For years, I was a teacher in both formal and informal education. Camp, youth group, swim, school, and clubs-I worked with children, teenagers and young adults in various facets. Although I physically left the classroom and the world of traditional education in 2014, I’ve continued to learn and work with those on their own journey of education. Through writing, travel, perspective changing growth and school all their own, I’ve connected and reconnected. I’ve reaffirmed my belief that there’s no ‘one right way’ to learn and that we ALL have something to offer. I was introduced to Reka through an acquaintance’s post and subsequent article. This young Australian teenager (who hails from the same city as my husband) has been traveling the world with her family for over three years. Ditching the traditional for the non-traditional and learning along the way, she continues to inspire. In a world where all too often teenagers are spoken to, forced to learn and rarely given the opportunity to have their voices heard, Reka is doing the exact opposite. As a self-proclaimed ‘life learner’, she is traveling and learning, exploring and absorbing, writing and sharing her experiences with the world. For any teacher, watching your students fly is extraordinary. Although not her teacher, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to interview this world schooler and help share her story.
1. When did you get started traveling? We recently celebrated our 3-year anniversary this current journey together without a return ticket or end date. My twin brother and I were two & half years old on our first airplane trip. I remember surprise road trips camping by the lakes as the sun set in a spectacular spray of colour. I remember exploring my home country of Australia in a depth that many don’t get to experience and I am extremely grateful for this connection to the land where I was born. I have come to realise that so many set out to explore the world around them but never actually discover the treasures that reside right in their “backyard”.
2. What made your family decide to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? One morning my parents woke up with an idea. The idea was that for every need out there in the world there is a corresponding offering, ready, willing and waiting to be met. Together they started the project of EnergeticXChange, dedicated to the actualisation of this very dream, by the development of an online tool that matched people together, all around the world, according to their needs and offerings. We left Australia and landed in Los Angeles with our main focus to promote this project. But of course there were many other reasons, one of the most prominent: to be together as a family. We were all occupied with either work or school – there were many times I wouldn’t see my Dad for days at a time and we were all living in the same house. Another reason was the fact that my parents wanted to provide us with a different, less traditional way of learning by opening our eyes and minds to the people, places, cultures, and languages of the world. So in June of 2012, with just 2 suitcases and a couple of backpacks, we took the leap of faith and set out into the world.
3. What benefits do you feel you get from this mobile life? How do you and your family handle the nay-sayers? Traveling so much at this stage of my life has taught me many lessons that I don’t think many people get to experience until perhaps a little bit later in life. I’ve had to learn how to be quick on my feet, how to adapt and be flexible, how to ‘go with the flow’ and be accepting and endure when things get tough. We have come across quite a few hair-raising situations throughout our travels, one being only having a few pesos left in our pocket in Chile and having to get through the next two days on only a couple of empanadas and the kindness of others. I’ve learned the meaning of resilience and trust and I think that in a world that is constantly evolving and changing, these are incredibly important life lessons to learn.
Thankfully we haven’t come into contact with many naysayers. What I have become aware of, I think most importantly from these travels, is that fear is one of the greatest weapons used against people – human against human and human being against themselves. Most of the comments that we have encountered have come from people paralysed by their own fears who, I feel, are really mirroring their own insecurities about their lives. I am someone who is learning everyday that there are a million and one excuses we can assign as to why we cannot achieve something in this life and it doesn’t take much to justify them to ourselves. It takes a lot more effort to take that first step into the unknown though and I am much more interested in exploring these possibilities than contemplating what is not possible.
4. On any given day, what does ‘school’ now look like to you? There is not a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new. School to my family and I now means unlimited learning through an unlimited spectrum. Just the other day we were exploring Madrid and it was here that I learned about Minimalist Art, as well as the Hassaniya Arabic dialect of the African Bidan. Then, walking further, I learned more about the mountains of the world through a spectacular photo shoot sequence available to the public and this was all in the matter of one and a half hours. I learn from the world around me with every step that I take. Many now call this world schooling but I prefer to call myself a Life Learner – learning naturally to fulfill my curiosity. I interact with the locals around me, I learn about their history, their culture, their language, their way of life and when it is time to move on, I take with me the stories and dreams that they have shared with me – these experiences shape and mould me into the person that I am. I also get the chance to learn the more traditional subjects through online learning systems. What I know my ‘school’ is teaching me is that there is no need to fear each other, that compassion towards everybody and meaningful communication with one another is vital to have a happy life and that understanding our connection with all living things helps us to know the purpose of life and our place in this universe.
5. How does your family choose destinations and for how long you’ll stay? What type of accommodations do you typically choose? What place have you enjoyed the most? We go where the wind blows. It might happen through a conversation we are having and we find a synergy on a topic, like we were all thinking about that place and then, out of nowhere, without researching the internet or otherwise, we start to see the signs in-front of us, like a billboard advertising travel to the destination we were thinking of, a cheap airfare for that particular destination popping up in our inbox, or someone talking to us about their experience of traveling to this location. Our most recent encounter, our decision to walk the Camino de Santiago del Norte, came about exactly like this. We were tossing up about RV-ing in the north of Europe, but the logistics just weren’t coming together. My Mum had read something about the Camino in a book and then at the local market. we spoke to a vendor (to whom we regularly speak to) who asked us about our travels and whether or not we had plans to walk the Camino de Santiago. And there it was, as out of the blue as this seems, it happens this way for us quite often and from there, all the details just fall into place.
As for the accommodations we typically choose, most are left to my brother – our own designated travel agent. We call him ‘the Destinator’ as he always finds the most cost effective yet cozy, comfortable places for us to stay. Many times we’ll arrive in a new city and it will be my brother guiding us to our abode for the night, be it hotel, hostel or apartment. One of the options we often use is the website Airbnb. The use of a kitchen is mostly necessary, as we love to cook dinner together instead of going out to eat every night. Staying with friends and family along our adventures rate as some of the places I have enjoyed the most. Being invited to a farm in Pennsylvania with 14 new friends in our age group, staying with family friends in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada & visiting family that we hadn’t seen in 7 years in my mother’s birthplace of Transylvania are just a few examples. However, if you are asking what was my favourite place along our travels – I have to answer: England, Ecuador and Spain.
6. How has traveling changed your relationship with friends in Melbourne, Australia? I feel like the friendships I have in Melbourne have morphed with some people but have stayed the same with others. Setting off on a world trip was a really good way of finding out which friendships endure and why. Generally, I am still close to friends who, like me, wanted to keep the connection alive. With others, I understand that in today’s world we have so many influences that draw us in different directions. Sometimes this mean that we travel a path together for a time and then our paths diverge. This cannot take anything away from the experiences that we shared and there is always the opportunity to reconnect somewhere down the track. With the people with whom I do keep in contact, while I don’t see them in 3D, we still connect all the time through Skype, social media and email.
7. How has your view of education changed since you’ve experienced traditional and non-traditional schooling? What I have learned is that there is no one right way to learn. I have taken part in many forms of learning including traditional, cultural, indigenous and innovative. Each is valid. You are able to learn and discover things in different ways through all of them. I’ve learned the subjects of maths and English through traditional schooling; languages, geography and history through cultural learning; the telling of stories, community, friendships and connections through indigenous learning and science, chemistry and physics through innovative learning. All these compiled together have made me the person I am today. Learning is incredibly diverse and fulfilling. I know I’ll never stop learning. The key difference is that I am seeking meaning in everything that I learn and how it is and will be relevant for my life. This is something I don’t think I would have become aware of if I hadn’t had the opportunity to travel, explore and learn in this non-conventional way.
8. Where are your top three destinations you’d most like to visit? We have now visited 25 countries (France being number 25). We just stayed the one night in the border town of Hendaye before we commenced the Camino de Santiago. For me however, I would really like to explore France. There seems to be something magical in the frame of the Eiffel Tower or the breathtaking mountain village of Chamonix surrounding Mont Blanc. Recently I saw a spectacular photo of Mt Kirkjufell in Iceland. The picture captivated my mind, body and soul and now I can’t wait until I get the chance to explore the astounding countryside and meet some of the people who live there! This last answer may surprise some people but I would like to go back to Australia. At this stage not for good, but simply a visit to see friends and family, and reconnect with my homeland. It’s been over three years and yes, I have a teensy bit of “home” longing. But the thing is, I simply can’t stay still for too long. I know that after a couple of months or so in Australia I’ll be ready to spread my wings once again!
9. How do you think continuous travel has changed your upbringing? This is a great question and hard to answer with certainty. Flexibility, adaptation, improvisation – these are all qualities that have had the opportunity to be acutely developed throughout our travels, which I am not certain would have developed this soon had we stayed in Australia. I think also a sense of awareness of what it is that we really need in our lives. We realise that we need very little to live a happy and meaningful life. Out of this opportunity of travel, has come a great sense of gratitude for simple moments. When we were living in suburbia, even though we were already being schooled from home, the simple routine of our daily lives often prevented us from seeing this. Overall, I think continuous travel has taught me how to be more patient, understanding and giving, particularly when I look at the people I come face to face with in my travels. Understanding and accepting of all people, from different walks of life, has helped me to see the human in front of me and for this I am sincerely grateful.
10. How has this location-independent lifestyle changed your family dynamics? We’ve definitely grown much closer. We spent a year traveling through the United Sates visiting 31 of the 50 States! We did all of this in a 24 Foot (7.3 Meter) RV! Then we backpacked through South America for 6 months, staying usually in one room. We’ve had the chance to form a really tight bond as a family. We’ve become a unit of four, not four individuals living together.
11. For your future, what do you find to be the benefits of world schooling? World-schooling has given my brother and me a chance to break the mould. I haven’t been thrust into someone else’s painting but I have had the chance to become the artist myself. For my future, I realise that I won’t be knocked down and told what I can and can’t do. I have learned resilience and flexibility and this will be a key aspect in helping me continue living the life of my dreams. Many people will end up compromising their values and beliefs to get a good job or even make friends. The main benefit that world schooling has given me for my future is reminding me that I do not need to settle for something less – that what I truly need is always waiting for me at just the right moment.
12. What do you believe to be two of travel’s greatest gifts? To see the world in a different light, to experience all that it has to offer first hand and through this, to transcend the culture of fear that I feel is holding most people back from actually living their dreams. Travel makes this possible because it opens not only your eyes to a greater world out there, but, also gives you an appreciation for how simply we could solve vexing problems if we just applied that intuition of ours and acted in concert with each other. Travel gives many gifts, but one of the greatest is to look into the eyes of your fellow human being and see the reflection of yourself.