Sunday Session I, Kyoto, Japan, and the question of culture

What do we do all day?

We have been fascinated by the stark contrast in the culture between Japan, France, and any other place we have ever lived or visited. As a group, we’ve constructed a long list of quirks, rituals, oddities and cultural differences since our arrival, from the obvious to the subtle. (More on that later from the kidoos)

Here is the starting point for this section, which will overlay our entire journey.


The teacher constructed a large matrix of categories of culture, in which the kids observe and categorize their findings.



This will provide the framework for comparing and contrasting the variation across the destinations we inhabit. From food, religion, music, manners…the list is daunting. And fun.






The object is to photograph, or video, or write about, or speak to these differences, and ask why?And how? And what they mean.

And importantly, what’s the best parts…perhaps the shortcomings…the meanings…and how they themselves relate to other cultures. How might others observe us?  Finally, how do each of us fit in, and relate to one another in the larger context of this world, seemingly so big…yet so small?

Let me finish by noting, like as not, the kids and we adults are acutely aware of the fact that we wear the “Trump banner.” Interesting times and questions arise from everywhere we go.

Sunglasses help.

What does a typical day look like? There’s no day like “UN-day”

Often people ask, “Hmmm…No buses, no gym, no assembly or home room, one teacher, three grade levels…What do you actually DO each day?

We don’t really have Sundays or Mondays, or Tuesday…or Fridays. So far, we mostly have action filled and eventful “UN-days”. The kids don’t really know what day it is, and “class” is in session for much of every single day.

Much of the process and practices unfold by location, available possibilities and interests. (More on this in a guest post by Professor Gugick later) But suffice to say, after the basic R,R,Rs, the structure of teaching is dictated by the nature and interests of the students themselves. It’s early in the process, but so far the natural flow and attraction of a pliable format seems to have really captured their imagination.

The daily notes for each child are recorded by the teacher upon that days completion. In the example here, on 8/23/2017:

  • Classical music, which is a video containing music behind a science theory
  • Game Theory
  • A paper airplane contest
  • A nature hike identifying 15 Balinese plant species

  • City research on our next destination, Ubud, to identify attractions we might visit. Each child must argue for in presentation format, why mom and dad should choose their activity.
  • Algebra: Literal equations
  • 30 minute reading break

  • Study of rice cultivation
  • Each child must create, draw or find on-line, four icons that represent each of their personalities for business cards that each child will need as a cultural requirement in Japan.

Afterwards, PE choices of soccer on the beach, rice patty or jungle hikes, or swimming are the physical activities. We eat breakfast and lunch together, but often dinner apart.

So far,  a “typical” day. 

Finally, as a matter of practice, we intend to examine what we’ve learned in big picture from our stays. As we leave our current location tomorrow, we have three discussion and writing topics from which each child must choose two about which to think, and write an essay.  These topics below are their choices dictated from our first stop:

  1. Social Studies: Are the Balinese people poor? Are they happy?
  2. Science: Why do the beaches have black sand?
  3. Introspection: How does the Chinese tea ceremony we participated in a few days ago reflected in and pertain to how you live your life? How would you make changes based upon what you learned? 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Oh…and use sunscreen. 

Log, out.

SIX Off Piste? I thought you guys were 5?

So, we were in the process of applying to a school, and were typically uncertain as to our future location vis-a-vis it’s overlap with work projects in Asia and Africa.

Well, here’s the genesis of the journey, to the day, in the form of an email I sent to Arthur Gugick,  a friend, former Penn classmate and teacher extraordinaire teaching in Ohio.

On Thursday, February 9, 2017 5:34 AM, Michael Balog <> wrote:

“Arturo. Bonjour and i hope this finds you well.

 I have a wild question out of the blue. Due to some work demands, Stacia and i are considering taking the next year off and homeschooling our 3 kids. They will be in 2nd, 6th and 8th grade. Here’s the thing. If we do this it will be in Asia and Africa. A wild in region learning experience. Part history. Part science, math and so forth in different countries but based in say Japan or HK for 6 months and Zambia for example (not set in stone) but traveling out of base to Laos, Vietnam, China, Uganda, Tanzania etc. A weird world  school in essence. We have contacts all over that could make it incredible. Chimp sanctuary in Uganda, bamboo bike builders in Zambia, robots in China, etc.  etc. You get the idea of how amazing it could be. Its kinda the last chance year we could ever do it. My kids are really good folks and pretty worldly. We’ll set up sport and physical activity etc. in each place. So…here’s the question…
What we need to find is one great teacher in math and English that can design and execute an accelerated disciplined and documented curriculum  and who is willing to travel for a year with our family. I think for the right person its the adventure of a lifetime.  The program itself, in my opinion, can be remarkable with the right fit.
Question. How/where do i search for teacher availability for such a teaching job?  I need one great educator that has vision, energy and cahones. I am searching for the perfect match. Thoughts?
Merci. Gracias. Grazie
And here was his reply…

On Feb 9, 2017 06:18, <> wrote:

I know the perfect person for you. 
He started his career working at a K-4 Montessori elementary school (4 years) so he has experience working with younger children. The Montessori paradigm is one of individual curricula dependent upon a student’s personal needs and strengths. I know he took these ideas when he raised his own children. He taught both his children to read by age four. (one is an honors OSU student and the other is a gifted musician heading off to CIM)
He has worked in Middle schools (6 years), and in High schools (14 years). Perfect for your children: He’ll know what’s appropriate for their age and has the knowledge to push them to beyond their potentials. And although he’s taught mostly mathematics, he has also taught Computer Science, middle school science, high school astronomy and physics, reading, writing, and everything in between.
Great sense of humor. Strong family values. Excellent resume. Amazing references. Vision, energy, and, yes, cahones. And as a bonus: he’s a Lego master.
Lets talk more about this.
He had me at Lego master…And so it was.