concluding the travel school project

This story/blog needs an end. In many ways though, I feel like we've opened doors and widened horizons. Sure, we miss family, friends, pets and home. It would be sad if we didn't miss the life we have. But, for all the quick strangers and fast friends' paths we've crossed (Bullingtons & McGriffs) who've asked us who we are, where we are from, and what we are doing, hopefully we've shared seeds of a different way of schooling and our kids have had the opportunity to see different ways of living. 

Explaining "virtual school" in a simple way and finding basic words to manage an often non-fluent conversation, stripped the concept down and most often we heard the response, "we'd never be able to do that in... France, Italy, Spain, England".  We have so much gratitude and praise for the two virtual school programs. Baldwin County Virtual School (BCVS) and Decatur City Virtual School helped us seamlessly jump into the start of the second semester of the school year.  Both virtual schools did a great job with their curriculum. The school work was challenging.  Our kids had to adapt and gain skills that they typically don't use in regular bricks and mortar school.   They had real online teachers for each subject, and from the start, they were provided a course syllabus for each class. They had to grow in self reliance without a teacher standing in front of them. Note-taking became extremely important. Learning how to read and digest class material was important. There was constant stress of finishing and staying on pace. All done well by each student in the end.

For celebrating the accomplishment of school being finished for the term, we had an end-of-semester class party -- Mediterranean style. Pizza and cake on the beach with a rock skipping contest. It was bittersweet. Our time all together in Nice came to a wrap a few weeks ago. Both families started their journeys back home, flying in different directions in Europe.  The McGriffs wrapped up in Venice and the Bullingtons have toured the UK for the past two weeks. 

Often I was asked, what is your favorite thing you've done or seen? My answer was uncertain because we hadn't made it to the end. But now at the end of the journey,  I'm still not sure I have a one favorite thing.  It has been a 4 month experience that fits all together. It's the Travel School Project. In the spirit of reflection, now that we're packed ready to go home, I asked each kid what they enjoyed the most out of the experience-

The travel opportunities. We could take trips and work around our school schedules. I got to go places and see things that otherwise I probably would have skipped because of time and monetary restrictions.
— Wilson
I got to look at the world from a different perspective. I got to see how other people live. In many ways we are different, but I also saw similarities. I can look at the world with new eyes now.
— Anne Lois
It makes me realize how special my home really is.
— Abigail

This time was a blessing. We are thankful for safe travels. We've met interesting people- some investing time in us. We are truly thankful for our traveling friends and for our family and friends back home that have sent love notes, emails and texts while we've been away. We return home tomorrow, travel weary and ready to be home. Ready for hugs and face to face time with others. Life is short. Life is good. 

first days

The first few days are always an adjustment. Not only do you have the expected jet lag, it's magnified by the exhaustion from packing and getting things in order to leave them and the "pinch me" this is really happening. Also, we are so giddy to have a companion family with us. Once we got past settling into our apartment and finding the closest grocery for some basics- all of us have sighed a big breath and savored slowing down the pace.

On Thursday night, our big group of nine, walked out late to find a restaurant. It was a wonderful toast to being brave and taking this on. We had a delicious French meal- late into the night with happy kids and happy parents. 

Alas, school work must continue. So yesterday, Friday, with a day of rain forcasted, we settled into the apartment for productive study time.  Before it got too wet and cold, our family walked to the Cours Saleya (Nice's main market square) for fresh flowers and some loose ideas for our first cooked dinner at home. We filled our bags with fresh mixed lettuces (mesclum), french radishes, petite potatoes and dried herbs (herbs de provence).  Next, we walked to a nearby butcher shop that always has a crowd when we have walked by (seemed like a good sign) to bravely order chicken (poulet) for roasting. It was wrapped and bagged in a red plastic bag for us to tote home. The rest of the day was about studying, enjoying a rainy day inside and our first home cooked dinner of roasted chicken and potatoes with a side salad. After dinner, all 7 kids watched a movie in our apartment while the adults hung out in the other apartment. Fantastic, except for the acknowledgement that we are all still keeping our US body clock hours. We'll have to keep working on that! 

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the "why" story | Travel School Project

This first blog entry to the Travel School Project could be written a dozen different ways and authored by 9 different writers. There are 2 families invested in our adventure. We have cultivated and planned for an idea that started as a joke at the beginning of this school year. As much as all of our kids like school, we've always been asked by them to do something different when we travel.  We've never stopped to consider alternatives to the brick and mortar.  But, we do know first hand that they gain so much when they cross cultural borders. It grabs their attention in ways a text book never could.  They lose inhibitions to other ways of living. They gain a strong sense of navigating uncharted waters, and they get to experience a day(s) in someone else's world.    

So, the joking idea took root.  We each began to toss around so many strong reasons in favor and just as many hesitations.   The "what ifs" set in and then the "why nots" took over. Each individual slowly digested the idea and we began to dig a little. As we dug and dug a little deeper- the doors kept opening. We never hit a stop sign. The school administrators and teachers were supportive and helped us solidify our goal for traveling overseas for the spring  semester 2016. Each day, there were so many steps to accomplish in order for the trip to happen. We had to agree on location, housing, length of trip, school options, activity options, spouses schedules and life at home. All of this  kept us working quietly amongst each other. There were many pieces of the puzzle to put together for us to be where we are today- ready to leave. 

Many people get it. Many others don't. The "why are you doing this" list is long? Simply put- both of our 2 families, in their own ways, have engrained in them a love for long distance travel and exploration. Travel has been a priority and focus in our children's lives. We are making it happen and letting go of any small doubts. We will be "living" in (not moving to) Nice, France (not Paris). We have two separate, but close apartments in the Old Town (no elevators- the buildings are too old). The Bullingtons are on the 5th floor of their building. We have WI-FI (so they say) so the kids can get their school work done. They are enrolled in Virtual School (not homeschool). They have teachers for each subject. We are all impressed so far and really liking the concept. They work hard (it's not a cake walk). The husbands will be traveling back and forth at different times to enjoy family time (we are grateful they are supporting our adventure). We are hoping to explore other areas by train and maybe even plane.  We now have French visas (a long and arduous process). We are hoping to come back knowing more French than when we started. On top of flights of stairs to keep us in shape, we hope to find our favorite cafe, wine shop (moms) and boulangerie. We are laughing at ourselves as we pack saying,  "We don't need much," but finding that our creature comforts keep finding their way into our bags. We are only going in suitcases and carry-ons (no boxes are being shipped). Yes, we are on the Mediterranean Sea, but the weather should be similar to home. 

We look forward to documenting our travels and sharing our story- the Travel School Project! Bon Voyage!