For four years I drove from Cornucopia, Wisconsin to Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Four hours in a car along Highway 35. I would wake up at 3 am on Monday morning and be on the road by 4 am. On Thursday after school I would repeat the journey only in reverse. It got to the point that I was on auto pilot. Twice a week I would set the car in gear and either head south or north. Then one August, I looked at Angie and said I couldn’t do it any more. We were going to make a change. Not a small one either. One that would shake us up and give us a new perspective.
For those that know our family; you know the story. We headed to the Middle East and spent two and a half years working in Doha for the Qatar Foundation. We went from the Bayfield County, known for its pristine shoreline to the Persian Gulf; from Kodachrome to Monochrome in the blink of an eye. From Western ideals to Islamic values, the contrast at times left us breathless and yes inspired.
Sometimes I wonder if people get stuck in one place too long. Their patterns, routines, and perspectives sort of get woven into the fabric of their lives. Everyday is similar to the next. Fall has football, Thanksgiving, then Christmas. February in the north is dreary and many go stir crazy waiting for the snow to melt. Maple syrup starts to flow in the Spring as we traverse toward Memorial Day, then the Fourth, and Labor day comes to close out the summer. Children go back to school and the cycles starts all over again. Most Americans can find comfort in a very similar pattern that makes up their life.
After Doha, we needed to make a decision. Did we want to go back to America? We certainly could go back and jump into the same routine, but journeys to new places actually made us appreciate our home with a fresh set of lenses. We used our home on the South Shore as a benchmark for all our new experiences. The differences really solidified what we loved and hated about home, knowing that there was tremendous variety on how people “did life.” Leaving and coming back for short spells also changed all of us in ways we are just beginning to be able to articulate. After the first year abroad, my eldest said to me, “things have stayed the same here, but I’ve changed.”
John Dewey, the father of experiential education, said, “The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs.” This is especially true when one stays in the same place. And as Ellen Glasgow so accurately put it, “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”
We decided not to go back to America, but we left Doha. (After leaving, I took the Head of School post with Think Global School. TGS is a traveling boarding school. Each term we move staff and students and land in a new country for 3-5 months. By the time a student graduates, they will have lived in 12 countries.) Now my family moves every trimester, Angie detailed the everyday things that we go through in her latest post: Stepping Out Of Our Comfort Zones: Again.
I have found that many people question our intelligence, sanity and safety with the path we have taken. Ours is an outlier life even among international teachers. Why do we do it? Why do we pick this nomadic lifestyle? What effect will it have on the development of our children? People often subtly pity our children because they don’t share common experiences of other American kids, but other children aren’t experiencing global perspectives that my kids see through direct contact in foreign countries. By age 7 my youngest daughter had traveled to over 15 different countries. I often wonder about the thoughts running through her head. My middle son, plays Minecraft a lot, but he often plays with five kids he has met abroad. They login in together and collaborate in virtual space. Five young boys from five different countries working together. I am quite certain that the experiences they have faced during our nomadic years will have profound impact on who they become as adults.
For Angie and I, the journey has made our marriage stronger. We are more intentional about our family; keeping pieces of our traditions, rituals, and values in every country we live. Forced to travel light, we have reduced our possessions to the essential items in a true minimalistic way. We also see the world differently; direct experience is more truthful than the bias we often see in the media. Living in these countries have given us friends from diverse backgrounds who we cherish, it has opened our eyes to the wonders of our planet, and it keeps the place we call home fresh.