Definition of “Culture” from Dictionary.com: “The sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.”
What’s the good, bad, and ugly of your home culture? No matter where you’re from, you’ve lived and breathed that particular way of living for a good bit of your life. It’s an intrinsic part of you, rooted in your very bones.
About six years ago, I started to become concerned about what our American culture was teaching my children. I didn’t want their growing minds to absorb every element of culture without a second thought. Searching my heart for a way to give them a fresh view of the world, away from the confines of our own particular culture, I came up with a plan:
a 6-month family sabbatical to a foreign country!
I wanted to expand our field of vision and give us all an alternate view of reality, one not seen anywhere within the borders of the U.S.
After researching and planning, my husband and I chose to spend our six month travel time in the tiny, developing nation of Belize.
Our family sabbatical not only gave us a first-hand view of what life can be like on the other side of the border, but it also gave us the chance for a new, enlightened look at our own culture as we were now able to see it from a distance.
We knew our trip would teach us lessons and help shape our kids’ childhoods, but we had no idea how many or how much. Our family sabbatical (which, by the way, turned out to be only the first of many such trips) allowed us to free our kids from five negative aspects of our American culture:
- Constant activity,
- Clutter, and
It’s human nature to want sameness.
But stepping off the conventional path can be invigorating, enlightening, and magical! It can allow you ample opportunity to fire up your life and live authentically. As parents, don’t we always caution our children to beware of “doing something just because everyone else is doing it?” Then why do we so often push our kids into the same school, sports, and activities as all of their peers?
Our trip away allowed our kids to break away from what everyone else was doing. Yes, it was weird at first to ‘quit’ school to travel. But it was the right decision since our children now understand that what’s right for the herd is not necessarily right for them.
Okay, I love my fellow Americans, but we are quite a competitive bunch. We’re fully willing to work our butts off to get to the top of the class, score the most goals, or get into the best college. A little healthy competition is fine, but I feel this dog eat dog mentality has gotten way out of hand.
Why? Well, first, too much competition teaches kids that survival depends on me winning or you winning—that it could never be all of us winning together. We need to teach kids cooperation, not competition, in order to solve the pressing issues of our time.
Second, needing to win all the time eggs our egos on and pushes our souls down. In our troubled world, the only thing that’s going to beat the darkness is love, which does not come from selfish ego.
Third, what are we really competing for, anyway? To get the most goals in a soccer game or the best grade on a test? Who cares? How is excessive competition in sports or academics positively shaping my child’s character? I guess I’m an old-school proponent of “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
It’s go, go, go all the time in our American culture. Just getting anywhere in most major metro areas gets our blood pumping and our thoughts racing. On top of that, most of us have packed schedules that have us running from one thing to the next.
Travel, especially to a quieter, slower culture like Belize, helped us slow waaaay down. We were able to take the time we wanted with our family away from the hustle-bustle of back home. We relished those days and took time to savor every beautiful moment.
Americans have a lot of stuff. Even those who don’t have that much stuff have much more stuff than most human beings on the planet.
We found that getting away from the things we own freed us from their psychological weight. We lived for six months in other people’s houses with only the suitcases we brought with us. This light-on-our feet life allowed us to realize we don’t really need as much as we think we do.
Allowing kids to see only one way is a recipe for close-mindedness and ethnocentrism. We wanted our family sabbatical to give us all a new perspective of the world. After all, the corner we usually inhabit is only one tiny part of the entire globe. Is our way necessarily best?
It was eye-opening for our kids to see people living in a variety of ways and to realize the perspectives they’ve witnessed in our hometown are not the only ones that exist.
A family sabbatical can be an effective part of your kids’ education. It frees them from what they’ve always known and gives them a chance to choose their own path.
Domini Hedderman is a strong proponent of taking at least one family travel sabbatical during your kids’ childhoods. She and her husband have taken many long trips with their kids to Belize, Costa Rica, the U.S., Canada, Mexico, France, and Italy—and are planning on many more! Read more about family sabbaticals and their story at ExitNormal.com or look them up on Facebook (facebook.com/exitnormal) or Instagram (instagram.com/exit_normal).