A Brief Primer about Six Off Piste

We as a family left the USA five years ago to move to Paris, France to learn another language, see, meet, expand, explore, challenge, be frustrated, persevere and learn. Little was easy about the experience, yet in the shared struggle, for the kids, Stacia and me, came a heightened awareness and powerful alertness, much like an Elan that is without it’s own herd, at dusk, at a new watering hole. Perhaps the best description is simply more alive.

In France, based in a global crossroads like Paris, Nicholas, Alexander and Annika were able to experience and meet and befriend people from pretty much everywhere. Being challenged to live and learn in the French language, whilst in Paris can be simultaneously fun… and humiliating. Character building, I suppose my Dad, James Sr. would call it. But the root transformation that transpired was what one broadly might define as “experiential learning.” And with ages comes the realization that there is no “dry run”, no “Mulligan” in this life.

After five years, the French tax authorities were less welcoming, and we decided to try something newer, bolder, scary, and yet wholly right for us. Determining there is likely only one window in which we could take a ‘gap year’ as a family, and continue to view and immerse ourselves in the world “experientially”, we decided to “step off the dock” and set sail one more time.

With these watch words of learning as our guide: experiential, immersive, service to others, gratitude, unifying, familial, humble, expansive and joyous, we have set off for a year to travel 360 degrees of the world. We began heading West from Paris on an around the world ticket that is so cheap as to be nearly incomprehensible. (More on that in a later post.) After family visits in the USA, we now head primarily to parts of Asia: Indonesia, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Bhutan. And Africa: Ethiopia, Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Kenya, Zimbabe, Zambia, South Africa, Rwanda, and…

The kids will be home schooled with a supreme STEM tutor in the 3 R’s, plus experiential astronomy, immersive physics, and other learning possibilities that arise. We hope to eat lake fly burgers in Uganda, document chimp interactions on Lake Victoria, visit cocoa bean farmers in Cote d’Ivoire, eat scorpions and tarantulas in Cambodia, visit robots in China, and study art and aesthetics in Japan.*

This and other craziness we discover and encounter will be documented in print and on video at our blog, WWW.SIXOFFPISTE.COM, or trip photos which tell the tale on Instagram, @SIXOFFPISTE.

Feel free to join us as voyeur whilst stowed away in our “virtual luggage”, (as with the political climate, some have requested join us in the real luggage)**. The trials, tribulations and unvarnished experiences will be there for all to see, laugh with, and laughed at!

It is with a sense of unbounded gratitude and limitless humility that we sign off…for now

May all the love, safety and good forces be with you all.

Nicholas, Alexander, Annika, Stacia and Michael

* If you have any questions, comments or wished for topics or views not covered as we progress, feel free to email us with ideas and requests.

** If there is anyone that you think might enjoy or benefit from our experiences, feel free to invite them to our perch noted above.

Welcome to our Blog, our journey, our vision.

After living in Paris, France, for the last five years where the children were in French schools for three years (more on that later), becoming fluent in the French language, and the American School of Paris the final two years, we decided as a family we enjoyed living and learning “Off Piste”.

As background, my wife and I met in San Francisco in the Investment Banking world in the 90’s.  Stacia and I are in the fortunate position (we are not confused, we count our blessings daily) that our vocation and our avocation are the same. We love to work, invest together, and travel. Our time since leaving the comfy confines of San Francisco (Marin actually) and Greenwich, has yielded extraordinary exposure to people and places and interests and opportunities to which we would never have been exposed had we stayed the traditional course. Since leaving the US, we have invested in Europe, Asia, Africa, and other emerging and frontier markets. Our children have each stamped nearly 40 passport country stamps.

As such, we realized that we have one and only one window in which to take our kids on a crazy, magnificent, immersive learning experience that overlaps our business interests. We will spend the upcoming year traveling to Asia and Africa, with an amazing STEM tutor in tow. But that’s where the story begins. This is by design not “colors of the flag” and “country population” learning. With a big assist from business contacts and knowledge we’ve gained from our travels, we will attempt to expose to a manner of learning which we feel is the future of education. Immersive, experiential, applied learning. And it is this ongoing process which we will capture on this blog, in video, and in photos.

Our Tutor in Tow, Arthur Gugick, is an award-winning STEM teacher who I knew well from Penn. He was once studying to be an astronaut, yet outgrew the then height requirement, and perhaps the fighter pilot mentality proved daunting. He is deep is Math, Astronomy, Physics, and Computer Science. He has taught grade K-4 in a Montessori format, a Middle School principal, and an HS math teacher. And he is a LEGO Master, for real. Look him up!

Our three children are different ages and have different interests, making for an interesting mix of possibility.

Nicholas (13) is best characterized as the kid that loves anything that “plugs into a wall”. If it’s computer related, he’s goofy about it. He is a video and movie making geek, a voracious reader, and a piano player.

Alexander (11) is a soccer fiend and loves writing, singing, space, science and being in front of the camera. Dry-humored, quiet, and observant. The philosopher-scientist.

Annika (7) is a mess of blond madness, sharpening her elbows to fight her way through her brothers to gain attention. Funny, bold, and unstoppable.

These individual characteristics inform our experiential learning locations and ideas. In addition to meeting the necessary traditional required learning, “the checkboxes” of reading, writing, math, and science as it were, each location has an overlapping possibility and will ideally drive an immersive learning experience. Over the course of the 2017 and 2018, we will immerse ourselves in Kampala, Uganda eating lake fly burgers. We will visit Cote D’Ivoire to visit cocoa bean farmers and follow the trade all the way to the factory in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where rumors of child slave labor persist. Hopefully, this will help keep the kids fresh in their French language. Nicholas will work the kitchen in a Zambian hotel. We will learn photography from a famous photo artist in Sub-Saharan Africa, on a shoot of elephant villages at night. A chimp sanctuary on an Island on Lake Victoria in Uganda will provide the backdrop for documenting chimp activity and socialization research. In short, we are more constrained by time and over commitment, than a dearth of ideas and possibility.

Ambitious? Yes. Exciting? Insanely. But something we felt we must do.

We have chosen six overarching themes that are common to people all over the world, as cues and clues to guide immersive learning topics and our video catalog.

1. Tradition expressed in music, art, and food.

2. Family, and the gift of graciously gifting and receiving.

3. Education, as practiced all around the world.

4. Applied technology. A visit to a robotics development center in the New Territories in China. We look forward to lessons from a videographer and his partner located in Nairobi, Ahmed (Kenyan borne Iranian) and his Egyptian partner Wail, who used to shoot for Vice Media during the Arab Spring revolt in Cairo. They will introduce us to their craft in an effort to begin to learn video storytelling, production, and editing.

5. Soccer, as a universal language. Each part of the excursion will begin and end with the passing of a special globe soccer ball, around the world, to new people and new countries. We discovered while living in Paris, that one can pass a ball to anyone and you get two things in return. A smile and a ball passed back.

6. A world advancing and lives improving. The world is really a small sandbox and improving far faster than most realize. More on that later.

And so it begins.