chances of such a phenomenon taking place given some of the other Nineteen Eighty-Four-esque goings on of late.

As if the act of learning a new language is not enough of a challenge, the skill of fluency really comes to the fore when you can interpret rather than just translate. Yet true interpretation relies heavily on cultural and linguistic knowledge that it can take years to acquire and perhaps a whole new mindset to truly understand.

So, it maybe that my “maybe” may not be as basic and self-explanatory a response as I once thought, but I hope that this piece goes to show the potential of a simple ‘maybe’ – maybe?

Other titles that explore translation and the interlinking of culture and language are:


And, as always, please feel free to share your thoughts about my thoughts by commenting below.

Title image courtesy of Prawny.