Living abroad was something Mr. Bee and I talked about for years when we lived in New York, even talking about moving with some close friends of ours. We always thought that we would end up in Europe, but we’ve been living in the Philippines the past 16 months. Our initial plan was to come here for a year or so and spend time with family before returning to the States. One of my closest friends in New York told me I was never coming back when I told her we were moving. I dismissed that idea as silly… of course we’d be back — we loved New York! But traveling and living abroad just has a way of changing you forever and we won’t be returning to the States anytime soon (sorry Mom!).
D E C I D I N G T O S T A Y
We loved living in New York – the energy, culture, diversity, our network of friends, and so much more. But it wasn’t without its difficulties — the high cost of living, small space living, complicated public school system, living far from our families and the general busy-ness of life. The first 6 months we lived in the Philippines, I couldn’t wait to move back to America. City life was what I had known my entire life. But as we settled into life here, my feelings slowly started to change. One of the biggest factors was seeing the positive impact living a simpler life had on Charlie and Olive, and knowing that it would be almost impossible to give them a similar childhood in the States.
Charlie is 7 and suffers from anxiety. We noticed this at a very young age — he consistently has nightmares, has worried about death since he was 3, and is a sensitive child that worries a lot in general. He’s also always struggled with impatience and control of his emotions, but we’ve seen it improve immensely since we moved here. I largely attribute it to our simpler lives here, and how much less pressure he has on his daily life academically, socially, and societally. He just has less to worry about.
In New York, we typically went to birthday parties several times a week, had extra-curricular activities (ballet, karate, Korean), regular playdates, and family outings. Our days were absolutely jam-packed.
Life is much, much slower here. The kids attend school from 1pm-5pm Monday-Friday and have a playgroup class from 9-12 on Mondays and Wednesdays. We go out to eat once a week and have a playdate once or twice a month. The rest of the time they have free play at home. Home means lots of open space in nature right on the ocean. Their job is to play, and there is no rush to grow up.
Being so close to nature here really helps my depression and anxiety, and I think does Charlie’s as well. Nature has also had a big impact on Olive’s delays. Nature is such a powerful and positive force for everyone.
In America, the kids were used to abundance in everything. Birthday parties always ended with a goodie bag. We could borrow an unlimited amount of books from the library. Family and friends bought them toys. Every holiday from Valentine’s to Halloween was a cause for celebration. I couldn’t pass up buying anything educational or art-related, and to be honest cute kids’ clothes too! Don’t get me wrong — I loved it all. But their childhood isn’t any less happy without any of those things either. This is something I really started thinking about when I embarked upon a decluttering journey (this is also a great post on why kids are actually much happier with less).
Locals are so happy here even if they have very little. They’re always singing, whistling, and smiling and I can honestly say they’re much happier than people who have much “more!”
Because most everything is difficult to get here, the kids get excited about and appreciate everything. I recently went on a trip alone to the country capital to get my prescriptions refilled, and bought 5 heads of broccoli – one of the kids’ favorite vegetables we can’t buy locally. They were so excited when I brought it home! As I was cooking it, they kept asking me over and over when it was ready because they hadn’t had it since we moved here. Then they ate all of it in one sitting and wished they had more. Sure I’d love to cook them broccoli once a week, but it’s a different reality not being able to get anything we want when we want it like we could in New York. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
F I N D I N G A C A L L I N G
It has always been a lifelong dream of mine to start an animal shelter/sanctuary. Living here I was able to fulfill part of that dream as dogs came to me one by one, injured, starving, and abandoned. We’ve rescued, fostered, rehabilitated, spayed/neutered, and vaccinated 20+ dogs in our time here. I know that this is something I must and will pursue in my lifetime. It is one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done and my kids have been able to be a part of it. They, especially Olive, will be animal lovers for life. Animals give us so much with their pure and unconditional love. They also help reduce anxiety and depression and they teach the kids compassion and responsibility.
W H A T A B O U T S C H O O L ?
After homeschooling for a year, we enrolled Charlie and Olive into a local school last October. At first, they loved the social interaction they had been missing, but recently they’ve both been asking to be homeschooled again. School ends next week for summer break so the timing works out perfectly because we were planning on starting a small school with a couple of friends. We want to travel regularly, so I think homeschooling is a better fit in the longer term. Rather than a focus on a specific curriculum, our main goal through homeschooling is to foster curiosity and a lifelong love of learning.
While Charlie would have been in second grade in New York, we decided to enroll him in first grade because one of his closest friends here was in first grade, and the timing of the school year is different (June-March). Charlie has a December birthday but we never considered redshirting him in New York. Academically he was doing fine, but as the youngest kid in his class, he did struggle with sitting still at times, and the girls born at the beginning of the year seemed so much more mature. He was always the smallest kid, but as he gets older that height gap grows larger and larger. I know that he’s just going to be a small kid because Olive is two years younger than him and they have the same size feet! I guess in my overprotective mom way I just want to protect him from all the teasing I endured as the smallest kid in class.
Navigating public school in New York is stressful, so I’m glad to have a respite from it all.
T H E N E X T F I V E Y E A R S
When we first moved here, Charlie and Olive talked about how much they missed New York and wanted to move back. Now that we’ve settled in and have had a chance to travel much more than we did back in the US, they don’t say they want to move back to New York anymore; they say they want to travel more. They want to live in Korea and Japan since Mr. Bee and I have family there.
We want to travel as much as we can around Asia while we’re here, which will probably be for another 2 years or so. Then if we are lucky enough to, we hope to move to Europe for a couple of years and travel around Europe. While I love Scandinavian countries and a lot about their educational systems, I think it’s easier to live in a warmer area like Italy, Spain, Portugal or the South of France. Perhaps we’ll live in a couple of different places for a year or so. Of course, there are lots of logistics to be worked out, but that’s the dream.
We firmly believe in the benefits of traveling with young children and love the idea of giving them a world education. The wanderlust bug has bit us hard and we’re not ready to stop traveling anytime soon.