Regular posting of Unleash to resume next week! Our excuse is that our son was born in February and we are making preparations for 2 months of sailing in the Baltic Sea this summer. So there is lots to come, we just need a little more time. To tide you over we have a fantastic interview with Kristen Faber, author of The Long White Cloud: The Year in New Zealand That Changed Our Family Forever. It is a must read for anyone wondering and debating if long term travel is right for them, especially if that move includes your children. Kris’s first move was to Togo, West Africa when her youngest was just 4 months old and the eldest 4 years. Her experience and advice is not limited to families however; read on!
How would you describe yourself?
I’m a mom. I love traveling, exploring, writing, cooking and many more things, but I enjoy them most with my family. I approach life with more excitement and curiosity when I’m sharing life with them. As my kids grow older and more independent, I love how we can each have our own adventures and still share the common bond we have built over time.
2. Did you travel a lot before moving to New Zealand with your family? If so, where and how?
I grew up in a family that put a lot of importance on traveling within our country. We explored a different area each year–toured the major historical sites, explored national parks, learned about architecture and had fun together. When I met my husband, we were each beginning to travel internationally. Our international travel began with the purpose of helping people, specifically in Africa. At that time, a passion was born in us. We love people and culture. The first big trip we did with our kids was to Togo, West Africa. The kids were 4, 2 and 4 months old. We traveled to the middle of the country where my husband worked in a hospital for six weeks. We may have been a bit crazy to take such small kids into the middle of Africa, but through that experience, our family found an identity that is unique to us.
3. Was there a defining moment that made the decision for you?
We were so in love with Africa that we longed to move overseas permanently. We explored every opportunity that we came across. Nothing worked out. After awhile, we sort of gave up and settled into life. We went from one stage with the kids to the next.
Although we were happy and loved our lives, one day we realized that we were at a point where we needed to give up our dreams or throw ourselves into them without looking back.
We began researching and pursuing once again. We looked into opportunities we didn’t know about before. New Zealand was never a consideration to us. They speak English, are a first world country, come from the same roots my country does—where was the adventure in that? Wow, were we wrong!
With a group of kids in Pakistan
4. What did your children think? Before and after the trip?
We have brain washed our kids over the years. Mom and Dad were not crazy for moving them around the world; this was just another adventure along the way. We talked about Africa so often, they believed they could actually remember it. They did vividly remember Dad’s absence while he served his country in Afghanistan. A map hung on the wall and little fingers would point to different countries in a game to figure out where Dad was. When Dad was again deployed, we packed up our bags, got homework from the teachers and met him in Alaska for three glorious weeks of wild adventure. When we said “goodbye” to family and friends at the airport to go to New Zealand, large smiles filled the kids’ faces. They didn’t understand it at the time, but this year overseas was an experiment to see how our kids did. My husband had his eye on a job that would require living overseas and moving to a new country every two or three years. We didn’t feel we could make that type of commitment without it being a family decision. Our middle daughter is quiet and moving isn’t an adventure to her.
If our kids struggled, we were willing to put our dreams on the back burner and let them grow-up in the environment where they felt secure. Not only did our kids enjoy the year in New Zealand, we began to see growth in them that never could have happened if we hadn’t taken the risk to open the world to them.
Half way through our time in New Zealand, my husband flew home to interview for an overseas job. During our time away, our family grew close and strong. This prepared us for a lifestyle where we would constantly be throwing ourselves into new cultures, quickly developing new friendships then saying “goodbye” all too quickly.
5. Did you have a supportive environment or did people tell you were crazy and that you would be better off at home worrying about career and family? How did that influence you (or did it)?
When we took our little ones to Africa I could sense fear in my parents—especially my mom. It’s hard to let go and trust that these tiny people that you love so fiercely will be ok.
During the time we were preparing to go, my mom met a man who had been a nurse practitioner at the very hospital we were going to be working at. He talked about the wonderful time he had raising his children in Africa. His story continued with his recent move back to the States and his new job. At work he accidentally stuck himself with a used needle and contracted a disease. His point was that there is danger no matter where you are in the world. That one honest conversation with a man has helped my mom as I visit and live in crazy places all over the world.
(Sherrie: I love that point. It completely reminds me of people’s reactions to Patrick’s first trip around the world on motorcycle Everyone was terrified he would end up hurt or worse. Not just his friends back home, but each country he visited warned him about the next. And in the end the only time he ended up hurt was when he broke his foot at his parents house a couple of days after returning from his trip. You need to watch until after the credits for that part).
6. Once you made the decision to go, how did you prepare for the trip?
We never do things the easy way. Because our dream was larger than a one year commitment we decided to sell our house and get rid of a lot of our stuff. The problem was that I like my stuff. It was difficult to choose which things were worth keeping and what we needed to part with. As friends realized that we were minimizing our things, they began to ask for certain items. This was devastating to me. I struggled with the years I had invested in relationships to be reduced to “Can I have that dresser?” So while I struggled with letting go of my stuff, I also found it to be freeing. Person after person commented on how much they wished they could do it too. I understand, I was holding on tight to my things, but over the next year I learned over and over again how much I had gained in experiences, new relationships and a closer bond with my family.
7. What advice would you give a family planning on their first trip abroad? Or anyone thinking about making a life change and traveling?
It doesn’t matter if you are crossing a boarder into a culture similar to the one you live in now, or traveling to an extreme opposite, they both are adventures that stretch our world view. Do your research first.
Learn a little about the history of the country. When you know the history, you can begin to understand the people as a society. Hardship, government control or corruption, poverty and disease all form a society over many generations.
Learn some of their language. Simple phrases and greetings will get you a long way when you are trying to communicate.
Try to find a way to connect with the culture. There will be a difference in your experience if you are simply a viewer versus a participant.
Dress appropriately. Learn what is culturally acceptable. In some areas of Africa women who wear pants are considered prostitutes. In America, jeans and tennis shoes will help you blend in, but in Europe you want to dress a bit nicer. This is a safety issue as well as a cultural issue. You want to bring as little attention to yourself as possible.
Plan a diverse schedule. Visit museums, buy tickets to a sporting event, take a cooking class, try an architectural tour, go to a concert. The broader the experience you give your children, the more opportunities they will discover in the life ahead of them.
Never criticize the culture. It’s very easy to put down the way people do things or a country’s systems when we are used to and comfortable with our own country’s way of doing things. It’s important to realize and talk about how there are often many ways to accomplish the same goal. Some countries have a very orderly way of standing in line, or queuing. In other countries it seems like complete chaos, but in the end, everyone is served. You don’t have to like it, but you can respect them at the same time.
Always have an adventurous spirit.
Kris at a Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan
8. Tell us a little bit about the book you wrote about the experience.
My book, The Long White Cloud, is a combination of our experience living in New Zealand, history of the country and our favorite places to stay, eat and play. I shared my heart through my struggles and triumphs. There were days I embraced the country and it’s people and there were days I cried my eyes out with discouragement and loneliness. It’s my personal journey of falling in love with a country and it invites you to fall in love with New Zealand too.
9. You now live in Moscow. What made you decide to move there?
Moscow was not one of the countries we had picked out for our next move. In fact, when we were given the list of open positions for our transfer, we immediately crossed it off. We didn’t make that choice based on the country but rather on the position for my husband and what it would demand of him over these past two years. Turns out we didn’t have a choice. The time here has been very demanding and draining on my husband, but for the girls and me, it’s been a wonderful experience. Whether you love architecture, history, the arts or museums there is always something to do. I never tire of going down to Red Square and being in awe of the place I am standing.
10. I noticed on your blog that your daughter recently went on a sailing trip in Spain. How did you feel about that?
I had moments of pure panic before she left on the trip. I have this absurd fear of drowning, so visions of a funeral would float through my head. I had to conscientiously turn those thoughts off. It’s silly, really, but it’s what we moms do. When I was able to breathe calmly, I realized what an amazing opportunity she had. She was experiencing something that most kids only dream of. And the truth is, I want my daughter to be strong and adventurous and brave. I want her to find her own dreams and desires and do what she can to make them come true.
Thank you so much Kristen for such an open and inspiring interview!
You can buy the book on Amazon, or read for free if you are a Kindle Unlimited Subscriber! You can read more about Kristen’s family and their adventures on their blog over at http://www.notinert.blogspot.de/