Today our guest contributor is a homeschool mom who is living abroad. She has asked to remain anonymous. Recently, I interviewed her about how they manage to homeschool while living overseas.
What are some of the struggles of learning to homeschool while living overseas?
Though we have lived overseas for five years, we have only been homeschooling for three. So I don’t have any homeschooling experience to compare it to back in the US. I don’t think my struggles would be unique or different from the struggles of an American living in the US trying to homeschool faithfully. Living overseas just intensifies things and gives you the illusion that you are alone.
One struggle is holding myself accountable. As far as requirements for homeschooling, we sort of fall through the cracks. According to the law of the country we live in, we are independent homeschoolers. So, there aren’t any regulations. And, according to the US, we live overseas. So as long as we don’t stay too long in the US during our visits back home, the US doesn’t regulate us either. This gives freedom to be flexible to our alternate lifestyle, but it also brings frustration as I am always wondering if I am on track or behind.
My husband travels a lot in the country as well as back to the US. Sometimes the kids and I join him (7 month trip to the US with a 2-month road trip? why not?). We get a handful of visitors from the US that come and create a school holiday. All of these things make our academic calendar very fluid and not very fixed. It is a struggle to know when to say yes to these wonderful experiences and when to say no.
Add to that learning how to live in another country (shop for food, cook, clean house, pay bills, etc.) and you get a lot of unexpected and unplanned things regularly occurring from week to week. For example, school didn’t happen one week because it was typhoon season and the trash collectors did not pick up our trash for an entire month. Rotting food in our trashcans gave birth to hundreds of maggots! So I had to delay school for several days in order to take a crash course through YouTube videos on how to create a compost pile.
It is also a struggle to create structure and order in our homeschool when our life has no structure, and the culture prioritizes people and relationships over time. It has been hard to know priorities. Is life (people and experiences) more important or is saying no and staying home and doing school more important?
Without any outside accountability, in many ways I am left to myself to determine these things…and I don’t trust my own thinking. Slowly I am learning to see through the urgent to find what’s important. I am learning how to say no and how to create structure and order in our schooling. These have been hard struggles for the first 2.5 years.
What has been the hardest thing to overcome homeschooling while living overseas?
Two things come to mind.
One is finding outside activities for my children. In the US, I am familiar with what is available, and I am knowledgable of the culture. So it gives me the illusion that the homeschooling grass is greener in the US.
Homeschooling here is relatively a new thing. There is a growing community, but it is much smaller than the US. That means there are fewer resources available. Extra-curricular activities (sports, music, etc.) are hard to find. Such classes are discovered more through word of mouth than through an internet search.
I have learned I have to be patient as I look for ways to get my kids involved in things outside of the house. I have learned that whatever I find to get my kids involved in, will most likely be inconvenient and time-consuming. As a result, I have to take into consideration how many items I can afford to be involved in outside of the home.
Worrying if your kids are exposed to enough social situations and relationships is intensified living in a country where you are a foreigner. In an effort to get involved with the homeschooling community, I started a book club at my house for homeschoolers. As I was researching ideas, I stumbled across your blog. A lot of these same families coming to the book club also do a weekly nature walk. So through the book club and nature walk, we are slowly starting to get involved with the homeschooling community and make friends outside of the house.
The second item is learning to how to school when traveling. Because our family travels a lot, I have had to learn how to homeschool while on the move. We go back to the US every couple of years for several months at a time. And, during that time we are usually traveling. Because we homeschool year round already (due to my husband’s schedule), we are unable to take a break during our US visits.
The first visit back I tried to pack up all of our school books into the luggage. I was determined to school while on the road. I climbed into the backseat of our minivan and started doing reading lessons with my son. You can imagine how long that lasted. 😉
I had it all planned out… reading lessons in the van on the road and math lessons in the lobby of hotels. Technically I had enough time planned out that school should have worked, on paper. But life is not lived according to a planner, things come up and disturb your plans.
I am a big planner; I like calendars and organization and details. I had to learn that it was okay not to do school. I had several veteran homeschool moms that I asked for advice during this time. These homeschool moms also lived overseas like me. They all told me “Don’t do it! Take a break. Just pick it up later when you are back home.”
So I slowly tried to take their advice. In my fear, I didn’t take their advice all at once. Slowly I started to release my fear and enjoy the experience of so many field trips and museums!
The next trip to the US was better. I didn’t plan to cover so much during our trip. Instead, I planned to do field trips on steroids! I scheduled as many field trips as I could. We had a blast.
What has living overseas prohibited you from doing and how were you able to accommodate?
Traveling a lot and not having a predictable home schedule makes it hard to set up a regular schooling schedule. No two weeks look the same. Slowly I have more structure in my weekly homeschooling as I learn to say no and to prioritize the important things. But still, life happens.
Sometimes I have to do no school so I can run one errand that takes 6 hours simply because of traffic and way of life here. Other times my husband’s schedule opens up, and he treats me to a special date, which puts school on hold for another day.
The music class I found for my kids is 1.5 hours away, one direction due to traffic. So with driving and scheduling of music classes, we are gone for music from 9 am to 3 pm, and all we accomplished was two small music classes. It feels like a waste of time and makes me exhausted at the end of the day that I don’t want to do any other schooling.
But I have learned that this is my life. I can’t wait for it to happen. I have to learn how to live the life I have. This means learning how to get in a read aloud daily with the kids. Learning how to get the math worksheets planned ahead of time so it’s easy to do it quickly in the morning, even if I will be gone the rest of the day.
Another small thing is the lack of libraries and instant access to materials. I ship all of my books from the US. This means I must plan ahead for our curriculum. Since there are no public libraries here, I have learned to be content with the books I can access.
I absolutely love Overdrive and Libby apps to give me access to ebooks from the US libraries! My Kindle Paperwhite is a favorite of mine and helps so much to give quicker access to books while living overseas. They have a lot of used bookstores here in the various malls around the cities. Books are pretty cheap here, only $0.25-$2.00. So I have learned to frequent these stores in search of books to build up my own home library for my kids.
I also use YouTube and educational videos in place of some areas where I would have borrowed a book from the library. When we studied the sun in astronomy, instead of going to the library to borrow a book to learn more, I did a google search and created a YouTube playlist with videos instead.
Did you ever consider giving up homeschooling for a time?
Yes. ☻ But, I didn’t. As I started to look into it, I realized that the grass is not greener on the other side, and sending my kids to school has struggles in and of itself.
What would you like others who homeschool while living overseas to know that might encourage them?
Living overseas feels intense and lonesome at times. You feel like your struggles are unique. But, it helps to know that although my circumstances might be unique, my struggles are common. Take one day at a time and trying to be faithful to the day at hand.
Also slowly adding new things one at a time has been helpful. I see the big picture a lot and it gets overwhelming. But stopping and just taking one bite at a time, and learning to trust God for unpredictable tomorrows is vital.
How to Homeschool in the Midst of the Hard Things Series
This is day 15 of the Homeschooling in the Midst of Hard Things Blog Series. We are so glad you are here! Check out the rest of the series by clicking the banner below.
Hi, I’m Dachelle. I’m a homeschooling mom of 3 in the South. I love chocolate and have been known to hide it from my children. I can often be found reading a good book (or even sometimes just an okay book) and enjoying a jar of Nutella — don’t judge. I blog, here, at HideTheChocolate.com when I’m not creating book clubs and making lists…lots and lots of lists (it’s an addiction). Learn more…