Raising Global Citizens

Alexandra Tyson is a traveler, an elementary school teacher and the founder of the website TGC: Travel for the Global Citizen. Her husband, Chris, is the in the Navy and they have three grown children. In 2008, when their children were school age, the family was transferred to Atsugi, Japan. Alexandra and Chris thought about what skills their kids would need to be successful while living overseas. The five years spent in Japan and the decisions that came along with this experience led Alexandra down the road of global literacy.

Alexandra and I met through the Wanderful community, which is a network of women helping women travel. I was curious about global literacy and what it’s like to raise children abroad. Here is Alexandra’s perspective on travel, raising global citizens and the inevitable question of home.

photo: Tammy Ward

Tell us about your personal high points and low points of living abroad. What are your memorable family travel moments? 

We had delayed going to Japan until the kids were older. We’d been regional travelers, not necessarily intentional travelers. We were living in Florida and I had a second, third and fourth grader when we decided to take the orders for Japan. Our kids, who have four sets of grandparents, were raised seeing these four different views of the world; each view being important. They had many experiences learning things with their grandparents. One night, we were in a restaurant—one that does not host children often—and the waiter said to me, “Your kids know how to order off a menu!” That waiter gave me confidence. Living abroad was something we could do. This was the moment we chose to parent through experience; it became intentional to live overseas. 

The military affiliation was the springboard for everything we did. The Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) office on base brought in local tour guides and we were able to do anything from spending three days in China to overnights in Korea visiting the night markets. There were day trips to the strawberry farm. It was a lifestyle. I don’t remember many weekends without sports or travel. One of our favorite trips was to see the snow monkeys in Nagano. Our guide told us, “Now remember, don’t look the monkey in the eye!” My son asked, “What will happen if we do?” And she’d answered, “They’ll scratch your eye out!” Still to this day, our family will say, “They’ll scratch your eye out,” anytime ‘what will happen?’ comes into question. Travel also taught us to roll with the punches, like the time we were supposed to celebrate Thanksgiving on the ship and it was unexpectedly cancelled. Things happen that are out of your control. The kids kept travel journals, keeping track of their memories, which persist now. As adults, I see them using skills from that time. The best decision I made as a parent was taking them overseas and living like that.

Why was it important to you that your kids were raised with a global outlook? 

I find that it is so important that kids understand the past and the other point of view before they can develop their own opinion. Those are the things that go into forming an opinion: understanding the past and another point of view. That’s what my motivation was. I was raised that way. I was in a military family. We moved around and I knew I had resiliency. I wanted that for my kids.

Your website is titled TGC: Travel for the Global Citizen. Can you describe global citizenship? And can you share your top tips on how parents can nurture this in their children? 

A global citizen is a person who realizes learning about others helps them learn about themselves. Exploring other places helps them define where they put their own boots (in the military, we say: home is where you put your combat boots). My biggest suggestion for parents is to read. Read like you’re traveling. Read with a globe or a map in front of you. Second, we have to be intentional with kids when explaining why something is important. We can’t expect them to think it’s important just because we say it is (I wrote about this in an article that tells the story of how my first graders were not impressed with some of the wonders of the world). And third, be authentic. It’s great to see the Eiffel  Tower type attractions, but you also need to show them poverty. Know the greatnesses but also know the reality. TGC is offering a private group called Learn Global, where you can get all kinds of great information for this era of distance learning. You get access to live teacher help, storytime, access to resources and more. 

What does global literacy mean to you? 

Global literacy means that you have a true idea and understanding of the destinations you visit . . . what their triumphs and failures are, so you have an authentic read of what your going into. We see the surface, but we can dig deeper. We can be well read on a place and be informed, remembering that we are active participants. So if you want to learn about the water system in the Netherlands, do so while paddling in a canal. If you want to taste a pierogi in Poland, take the cooking lesson and make it. With kids, they want to know what’s going on, they don’t like surprises. They might’ve seen a picture in a book, and when they see it in real life they get excited! Let them see it before they go, so that it’s not an overwhelming thing that they weren’t emotionally prepared for. 

How do you think family travel will evolve post-COVID? 

I think travelers who are confident and well versed will probably be the first to jump out into that world again. I agree that the age of the road trip has come back. The great American road trip exists and it’s going to take on a whole new meaning. My hope is that everyone understands now is the time to give your money to anyone named mom and pop. We just have to think in those terms. Now’s the time for every small town in the U.S. to attract more tourism. That has to be the thing we spread the most.

Travel puts home into perspective. As you said, it helps us define “where we put our boots.” What does home mean to you?

That’s a powerful question and I have a powerful story. It was 2011 and we were due to leave Japan. Fourteen days prior to leaving, the great tsunami and earthquake hit. We’d just packed up all our things. We had no idea if our things were at the bottom of the bay or on the way to America. We spent the following days in a hangar. Fourteen days of taking care of people and pets. We slept together in one bed. We worried, we communicated. We took care of a search dog at night so the handler could sleep. Our base was like ground zero for first responders. We were helping with water, food, diapers, whatever people needed. And then we got on a plane. We landed in Washington, D.C. It was my first time home; we’d been in Japan five years and had loved every minute. As the plane was landing, we passed the Washington monument, Jefferson Memorial, the White House. I saw the Potamic River and an American Flag. Waiting outside, were my parents. Just crying. Home is not where I put my feet but where I feel most grateful. The Japanese had named our efforts in the aftermath “operation tomodachi.” It means operation friendship. 

“Home is not where I put my feet but where I feel most grateful.”

And are your kids still traveling?

They are all wondering gypsies, I’m proud to say. 

Want to keep up with the happenings at TGC? Follow them on FaceBook and/or subscribe to their blog

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Family RVing: living well while traveling the country

Have you ever had the urge to sell the house and go explore the world? Chances are, you know a family doing just that. We often think of these families as being extraordinarily brave, but my friend Rachel, who spent two years traveling the U.S. in an RV with her family, says, “You can totally do it. It’s not like we’re special . . . we just sold our stuff!” That was how it began for this nature-loving family: they listed their stuff for sale. 

Rachel is a coach and meditation teacher. She is married to Adam and they have two children, Caelan (eight) and Ellie (four). The kids were five and two when they purchased the RV and set out. Now, they have been settled in Salt Lake City for just over a year, but their travel days are not over. With the sale of the RV they spent two years in, they purchased a smaller one, and plan on doing more off-grid travel, visiting national parks without worrying about hook-ups . . . “a closer-to-nature experience,” says Rachel.

Rachel and I talked recently about family, travel and balancing it all: 

Tell us how you came to the decision to sell your house, buy an RV and hit the road with your family. 

A friend of mine said she was going to travel and I thought, ‘Gosh, I wish we could do something like that!’ I had just sold my acupuncture business, our pets had recently passed. It was a culmination of things. Before, there was never a reason to leave. We had businesses, girls in school. But then we had this thought: We can figure out where we want to live by city-shopping our way around the country. We were very intentional about where we wanted to go based on criteria for living there. 

So what were you looking for in a town? 

We had four criteria. We were looking for a small town; it had to be under 100,000 people. We wanted progressive education options and accessibility to nature. We wanted to be on a trail within thirty minutes of home and be within driving distance to a national park. And the fourth thing . . . it must have been mountains! We wanted to be in the mountains. We soon realized that no place had all four things. I thought we’d have that knowing, like . . . this is the place. But it didn’t happen like that. 

What else surprised you? 

Right away, we understood that the trip was going to take longer than expected. We thought we’d RV for a year. But it was going to take at least one and a half to two years to see what we wanted. We needed to stay in places a little bit longer. We realized we needed, on average, two weeks per place. Another surprise came after just a few months, when I went to the grocery store by myself. I came back and looked into my husband’s eyes and said, ‘Honey, we have to get away by ourselves!’ We needed time to connect as a couple. I wondered how we’d let that go for months at a time. And I had forgotten what it was like to have a minute to myself, to have my own thoughts. We have to have that time. When my door is closed, the girls know. I’m meditating; I need twenty minutes.  We also now have one-on-one time with each kid, giving them even just ten minutes that is completely theirs. They love it. 

What did you learn about yourself and your family? 

The first six months, I put so much stress on myself as far as homeschooling. I compared myself to the Waldorf schools we were touring, and I almost quit. It got easier after I let go of the “compare-itinitous” and focused on what’s really important. Friends encouraged me to “just live well.” This permission to just live well changed things. We were going on hikes, and doing all these things. There is only a certain amount of bandwidth for a six year old. Actually, my favorite moments were always in the mundane. Out of two years of travel, the things that stick out the most are simple moments in nature. Just being. We had a picnic lunch one day and Caelan was walking across this log. There was this big mountain behind her and she’s just walking across the log. It happened in a flash, but it’s one of those memories forever ingrained—the colors, the grass, the warmness of afternoon sun.  

Can you talk about balance? Your need to be in your family, and out in the world? 

When we were traveling, I felt like I was buzzing. That was because I wasn’t meditating. As the conscious creator of your reality, you have to take responsibility for being solid. It’s a choice and responsibility. It’s not like it’s easy. It’s a matter of showing up. The world isn’t going to invite you—you have to take initiative to show up how you want to show up. I work to slow down my inner metronome. The rate at which the world is moving is always faster. When we were RVing, I was working in a different career path and it wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. I have seen a shift now because I’m doing what my soul is here to do. Now I’m finding it’s much easier to balance family life with my work. Because it doesn’t feel like work and I can weave it in and out in different pockets of life. It’s not work, it’s just me. There is no separation. 

I love that! It can now weave into the whole of your life. It’s not a push and pull! 

Yes. It all comes through who we are as people. How do I do everything? I don’t. I’m focusing on living well. As a family unit, being happy and healthy. I do my stuff while the kids are having their rest time or I’ll wake up early. You have to do what works for you and your family and your values.

What does home mean to you?

The first thing that comes to mind is the sacredness of the family. You have this relationship with yourself, your surroundings, a heartfelt space you can hold. And you can create a physical space . . . it has to come from inside. I want to be intentional about my thoughts, words, actions. If things aren’t aligned with my values, then it’s easy to get outta whack. That sacred solid ground comes from within; it has to radiate out from us. At the end of the day, it’s really all about love.  

To keep up with this family’s adventures, follow Rachel on Instagram. If you’d like a community of support through meditation, breathwork and journaling, check out Rachel’s FaceBook meditation group

This is the second article in a series where we hear from moms regarding family, travel and home. You can keep up by following the the blog (and receive your freebies, including how to create your own unique family travel experience).

Why this family was social distancing before social distancing was a thing

For me, the conversation around family travel inevitably collides with the conversation of home. 

  • How do we create the home we want in the world? 
  • How does travel inform our home processes and can home influence our travel style?
  • What does it mean to be a home-maker in the 21st century? 
  • What has been gained and what has been lost in regards to our most basic element of society: the family, the home? 

I thought I’d ask around. What follows is the first in a series of articles in which I speak with moms about these connections between home and world. 

My friend Michelle runs a birth business in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Jim and they have three children: Jimi (15) Raina (12) and Luna (9). Five years ago, the family found what they were looking for in the Georgia woods: acres of land in the middle of nowhere that included a half-built home for a bargain price. They finished building the house and now they visit on the weekends and holidays. They were social-distancing before social-distancing was a thing. 

Here’s what Michelle has to say about their unique travel style and home life. 

What inspired your family to purchase a vacation home in the Georgia woods? 

Michelle: “Jim and I were longing for land. We wanted our kids to have the freedom to roam. We love our beach town, but we wanted to be able to get away from cars and fences. We both grew up with land. I was raised in an orange grove where I biked and played. I spent summers in Virginia with my family. My cousins and I would spend all day in the creek. We’d come home and make a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and not return until dinner. No one knew where we were, except that we were somewhere in the holler. That’s where I learned to love the outdoors.”

(Jim, who also grew up on a dirt road and rode dirt bikes, later told me: “I wanted the kids to experience freedom . . . fewer rules. And for Jimi to know what it’s like to pee off a front porch. No one cares.”) 

How did you find the perfect place? 

Michelle: “Originally the idea was to find a camper or shed and maybe purchase around five acres. Through LandWatch, we ended up finding an already half-built home on thirty acres. It was a great deal and I fell in love with the wrap-around porch. It’s in White Oak, Georgia, outside of Woodbine, only an hour from Jacksonville. We can be door-to-door in an hour and fifteen minutes—it’s a perfect amount of time. It makes day-trips doable and weekends easy. We go about twice a month.”

What are some of the best parts of having time away in the woods? And hardest?

Michelle: “It’s a place to escape with our family. There are less distractions there. We have no TV, no Wifi. We play board games and ride four-wheelers. We have campfires. One of our favorite family games is hide-and-seek in the dark! We spend holidays there. The only fears we have are of snakes and wild boar, so we wear snake boots and the noise of the four-wheelers scares off boars. It’s also seasonal—in the summer, it’s too buggy to spend time there.” 

What do you hope your kids will gain through these getaways? 

Michelle: “I want them to have fond family memories. I want them to enjoy quality, simple family time. At home, there are always distractions, whether it’s the phone, the dishes or the laundry. We can shut these things out and focus on enjoying family. And secondary to that, I want them to learn an appreciation for the outdoors. We live in a concrete world, and to get away from that is like a breath of fresh air, literally. It truly feels like a breakaway from our normal lives, like a re-set. I feel refreshed, and I see that in the kids.” 

And when parents say their kids wouldn’t know what to do (without their tech) . . . 

Michelle: “You put them in it and they’re ok. You sit on the front porch and rock in rocking chairs together. You can see them soften a little bit, because there’s no distractions there . . . they’re immersed in all those distractions too usually. We have to be intentional about disconnecting so that we can re-connect.” 

“We have to be intentional about disconnecting so that we can re-connect.”

What does home mean to you? 

Michelle: “Home is where my family is. That’s the main thing. When the housing market crashed in 2008, we thought we were going to lose everything. We were at a music festival camping—five days in a tent—when I had an epiphany. I looked around and thought, this is the most important thing . . . if I have my family with me, I’m grateful. Nothing else matters. We have a limited time with our kids. Five years ago, Jimi was just ten, and we thought, ‘if we don’t do it now, we’ll miss a lot of opportunity,’ so we sold a rental property in order to purchase the Georgia house and land.”

This is the first article in a series where we hear from moms regarding family, travel and home. You can keep up by following the the blog (and receive freebies!).