I am very sorry to our readers. I unintentionally took the month of November off. However, I am back with renewed vigor to post more about our travels, education, and global issues.
November was a hard month. My new job as School Director for an international center in Seattle has kept me very busy. I love that I get to meet students and staff from around the world every day! I am learning more from them then they are from me probably. Plus, being the director gives me an amazing opportunity to apply my international education experience in a real-world setting.
As a well-earned reward for my hard work, my family and I decided to take off to Whistler, Canada, for the long American Thanksgiving weekend. Whistler is an amazing year-round outdoor activity vacation destination. No matter what you like to do on your down time, you can probably find something there to entice you. So, even non-skiers, like my wife, can have a good time.
From Seattle, Whistler is an easy 219 miles. We meandered north taking in the magnificent scenery. The drive from Vancouver to Whistler is particularly spectacular. You pass by Horseshoe Bay, Shannon Falls, and Brandywine Falls. You can make the trip in 4 hours, but I recommend allowing yourself more time to stop and enjoy the journey. Our youngest son, Elijah, really wants to go back and visit the Britannia Mine Museum in Squamish. Unfortunately, we did not have time this vacation. So, we have an excuse to go back!
Whistler was the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. It is a world-class ski destination. The small remote area has greatly benefited from the Olympics. You can visit the now historic reminders of Olympic glory in and around the village. We gawked at the intimidating 90 meter ski jumps and bobsled run. During the Olympics, the village had to have been a thrilling place to be. Today, it is alive with 5 star resorts and people from all over the world.
We stayed at a very cozy place called Lost Lake Lodge, which is in the Upper Village of Whistler. It is a small resort with heated pool, fitness center, ski lockers, and very nice rooms. We reserved a one bedroom suite complete with a fully equipped kitchen, gas fireplace, washer and dryer, balcony, wi-fi, large screen TV, and board games. It is also on the Chateau Whistler Golf Course for you golf fanatics. We definitely did not rough it! We liked that we could walk on well-marked paved trails around the lodge and lake each morning. Even though it is not in the village proper, everything is within walking distance.This has the added benefit of making the lodge a great deal compared to in village places. We rate it very high for family getaways!
The staff was very nice and took care of us. Phil at the front desk was especially helpful and courteous. Remember, you need to check in at the Blackcomb Lodge before heading to the Lost Lake Lodge. Unfortunately, Expedia did not tell me that dogs were not allowed. Our pampered pooch, Albie, slept in my truck most of the time. I do not think he enjoyed the vacation as much as we did.
From Lost Lake Lodge, we could walk or drive to the village center. Whistler has a maze of paved and dirt walking and biking trails that connect everything. We did take poor Albie on some walks to get him out and stretch. Whistler Village is a fun place to hang out, stroll around, shop, eat, and take in the scenery. The Village Stroll winds through the pedestrian only village past high-end shopping, art galleries, boutiques, and pubs. It even has two Starbucks! The best hot chocolate I may have ever had can be found at Blenz Coffee across from the Olympic Park. They make it with real melted dark chocolate. Elijah is now addicted to it.
The first day, we decided to take the Peak-to-Peak gondola ride. The Peak-to-Peak is the longest gondola traverse in the world. It connects Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. The heart-stopping ride travels a record-breaking 1.88 miles free span between towers at a dizzying height of 1,430 feet above the valley. We took the Village Gondola to the top of Whistler Peak. The 20 minute ride up in an enclosed gondola made for a beautiful aerial trip. At the top, we had a nice lunch at the Roundhouse Lodge with an incredible view of the slopes. After lunch, we braved the traverse on the Peak-to-Peak gondola. It was absolutely amazing! The 360 degree view of the mountains was truly awe-inspiring. We waited for a glass-bottom car, which made the experience even better. We could look down and see how high we really were. I was too entranced by the view to be afraid!
*Tip: Check the weather the morning that you plan to go up because it changes quickly.
From the top of Blackcomb Peak, we decided not to take the round-trip back. Instead, we chose to ride an open chairlift back down. Despite the cold, the open feeling of the chair let us feel like eagles. Since both mountain ski slopes converge at the village, we were very close to where we started. It was an amazing up, over, down trip in the clouds!
After our gondola excursion, the boys wanted to go sledding. Luckily, we brought two sleds with us. Mish and I got some quiet time to walk around the village and relax. No amount of cold or wetness can deter boys from playing in the snow. We came back to see if Aaron and Elijah were ready to go. Not a chance. If it was not for the ski patrol herding them off the hill, they would probably have stayed sledding much longer.
Back at Lost Lake Lodge, I cooked a big traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the family, complete with a smoked turkey. OK, I bought the turkey pre-cooked, but the thought was there. Keeping family traditions is very important to us. No matter where we travel, we make sure that we observe holidays. I think that when the boys are older, they will remember these times and appreciate them. For my wife and I, we still enjoy watching the boys during holidays. Even Aaron, at 16, still gets excited and gets into the spirit.
The next day went looking for more exciting things to do. We considered zip-lining, ATV riding, skiing, dog sledding, bungee jumping (not!), and horseback riding. You can even ride a real bobsled or luge down the Olympic course. In the end, the weather decided our choice. The boys went indoor rock climbing and to an arcade. Maybe not as thrilling, but still fun and different. (We are mean parents who never bought our children a game station.) Later, we went to see Olympic hopefuls test themselves on the luge and bobsled. Unless you have actually witnessed a luge rider streaking past you at 80 mph only 5 feet from your nose, you cannot truly appreciate the danger of the sport.
That evening, we went swimming in the outdoor pool back at the lodge. As we sat in front of the roaring fire snacking on turkey left-overs, we remembered just how thankful we truly are for all of the blessings we have.
Guest post by Aaron
The Emerald City: A Day in Seattle
Walking through downtown Seattle is much like walking through any other city in America: it possesses the hustling and bustling that comes with enterprise and business. Yet it also maintains a level of serenity. Due to Seattle’s prime location, you are never more than a few blocks away from a body of water. The rush of cars and the dull-roar of people passing are nicely accented with the screeches of seagulls and crashing of the waves. In fact, because of the slope that Seattle is built on, the city acts as a giant auditorium for the harbor, echoing the sounds of the sea through the streets.
This design also offers a water-front view to almost every building. If you stand on the observation deck of Columbia Center, when it’s not raining, looking westwards you can see over Puget Sound to the snow-caped Olympic Mountains. Southward, you can look across rolling hills, coated in Douglas firs, and spot the solitary peak of Mt. Rainer. Looking east, you are able to see across Lake Washington to the Cascade Mountains, a colossal wall of snow and stone that stretches as far north and south as the eye can see. This mixture of natural beauty and the city’s busy nature sets the scene for one of the most wonderful towns in the northwest.
Along with Seattle’s ecological attractiveness, it’s also home to some of the most magnificent architecture west of Chicago. Columbia Center is the city’s tallest building, measuring up to 932 feet, and provides a truly breathtaking vista of the city and surroundings. Traveling west five blocks from the tower, is Waterfront Park, consisting of a long line of unique shops selling the tackiest tourist t-shirts and handmade artwork, all of which are walking distance to the ferry terminal. My personal favorite among these is the Ye Old Curiosity Shop, which offers the most impractical items, such as vampire slaying kits and shrunken heads. Much like a Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the store has some of the most outlandish assortment of souvenirs and is the perfect place to kill time whilst waiting for a ferry.
Walking north along the waterfront, visitors will pass attractions such as the Seattle Aquarium, Ivar’s Seafood Restaurant, and eventually stumble into the locally renowned Pike Place Market. The hustle and bustle of vendors selling the freshest fish is mixed with the intoxicating aroma of spices and floral arrangements. The sound and excitement of commerce is only amplified by the bright colors and exotic tastes. However, if food and flowers aren’t your cup of tea; by following the ramps and stairs underground, you are opened up into a new network of tunnels lined with odd-ball stores. Some of which include: Golden Age Collectables, housing a monstrous collection of vintage comics and fandom apparel, and the Market Magic Shop, home to some of the strangest and most mystical artifacts.
Finally, as you exit the market, you can walk a few blocks northeast and find yourself at the foot of the Space Needle, the most iconic sight in Seattle. At 604 feet, it’s not the tallest structure in the city, but it certainly is the most elegant. If there is time to spare, visitors can tour to grounds around Seattle Center and visit the National Science Fiction Museum, accommodating suits and ships from some of the most popular movies in America. A four-star restaurant sits on top of the Space Needle and, despite the absurd price; it is the perfect way to finish off a day in the Emerald City.
We are looking for a good story or picture with a caption about your pet! We have a Wheaton Terrier, Albie, who has traveled the world with us. You can read about his exploits in some of our blog posts. Elijah now has a Leopard Gecko, Johnny, and I have some fish (Sorry, I do not name fish). The funniest story will be a featured post in our blog.
Today is the first official day of fall! Even if you did not know that yesterday was the autumn equinox, you can still feel that summer is quickly fading and the season is changing. The signs are everywhere here in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The air is a little cooler and moister, the days are noticeably getting shorter, the leaves are just starting to turn from greens to fiery reds and bright yellows, Starbucks is serving their delicious seasonal spiced pumpkin lattes, and the boys are back in school. We are definitely sensing autumn is coming.
Even though we have enjoyed spending falls and winters in tropical climates, we always missed autumn for some reason. Maybe because the landscape becomes painted in bright autumn hues transforming it into a surreal vibrantly colored fantasy world. Maybe because you can sense the specialness of the impending holidays which bring back fond childhood memories. Maybe because change always creates an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. Whatever the reason, falls are truly spectacular here. This is my favorite time of the year to brave the chill and go outside to enjoy nature’s art work. There are numerous places to go to enjoy harvest fairs, pumpkin patches, and fall festivals while soaking in the magnificent scenery.
Now that we are back in Washington state for a while, we are excited to re-explore some of our family traditions during this time of the year. No place is more special to us than the Olympic Peninsula (please read our article about it to learn more). We just came back from a short weekend stay there to get away from the business of life in the city. It is a place where we feel at home despite traveling the world. One of our favorite fall destinations on the peninsula is the Sequim Pumpkin Patch.
Our boys, Aaron and Elijah, have fond memories of this perennial favorite. The Sequim Pumpkin Patch has something to offer everyone in the family. For the kids, there is the enormous corn maze. The corn maze there is not for the directionally challenged. If you easily get lost without your GPS, map, or road signs, then you might want to stay out of it. The maze is usually thematic. One year it was The Wizard of Oz theme. The maze path actually spelled out “THE WIZZARD OF OZ” along with symbols and pictures. The boys love running through it trying to find all of the hidden markers. If you find all of them, you win a prize. Amazingly, people pay to get lost while I do this for free all of the time. Entrance is free, but attractions are individually priced $3.00 to $5.00.
They also have giant sling-shots suspended from telephone poles which you use to launch pumpkins into the air to try to land in a barrel out in the middle of a field. I have yet to win the $100 prize for marksmanship, but it is fun to try anyway. There is something about watching pumpkins fall to Earth and splat like giant orange meteors I find exhilarating. It’s probably a guy thing. Of course for the more traditional pumpkin enthusiast they also have tractor rides, farm animal petting, hot chocolate and fresh apple cider with kettle corn and other treats, holiday gift barn, and more. I think my wife most enjoys watching her “three boys” run around. Oh yes, they also have a pumpkin patch where we pick our pumpkin for carving later.
Now that we are living on the “East Side,” we have found a closer pumpkin paradise called Remlinger Farms in Carnation, Washington. Remlinger Farms takes the traditional pumpkin patch up a notch. The $13.85 entrance fee is a little steep, but worth it. It has an inflatable spooky house, kids’ carnival rides, a real steam engine train, pony rides, and exhibits. The boys and I like the homemade warm doughnuts the best, nice touch! Maybe we like the seasonal favorite foods the best. For a complete list of pumpkin patches, go to The Thrifty NW Mom.
After finding the perfect pumpkin to carve into the family Jack-O’Lantern, our oldest son likes to test his bravery by finding the scariest haunted house to visit. This year we will see if he dared Hauntownsend Carnival of the Twilight in Port Townsend, Washington, on the peninsula. This is not just a haunted house, but an entire haunted carnival at the Jefferson County fairgrounds! Clowns are scary enough in the circus, let alone at night in an abandoned carnival. I’m guessing that Aaron will not sleep for a week afterwards! For a complete list of haunted attractions in Washington, check out the Haunted Houses website.
Probably the most authentic haunted experience you can have in Washington is the original Ghost Tours of Pioneer Square. The tour takes you through the haunted side of Seattle. Their “master storytellers will frighten and chill you to the bone as you are guided through the streets, alleys, and dark shadows of Pioneer Square. Hear the incredible events of people stuck in the mysterious world of the undead.” For $16.00 per person, you can be scared out of your skin! For another hair-raising experience, you can try the Spooked in Seattle Tour or Market Ghost Tours, if you dare. All of the tours take you to places normally visitors to our fair city never see, like the old city of Seattle underground and the original morgue. You can find out why we have a reputation for paranormal activity!
For those of us who enjoy the less macabre side of the season, there are numerous places to take long walks to revel in the autumn foliage. One of my wife and my favorite walks is along the Olympic Discovery Trail on the peninsula. This 130 mile long paved trail connects Port Townsend with Forks, Washington. It meanders through the north slope of the Olympic Peninsula between the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Our favorite part starts from just east of Port Angeles at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, head out to the coast, and follows the shore line into town. The trail passes over Morse Creek by an old restored train trestle, through dense fern clad gullies, and by the rocky shores of the strait. We usually see deer, otters, seals, eagles, and heron as we walk. Walks with my wife do not get better than that! We normally walk there and back again for a rejuvenating flat 8 mile round trip.
So, whether you like having family fun at the traditional pumpkin patch, being scared senseless in haunted houses, or just wandering through fall colors, western Washington has many things to offer. October is usually a great month here. By the end of the month, nights will start to turn cold, as Aaron and Elijah can attest to by trick-or-treating in heavy coats and thermal underwear. November will bring the start of the rains. However, by December, the mountains will once again be clad in snow singling another change is happening as we move into winter. I will have to write to tell you about all the wonderful things to do around Christmas here! I admit, I do love having the four seasons.
My Favorite Canadian City
Canada is an immense country with much to offer visitors. The world’s second largest country by area is the ninth least populated, which provides for abundant room. Canada also boasts the longest shoreline of any country at over 151,000 miles of ocean front property. While the bigger cities of Montreal Ontario, Toronto, Quebec, and Vancouver usually get the lion’s share of tourism, I prefer the smaller, quainter city of Victoria.
The city of Victoria sits on the Inner Harbor of James Bay at the tip of Vancouver Island. It is the capital of British Columbia, one of Canada’s ten provinces. Victoria was once one of the busiest ports on the west coast of North America, but fell in stature to the much larger city of Vancouver on the mainland when the Canadian Pacific Railroad decided to terminate there. Fortunately, the city has maintained many of its elegant historical buildings, which give it a feeling of stepping back in time to a more civilized era.
The two most common ways to get to Victoria are both by boat, naturally. The Victoria Clipper runs daily year round from Pier 69 in downtown Seattle, Washington. The trip takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. The Clipper is a high-speed jet boat with airline type seating. On board, you can relax in comfort with a bite to eat or drink while amazing scenery passes by. You may even see a whale! However the Clipper is expensive at $117.00 per person round-trip. Also, reservations are required. Be advised, during the summer, the Clipper can sell out quickly so plan in advance. The clipper does provide for your Canadian purchases to come back to the U.S. My wife put this to the test by bringing a leather couch back!
The other boat is the M.V. Coho. It leaves daily from Port Angeles, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. Although the Coho gets you to Victoria in 1 hour and 30 minutes, the drive from Seattle to Port Angeles is 3 hours. However, the drive is very spectacular. The Coho is also much cheaper at $21.00 per person round trip. The other advantage of the Coho is that it is a far larger vessel and allows cars, whereas the Clipper does not. For us dog people, the Coho permits animals in the cabin. The Clipper requires animals to be booked in advance, charges an additional $20.00 each way, and requires all animals to make the trip in a confined animal carrier. Albie much prefers traveling with us on the Coho. (If you read my post on the Calais, France, to Dover, England, crossing you would understand why.) One disadvantage to the Coho is that it does not make the run from mid-January to the first of June.
In addition to the Clipper and the Coho, you can take a Canadian ferry from Vancouver to Victoria for about $5.00. The crossing takes about 30 minutes. If you do not like boats or are just in a hurry, you can fly to Victoria from several airports in Washington. Depending on when and where you fly, the flights usually range from $50.00 to $150.00 per person round-trip. No matter which method you choose, you will marvel in the beauty of the area.
Once on land in Victoria you can begin exploring this fabulous city right away. Immediately in front of you when you disembark the vessel is the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Built in 1908, the hotel is an iconic symbol of the city. The Bengal Ballroom is decorated in a Victorian Era Colonial India style from when Queen Victoria was the Empress of India. It was a favorite destination of author Rudyard Kipling of The Jungle Book fame. Today, you can have tea in nostalgic Victorian splendor (cost about $60.00 per person, but worth it).
Our boys’ favorite attraction in Victoria is Miniature World. I have to admit, this is a favorite of mine too. Self-billed as “The greatest little show on Earth,” it boasts 85 different miniature recreations s of various places. On display is the Battle of Waterloo, The Battle of Berlin, a complete circus with surrounding city, part of the Canadian Pacific Railway, a space colony, and much more. All of the displays are working lighted little worlds meticulously made in exquisite detail. The kid in me wishes to build one in our home, but my wife has so far halted my plans (so far).
No trip to Victoria is complete without a tour of the beautiful Butchart Gardens. Portland Cement tycoon Robert Pim Butchart moved to Victoria in 1904 to establish a limestone quarry for their cement company. His wife, Jennie, turned their home estate into one of the most famous and world-renowned private gardens. After the quarry was depleted, she incorporated it into her massive and ever-expanding garden too. Today, it is a show-piece for all to enjoy. My green-thumbed wife could spend all day strolling the grounds and taking pictures. Some travel advice, this is the only major attraction outside the city, so you will need to plan for a bus or taxi to take you there. Since the gardens take some time to fully enjoy, plan to leave in the morning.
We all highly recommend the Royal British Columbia Museum. The museum show-cases numerous artifacts that span the history of the area, from 20,000 years ago to today. The ultra-realistic life-size dioramas of life in British Columbia over the ages really are impressive and give you a sense of what life was like back in the day. We easily spend 2 to 3 hours looking around the museum.
There are many other things to see and do in Victoria. Each season has a special feel to it. During the summer, the gardens are in bloom and the weather is perfect. In winter, the city is transformed into a Christmas wonderland of lights and decorations. We love to go each time. For our top 10 things to see in Victoria, please see our “Top 10” lists above.
Summer Family Fun
The sun is shining in a deep blue sky here in the Pacific Northwest. Infinite shades of green paint the forests where rivers loudly cascade over waterfalls and gently glide past old growth cedars clad in moss. Crystal clear lakes reflect majestic snow-capped mountains. Alpine meadows are ablaze with color from wild flowers. Everywhere is the smell of summer. Wafting from back-yards is the mouth-watering smell of barbecues. You have to love August. These are the days that kids day dream of and can hardly wait for in June when school lets out. Summers here are truly special.
Of course we will pay a price during the long, grey, wet winter time for nature’s splendor now, but that seems too far away right now to fret over. Right now we bask in the warmth and revel in the time we have. Summer is also a time where we look to do more outdoor type activities to shake of the cabin fever left over from the previous season. As educators, we have relished the fact that we are all usually off for the best season together. Now that I am an “administrator” for a school, my summer break is much shorter. “Heavy is he who wears the crown!” We still find much time to have fun as a family, though.
One of the best family friendly activities we have found is road races. Seriously! Not only are they inexpensive, they also provide needed exercise. Plus, they give everyone a sense of accomplishment afterwards. There are many races around the area each summer. One in particular is becoming a yearly tradition, the Great Kilted Run.
The Great Kilted Run is put on by Celtic enthusiasts and sponsored by Super Jock ‘n Jill running store in Seattle. It is, as you guessed it, Celtic themed. Runners wear kilts for the 5K race. Our two boys and my wife all ran this year (I sat on the side-lines). For those who do not own their own kilts, you can rent them at the race. They had along with the race merchants selling Celtic themes items and food. There were also traditional dancers and bagpipers!
This year to make it a little more interesting race organizers placed three swords in the ground about 200 meters after the start. The fastest three runners to first reach the swords got to pull them from the ground and run the rest of the way with them like Braveheart. They even got to keep them. Aaron, our 16 year-old cross-country and track star, got to a sword, which he proudly brought home like a war trophy. He also happened to win the race! In addition to the sword, he won a cool trophy and a $75 gift certificate to a local running store. Last year, he took 2nd! They had to drag people out of the beer garden so he could get his award.
Mishele and Elijah finished a respectable 35 minutes later. Elijah sprinted to the finish carrying his brother’s sword. Aaron had run back to give it to him. Mishele got detained helping a woman with a slight medical emergency, but still finished the race. All in all, we had a good morning.
The next race is the Dawg Dash. It is another annual 5k and 10K run put on by the University of Washington Alumni Association. We will all run that. I just hope they do not expect us to wear dog collars!
A Warm Winter
I lived in Costa Rica for a year where every day it was warm and humid. It seemed to rain for five days straight every other week. There were lots of animals and plants that were beautiful and-or deadly. I lived in a guest house on a coffee and avocado farm. The spiders were immortal, you couldn’t kill them.
On our farm, we had bulls just to scare away snakes and to graze so the grass stayed short. There was one bull that kept escaping, so then one day there were hamburgers and no bad cow. Oscar was the farm worker who built the farm and only gets a small house and a smaller pay check. There are also horses that are trained to do everything but open the gate. Oscar also makes his own charcoal and he has huge pits filled with bags of it. The farm sells avocados so they have fields of avocados trees and we can eat as many as we want. We also had 3 vicious guard dogs that roamed the farm at night and would attack us if we were out at night. Their names were Pinky, Winky and Fluffy but, we called them Cujo.
There were snakes and earth quakes and all sorts of insects, but the worst were the 8-legged creepy things. About 4 weeks into our stay we had our first tarantula. We were on the couch and my dad went into the bathroom and yelled. The thing was as big as my head and would not die. We hit it off the ceiling, hit it with a shoe, crushed it under a broom, wrapped it up in toilet paper and crushed it and it still lived! We had several spiders like this, but that was the worst. Oscar also had snakes he caught on the farm, which he kept in barrels. There was a vine snake, 2 jumping pit vipers and a coral snake. His father died from a snake bite, so he donated his “pets” to the hospital to milk and make anti-venom from.
In Costa Rica we had beautiful beaches and clear water. Also, every beach had a rain forest filled with sloths, monkeys, macaws and people selling the most beautiful homemade pottery. You could easily pick a ripe coconut (they have a green shell outside and inside is the famous brown shell) and put hole in it to have a delicious snack and sweet drink. I once went to a beach and got a death wave. It’s a wave that will throw you (seriously) in the water then throw you back out. I got so many cuts from that. Then we went scuba diving and we saw octopi, sponges, eels and fish and looked into the deep blue abyss.
My dad bought a really cool fire red Series 3 Land Rover with a soft top, winch, snorkel, roll bar, and push bar. We went all over in it. We even went 4-bying on the beach and in the jungle. Unfortunately, we could not bring it back to the U.S. My mom did not like it because it kept breaking down. I liked it though because it could go anywhere.
We went zip-lining and climbed a volcano! The best activity was horse back-riding in the forest. It was my first time riding a horse. At first it looked scary, but once I was on I loved it!
This summer has turned out to be the camping summer. We normally do everything together as a family, but as our boys get older we believe giving them some independence is also important. Plus, mom and dad like quiet time alone too. So, we agreed to send the boys to different camps this summer. They actually really wanted to go. Instead of dreading being sent away, they counted down the days until they set off on their mini-expeditions. I am not sure if we should take that personally.
We usually send the boys to Boys Scout camp each year. Even when we were abroad, we still continued with scouting (please read my post on Scouting International for more information). Here in western Washington, we are very fortunate to have one of the best Scout camps in the nation, Camp Parsons. It is a beautiful facility. Founded in 1919, Camp Parsons is the oldest continuous running Boy Scout camp west of the Mississippi River and one of the oldest continually running Boy Scout camp in the United States. It sits on Jackson Cove, off of the Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula, just north of Brinnon, Washington. With 440 acres of pristine forest that includes creeks, mountain views, salt water beaches, rocky coves, and amazing facilities, no wonder the boys cannot wait to go each summers. They get to hang out with their friends for a week doing archery, rifle shooting, crafts, swimming, canoeing, hiking, craft making, rock climbing, earning merit badges, having fun at campfires, playing games, and more. What young boy would not want to go? I was fortunate to get to go for two days to help out (just to make sure they were safe I had to participate in some activities, honestly).
After a week back at home, Aaron headed back out for running camp at White Pass. Most of his high school cross-country team went. This hard-core runners retreat is located on Highway 12 over the Snoqualmie Pass near Naches, Washington. The campers train from 4,500 to 6,000 feet elevation. They stay in the ski lodge condominiums and run the trails up the slopes, 2 to 3 times a day covering over 80 miles that week! (if I only had that much energy again!) The camp is run by some very impressive runners who have competed in the Olympics, won national championships, and coach professionally and in university. Aaron said he learned a lot about running, but he sure looked wiped out when he came home.
Next, Elijah had his turn to pursue his passion for a week. He went to zoo camp at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Since he is only 11, his camp was only during the day. He still had an incredible time. He got to go behind the scenes at the zoo with the animal keepers and veterinarians. As part of the camp program, each camper had to choose an animal and conduct a research project on it over the course of the week. Elijah picked a jaguar as his specimen. He felt very scientific as he collected his data on the big cat’s activities. The day campers also got to see how the zoo staff cares for, feeds, and trains all of the various animals. In between learning sessions, they played games and ran around like animals (no pun intended!). Needless to say, he had a great time.
We have one more week long camp. This one includes daddy. We are supposed to do a 50 mile canoe trip along Ross Lake in Washington. We are planning to pack all of our gear in the canoes, row for 8 to 10 miles a day, camp on the shore, and make for the other end of the lake by the end of the week. Along the way we will fish, swim, hike, do scout skills, and hopefully have fun. These “all boys” times I think are very important to their development (and mine). No electronics allowed.
I remember going to camps when I was a young lad. The camp experience taught me to be more self-reliant, independent, and problem solving. I made friends, learned something new, and had a great time. I admit, my wife and I did notice a hole in our family unit while they were gone. Not having the sounds of sibling rivalry shaking the house was nice. However, we missed sharing our day with them and vice-versa. We are not ready to be “empty-nesters,” yet.
Do you remember any camping experiences, good or bad? If so, share them with us. We would love to hear any interesting tales from camp!
Summer vacation is here, so we decided to make a run for north of the border. The trip from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada, is an easy two hour drive on I-5. The interstate ends at the Peace Arch, which is the official border between the United States and Canada. The U.S. town of Blaine and the British Columbia town of White Rock straddle the International Peace Arch Park. The center piece of the park is the 67 foot tall white marble arch. Within the arch, each side has an iron gate hinged on either side of the border with an inscription above reading “May these gates never be closed”. To date, the gates have not closed, symbolizing the long-standing friendship between the two countries. However, the entry into Canada can easily be backed up over an hour during peak times, especially in the summer. Just a reminder, you will need a passport for everyone in your vehicle too.
The drive from the border to downtown Vancouver takes another 30 minutes depending on traffic. Vancouver is a marvelous city. It sits on beautiful Burrard Peninsula. The principle water front areas are along English Bay and Vancouver Harbor. Both offer spectacular views of mountains, water, and surrounding areas. Every direction you look offers amazing scenery. To the north are Cypress, Mt. Seymour, and Indian Arm Provincial Parks, which make up the North Shore Mountains. To the east is the sister city of Surrey. To the south is the mighty Fraser River. To the west is the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island beyond.
We went directly to our favorite part of Vancouver, Stanley Park. This 1,001 acre natural multi-use area sits at the tip of the peninsula. Inside you will find old growth Western Red Cedars that are more than 250 feet high and hundreds of years old along with Douglas Firs, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, and Big Leaf Maples. There is also a colorful rose garden with every hue imaginable. You can wander through the forest like settings on miles of earthen trails or walk, bike, or skate on the paved seawall that circumnavigates the park. Most likely, you will glimpse all sorts of wildlife, like eagles, herons, geese, deer, raccoons, squirrels, sea lions, seals, and possibly whales! You can even marvel at real totem poles!
If you are not as energetic but still want to see the sites, you can take a horse drawn trolley tour. For a more private experience, you can rent a horse drawn carriage (very romantic!). You can also take a trip aboard a steam paddle-wheel boat and cruise the bay to get a different perspective on the area. Stay a little late because every day at 9:00 pm the park rangers fire an old canon into the bay as a tradition.
The park is also home to the Vancouver Aquarium, Canada’s largest aquarium. They have dolphins, belugas, sea lions, penguins, sea otters, sharks, octopus, and more. The aquarium was the first to display a captive Orca whale, but currently does not have any. They have long been a pioneer in marine mammal research, conservation, and education. You will learn much about marine life in the Pacific Northwest and around the globe.
Also in the park are a few eateries. The Tea House is my favorite. It is sheltered by towering trees and offers an unobstructed and stunning view of English Bay from Ferguson Point. The Fish House is another culinary favorite. It was built as a private lodge in 1930 and still retains charm and warmth. The Stanley Park Bar and Grill has a large outdoor patio so you can enjoy the beautiful exhibition garden in the sunshine. If you are looking for something quicker, the Prospect Point Café has the typical window order take-away items for you. My advice, pack a pick-nick basket and enjoy the spectacular outdoors on the grass along the water. The prices at the restaurants are slightly inflated for the luxury of eating in the park. Less expensive places can be found just outside.
We finally left Stanley Park, almost, by crossing the Lion’s Gate Bridge to North Vancouver. Before we left, however, we stopped at the bridge outlook for an amazing view of the water, mountains, and bridge. In North Vancouver, we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The $35.00 adult and $21.00 child USD entrance fee is steep, but worth it. The park is an environmental, adrenaline rushing experience along suspended bridges that give you a squirrel’s eye view of the coastal rainforest. The first bridge crosses the Capilano River. It is 460 feet long and 230 feet high. The walk across is a heart pounding experience as you cross the gorge and look at the river far below. Once safely on the other side, you can stroll through the treetops and enjoy the sites in the forest canopy. The most thrilling part is the glass bottom walkway that is suspended 20 feet out on the side of a sheer cliff. You feel like an eagle!
Once we landed, we headed for Horseshoe Bay to the northwest. The quaint seaside village is worth the 15 minute drive, if for nothing more than the grand views. As you round the point and head north on Highway One, you will see the Canadian Rockies stretching majestically northward. They are a truly impressive site, snow-covered peaks over 10,000 feet tall rising from the water skyward and clad in dense green forests. We got some ice-cream and enjoyed walking around the small park marveling at the breath-taking scenery.
For an even better view of the scenery, you can take a 10 minute cable-car ride up to the top of Grouse Mountain. The cars take visitors on a one-mile aerial journey to the Alpine Station, 3,700 feet above sea level. From there, you can take a chair lift an additional 400 feet to the summit. For an even higher view, you can then take an elevator 76 feet more to the glass observation pod on a gigantic wind turbine. At 4,176 feet, you can see for 360 degrees of unobstructed panoramic views.
We re-traced our path and headed back into downtown Vancouver. Downtown has a myriad of things to do. The very visible geodesic dome houses the TELUS World of Science. This is a hands-on science and engineering experience for the whole family (It is, however, geared towards younger audiences). It is a place where you can definitely touch the exhibits.
Vancouver also boasts numerous museums, like the Museum of Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the Contemporary Art Museum, and the Vancouver Police Museum. The H.R. MacMillan Space Center will be a huge hit for space enthusiasts and junior astronomers. It has a planetarium show and other exhibits to enjoy and learn.
If you are interested in shopping, then the Granville Island Market is a must see. The shopping village has numerous unique shops that offer goods from around the world. It is also home to the public market where you can select fresh produce, meats, and fish. This is a great place to sample a variety of delicacies as you peruse the shops. We loved watching the street performers in the main square put on a show for the crowds.
Robson is Vancouver’s leading shopping and strolling thoroughfare. It is high fashion mixed with souvenir shops, music stores, beauty products, book stores and so much more. For serious shoppers, this is the place to go. For those less serious, this is the perfect street for having lunch or a coffee and people watching! Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city, so you will see people from all over the world.
Many people also like Kerrisdale. The Kerrisdale shopping area is known to many as the “village.” It’s only 20 minutes from Vancouver’s downtown and offers more than 200 diverse shops and services along its quaint tree-lined streets. The business district is concentrated on West 41st Avenue between Maple and Larch streets, stretching in a north-south direction along West and East Boulevards. Surrounding this area are older, gracious homes. Architecturally, the neighborhood boasts many styles and structures listed in the Vancouver Heritage inventory.
Do not forget Chinatown. It is a historic area reflecting Vancouver’s strong Chinese-Canadian heritage. You will find many shops, restaurants, and historic monuments here. The business community is attempting to revitalize the district and preserve its history. Afterwards, visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens. These well-manicured botanical gardens offer a relaxing time-out from the rush of the busy city.
Vancouver hosts even more parks, shops, and attractions. This is probably why we enjoy going back each time. In the summer you can enjoy walking around and in the winter you can enjoy world-class skiing. The city is truly a year-round destination!
Now that the traditional U.S. school year has ended, we begin the annual balancing act of entertaining our boys while trying to maintain a level of educational learning (or at least preventing the loss of everything they learned during the year). Both boys have at least four weeks of camps planned for the summer, including Boy Scout camp, kayaking trips, running camp, and zoo camp. They need time to recharge for the upcoming school year, but also need to maintain a high level of engagement to keep their minds developing. We have never been a big television watching family; however, we are all big readers. Since the boys were very young, they knew Mom would not always buy them toys, but would always buy them books.
While traveling, this practice became very heavy and expensive. We would often leave behind boxes of books that would not fit into our suitcases. A few years ago, the boys bought me a Kindle so I could download my books instantly instead of waiting for them to be shipped from England to Germany. My first book was downloaded on the Autobahn on our way to Calais, France. Last year, we bought the boys an iPad for their book collection. With our boys each reading a book a week, this activity became expensive.
Three websites I like for free or inexpensive ebooks are Gutenberg Project, BookGorilla and Lendle. We read books on our computers, iPads or iPhones ( I do not read on the iPhone because the font is way too small for me). The Gutenbook Project has over 42,000 classic ebooks to choose from for download. This site offers ebooks in English, German, and Portuguese. The books range from classics to self-published. I find this site difficult to browse when you do not know the title of the book, but good for just looking for any book to capture your interest. It is a great resource for classic books too.
My favorite site is BookGorilla. This site allows you to set your preferences to 22 different categories, from children’s books to cooking to how-to books. Every morning, you will receive an email from the categories you selected. Most ebooks are $1.99 and under with many selections FREE. I have downloaded over 30 books for the boys, from Rick Riorden’s new short story ($1.99) to classics such as The Three Musketeers ($ 0.99) and Treasure Island (free). I have most of my education research and cooking ebooks there. For Curtis, I have downloaded how-to optimize your e-business and how-to be competitive online ebooks.
Another site worth a look is Lendle, a virtual library for ebooks. You can upload your own current books to share with other e-readers and borrow others books free of charge. If someone wants to borrow a book you own, you will receive an email request. The loan is only for 14-days after which the ebook is automatically returned to your Kindle. Lendle has a selection of all of the current books on the best seller’s list. This is a great option if you can guarantee you will complete the book in 14-days.
If you are in the Pacific Northwest and want to experience a small taste of Europe, then we have a place for you. The picturesque town of Leavenworth, Washington, is nestled on the Wenatchee River in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It is located 120 miles east of Seattle on Highway 2 and over Stevens Pass. The drive takes about two hours. However, there are some spots along the way to stop and take in the scenery, so maybe plan on a little longer time.
Leavenworth is on the east side of the mountains, so usually sunny, warm, and dry in the spring and summer, compared to Seattle’s grey, cool, and wet climate. Since the towns sits at 1,200 feet elevation, evenings can get cool, though. On a clear day, you will have spectacular views of Mount Tumwater and the surrounding Cascade Mountains peaks.
So, what makes this place European? Well, in an inspirational moment back in 1962 at a town hall meeting, the citizens of Leavenworth decided to transform their struggling town into an authentic looking Bavarian village. The town was originally called Icicle Flats and was an important Native American fishing ground and pioneer trading outpost. It was incorporated as Leavenworth, after the primary investor Captain Charles F. Leavenworth, in 1906 and was home to the Great North Railroad. When the railroad relocated to nearby Wenatchee in 1920, the town began to decline. Looking for something to revitalize their beloved town, the stalwart citizens seized on the idea of a radical transformation.
Local legend accords the idea of a Bavarian theme to Owen and Pauline Watson, town business owners. They visited Solvang, California, and decided that the Bavarian look of the town would be fitting for Leavenworth since the surrounding mountains reminded them of the Alps. The transformation was done in exquisite detail. It is not some cheap and tacky road-side tourist trap. Although not Europe, it is the closest you will get without crossing the ocean.
The town holds several annual festivals that attract crowds from all over. They host the Bavarian Maifest in May, a Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) in November, a music festival in August, the Christmas Lights Festival in December, an Autumn Leaf Festival in September, and of course Okctoberfest, plus many more. Usually during every weekend in the summer there will be some type of event going on. There is even the Icicle Train that runs from Seattle to Leavenworth just for the winter festivities. During festivals, accommodations will book way in advance.
We camped at Lake Wenatchee Lake State Park. The lake is great for fishing, swimming (albeit pretty cold), or kayaking. The camping area can accommodate tents and RV’s. It is just 2o minutes west of Leavenworth off of Highway 2 on Highway 207. There is a camp store that sells basic items and soft serve ice cream. Be aware, on the east side of the Cascade Mountains you are in rattlesnake country. There are also bears and mountain lions around.
There are many good places to eat in Leavenworth, not to mention a few beer gardens to enjoy also. We like Gustav’s Grill and Beer Garden. It is right on the main road with wonderful atmosphere and good food. King Ludwig’s is also very good. Do not worry if you do not like German food, there are other great restaurants, like Country Boys BBQ for good ribs, Los Camperos for Mexican, the 59er Diner for burgers (voted Seattle’s favorite burger stop in 2013 by Northwest Magazine), Wasabi Sushi and Thai for Asian tastes, O’Grady’s Pantry for authentic Northwest food, and many more.
Besides eating and shopping, Leavenworth offers an abundance of outdoor activities. There is a world-class golf course for serious golfers and a mini golf-course for us less serious players. Leavenworth is an outdoor destination. You can hike, fish, hunt, rock climb, rent 4X4 quads, ski nearby, river raft and kayak, horse-back ride, dog-sled, mountain bike, snow sled, and just nature watch until you are exhausted. It is truly a four season destination. Whether for a day, weekend, or longer, you will not run out of things to do.
In the evenings or after you have completely tired yourself from the outdoor stuff, there are more refined attractions. Leavenworth has some very nice spas that will pamper you. You can also take a winery tour and do some wine tasting. Many people do not know that this is a premier wine area with several award winning vineyards. For a very romantic experience, take a carriage ride around the town in the summer or a horse-drawn sled ride in the winter with your special someone.
Before or after your visit to Leavenworth, make sure you drive the famous Cascade Loop. It is rated the number one vacation drive in Washington, for good reason. Few other drives take you through as many diverse ecosystems and dramatic landscapes. This 440 mile drive takes you from the arid high plains of the Columbia Basin through the steep valleys of the Cascade Mountains with raging rivers and waterfalls, by glacier fed Lake Chelan, over the mountain pass at 5,477 feet, down the green rain-forest slopes on the west side of the mountains into Puget Sound, and finally ending in Seattle.
On a side note, if you get a chance, stop by the Reptile Zoo on Highway 2 in Monroe. This seemingly roadside tourist attraction is actually the base camp of the Reptile Man, Scott Petersen. He has in display all 10 of the deadliest snakes in the world along with many other snakes and reptiles in his menagerie. Our youngest son, Elijah, especially likes the scaly critters. The 25 foot anaconda gave me the shivers last time we were there. If you time it right, you can watch the staff feed them!
A vacation in and around Leavenworth will leave you relaxed and invigorated with wonderful memories!
Tomorrow is Father’s Day! The weather in the Pacific Northwest is supposed to be beautiful, so I am hoping to get some time on the water kayaking. Kayaking is one of my favorite activities. I am not an adrenaline junkie type who likes shooting white water on rivers. I am a nature lover type who likes paddling on the salt water. I love the serenity and inner peace that gracefully gliding along the water as part of the natural environment gives me. I always look at the power boaters in their big, noisy crafts and shake my head because they do not know what they are missing. Ocean kayaking is about the simple joy of being outdoors observing the wonders around you. Every trip is a unique exploration into another world.
After reading the book, the Starship and the Canoe, I really wanted to take up ocean kayaking. There is a certain romantic explorer feel to the kayak that no other vessel emulates. They are sleek and efficient marvels of engineering. Their design has been honed over generations of trial and error making them perfectly suited as human powered water craft.
Kayaks are distinct vessels that were invented by the Eskimos of North America over 4,000 years ago. They are not canoes. The word kayak translates from Inupiat as “man’s boat” or “hunter’s boat.” They were very personal items especially made by each man of the village for hunting. They would go out alone or in groups to hunt seals, sea lions, and even whales. Amazingly, they braved freezing waters with waves, ice, and predators in all types of weather. Without their kayaks, the Eskimos could not have survived in the arctic regions. Therefore, their kayaks were their most prized possessions.
They were traditionally made from a frame of bone covered with stretched animal skins. Since the Eskimo peoples had no written language, kayak building techniques were orally passed down from father to son each generation. Today, kayaks are made from plastics, fiber-glass, Kevlar, and wood. They can seat one, two, or three people. However, they all still resemble their forefather crafts of generations ago. Few kayakers make their own boats anymore, though.
Keeping with Eskimo tradition, I decided I really wanted to build my own kayak. However, I had never built a boat of any type before. So, I began researching kayak building techniques in my spare time. To my surprise, one of the premier kayak designers is headquartered right here in my backyard, Pygmy Kayaks. Pygmy sells kayak kits that you build. I took a trip to Port Townsend, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula to check them out. As soon as I stepped in their shop, I was hooked. Their kayaks are gorgeous pieces of functional art!
I dreamed of building and paddling my own kayak for a few years. Then, one Father’s Day eight years ago, my family really surprised me with a very special present, a Pygmy kayak kit! The model is called an Osprey. This particular Osprey has three cockpits, one for me and one for each of our sons, Aaron and Elijah. It is 20 feet long with a rudder, so a sizeable kayak. I was beyond thrilled. Over six months later and a trashed garage and a few stressful moments, an authentic home built kayak emerged. Building my own kayak adds a certain pride and personalization to the craft. Even better, Aaron and I built it together. It was a true father and son project. We adorned it with an inlaid design of an Orca with the sun, moon, and stars. We burnt its name in to the bow, Orcas Dreams, as a final Christening gesture.
We have paddle many places in the area. There is even a Northwest Discovery Water Trail that avid paddlers can follow with boat in only camping areas along the shore. You experience things in a kayak that you could never do in any other type of water craft. We have seen a lot of wildlife while out on the water. The water in the Puget Sound area is surprisingly clear. You can look over the side of your boat and see sea stars, anemones, fish, and more. My boys and I have gotten to know the names of most of the near shore animals in the region.
There is a rock formation just off of the coast where we live that we dubbed Indian Rocks (I have no idea of their real name or if they even have one.). We occasionally paddle out to them because they are the sun bathing spot for dozens of seals and sea lions. As we approach them, the shy animals will jump into the water. Each time, I stop paddling and wait. In a little while, we are surrounded by curious big brown eyes checking us out. They always keep a slight distance, but seem to enjoy watching us watching them.
We almost always see bald eagles, blue herons, ospreys, and other majestic birds on our excursions too. No matter how many times we see eagles, we still get excited and point them out. They are truly beautiful creatures. We have even witnessed them swoop down into the water and catch fish and fly off with them grasped tightly in their talons. We have gawked at baby geese and ducklings paddling along in the water with their mothers too. Each paddle is a surprise, which is one of the things that makes ocean kayaking an incredible experience.
There are a few places around the Puget Sound region to rent kayaks or take kayak guided tours. The guided tours out of Anacortes are particularly good. I also recommend Port Townsend Outdoors on the Olympic Peninsula (Plus if you go there, you can stop in Pygmy Kayaks!). If you are in the area, ocean kayaking is a very special experience you will remember. If you are worried about safety, then I suggest going with a guided tour. You will have a great time and not have to worry about anything. They will instruct you on paddling techniques and safety. If you are going alone, then please be careful and educate yourself on kayaking and the region. My best advice, stay close to shore (that is where all the cool stuff is anyway). The U.S. Coast Guard is kept very busy rescuing boaters who have over-extended themselves. The waves, tides, and current in the region are notoriously dangerous. Plus, a low and small kayaker is hard for a fast motor boat to see. So, be safe.
On the anniversary of getting my kayak this Father’s Day, I hope to be out there on the salt water enjoying a good paddle. Maybe I will see a whale this time. Even if I do not, just being out there is relaxing for my soul. I will see something interesting. I also will relish the fact that my son and I built my kayak and how special that truly is to me this Father’s Day.
OK, you are all set to go abroad and have everything figured out! At least you think so. Job secured, check. Passports obtained, check. Visas granted, check. One way airplane tickets purchased, check. Luggage purchased and packed, check. Place to stay, check. Education for the children planned, oops. Where are they going to go to school? Maybe you need to reconsider education options for them. So, what options do you have as new outward adventure bound parents? This is an extremely important question that needs to be answered before you head out.
There are several options for children living abroad in foreign countries. Much depends on your specific circumstances and preferences. I have written in previous posts about adjusting schooling to the unique needs of each child, but want to address the differences in certain programs. Having home schooled our boys for a while and taught in international schools around the world, I hope I can shed some light on the subject. There is a significant amount of confusing information on the internet about international education.
Basically, you have two options, home school your children or put them in a formal program of some type. Let me give a very brief overview of each. Home schooling can be a wonderful option for families. However, it is fraught with difficulties. Teaching is not as easy as it may sound. Considerable research has been done over the last several decades on child development. Ignoring the progress that has been made in pedagogy (the art and science of learning) can hinder your child’s development. Even the most dedicated and well-meaning parent might not be able to navigate these tumultuous waters and unknowingly and unintentionally deprive their child of a quality education, which can harm them in later life. Also, once a child gets into advanced high school level courses, the challenge to meet the level of academic rigor becomes much greater. Home schooling is a contentious topic that usually sparks spirited debates. I plan to write a detailed article about it later. For the time being, I have provided links to some good resources under the “Education” tab in the top menu bar.
Formal programs can be broken down into two broad categories, online and onsite. Online has become increasingly popular with access to emerging technology. Originally, online courses were little more than watered-down versions of their onsite counter parts with no accountability or over sight. Due to advances in programing and content development, this has changed considerably. Today, quality online schools are on par or even surpass some traditional ones. More and more government agencies, private companies, and consumers look to online education as a viable option. Indeed, online education is definitely changing education. There are K-12 online accredited schools that children can enroll in from all over the world. They take classes anywhere there is internet connection, on the beach, in the mountains, in jungles, or even on boats. They meet the best of both worlds, home schooled but being in an organized program. My wife has been a teacher and administrator for an international high school for the last eight years and absolutely loves it. You can go to “About Us” in the top menu bar and select Mishele to learn about her credentials and post a question to her directly if you like.
Onsite is often called traditional education. Like all traditions, some are good and some probably need updating or letting go of. However, if they are your preference, then there are some things to know. First, the term “international school” is a loose designation for any school anywhere that caters to an international clientele. They are mostly private, though some are government run, and can be non-profit or for-profit institutions. Some are accredited and some are not. Consequently, some are amazingly good and some are beyond bad. You need to research them before you enroll your children.
Accreditation is a quality standard unique to the United States. Since America is one of the few developed nations that does not have a national government controlled education system to regulate standards of quality, it has developed a different method for ensuring minimal standards. Accrediting agencies are private, non-profit organizations that act as watch-dogs over education. They are not government agencies. Contrary to popular belief, by the U.S. Constitution the federal government may not intervene in education; it is delegated to the individual states. Therefore, accreditors evaluate and approve schools based on their own criteria so that students have a sense of the education quality of a particular school. Accreditation is not mandatory, but needed if the school wants U.S. tax dollars since all states and the federal government will not release funds otherwise. Many international schools seek U.S. accreditation solely because they cater to a U.S. market and want to be competitive, even though they are not eligible for U.S. tax revenue. Accreditation may or may not be important to you depending on your child’s plans. Some U.S. colleges and high schools will not accept students from non-accredited institutions. Government sponsored schools are usually not an issue because they are endorsed under a national government education system, like in most of Europe.
International schools teach a wide variety of curricula. The four most common programs are the American Advanced Placement (AP), the Swiss International Baccalaureate (IB), the British International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), and an independent one. Each has strengths and weaknesses and devout followers. I highly recommend going with a school that subscribes to one of the big three, AP, IB, or IGCSE, and staying away from an independent one. All three rely on rigorous standards based teaching with external examinations. External Examinations are written assessments that are created by a third party educational company and provide a globally recognized scoring system. All colleges will accept all three scores for entrance requirements.
Debates abound over which is the best. I am trained and have taught all three curricula for biology and chemistry. I do not think that one is necessarily better than the others. I think that individual schools make the real difference. In U.S. schools the most arduous classes are the notorious AP’s. They were originally conceived in the early years after World War II as America was quickly rising in global status and wanted a more educated and internationally competitive citizenry. The College Board, a non-profit organization based in New York City, has run the AP program since 1955. All exams are given over a two week period during the first part of May. The exams may qualify students for college credit. The AP was not intended as an entire school program, but rather as specific subject courses for high achieving students. College Board now offers an AP International Diploma for students outside the U.S.
The IGCSE has the oldest roots of the three. It was developed by University of Cambridge International Examinations in 1985 based off of the old GCSE. Since the former British Empire once spanned the globe, obviously its education system dominated. More common, does not translate into better, however. The IGCSE is highly regarded. Since it is widely adopted, scores obtained under it are universally recognized. The courses are fairy rigorous. In science, for example, students are required to design, conduct, and analyze their own experiments. Similarly to the AP, the IGCSE is designed around specific courses and not a school program. I have written a very detailed summary of the IGCSE in a previous post if you want to know more.
The IB is fast becoming the global curriculum. It has been huge in Europe for decades since its creation in 1968 and now is spreading through North America and Asia. In order to be an IB World School, the school must apply for and be accepted into the organization. With acceptance comes thorough evaluations and teacher training by the IB Board. This helps to ensure consistent quality. The curriculum includes an integrated teaching of subject, global outlook, Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class and lessons, Creativity, Action, Service requirement (CAS), and final exams. Students can take the Standard Level (SL) or Higher Level (HL). Schools can opt to provide one or all of the Primary Years Program (PYP), Middle Years Program (MYP), and Diploma Program (DP). While the IGCSE and the AP are stand-alone courses, the IB is an entire school-wide program. IB graduates receive an IB Diploma in addition to the school diploma.
Which one is better? As I said, this debate has gone on from day one. What is widely misunderstood by proponents of the IB is that the AP and IGCSE were never intended to supplant a school’s existing program, where the IB was. A good comprehensive school should be doing what the IB dictates anyway. In Europe, having the entire program created for you by an outside agency is culturally preferred. In the U.S., American school faculties greatly prefer local control of programs so they can tailor instruction for their areas. Academic Freedom versus imposed standardization. The IB is a truly well thought out, crafted, and implemented education program. A student graduating with an IB HL Diploma will get into most schools around the world. However, so will a student with 4’s and 5’s on multiple AP exams or high marks on multiple IGCSE’s.
I know (sorry not think, I have taught them all) that for the science classes the AP’s are by far the most in depth mastery of the material. For example, AP Physics is calculus based while IB HL Physics is not. In addition, AP Chemistry covers nuclear and quantum chemistry whiles the IB and IGCSE do not. I do like the integrated and application approach of the IB, though. The AP is the only one with a distinct advantage for home schoolers because anyone can take the exams regardless of attending an AP course. The IB and IGCSE require successful completion of an approved course to sit the exams.
Remember also, European countries only have compulsory education to age 16. Only university bound students stay on for the final two years (European schools count American kindergarten as grade 1, so they go grades 1-13 instead of K-12, but the ages are still the same). Years 12 and 13 are highly focused college preparatory years where students only take classes in their areas of specialization. This skews some of the comparison among different international programs. The IB and IGCSE were both designed with that system in mind, where the AP was designed for an age 18 compulsory system.
Some international school offers exclusively one or all three. Students should enroll in what will meet their needs. Essentially, if you are going to go to college in the UK, take the IGCSE’s, if in Europe take the IB, and if in the U.S. or Asia the AP’s. In the end, colleges look at grades first, programs second.
Summer is almost here! Although the astronomical summer begins on June 21st with the summer solstice, in most towns across America it begins the day school finally lets out. For us, that will be June 18th. Our boys are counting down to this date with the enthusiasm and excitement of a NASA launch crew awaiting lift off. I cannot blame them. Summer is a wonderfully special time for children. Summer is a chance for them to enjoy the outdoors free from the confines of the classroom with rules, responsibilities, and work. It is a chance to really be a kid. Once the real world of the working adult starts, summer vacation instantly vanishes. So, let them enjoy the moment now so then can cherish it later in life.
Unfortunately, for most of us career focused working adults, summer is a faded remembrance of the past. With bills to pay, the job must go on. As the dwarfs in Snow White sang, “I owe, I owe, so off to work we go!” Getting away from the real world for a time, however, is important. Reality is way over-rated anyway. We all need a chance to recharge our biological batteries, reset our brains, and take stock in what really is important in life, like family, friends, and health. After all, existing and living are two very different things.
With time and money perpetually in short supply, we are planning our summer getaway locally this season. We all want to go back and visit Europe or Central America to reconnect with friends, see familiar sites, and re-experience our favorite places, but this summer we are staying in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which is an amazing place also. Not every vacation needs to be in exotic locations. We have written about week long trips down the Oregon coast and around the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State in previous posts, which you can read in our archives, but this time, we are taking a few day and weekend trips dispersed over the next two months.
I remember spending a lot of money on a deluxe first-class trip to Walt Disney World, Florida, several years ago for the family. We did the whole Mickey Mouse thing including staying at a resort, breakfast with the characters, all five theme parks, and tons of rides and attractions. We have literally dozens of pictures and souvenirs to prove that we were really there. Even though we had a great time while we were there, now that it is over, it is just one more memory, albeit extremely expensive one, in our boys’ childhood. Ironically, they more remember the times we have spent just doing simple things like fishing, hiking, playing on the beach, exploring new areas, and playing board games in the evenings. They remind me of the child who after Christmas morning is more thrilled with the box then the expensive toy that was in it.
Since we only have one more summer before our oldest, Aaron goes off to university somewhere, we want to savior the time as a family by re-connecting with our home. Since we have been internationally traveling for the last few years, our boys’ memories and connections with home have diminished. This is good and bad. Good because we feel comfortable that they are more globally thinking and un-intimidated by foreign experiences; bad because a home base provides a feeling of security and belonging. We have tried to give them both knowing that you will always be forced to sacrifice one for the other to a degree.
We plan to visit our old stomping grounds in no particular order. A few places we want to see are Victoria and Vancouver, Canada; Leavenworth, Grays Harbor, Seattle, and San Juan Islands, Washington; Eureka, San Francisco, Mt. Shasta, California; and Ashland, Oregon. So, stay tuned for updates on our travels as we hopefully visit each location. We will saddle up our travel trailer and head out like modern day pioneers!
This time two years ago, we were preparing to depart Costa Rica and head home to the United States. We were debating on taking another international teaching job in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Valencia, Spain, or Cartagena, Columbia, all great locations. Having choices is a double edged sword. I always am extremely thankful that through our hard work, a lot of luck, and the grace of God, we have options. On the other hand, I usually cause myself considerable stress because I have too many choices. We finally decided to choose coming back to western Washington, also a great location. One of my problems, however, is that I have a tendency to look back at what may have been if I had made a different decision, which usually drives my wife crazy.
One of life’s lessons that I have been slow to learn is that we all have choices, and they are all good if you make them. Harboring regrets and should-have-beens is extremely unhealthy. After a while, it even can be paralyzing. If I had stayed in the U.S. Navy, then maybe I would have retired by now as a full commander or even captain. I also, however, might not have married the wonderful woman I did and had two amazing boys with her. If I had stayed in my old job as a campus president for a small private college, then maybe I would be more financially secure and have climbed the corporate ladder higher. I would have also missed out on our boys’ growth and spent more money needlessly on things I really did not want. If I took the job in Ethiopia, then maybe we would still be in Africa. Do I know? Does it really matter? Am I unhappy? No to all three.
Life is what you make it. We are a sum of our experiences, good and bad. By experiencing more, you grow more. The path you take is up to you. I like the quote from renowned photographer Cheryl Jacob Nicolai, ““Never compare your journey with someone else’s. It’s a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has their own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition.” Too often we compare ourselves to the perceptions we have of other people. At times when I am upset with my current state of affairs, I look at some stranger who owns a bigger house or nicer car or more prestigious job and think that I could be him. If I only…
How do I know that the stranger is truly happy, fulfilled, or satisfied? If I am those things, then why should I care about artificially ranking myself with someone else? Somewhere along our journey, we got off the merry-go-round of modern society. We chose, like the poet Robert Frost suggested, to take the path less traveled. If others want to take the same worn path, so be it. This simple paradigm shift has made all the difference. When we ceased to care what norms and restrictions society tried to place on us, we became liberated.
We cherish experiences over material objects. We relish our time together with family and friends over impressing strangers. We develop ourselves to our full potential over honing a false persona for others. Traveling and experiencing other places as an explorer, not as a tourist, has opened our eyes to a myriad of options we never saw before. Door that we thought were shut are now open. For example, without an expensive house to maintain, we can follow our passions. When we thought that a house made us happy and proud, we were forced to work jobs that afforded us the luxury. We now look at a house as just a house. Many are beautiful, but in the end they are still just places to live. True living is outside the confines of the house. Our sense of self-worth comes from who we are, not what we own.
Amazingly, this shift in values has brought us much closer together as a family. We make decisions based on what is best for our boys. We give them the best life we can afford; we spend time together, which is priceless. As they grow up, they will remember the lessons from our experiences not the houses they happened to live in. Is this the best option for our children? Maybe, maybe not. Our family motto is, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” So far, our lives have been an incredible journey.
If I can give one small piece of unsolicited advice, it is to urge you to embark on your own personal adventure. I have met many people that have regrets in life for not doing things. I have yet to meet someone who regrets following their dreams.
My youngest niece graduated from high school yesterday with plans to continue her education at the local community college. I am very proud of her accomplishment. This grand milestone leads me to ask a fundamental question about education. What are the tools a child needs to find success in education? There is a plethora of research on the internet declaring why students drop out of school. However, there is very little research on why students persist in their pursuit of education. We know students drop out of high school because of academic failure, behavioral problems, life events, and disinterest. In their recent book, Leaving to Learn, Washor and Mojkowski list four additional reasons student leave school before graduation: sense of isolation, being invisible, untapped talents and restrictions.
My current research is with online high schools whose populations consist of mainly at-risk students. For many of these students, online high school is their last chance to earn a high school diploma before they age out of the system. These students are attending school in the comfort of their home using a school provided laptop. Challenging…YES! I do not know about you, but my house is not always the quietest place to study. Add to this setting no bells to wake you up and move you from one subject to another and a teacher looking over your shoulder to encourage you to complete your work. Schooling takes place on the laptop, which has equal ability to connect to Facebook and games as it does to school. To many students, this is the upside of online, to others this is the downside. Why are some students very successful despite external challenges?
Many students are very successful with online schooling or other nontraditional educational methods because these venues enable them to follow their interests. These individuals found their talents and passions at a young age and pursue their dreams through whatever means best helps them achieve their goals. There are students attending the online school who play semiprofessional sports, travel the world, or follow other interests that prevent them from using traditional schools. These students are the lucky few who have discovered their passions early in life. For others, adolescence is a time to explore, try different interests, fail, and try something else. Sir Ken Robinson has a new book, Finding Your Element, about discovering natural talents and passions during a time when many American students are dropping out of high school without a passion or education. A big part of finding your passion is to eliminate areas of interest through trial and error, yet many students are not given the opportunity to fail.
For both our boys, Curtis and I have tried to provide experiences in their fields of interests. For Aaron it has been flying lessons, Legos and Erector sets, Lego Robotics, The Museum of Flight where he volunteers, and ACE (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) Club. For Elijah it has been visits to every zoo within driving distance from wherever we live, zoo camps, volunteer opportunities at animal rescues, magazines and books about animals, and opportunities for him to learn more about animals. Similarly, when working with the students at the online school, I have challenged them to talk to professionals, like fire fighters or writers, about their jobs, volunteer in a field of interest, and gain experience
Through travel and experiences, children learn to expand their horizons and look at other possibilities. Exploration takes the fear out of change that many individuals experience when transitioning from one milestone to the next. You cannot travel far without experiencing challenges, which are really learning opportunities in disguise. These experiences equip us to weather the vicissitudes of life. While traveling may present a few more challenges than a stationary lifestyle, the biggest difference is the opportunity to follow your passion and discover your true talents. Once you find your passion and talents, the rest of the details will follow. Then you achieve a real quality of life.
Today, we are off to see our oldest son, Aaron (15), compete in the county track championships here in western Washington. He is only a 10th grader, but on the varsity high school team. He runs a 4:38 mile and is hoping to break 10:00 minutes in the 2 mile. Yes, we are proud of him. Not just because he is fast, but because he has stuck with something and put in a significant amount of hard work and sacrifice to emerge as a true sportsman who has the respect of his coach and other athletes. I am proud as I watch him (and usually only him) shake every other competitor’s hand after the race. We will see how his sweat and tears pay out today.
We came home to the U.S. primarily because of Aaron. He really wanted the American high school experience. So far, it is working out well for him. He is taking AP classes and getting mainly A’s with a few B’s. He is practicing the SAT already so he can score high for college admittance. He hopes to have his Eagle Scout awarded by the end of his 11th grade year. By all indications, he should get into a good university. He likes the structure, the social life, and the challenges. So, I guess the return home has been good for him in many ways.
He wants to be an engineer or architect. Great. Those careers require a college degree. To get into a good college requires a solid education in specific areas, like math and science. Therefore, a structured program serves this goal best. We do not want to rob him of his dreams.
Our youngest son, Elijah (11), is also doing well in school. He gets A’s and B’s too, but struggles with the nuances and intricacies of middle school. He very much wants to go back to England. Part of his stress is his age, middle years are tough, and part of it is his personality. He loves to be outside with his hands dirty and his imagination running free. He loved traveling and exploring new places while learning. People and places come and go and he seems fine with that natural order of his world. He is the polar opposite of his older brother. We do not want him to forever be in the shadow of his super-star sibling, so we struggle to find ways for him to excel and find his niche. Such are the trials and tribulations of parenting.
He wants to work with animals in some capacity. Great too. His career path may not require a college degree. He may benefit more from hands-on training. We do not want him to burn out in school or not get the experience he needs.
As educators, my wife and I have many conversations about schooling. We both taught middle and high school (at the same schools even). She has moved into teaching and administration for online schooling and I have moved into international and higher education. During our combined 30+ years in education, we have seen many different pedagogical theories, approaches, and ideas come and go. I jokingly tell people that if we could take the best of what we have seen and put it together into one school, then we might create an awesome place for students to learn.
One issue, however, that we struggle with is the concept of a one-size-fits-all model of education. Some children, like Aaron, crave the organized formal education style. They want to be with peers in a social atmosphere where they learn and explore common themes together. Others, like Elijah, want individualized experiential learning opportunities where they are free to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want to acquire knowledge. Maybe, as most psychologists agree, our personalities are largely set by our genetics.
Children have an amazing capacity to adapt to all sorts of circumstances. Aaron was fine with home-schooling, but not great. Now that he is back in a formal American school, his is flourishing. Elijah was very content being home schooled, but now struggles with the rigid and social aspects of school. How to accommodate both learning modalities? How does any school cope with all of the other learning styles that exist? Should all students just learn to deal with whatever education serves? If you ask 100 educators or parents, you will inevitably get 100 different answers. So, how, or should we, reach a consensus? All of these questions are being asked by educators, parents, and politicians not just in the U.S., but all over the globe.
In Europe and Asia, education from pre-school to college is largely controlled by the government. National curricula are favored over local control of schooling in these regions. The primary advantage of national education systems according to proponents is that the government can ensure an equal education for all students with measurable outcomes, hence the phrase in the U.S., “No child left behind.” Opponents assert that national education programs do not compensate for all of the diversity found in a large multi-cultural nation, like the U.S. They also contend that the nature of large government bureaucracies is not responsive enough in a rapidly changing environment. I have written about the education systems of England and Germany in earlier posts.
There is no shortage of education theories. Seminal theorists, like Dewey, Illich, Brookfield, Mezirow, Gardner, Locke, Piaget, and Vygotsky just to name a few, have all contributed to the rich tapestry of education theory. Each theorist has a slightly different view of how people learn. No one theory dominates education. Also, theories fall in and out of favor over time. Who is right? The problem is that no one theory completely, accurately, and concisely explains human learning. Some theories are not easily implemented too. To further complicate the issues, as we learn more and society changes, educational theories will continue to proliferate.
I firmly believe that as a society we need to ask ourselves what we want from education. Is it college preparedness? Is it developing future citizens of society? Is it job training? Is it individualized growth? Is it free day-care? Maybe, it is all of the above. However, until we decide on outcomes we will continue to go nowhere. Once we determine outcomes, we can define goals, develop metrics, allocate resources, and monitor progress.
I highly recommend watching this video on the history of education in the U.S. to understand how we got to where we are in education. Basically, we have an outdated education model in desperate need of updating. We are not alone either. When I was teaching in Europe and Central America, I saw the same dilemma. Fortunately, I have seen hope in some exceptional schools and programs around the world. Check out The Green School, for example. Also, check out The Big Picture School. Traveling is a powerful educational tool. Read this article from Jessica at Wandering Educators.
Like most parents, we want to provide the best scenarios for each of our children so that they can reach their full potential. We do not want to rob Aaron of his high school experience if that is what he wants and works for him. Conversely, we do not want to restrain Elijah if granting him educational freedom provides him with adequate skills and knowledge. We are proud of both of them. More importantly, we recognize that they are very different learners.
What is a college education worth? That is the question many American students and parents are asking, including us. Our 15 year old, Aaron, is a sophomore in high school and starting to look at where he wants to attend university. Paying for him to go keeps us up at nights. When he graduates college, our other son, Elijah, will be setting off for university. The thought of eight years of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and no vacations to send them is depressing. As with most parents, we are not being selfish and will do whatever it takes to ensure that they have the best opportunities. However, the reality is money does not grow on trees (or I would be in the orchard business).
Higher education costs in the United States have spiraled up to record levels. Historically on average, tuition has tended to increase about 8% per year since 1950. An 8% college inflation rate means that the cost of college doubles every nine years. So, for a baby born today this means that college costs will be more than three times the current rates when the child matriculates in college. Today, the average cost of a college degree from a public school is $21,000 per year with instate tuition discounts and from a private school is $40,000 per year. Expect to pay $250,000 total for an Ivory League undergraduate degree. Is it worth it?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “In 2010, young adults ages 25–34 with a bachelor’s degree earned 114 percent more than young adults without a high school diploma or its equivalent, 50 percent more than young adult high school completers, and 22 percent more than young adults with an associate’s degree.” That is encouraging news. Similarly, in 2012 a new study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, claimed that the average college graduate will earn $2.4 million over his or her lifetime. Even more encouraging!
The Brookings Institute did an interesting analysis in 2011. They asked the question, “Where is the best place to invest $102,000.00?” So, if your rich Aunt left you $102,000, you have the following options for investment:
1. A four-year college yields a rate of return of 15.2% per year
2. Stock market – 6.8%
3. Corporate bonds – 2.9%
4. Gold – 2.3%
5. Long-term government bonds – 2.2%
6. Housing – 0.4%
*Based on the last 60 year averages and 65 year retirement age
Clearly, a college degree is the best investment. So, all of the data point to going to college, right? The next question then is where?
Some students are embarking for universities abroad. Sending our son to England might be a less expensive option believe it or not. Even to study in the University of Oxford’s hallowed halls would cost a U.S. student just over $20,000 for an undergraduate program of study. The fee would be about $4,700 for a U.K. student. Every college that features in the top 20 of the U.S. News and World Report’s most recent ranking of best U.S. colleges in 2013 costs at least $34,000 a year for tuition and fees. Most, in fact, are closer to $40,000 a year, and quite a few top that level even. Having lived in England, he has the added advantage of knowing the country and visiting the schools.
My wife and I are educators of 20+ years for high school and college. Every year I tell my students to put in for scholarships because college is expensive and getting more expensive every year. What amazes me is that every year literally millions of dollars of FREE scholarship money goes unclaimed. Many times, only one or a handful of students put in for some of them. You do not necessarily need to go after the big ones and put your eggs all in one basket. $1,000 or even $500 ones add up. You can reach your expense goals if you are motivated to fill out the applications. I told my son to start writing.
The last question is what to study? I am very adamant about following your dreams. However, following your dreams usually requires money. Therefore, I advocate for getting a degree that affords you to pursue your dreams in the evenings and weekends after work. If you can make a living off of your degree, then it is worth the investment. To get a degree just to get one is an extremely frivolous expense and waste of time. Remember, not all jobs require a degree too. Matching up your goals with your higher education choices sets you on a solid path for a bright future.
Kiplinger in 2012 listed the following as the worst majors in college for a return on your investment:
8. Drama and Theater Arts
7. Liberal Arts
6. Studio Arts
5. Graphic Design
4. Philosophy / Religious Studies
3. Film and Photography
2. Fine Arts
Conversely, they ranked the following as the best majors in college for a return on your investment:
10. Medical Assistant Services
9. Management Info. Services
8. Construction Services
7. Medical Technologies
6. Electrical Engineering
5. Chemical Engineering
4. Treatment Therapy
3. Transportation Science & Technology
1. Pharmacy & Pharmacology
U.S. News and World Report in 2012 ranked these as the best fields of study for a return on your college investment:
6. Computer Sciences
Lastly, Forbes in 2012 added this list as best college majors:
10. Biology Fields
9. Computer Science
7. Management Info. Services
4. Construction Management
So, make up your mind sooner than later on what you want to study. Remember, According to a report from the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB), our home state, Washington ranks 1st nationally in the employment of engineers, 6th in computer specialists, and 9th in life and physical scientists. However, we rank 38th nationally in the production of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering and 42nd in the production of graduate degrees in these fields. Bottom line, we need certain skilled professionals.
The jobs ARE out there for college graduates IF they have the right skill set. So, choose carefully. You are gambling 4+ years and over $100,000 on your selection of college and major. Good luck!
Being back in the Pacific Northwest is both good and not as good. It is good because it is beautiful (at least this time of year), safe (relatively), and familiar. It is not as good because it is too familiar. Aside from working at the same type of job in the same city we left six years ago to begin our world travels and become “The Wild Smithberrys,” there are other familiarities too.
Advertisements are familiar. America is definitely the land of materialism. Everywhere we look we are bombarded with a barrage of advertisements trying to coerce us into buying something we probably do not need or really want. Obnoxious neon signs light up businesses all day long. I am amazed that owners feel compelled to keep signs lit even when the stores are closed. Home Depot’s huge, bright orange sign was on at 2:00am! Seriously, is that necessary? Americans see over 1,000 advertisements every day according to a 2012 CBS study. Overload!
Entertainment is familiar. Television has gone from bad to worse. We did not have television when we lived abroad, so we became desensitized to the hypnotic trance of the glowing screen. Did you know that commercials have gone from 13% of air-time in 1958 to 31% today? No wonder I miss out on 9 minutes of original Star Trek re-runs! The all too familiar violence, sex, and drugs theme has only become more common and flagrant in the long list of banal shows aired around the clock for a numb audience.
Working is familiar. The notorious rat-race is still being run. Another world-traveling family, the Bohemian Travelers, wrote a telling blog post about “The Illusion of the American Dream,” which I found an excellent read. We are indoctrinated from the beginning into the belief that a big house, an expensive car, designer clothes, and a job with a fancy title equates to happiness. Ironically, we have the highest divorce rate in the world according to the 2012 U.S. census and are listed by the U.N as only the 12th happiest people in the world in 2013. Also, we spend more per person than anyone else on therapy, ant-depression medication, and counseling according to the AMA. Maybe our plan for universal happiness is not working. However, we still relentlessly continue to claw, trudge, and fight our way up the proverbial corporate ladder at all costs. Is the sacrifice worth it?
The OECD revealed that only workers in Greece, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Israel, Slovakia, Mexico, Russia, Korea, Turkey, and Chile put in more hours per year than U.S. workers in 2012. How is that working for them? Generally speaking, long working hours are associated with lower productivity per hour. Over the course of your lifetime, Americans by far will work far more hours than anyone. The difference is really driven by the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country that has no legal or contractual or collective requirement to provide any minimum amount of annual leave. We work to buy goods we do not truly need to make someone else richer thinking that this makes us happy and fulfilled. Interesting logic.
Food is familiar. In America, we are all about quantity, not quality. The bigger and quicker the food makes us happy. Consequently, I walk around town and see that our waist lines are bigger too. I notice that the food does not taste quite as good as I thought it did before. We do miss European cuisine.
Education is familiar. Our son is finding that high school in America is the same as it has always been. Teachers arbitrarily assign work and grades based off of largely irrelevant, non-applicable, and dis-jointed lessons (and this coming from two award winning veteran teachers). Much to our chagrin, bullying has gotten worse. Despite decades of preventive measures and attention on the subject, the problem has grown. Social media outlets, dis-engaged parents, and increased societal pressures all have attributed to this alarming trend. Education is poised for dramatic and fundamental changes, but there is no money and little support to make them happen.
Politics are familiar. Special interest lobbies dictate what we should think. The NRA will not allow open discourse on gun control, so children continue to die. The extreme polarization between Republicans and Democrats deepens the divide between Americans. We seem to forget quaint, antiquated clichés like “United we stand, divided we fall.” We live in a winner-take-all mentality where compromise is a lost thought.
Before I get emails from uber-conservatives lashing back at me for discussing familiar issues with our society, I am not espousing any anti-American sentiments. Indeed, I served 7 years in the U.S. Navy with 6 months in combat operations in Desert Storm and taught 15 years in public schools. I am extremely patriotic. However, I lament the problems that continue to plague our great nation.
After living and working in Europe and Central America, I understand where the world’s perception of us comes from. We are self-absorbed. We are materialistic. We are work-aholics. We are neglectful of our children. We are far too familiar with these issues. However, we do not collectively do much about them. Why?
I whole-heartedly endorse global education. International travel is an eye-opening experience. I am not talking about the all-inclusive resorts or the whirl-wind tours, but authentic travels. When you shed the familiarity and embrace the unknown, transformation happens. As we say, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Enjoy the journey.