Lessons learned from a year of family travel

01 Washington Coast 2017

Walking through our house for the last time, I felt excitement and trepidation. We were leaving the US with only a vague sketch of a plan – we would visit my mom in Mexico, I would finish my research project, and apply for a new faculty position. The position I landed would dictate where we would go next. I was open to where that would be and confident that with my education and research background an extraordinary opportunity awaited. What I didn’t anticipate was that even with a PhD and decades of experience, no job offer would come.

A false promise

As a first-generation college student from a working-class family,  I believed the promise I had been told. Education would guarantee constant employment and a higher quality of life. A doctoral degree was like a magic pathway out of poverty. I learned there was a caveat! At this point in time, careers in higher education are no longer guaranteed to even pay a living wage. Many positions are temporary or contract with no benefits. The competition for full-time tenure-line faculty positions is fierce. There are now more people with PhDs than positions requiring them. Perhaps, if I wasn’t as selective about where we want to live, I could have landed a position. However, one thing I have learned this year is that quality of life matters. Just having a job and merely surviving isn’t living.

Unexpectedly falling in love

14 Fisherman on Lake Patzcuaro 2018

The next surprise was that I love México. I was reluctant to visit my in Ajijic because no one in my family likes heat and constant sunshine. Not surprising since the pacific northwest is where we call “home.” However, while we wandered around México, we came across Pátzcuaro, a Pueblo Magico, high in the mountains where summer days rarely surpass 70 degrees, and it rains daily. The lush green landscape and cloudy skies remind us of Oregon and Washington. Yet, Pátzcuaro is also inimitably Méxican. The area has a rich history and unique artesian villages nearby. There is also a large Indigenous population, which has ironically helped me reconnect with my Indigenous roots.

13 Summer Solstice Ihuatzio 2018

As I type this, I hear a sound collage of my favorite rooster belting out his distinctive song mixed with music from a car radio, and an occasional church bell. I love being surrounded by a culture where hugs and kisses are a standard greeting, public affection isn’t shamed, and young people offer their arms to elders as they walk through the plaza.

17 Blue Corn of Corupo 2018

Of course, like any place else, México has social problems. However, I do not feel the anger spewing out of the drivers and people walking down the streets like I did in Seattle. The more money that came into Seattle, the more angry and entitled people seemed. Often as I walked to my office, I was nearly run down in the crosswalk (frequently by BMWs). Sometimes the driver would honk at me, even though I had the right of way and was in the crosswalk! I often thought, “If money was supposed to make you happy why were the people in their fancy cars so damn angry?”

In our new town, there doesn’t seem to be the pride of busyness like there is in the US. I previously received praise because I worked so much. It frequently took weeks for me to find time on my calendar to have dinner with a friend. In stark contrast, people here take time to be with their loved ones.

16 Cantoya Fest opening night 2018

The pace is slower. I have time to think. And time to sip my morning coffee while absorbing the beauty of the mist covered mountains outside my window – instead of pouring my coffee into a to-go container and drinking it while battling traffic on my way to work. When I think of where we should go next, I cannot think of any place I’d rather be.

11 Tzintzuntzan Yuccata 2018

A change of plans

We met a lot of other family travelers over the last year. When my dream faculty position didn’t materialize, I contemplated staying on the road and continuing the adventure. Maybe we should head to Europe? We could ship the van over and fly the dogs. We’d have to hustle to keep the money coming in. Lots of people do it though and generously shared their success stories with us. It seemed doable.

The more I thought about leaving México, the less I wanted to. Why? What else do I need to see? What makes my family happy? When are we at our best?

04 Pink Coral Sand Dunes 2017

When I moved into my last house in Seattle, it was supposed to be our “forever home.” I had moved 46 times in my life. I lived in every US state that I wanted to live in. I moved for adventure, education, and jobs. However, mostly I moved out of economic necessity. I was ready to settle down, nest and make a permanent home. When that was no longer possible, I made the best of it and worked hard to tap into my adventurous spirit. I had never heard the term “slow traveling” until this year. Since I have never lived in the same town for more than 5 consecutive years, I guess you could say I have always been slow traveling!

08 Oregon Coast 2018

Traveling full time turned out to be exhausting. Although being on the road with dogs is doable it added to our expenses. We also have special dogs. Our German Shepherd is a terrified rescue who doesn’t do well with other dogs. Our Basset Hound is becoming a grumpy old man who can’t keep up on hikes. Both are happiest when they have their own yard and comfy beds. They are family. Leaving them behind is not an option for us.

Communication is key

We also learned that whatever unaddressed issues you have as a family will be magnified 1000x when you are living on the road. When you are consumed by the daily grind, you can hide your issues and emotions. Often American families spend so little time together you don’t even notice what is going on with each other.

And now we are together 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week (no exaggeration).

One of our biggest mistakes was not talking about what traveling full time would mean for us as a family and how we would all get our needs met while on the road. I think we thought it would just work itself out. That has been far from the case. As it turns out, we each need incredibly different things to be happy. This wasn’t as noticeable previously because so much of our time was consumed by what we had to do. Work. School. Sleep. Repeat.

Stan and I routinely worked over 60 hours a week each. Now, we are learning how to be together all the time and what we want to do now that we have time to do it. It has been a steep learning curve. We haven’t completely figured out this new life, but I have confidence that we will.

12 Pink Coral Sand Dunes 2nd visit 2018

Road Schooling

The best part of this radical new way of living is having time and space. As an educator and advocate for student-centered, culturally relevant, and personally meaningful education, I feel privileged to be able to provide this for my son. The other night we went out to watch a metal band (my choice, not his). While listening to the band my son shared that being homeschooled allowed him time to figure out what he was interested in. He reflected that in a traditional school they tell you exactly what to learn and when to learn it.

“You don’t have the opportunity to figure out what you like or to explore topics that are interesting to you.”

Then he told me the six topics he would like to focus on next. I was so excited! I am surprised I didn’t start jumping up and down. This is EXACTLY what we (academics) teach about how to keep students engaged in their learning. We have known this for decades, but our approach to educating students hasn’t incorporated this basic idea – make school meaningful, culturally relevant, and interesting! My son was disengaged from school before we left Seattle. Due to his experiences in the traditional school system, he did not believe learning was fun. A primary goal of mine was to ignite his passion again and help him find something he loved and wanted to learn more about. So, although my education did not land me my dream job (yet) I am thrilled that my own son is benefitting from it.

Next Steps

10 The 400 steps to the top rim of a dead volcano in Patzcuaro

What’s next? We don’t really know. It has been a year of tremendous growth and uncertainty. There are days that I long for Seattle, being part of a research institute, and our friends. I remind myself that I actually want to return to Seattle circa 1995 and it no longer exists. We love Michoacán and have been embraced by the community here. We have been invited to be of service to the community. I have never lived anywhere where so many people have asked me to stay.

Perhaps this is my “forever home?” I really cannot say. For now, we will continue to accept opportunities as they present themselves and be open to living a life we never imagined!

We hope you continue to follow our journey, where ever it takes us.

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  8 comments for “Lessons learned from a year of family travel

  1. Asante'
    August 23, 2018 at 6:54 am

    Lovely journey. Thank you.

    • R.Harwick,PhD
      August 23, 2018 at 9:25 am

      Thank you for taking the time to read about our journey!

  2. John Fenn
    August 26, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    Nice to follow along with all the travels…geographic, intellectual, etc. Tell that awesome kid of yours I say hi!

    • R.Harwick,PhD
      August 26, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      Glad you are following our journey. Any time you and your awesome family want to visit Mexico, mi casa es su casa ❤

  3. August 27, 2018 at 11:13 am

    This is such a lovely and inspiring read that also makes me want to visit Mexico sometime very soon. 🙂 You truly turned your negative into a positive. “…quality of life matters. Just having a job and merely surviving isn’t living.” Well said.

    • R.Harwick,PhD
      August 27, 2018 at 9:18 am

      Thank you for your kind words! And do visit Mexico soon, it is an incredible country!

  4. August 31, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    Love the candor, thanks for sharing!! The road leas travelled is always tough but you guys are doing great!!

    • R.Harwick,PhD
      August 31, 2018 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you for reading and for your kind words!

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