If you’re gonna skate on thin ice, you might as well dance.
Thank you all who pestered us about our own sabbatical. It seems we have been remiss in sharing our own family sabbatical experience on this site. I’ll make the excuse that we have been so focused on your sabbatical, dear reader, that our own experience seemed beside the point. But clearly it is very much the point. We have featured (and will again) families who have fewer hurdles to clear than most of us to make a sabbatical happen. But the point of Radical Family Sabbatical is that anybody can do this. And we are one of the best anybodys we know to make that point. We were not wealthy before we quit our sole sources of income, we had no work or jobs on our trip or guaranteed upon our return, we spoke very little of the local language where we went, and we had never been to the continent we were going to live in. About the only advantage we had was travel experience, and the only significant difference that makes is the knowledge that no matter how challenging or difficult a situation is, everything will be fine in the end and the trouble will have been worth the experience.
Where did you go?
How long was your sabbatical?
We planned for 21 months, but the money was less patient and ran out at 14.
What were you thinking? (What inspired your sabbatical?)
Starting in college, Diana and I both (but separately) discovered that the rest of the world beyond the United States was not just some academic thought experiment. And it turns out there are very important things you can learn that cannot come from a textbook or classroom. Both of us were transformed but our travels in the world and what we learned there, and after marriage we wondered together what a person might be like if they were formed with that insight, rather than transformed by it. So we always talked about taking our kids on a family sabbatical to experience growing up in a contrasting culture.
What is different about your home life now that you’ve returned?
Work life is different, as we’re both developing our own businesses (and working other jobs, like waiting tables like 20-year-olds while our businesses grow). We are far less stuff-oriented and have been culling our crap since returning. It’s hard to tell how the kids may be different, but we imagine that the resilience, independence, and respect for others that we see in them is in no small part because of their experience in Ecuador.
What was your education strategy for the kids?
We put the kids in a Spanish-speaking private school in Ecuador.
How did you pay your sabbatical?
Savings, no income (yeah, we’ll be doing that differently next time).
What was your average monthly sabbatical budget?
$3000. That includes extensive travel throughout Ecuador, pretty swank housing, private school for both kids, health care, language instruction, and a maid for the last four months who cooked and cleaned.
What did you do about language?
I had some high school and college Spanish, but still very basic. We (but mostly just I) used Rosetta Stone before leaving and while in Ecuador. We all had private instruction in Ecuador, and the kids were in a Spanish-speaking school.
What’s the best piece of advice you could offer a family considering a sabbatical?
Do it. Pick a date and make it public so it’s much harder to back out of. You will be tempted to call it off many times while you’re planning. Details will scare you; work on them, but don’t worry about them or they will appear bigger than they are and threaten to stop your progress. (That’s one thing, right?)
If you had it to do over again, you’dâ€¦?
Have a clearer sense of the purpose of our family sabbatical, and have at least some income.
Do you have a favorite quote that encapsulates your experience, vision, or outlook, relative to your sabbatical?
Wu Wei. (This post from my travel blog explains itâ€¦sort of).
What else do you want to share?
Our sabbatical was one of the most frightening and challenging experiences of our lives…and one we’re looking forward to repeating, especially knowing what we know now. We are convinced that more families going out into the world would create much stronger relationships and understanding among people of the world who now learn about each other in textbooks and newspaper headlines.