Traveling is broadly associated with folks in their 20’s, people that are somewhere in or just out of their education, young people, free people, folks that are not having a family yet. But in fact, there is (almost) no reason for excluding long term travels or journeys on rather unbeaten paths from your globetrotting possibilities once you’ve started a family.
In my series Traveling Families I am interviewing families that did not drop their traveling plans and neither ground down their wanderlust but decided to continue their journey together with their kids.
For this 4th edition of the Traveling Families Series I am happy to introduce you to Jessica and her family, that is living in Korea.
Jessica (from Canada) and Danny (from the Philippines) have been living, and working in South Korea for more than a decade now. We have traveled around Asia extensively with our son. Family in Faraway Places was started way to show families that they could continue to travel, even with kids! Family in Faraway Places inspires travelers with kids to step outside the traditional resorts targeted at families and to get out and explore together.
Name: Jessica from Family in Faraway Places.
Home Base: I’m from Ontario, Canada and my husband Danny is from Negros Occidental, Philippines. We have been living in South Korea for more than 10 years now so our son is from Gwangju, South Korea.
Tell us about your family: We are a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-species (we have 3 cats and an aquarium full of fish) family. We’re happiest when we’re outdoors exploring some place or trying something new together. We’re also big foodies. Danny is an Executive Chef so eating new foods is one of our favorite things about traveling
What is your preferred traveling style? We travel on weekends locally and then during the summer and winter holidays we travel internationally. We’re thinking about basing ourselves in a new country next year.
How are your kids schooled? Our son goes to Korean preschool. We can’t afford to send him to one of the private English preschools. We had planned on homeschooling but it was really difficult meeting other kids to play with and we don’t have any family around here either. We’d go to the playgrounds during the day and there would be no one there because all the kids were in preschool. So when he was 2.5 years old he started attending Korean preschool mostly so he would have other people to interact with and so that my husband and I could spend some time together. It didn’t go very well. He HATED his first preschool. He goes to a new preschool now and is very happy there. He has been really slow to use Korean though. He was born here and is surrounded by the language but English is his first language and I don’t think his first preschool did much to try to encourage him to speak Korean. He knows Korean he’s just really hesitant to use it. His current teacher has been really awesome at building up his confidence. Most of his academic schooling we do at home. Our son is very bright. He started reading around 2.5 years old, was doing math at the 2nd or 3rd grade level when he was 3, etc. In particular he is very strong at engineering and science. Which sounds great and it is! But there are a lot of challenges that come along with it. For example, when he was a baby he would have violent outbursts when he couldn’t communicate what he was thinking. Now that he has a wider vocabulary its better but we’re expecting other challenges along the way. Unless there is a big change soon in his language abilities I don’t think he’ll be able to go to Korean public school. There will be a large gap in his second language abilities and his actual academic abilities (a problem for many immigrants entering education systems worldwide!). I think we’re going to need to do homeschooling or move to someplace else where he will have access to more assistance in his first language.
Tell us about your dearest family travel memory: Our son had just turned 3 and was going through a difficult time emotionally when we went to Myanmar. He hated preschool and he didn’t have much chance to play with other kids at all. We were feeling concerned. One evening we were in Mandalay and a bunch of local kids had paid to use the hotel pool. They were being a bit annoying, as groups of kids can sometimes be. My husband and I were mumbling under our breath about them. It was nearly dark when we got out of the pool and they were still hanging around chasing each other. Our son desperately wanted to play with them but they were older than him and didn’t speak much English. We were a bit hesitant to just let him go off and play with them but they welcomed him right into their game. Within a few minutes our 3 year old was organizing the entire group by using body language to get them to run races with him. We knew things were going to be OK for him. Such a weight was lifted off of my heart when those kids welcomed him in. We’ve had similar experiences in other countries since then. I was ordering dinner one night in Hoi An, Vietnam and came out to find that he had taken my husband into a temple to play Lego with a bunch of kids for example. He doesn’t care at all about where kids are from or what language they speak. I love that.
Which countries/regions did you explore with your kids so far? Our son was born in Korea and we’ve brought him to Canada once and the Philippines twice to meet family. We’ve also been to Thailand twice, Japan, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Thinking back to your past travels, which one was the best and why? Probably Myanmar and Vietnam. Our son was 3 when we visited both of those countries. I enjoyed traveling with him when he was younger but he was able to engage a lot more on both of those visits. He could tell us which foods he wanted to try, places he wanted to go, etc. It wasn’t just us taking him places. I’m sure it will only continue to get better!
If there is a country you would not visit again with your children, which is it and why? Not a country but a city. We LOVE Thailand but our experiences in Pattaya were terrible! Pattaya had none of the elements that we love so much about Thailand. Our hotel was full of mold and poorly run. The nearby beach was a mess, the local food had been changed a lot to appeal to tourists, there was a lack of that famous “Thai Hospitality”, people behaving badly, etc. Our son loved our hotel pool but my husband and I were so stressed out there and it was supposed to be the part of our trip where we were relaxing. We’re hoping to go back to Thailand soon with our son, just not to Pattaya!
Do you have any advice for traveling with kids? It’s not going to be as bad as the image you have in your head! Each time we go on a trip we worry about something else and it’s never as bad as we expect. Baby carriers are a lot easier to use than strollers in many countries. We absolutely love our Manduca baby carrier because you can use it from newborn up to 6 years old! Obviously you’re not going to want to be carrying a 6 year old all over the place but if you’re climbing up a mountain, going up temple stairs or even rushing through the airport, you can just put your toddler or preschooler on your back and go! A lot of people think that if they are traveling with kids they need to go to a resort with activities for kids and such but these places are usually pretty expensive. It doesn’t take much to entertain kids. Our son has spent hours chasing frogs, searching for ladybugs and playing in puddles. Nothing helps kids (and parents) get over jetlag faster than the sun. Try to keep your regular daily routine as best you can in the new time zone and get outside!
Thank you, Jessica!