Nancy Li Schmidt and her family are at home in the world.
She, her husband, and their two children are worldschooling, also known as travel schooling, an educational movement in which young people learn by interacting with the wider world.
“It’s homeschooling in the sense that we are educating within our home, but we are traveling abroad to use the world as our classroom,” explains Schmidt (’99 MA Comm., ’06 PhD Hum.), noting the family is also embracing slow travel, a concept that celebrates lingering a little longer in one place and taking time to make intentional connections—to the land, to the people, to the culture, to the cuisine.
Through this approach, she says, her kids, a junior in high school and a seventh grader, are growing in confidence and independence. “They’re learning so much from getting out in the world.”
That was the goal. Schmidt was inspired to embark on extended travel with her family to explore other parts of planet Earth, get to know other people and lifestyles, expand their worldview and connection to the world, and immerse themselves in other places and cultures.
Their plan is to travel abroad for a year, returning stateside for winter before likely re-embarking on another adventure. So far, they’ve visited Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, Costa Rica, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, and Sweden. After the holidays, they’re considering continuing their travels to Portugal, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe.
“As we travel as a family, we hope to inspire and encourage others to step outside of their comfort zone, to take a chance to get to know people who are different from them, and to learn about other ways of being, so we can all grow into more compassionate global beings,” says Schmidt, who’s been documenting their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and a blog.
The handles, hashtags, and URL are the same: oursidetrackedlife. Posts offer a primer on worldschooling as well as tips for traveling in Germany and Italy and through Europe for more than 90 days.
They typically stay in one place for a month, using small towns as home bases and making a point to volunteer. There are too many trip highlights to name. But some of the most impactful experiences have been exploring medieval sites across Germany and France, making traditional pasta and pizza in Tuscany, and visiting Dachau and the beaches of Normandy to learn about World War II.
So far, they’ve heard “Go Cougs!” in Athens, Barcelona, Italy, Costa Rica, and Herceg Novi, Montenegro. “We just love the instant connection Cougs feel when they see a fellow Coug,” Schmidt says. “It really is something special.”
Also special are the lessons they are learning, not only about the world but themselves. Says Schmidt, “A big lesson we have learned is we can do anything as long as we stick together and help each other stay calm and navigate circumstances as a family unit.”