Tammy is a fourteen-year expat veteran who calls Panama home. She homeschools her bilingual, third-culture kids in the jungles of Panama.
When I first moved to Panama, my US expat kids entered the traditional Latin American school system in Panama. It was a failure. We spent seven long and frustrating years in a failing education environment. Our kids hated it and so did we.
I asked myself; Can expats homeschool? Is it even legal to homeschool in Latin America? In our case, Panama's laws regarding homeschooling are fuzzy, as are most of the Latin American regulations regarding homeschool. If you decided to homeschool overseas it is best to research the laws in your new country.
Making the choice to homeschool as an expat changed our lives not only as parents but as patriots also. We had more freedom in our day. We were no longer bound to the school year and could take spontaneous trips. Those were two of the first differences we noticed. Our differences did not end with more daily freedom; here are three key ways in which homeschooling expats are different.
Homeschooling Expats Have Better Field Trips
Living in Panama (or any country outside the one you call home) means we have amazing field trips. In Panama, I can honestly say my homeschool field trip options are only limited by my imagination.
I try to incorporate field trips into our overseas homeschool life at least weekly. The examples below are just a sampling of our field trip experiences are different.
- Instead of studying about volcanoes in a book, we went out in the backyard and observed Panama's most notable volcano, Volcan Baru, at different times of the day.
- We inspected rock formations first hand at the Parque de la Amistad in Boquete, Panama which were created during Volcan Baru's eruption.
- Panama's climate is diverse. We were able to visit the tropical rainforest, desert, and temperate rainforest biomes in the same day.
- Weekend hikes in the tropical jungles of Panama provided endless cell phone pictures of insects, flowers, and animals for research later in the school year.
- The kids visited a hydroelectric plant and were able to practice their foreign language skills while asking questions about its operations.
- Visting the local David Fair annually meant being culturally immersed in the lifestyle of a typical Panamanian Campesino.
- Witness salt production first hand at a sea salt production facility.
- Holding baby sea turtles in our hands prior to releasing them for life at sea.
- History came alive when we visited the port city of Colon, Panama where Christopher Columbus also came ashore.
We Rock Culture Immersion
Nothing beats the true cultural immersion that expat kids experience daily. Imagine giving your child an infinite language and cultural education with every daily interaction.
Playing with local children or shopping in a market provides a learning venue. Every time my children go outside of their house they are exposed to the Spanish language and culture. These experiences added up quickly our first years in Panama. I noticed daily that my kids were speaking in a native-like manner in a matter of weeks.
Take the example of a pickup game of soccer in the barrio. It provides your expat homeschool student with an unlimited exposure to language, cultural and social nuances all while playing. These experiences are unique and individual and cannot be obtained from books.
True cultural immersion happens on the playground; ask any expat kid who has tried to enter a rowdy group of local football players. Those awkward moments of asking to enter the game are chances for children to learn cultural navigation skills. I am a firm believer nothing beats hands-on learning. Spending hours kicking around a ball with other kids means expat kids are boding linguistically and culturally. They are growing into true world citizens while all the time playing.
We Are Training Up Global Citizens
Being away from home isn’t easy for anyone, especially children. Moving your family overseas takes guts. Parents have to often “sell” the idea to their families. It takes a special skill to survive in a new culture, country, and language.
The survival skill most noted missing in kids today is the resilience. The days of participation trophies made many generations unable to cope with failure. Expat kids learn to accept their cultural and linguistic failures and strive to move beyond them.
We need more kids with this skill. These are the future global citizens that when faced with life's obstacles will bend instead of break.
Expat homeschool kids have it tough, no doubt. Leaving behind school friends, family, and cultural familiarity certainly is not easy. It takes courage, determination and good old guts to survive outside your comfort zone. Homeschool expat kids are strong. No doubt about it. Each day they wake up they are experiencing and learning differently.
Giving our children the gift of a life overseas means for us that we are preparing them for their future. As an expat homeschooling mom, I feel I am giving just a bit more to meet the educational needs of my children. That just a bit more might make a difference in their futures.
Were you fortunate enough to grow up overseas? Leave me a comment below.
© 2018 TJ Rogers