Jenss Family Travels: Lessons from the Road
Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.
It’s strange, but we’re seven months into our trip and I still get a bit flustered filling out the immigration forms upon our arrival in a new country. This has nothing to do with being worried about getting through or the process itself. It’s that darn line that asks for your current residence! Carol and I still deliberate whether we should use the old address of the house we sold in New York before leaving or my parents’ in New Jersey where we forward our mail.
The truth is that we don’t have a home right now. To honor this state of affairs, I bought one of those “Life Is Good” t-shirts with a sketch of planet Earth on it that says “Home Sweet Home,” which seems only fitting for what we’re doing. I’ve also told the boys that “home is where the heart is,” and when someone wants to know where we live, they can simply answer, “right here.” So when people ask us what we are doing about the kids’ education, it’s not really accurate to say we are home schooling them. Instead, they are being taught on the road. They are not being “schooled,” they’re getting educated, and there’s a subtle difference.
In the event that anyone from Tyler and Stefan’s old school district is reading this, I’m happy to report that Carol has been very diligent in keeping the boys up to speed with their 3rd and 6th grade English and math curriculum. She’s certainly logging in the hours with them, albeit on airplanes, in hotel rooms and during odd hours and weekends. It’s nearly impossible to keep any kind of regular schedule when you’re busy visiting extraordinary places and experiencing new things practically every day, so I give both the boys and my wife a ton of credit. As such, this family has very little down time. While we were with our friends in South Africa, I secretly took pleasure in watching them attempt, with little success, to get their children to do some of the schoolwork they’d be missing during the two-week trip.
What I’ve come to recognize from watching this all play out is that what the boys are missing in terms of organized academic “training,” they’re making up for in real-life hands-on learning. Although it will probably be quite an adjustment at first, I trust the boys will be able to return to the structure and routine of school life and pick up on some of the things we didn’t cover with them during their time away. The things they are learning, like where Zimbabwe is on a map and how many vertebrae a giraffe has in its neck, will likely stay with them a lot longer than the information they would have had to memorize for tests this year. I’m not passing judgment on our school systems, but this kind of experience-based education just can’t be taught in any classroom.
When it comes to classrooms, I guess we should be grateful that they function at all after our brief visit to Zimbabwe. In this country, most of the schools have been shut down because of an economic collapse that makes the U.S. recession look like a boom (their inflation rate is almost 300 million percent, unemployment is at 90%, and the currency is essentially useless). But despite a complete breakdown in its infrastructure (we couldn’t even mail a postcard because stamps weren’t being issued), an outbreak of cholera, and a government in flux, we didn’t hesitate to see Victoria Falls from its border because we were assured that this tourist destination was completely safe. And it was. Other than the fact that the cost of entering the national park in which the falls reside was US$20 or 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollars (that’s not a typo), you didn’t really notice any of the major issues plaguing the rest of the nation. Overall, we had a very good experience, although the price of food and lodging was considerably higher than we had experienced elsewhere in Africa, which certainly won’t help in attracting tourists away from the much more stable Zambian side of the falls. I personally didn’t feel terrible about paying more, thinking I might actually be helping the people of this stricken country in some way, but we still got the feeling that tourists were being taken advantage of somehow, rather than fully welcomed.
The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge were we stayed was quite nice, offering beautiful panoramic views of the Zambezi National Park and its game, which include impalas, elephants, plenty of vultures, and even some crocs. For more crocodile and hippo viewing, we took a rafting trip down the Zambezi, which proved to be just enough mild adventure for the kids. Some of the other families booked an elephant-back safari ride, which was quite popular as well. Our dinner at their Boma Restaurant might have felt a bit touristy, but was still good fun for the kids–especially the all-hands-on-deck African drumming circle that preceded dessert.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
For me, other than seeing numerous rainbows hovering above the mist of the falls during a solo visit I took to the park late one afternoon, and the helicopter flight over them the next morning, the highlight might have been our stay at the Imbabala Lodge 70 kilometers up river in a lovely spot near the Botswana border. The twelve of us had the place to ourselves, largely because of the impact the global recession is having on tourism (this was evident throughout Africa) and the fact that it held shy of 20 guests when at full capacity. This made for a festive farewell party, highlighted by a sunset cruise that took us gently past African fish eagles, numerous crocodiles, hippos, and lily pads that our guides turned into an arts-and-crafts project for the kids.
So our few days in Zimbabwe not only exposed the children to more incredible wildlife experiences, it was a lesson in current events that they won’t soon forget. And as far as their teachers go, the kids have had some of the best “substitutes” in the world, which I’ll get into in the next installment of this blog.
Photo: Rainer Jenss