Karen’s episode originally aired November 3, 2020.
Almost every time you check in with Karen Rick, she and her family are in a different part of the world. At the time of this recording, she was in North Macedonia and preparing, as always, for their next move. The ironic part is that this California native wasn’t even considering a life abroad but her husband’s interest in a professional opportunity led to their move to Japan. An expat stint that was supposed to last one year ended up stretching into beyond a decade. But since then, the family have truly embraced the term nomad , crossing the planet twice.
Karen sat down with me, and I got to talk to her more about world schooling, what it means to raise a global citizen, and how to find a community when moving around so often.
Karen and Dave have been traveling the world for over a decade, first as a duo and now with their son. The Americans started their nomadic journey, when they uprooted their life and headed to Japan. Dave was recruited to teach at an English language school in Japan, so they decided to take the leap together. Karen talks about how her initial plan was to be a tourist and a housewife when they moved there and simply “enjoy the ride.”
Surprisingly, she found herself fully immersed in a community in Japan. She made friends, and many parents started asking her to help teach their kids. What started as teaching Mommy and me classes with a friend turned into her opening an international Montessori school.
Once they decided to leave Japan so she could attend cooking classes in Italy, they closed the Montessori school. Still, they had to think about what moving around would mean for educating their Third Culture Kid son.
Education options are different for every family situation , so choosing to move around while still providing a good education for kids can seem daunting. Karen and her husband stumbled into nomadic world schooling when they ultimately decided to live as expats and move around every few years.
World schooling isn’t a new concept, but depending on who you talk to, they’ll each have a different definition of what it means to them. I asked her to elaborate more on what nomadic world schooling is, at least for her and her family, and it’s that the world is their classroom.
Many people associate world schooling with homeschooling because, in a way, it is. It’s similar in the sense that your kids aren’t in a traditional classroom setting. Still, it’s broader and incorporates learning more about different cultures and areas of the world.
World schooling can occur within the home, but it doesn’t mean you’re confined to teaching within the home. It’s about moving through the community, participating in activities, and learning from cultures besides your own.
As we continued talking about world schooling, Karen brought up that her family identifies more as “unschooling.” Instead of having a dedicated schooling space within their home that follows a strict schedule, in her words, “we live as if school doesn’t exist.”
For those who studied in a traditional sense, this might sound crazy, and Karen surely faced a lot of backlash for this path. She talks about her time as an educator and her experience with inherently curious children. Helping children follow their passions and explore things they’re curious about can provide them with an education like no other.
The thing with world schooling is that it’s different for everyone. She told me that if people are considering this type of education, they’ll need to sit down and decide what it looks like for their family because what works for one family might not work for them.
As Karen points out, transitioning from a traditional school background to Montessori to more unschooling was a process. She discusses how her son grew up going to their Montessori school in Japan and was accustomed to crawling around the classroom and being with his parents all day.
When they made the move to Italy, Karen was off to cooking school while her husband stayed at home with their son. They had to adjust to Karen being away all day but then coming home to share what she learned. Then, her son would introduce her to kids he’d met in their community.
She explains that deschooling doesn’t happen overnight or even on a traditional school break. It’s about figuring things out as you go and finding what works for your family. Some people adjust to this type of education faster than others.
Stepping outside conventional education methods brings about many challenges, like the guilt of knowing if your actions are right and the judgment of others. It’s an obstacle to overcome, but one that she finds worth it.
The goal of going about education this way isn’t just to avoid traditional schools. Karen tells me that it’s about raising her child with a better understanding of the world. Formal schooling can only teach children so much about the world around them, and by following world schooling, she hopes to raise them as global citizens.
Whether you’re raising children or living abroad on your own, finding a sense of community is the best way to integrate into life in your new country and learn new things. Karen points out that finding a community where you can feel comfortable and learn is vital to world schooling.
I wanted to know how Karen and her family navigate the community while moving around, especially as an interracial couple with a biracial child.
Karen says they’ve been fortunate and have felt a warm and welcoming presence everywhere they’ve called home. Even though she’s felt welcomed everywhere they’ve lived, she recognizes that being a multiracial family isn’t the norm in many places.
So, her family often gets stares or audible reactions to their family, but not in a negative way. Growing up in the US, we’re taught that staring is often associated with animosity. However, while abroad, in her experience, people aren’t staring or asking questions to be rude but to get to know and understand her. Natural curiosity helps people learn about other people from different backgrounds and create a greater understanding of others.
Sitting down with Karen Ricks and learning more about being a multiracial family abroad and the concept of world schooling has shined a light on some topics many expats go through while traveling and living abroad.
Finding a way to educate your child while moving around often can feel challenging, but embracing a world schooling or unschooling path can be a great solution if you can find a way to make it work for your family.
If there’s only one thing you take away from this conversation with Karen, it’s that curiosity is not animosity. People are curious beings, and allowing people to be curious can help us better understand people we don’t know.