Finding Our People at the World School Family Summit
It’s hard to know where to begin when you’ve had a week that was as inspirational, emotional, and – dare I say – life-changing as our time at the Project World School Family Summit in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
We booked our tickets and hotel room months ago, which is VERY unusual for us. So far in this travel journey, we have really been flying by the seat of our pants (see my post on leaving Mexico with only 24 hour’s notice!). I am so glad that we pre-booked this event, though, since we were loving life in Hoi An, and were reluctant to leave for the Summit – and I wonder if we might have skipped it all together, had we not already committed ourselves financially. And that would have been a travesty.
I have never spent a week (really, two and a half, once you add in the pre- and post-Summit activities and gatherings that happened) that was so filled with connection, joy, inspiration, and kindred spirits at every turn. I feel like I only began the conversation with so many people, and look forward to continuing it when we meet again!
We were together with 150 other people, all world-schooling parents and their kids, all at different stages of their world-schooling journey: some still planning and dreaming (although I’m pretty sure that this Summit has kicked some of their planning into much higher gear!), others literally 4 days into their new life, many a few months or years into their travels, and a few veterans who have 10-20 years of this traveling adventure under their belt.
The kids 5 and up were in Kid’s Camp from 9am-6:30pm (with a lunch break) every day, and it was so thrilling to watch a group of 50-odd world-schooled kids bond instantly and play together every day. It was like school, without all the school-stuff that most of us have consciously left behind – the best of it without the worst of it!
I loved the fact that the younger and older kids mingled – 9 year olds watching out for the 5 year olds, 12 year olds leading activities for the rest of the group, it didn’t matter. This kind of multi-age play rarely happens in a school setting, and I think it is so good for kids’ emotional and social development. Not to mention that it was a camp created by an unschooled kid, so it was really just free play and crafts and outdoor fun all day! Charlotte had an absolute blast and made some great friends.
This left the adults free to attend sessions and spend all day connecting and chatting. Kids younger than 5 were welcome in the session room, as long as they weren’t too loud and disruptive. This meant, for us, that Jonathan and I had to split up, with one of us attending a session while the other took Aria out. She is my wild child, and I love her spirit, but quiet and unassuming she is not!
She literally streaked through one presenter’s session (yes, fully naked – it was the running gag of the week to see how clothed – or not- Aria was at any point in time, as it could change quickly! It was hilarious how many times I heard the comment, “Hey, she’s wearing pants!”), and as I scooped her up and removed her from the room, I heard only gentle laughter. It was so beautiful and refreshing to be allowed to allow Aria to be herself (within reason, of course – I didn’t let her streak twice!), and be supported in trying to attend sessions with her when I could (which, honestly, wasn’t very much).
However, the most magical parts of the day were the afternoon sessions, when, at some point, Aria would crash completely from exhaustion, and Jonathan and I would get to attend a session together. We grew as parents and world-schooling travellers so much in those short, precious times, as we were there, present, together, hearing the same thing – and pretty much always being on the same page about what inspired us, and how we might change our goals and approach to this new life.
Our parenting actually improved as the week went on. We were all more patient with each other, and there was more co-operation and less yelling. Part of this was due to our screen detox improving the behaviour and habits of everyone – you can read more about that on my Instagram – and part of it, I’m sure, was due to the fact that we got more couple time together, in which we were thinking about solutions and positive future steps, and hearing stories about others’ struggles and solutions. But I’d say the biggest factor was just being with our people, finding our community.
Every day, there were more and more people to connect with, commiserate with, grow with. I could have spent hours with almost every person there, sharing stories and learning together!
There were session presentations where we listened, were inspired, and shared our experiences. There were facilitated discussions where we learned from each other and pooled our knowledge. There were break-out “open sessions” where we got into smaller round-table groups.
I led one on unschooling, even though I’m brand-new to it, and it was so inspiring to be at a table with veterans of 20 years, who still wanted to share their knowledge and be part of the discussion, and newbies like me, and everyone in between. We bonded over so many common concerns, challenges, and successes, and it was incredibly reassuring to be sitting at a table with parents who are treading along this unconventional life and facing so many of the same things.
This is already a long post, and I feel like I haven’t even begun to capture the spirit of the week, the beauty of it, the community that was formed and seems unshakeable. You could see the strength of what we created in the week following the Summit, when every single day, there were multiple meet-ups being planned so we could all get together and connect more. Day trips around Chiang Mai, meet-ups in Pai and Krabi and Phuket – we just couldn’t stay away from each other!
I have taken on the task of starting a WhatsApp group to help us stay connected and meet up more often and more easily on our travels. We are all independent souls, and that can make it hard to commit to travel plans together when we’re all out forging our own way! But I know that I was inspired to make it happen, and I hope that that inspiration continues for all of us.
Really, it was the people who attended the Summit that made it so special. It was the most amazing conference I’ve ever attended or witnessed (and I used to witness a lot of them in my old life as an event manager!), and it was because it was co-created by everyone who attended. The founders and organizers, Lainie and Miro, did an exceptional job in organizing and implementing every aspect of the event, and were marvellous facilitators who knew when to step in as leaders, and when to step back and watch the community grow and co-create.
We didn’t have expensive fly-in Keynote Speakers who give an amazing speech and then leave immediately. We didn’t have “experts” telling us how to do this, or what would solve our problems. Instead, we had a community of people who each brought their own special talents and skills and experiences and courage to the table every day, and within a week, a special atmosphere had blossomed and people were sharing stories and supporting each other and growing together.
I’ve never felt so free to be vulnerable… to cry my eyes out on the last day, overcome with the beauty and emotion of it all… to see that I’m not alone in crying my eyes out!
To organize a last minute last-day-of-the-Summit dinner and watch it turn into a huge food-market dance party.
To organize a Mom’s night out, expecting maybe 5-6 people to make it out (us moms are busy people…), and watch in amazement and gratitude as 16 other world-schooling moms showed up and spent hours revelling in our kid-free conversations that went deeper and to more interesting places than I sometimes have with people I’ve known for years.
To feel comfortable sharing the hard parts of this life, and know that the other people wouldn’t say something like “well, maybe you should just move back home, then” – instead, they would tell their own story of a hard time, and we’d laugh, and realize that we’re all in it together, we’re not alone, and we’re doing something amazing and brave and hard and rewarding that challenges us every day as parents, as educators, as citizens of the world, and as members of a society that often think we’re crazy for what we’re doing.
To know that every single person would watch Aria running around half naked, shrieking with laughter, and just laugh along with her, instead of thinking “why can’t that parent control her child??”.
To connect with other parents immediately, and be able to say out loud that we feel like kindred spirits, without being scared or shy or feeling weird about being friends so quickly.
To have barriers drop instantly, and skip the small talk and the “getting-to-know-you” dance and the “should-I-really-invest-in-this-friendship” game.
The Summit already feels like it was ages ago, and yet also just like yesterday. The community we built still feels so strong, even though I fear that heading back to Canada will diminish our connection. But I will take courage in the fact that we are ALL world travellers of some kind, and that we will meet up again, somewhere in the world – even if I have to pull out my event-planner hat and start making it happen!
Hmmm… that is definitely going on my to-do list… okay, gotta go, it’s time to start organizing PWS Summit 2018 2.0!
Most days began with an optional Zumba or Yoga class by the amazing instructors from Kids Yoga Garden
One of the first families we met was a lovely Australian family with 2 boys and their younger sister. Our two girls were just enamoured with them all! Poor Harry, the 9 year old: Aria would NOT leave him alone if she saw him!
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