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.