On Travel and that Socialization thing

Today’s post is really only half a post – the other half can be found over at Travel Deep and Wide. Stacey-Jean Inion, the awesome mama of many who has been traveling for eight years with her tribe of nine children, has additional thoughts about the socialization issue. In short, I feel it’s something parents need to think about and consider; she feels it’s a non-issue that doesn’t even warrant a thought. Please read and comment here, then over to her post and read her thoughts. Our goal here is to start a dialogue – to get traveling parents to consider all aspects of their kids’ development and come to their own conclusion.

+++++++++++++

Any and every homeschooling parent has, at some point, heard the “socialization question.”

  • How do you socialize your children if they are home all day?
  • Your kids will grow up to be freaks who don’t know how to get along with others.
playing soccer in Mexico

In Mexico, our kids didn’t hesitate at all before joining in a rousing soccer game with local kids.

 

In fact, this question in all its various forms is probably the number one question homeschooling parents deal with. And truthfully – for ‘normal’ homeschooling parents, I say it’s a complete non-issue. Unless you are locking your children up at home and not allowing them to see other kids at all – ever – it’s a non-issue. Your kids take gymnastics lessons? That’s socialization. On the swim team? Socialization. Plays at the playground? Goes to library events? Every homeschooling parent I know gets their kids out and about a lot. A lot. Socialization is not even something to consider.

But when you add travel into the mix, there is an added dimension that needs to be considered. I call it the PROCESS OF FRIENDSHIP.

Before we talk about travel, let’s talk about the normal process of friendship. You meet someone and it clicks. You go through a honeymoon phase, where you play together daily and have a blast. As time marches on, maybe you discover that your interests are different and you drift apart. Or maybe you have a big fight and never speak again. Or you have a big fight, but figure out how to reconcile your differences. All those events are normal.

When I was in Grade 8, my very best friend in the world was Tina. Tina and I were inseparable. We hung out every day before classes started. We touched base during the five minutes we had between classes. We ate lunch together, and after school nearly always found us both at either her house or mine. Talk about besties? Yeah – that was Tina and me.

In Grade 9, we continued in the same vein. If you found Tina, you found me. We were together – always.

Grade 10 was the same. We had been best friends for three years, and couldn’t even imagine that someday we would drift apart. That thought was inconceivable.

But it started in Grade 11. Tina and I were still friends, but other friends started working their way into our small circle. We had some mutual friends, but I had some friends and she had others.

By the time we were seniors, we were going our separate ways. I saw Tina in the hallways, and I said, “Hello,” but that was about it. There was no big falling out – we just drifted apart.

I suspect we all have stories like mine. We have friends in certain phases of our lives, then we move on and establish new friendships. There is nothing wrong with that and, I would argue, there is a lot of good in that. It’s a natural process, and we learn about ourselves and others through it.

And that process is exactly what traveling kids miss.

If you had asked me about this issue 7 years ago, I would have said it’s nothing to worry about it. Not a big deal. Kids are adaptable. Kids are social creatures. Kids reach out to local kids and play no matter where they are. And that’s totally true!

hot spring

Davy enjoying a hot spring with a new friend.

When we cycled through Alaska and Canada, our boys played with other kids in campgrounds – it took about… oh, let’s just say about 30 seconds for them to find other kids. It’s like they were bloodhounds that just gravitated toward them. They played with kids of all ages, and it didn’t seem to matter if the other kids spoke English or not. Kids were kids, and they played.

We cycled through the USA once most kids had gone back to school, so the play opportunities were more limited, but still – not an issue. When there were kids, our sons played with them. And they talked with people of all ages and carried on intelligent conversations on a wide array of topics. Socialization issues? Who are you kidding?

playing with horses

These newfound friends had horses. Davy and Daryl got to play with kids and horses together – is there anything better?

Mexico and Central America were no problems – there were always plenty of kids playing soccer, and our sons jumped right in there.

We noticed it starting in Colombia. By that point, we had been on the road for 18 months on our PanAm journey, plus a year when the boys were in Grade 3. For some reason, Davy and Daryl were hesitant to go find local kids. If they could find a video game shop, they would go, but otherwise they stayed in our hotel. We urged them to go play soccer. “They’re too good,” came the response. “We can’t compete.” We encouraged our boys to do other things with local kids, but they always seemed to find an excuse.

It became very apparent in Ecuador, right around their 12th birthday. Something was going on, and we didn’t know what to do about it. Davy and Daryl, who had always been very social creatures, no longer sought out playmates at all. They happily went to internet cafes to play games – but they played with each other rather than other kids. They weren’t miserable by any stretch of the imagination – they were actually quite comfortable with the arrangement, but John and I were concerned. What about that whole socialization issue?

Was it the age? Was there something about being 12 that caused our sons to withdraw? Or was it the area? Were the kids in Ecuador different? Harder to get to know? Were they more resistant to foreigners hanging out with them?

Or was it burnout from the many years of travel? Had our sons reached a point where they were simply tired of putting energy into establishing friendships, knowing they would pack up and leave in a short while? Had the lack of that process of friendship negatively affected them?

Sadly, there is no way to know. I’ve talked with my sons, and they don’t know. Whatever happened, it certainly wasn’t a conscious decision on their part.

John and I were baffled – and concerned. What should we do? Should we call off our journey? Would our sons’ needs be better served back home? Had they learned what they needed to learn from the travel, and now it was time to change gears?

In the end, we made the decision that continuing on would be the best option. To take the dream away at that point would be cruel, and would hurt way more than it would help. In short, we acknowledged that the lack of social interaction with other kids was an issue, but it was a price we were willing to pay. The benefits of continuing on – of achieving the goal – were higher than the disadvantages.

My point is this: if you are considering long-term travel with your kids, know that this socialization thing could be an issue. All kids are different, and there is no way for me to predict how your kids will react – I can only tell you how mine did. It’s something to think about. Know that it could be a non-issue, a small issue, or a big issue. Maybe it’s an acceptable price to pay; maybe it’s not.

sand_dunes

After a couple of years on the road, we noticed our sons were hesitant to reach out to other kids, and just played with each other. Why? There are many possibilities, and we’ll never know exactly why.

Every time we make a decision TO DO something, we make a parallel decision NOT TO DO something else. When we choose to go traveling, we forego soccer and swim teams, Boy Scouts and robotics clubs. We gain other things – we gain climbing on Mayan ruins and diving with turtles. Dancing in Carnival parades, and joining holy pilgrimages into the mountains. Climbing on glaciers and chasing llamas. Those things are all great, but so are the more “typical” experiences at home.

Is one better than the other? No. Not better or worse – only different. We have different seasons in life, and the hard part is knowing when it’s time to change gears.

By all means – go traveling. I would NEVER suggest that a family not travel out of fear of the “socialization issue.” Never, ever. But go with an exit plan. Know that if things aren’t going as planned and it doesn’t look like your children are handling it well, be willing to change gears. Maybe that means going back home; maybe it means slowing down and diving deep into one culture. But we willing to go there if that’s what your children need.

Travel is awesome. It’s exciting and wonderful and stimulating and challenging. But it comes at a price. Know what price you’re paying.

+++++++++++++

Now, head over to Socialization: Debunking the myth to read her thoughts on the issue. Do kids need to attend school with their age peers to be “socialized?”

new_friends_in_Mexico

Mexico was a very social place for Davy and Daryl. Every day the boys hooked with local kids to play soccer, go swimming, or play with a pig.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

Connect with us!

We love to get to know new people. Send us a message!

, , , ,

13 Responses to On Travel and that Socialization thing

  1. Stacey-jean July 9, 2015 at 5:11 am #

    This is a warm-hearted post. I agree that children are not the same and that life has different seasons. Every family needs to be willing to change gears for the sake of the children. Thanks for this open discussion on an issue that is of concern to so many families considering long term-travel.

  2. Kira July 9, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    What about now, 7 years later? Do you feel that your kids left out on something? Is there a gap missing, or they just went on, found new – stable – friends and had the same friendship process a bit later and all is well? How do they feel about that now?

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel July 31, 2015 at 11:33 am #

      Good question, Kira. It’s hard because we never truly know how X affected kids. Are they like this because of the trip? Or in spite of it? Would they be like this even if we hadn’t gone? How can we know? What I can say is that my sons are very slow to make friends now. We’ve been back in Idaho for over 4 years, and it’s only been within the past year that they have established friendships. Prior to that, they knew people, but I would not say they were friends. I think it took my sons a long time to wrap their heads around the idea of a deep friendship – but they got there.

  3. Karen July 12, 2015 at 6:32 pm #

    Nancy, I think this idea of you and Stacey linking your posts was a great idea. Socialization, as all us homeschoolers know, is THE question. Add in traveling and language barriers and of course people want to know even more how our kids fare in the socialization arena.

    We’ve been traveling with usually 7 of our 9dc most of the time since 2007. We’re from BC, and we’ve made it to the Atlantic, and the farthest south we’ve been yet is Michoacan state Mexico. S-l-o-w.

    Anyways, I personally think our kids have blossomed for the most part with our style/time traveling. They have made quick and furious friendships (like the honeymoon stage you mention) but they’ve also had to work thru long term relationships (via Skype, email, mailing cards). One friendship they thought they had ruined for life. It was devastating as it was a friendship from birth! But the 12yo’s managed to work it out. I was proud of them, but it did require some mom-coaching.

    I do however, have 1 child out of 7-traveling (we have 9 in total) that possibly traveling has not been so healthy for him. We first started traveling when he was 2.5 months old, so most of his life (8yo) has been unsettled. Its something I’ve been pondering more recently, and investigating ways to help him. It isn’t directly in socializing and long-term friendships, but it still raises concerns about whether we are exasperating something within him by traveling vs having a stationary home and routine. So for now we are in Mexico, staying put for at least 18 months to give continuity. Though some of us would rather be movin’ on we’re staying here for various reasons, our youngest son being one of them.

    As a bigger (traveling) family there’s so many people to consider when making a decision, like whether to continue on, return from whence you came, or find something new. Its hard to know what’s best.

    Sometimes when we look at the pudding in the end….it might not set right. I guess that’s our fear.
    I try and remind myself that we are all trying to do our best down here on earth. Not much more than we can do than try our best.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel July 31, 2015 at 11:29 am #

      There are no guarantees. All we can do is make the best decision we know how to make at the time, and hope for the best. As you say, the proof will be in the pudding – but it’s a long time to wait before it sets. I, like you, think that all kids are different, and we need to consider what’s best for them, and for the whole family. Not an easy juggling act.

  4. Kerri August 10, 2015 at 12:34 am #

    Great to read such an honest account. We are about as planted as a family can get and I certainly notice that as the children in our extended family reached about 10 or 12 that friendships changed. I could no longer just show up at a park or beach and have them run off and just play with new found friends. They are so much more self conscious at that pre- teen age.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel August 13, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

      Yes! I suspect much of our sons’ issue was simply age-related. They wanted friends who they knew, not so much new acquaintences.

  5. Hannah Marfil August 18, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    hmm, nice to know about this blog and reading that it’s quite possible to bring your kids along even for such an activity as biking and certainly true about kids, too

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel August 20, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

      So many people dismiss the idea of adventure and travel once kids are born. I say do the travel and adventure with the kids!

  6. Jeanne ( at Soultravelers3) October 17, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

    Just saw this because of the article we were in together ( Good, Bad & Ugly of family travel) and I see we have such very different experiences.10 years of world travel has been AMAZING social BENEFIT for our daughter in 3 languages!

    What an important post & one close to my heart. We’ve been a non-stop traveling family for over a decade now so I have thought & experienced much on this topic. Unlike you or Stacey-Jean, we have an “only” who was born when I was 48 and she is a very social girl. I think HOW you travel, the number of children you have & deeply learning languages like a native makes a HUGE difference in socialization.

    I am a big Gatto fan, worldschooler & iconoclastic by nature, but dealing with a single female child is a different experience than a large family or even twins.

    My child is now soon to be 15 and has an amazing perspective of the world & just graduated high school & started college at 14 & is still very close with dear friends all around the world and keeps in regular touch with them in several languages. We also have rich memories of people we didn’t keep in touch with but hold dear. The travel and living in 48 countries on 5 continents on a tight budget, making friends of different ages & different languages ( sometimes translating for a group of kids who don’t speak common languages in play) already has a HUGE impact on her life & will forever as a true global citizen. Fluent & literate as a native in Chinese, Spanish & English makes her a unique blonde American child of monolinguals & allows her to communicate fully with most of the world. She now writes songs in all 3 of her languages, has 2 in 2 movies, way beyond her years in life experience, so a unique ministry to the world.

    Although I am no fan of schools, I am grateful that she “dipped” into local schools for short periods to give her the languages & culture deeply. As outsiders/travelers, instead of being a victim of schools, we took them to our advantage and went in and out of them as we pleased just for the language immersion & connections. In Spain she was the only American in our tiny village in a small class that had 6 sets of cousins & she fully participated in all the village festivals and ceremonies & bonded deeply ( since she was already fluent in Spanish from birth) & is still in touch with those close friendships from 1st through 4th grade. We just did school there for 5 months from Late November to late April or early May & travel in our RV/Camper for 7 months around Europe, so she had the best of both worlds. We often stopped in Barcelona ( 2 days drive from our village) as it was a cheap camping luxury spot & good jumping off point for other parts of Europe….so she has a local best friend there who we still keep in touch with ( they don’t speak a word of English).

    Chinese is a difficult language, especially the written/reading part, but we are grateful for her time in Beijing and Penang where she went to local schools & even was the first Caucasian in 63 year history to win a Chinese elocution contest. Because she spent time immersed in the school & culture, she knows Chinese culture in a way that few do. Chinese language learning never ends, but she is more literate than most Chinese in China!

    Just going to a foreign school as a 6 year old in Spain or a 10 year old in a 1000-kid high school in Asia ( where she skipped 3 grades) was a brave and courageous thing & strengthened her. She knows what it is like to be a minority & different ( usually only one different) and I think that is an important thing to learn. She knows what local schools are like in foreign lands which is extremely rare in this world & enriches her perspective as a worldschooler who was part of it, yet not part of it, freer than the rest to come and go & influenced most by her parents perspective.

    So unlike you, we did not have ANY social problems. If anything she is BETTER at making new friends because of our travel. Like your family, she made friends in many ways with many ages,as we mostly world schooled as we roamed, but she also gained from her short stints in local foreign school. She did get to do those extra curric things like joining a school choir, dance, or doing a play etc ( some of this she did when in school & sometimes just joining school kids as a homeschooler as some international schools allow homeschoolers to join in. Unlike your sons, she didn’t have a twin to play with, nor is she a boy ( which makes a difference perhaps) so that has to be motivation, she is extroverted ( not sure if your sons are or not), had deep fluency which makes a HUGE difference and we always have bases we return to so the relationships do have the “process of relationship”. Sometimes her relationships remind me of mine with cousins that I remain close to, the kind of relations that come and go, but remain stable through the years through the love and experiences shared over many years. With a social only child, we HAD to take those things into great consideration and we did not have the goal of going from one place to another place ( as you did), but travel at our own whim, when and where it suited us based on her educational needs.

    For us there were 3 big keys to give her the sure shelter of deep friendships as we roamed. First, listen to her needs. Second to slow travel mostly from bases that we would return to regularly ( with bursts of some faster travel). 3rd deep language immersion , so she could form deep friendships in other languages.The latter I think is of supreme importance that many travel families miss. Having deep friendships totally in other languages is a deeply enriching & connecting experience on so many levels. It makes the travel more meaningful as you can’t really know a culture without knowing the language well. You can’t expect for kids to connect deeply after 8, 9 or so unless they share the same language & have extensive quality time together. They can play a game of soccer together, but can’t deeply connect.

    With a very social, extroverted, only child ( with introverted parents) we found ways to combine socialization in many, many ways and she remains a very happy and fulfilled human being, very connected to her family, long term friends, but also the whole world, with an exceptional education.

    Her best friend right now, she has been friends with since babyhood & they always have had an exceptional connection & even though they have long gaps of time apart, when they get together through the years, it is like they were never apart. We’re now based a few blocks away! Her other close friends around the world are all planning long visits soon with us. Plus she is meeting new friends in college and through her work.

    Each family will have different needs and ways of doing it, but for us, world travel gave her BETTER socialization on so many levels than if we had stayed home and homeschooled her or schooled her. Not to mention a MUCH better education, freedom and fun!

    (Edited by admin to remove links, as we do not allow links in comments.)

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 19, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

      I agree that there are a bajillion factors that go into raising a child, and each child will react uniquely to their circumstances. There is no way to predict how a particular child will react so, as parents, we simply have to make the best decision we know how to make and hope it’s the right one. If it turns out to be wrong, we need to be willing to change gears midstream.

  7. Erin March 4, 2016 at 1:55 am #

    Thanks for sharing Nancy!
    I stumbled across your blog as we are thinking about doing a long bike touring trip with our toddler in the next few years. She is extremely social now, and I do wonder how she would react to spending long hours with just us (she is currently in daycare for a few days a week). This has definitely given me something to think about regarding the longer perspective of being a perpetual traveller.

  8. Xplorato June 20, 2016 at 3:49 am #

    Beautiful read 🙂 and so true the spirit of adventure should never be stunted by anything, there is always a way to engage your need for wanderlust as well as make some beautiful connections.

Leave a Reply