As we approach the beginning of our fourth year, we recognize that how we socialize with others is in transition. Previously, we gained the majority of our social time from either a homeschooling community, connections through traditional schooling, or through meeting local residents under a variety of circumstances. Now, we are WorldTowners on-the-go, however, and with this big change has come changes in the ways we will be creating community. Here is a comparison of how we have developed social relationships, what we feel has been the easiest and how it is changing as we motor-home through Europe.
When we started on this WorldTowning journey, we left behind an amazing international community at the kids’ school in Massachusetts. We all knew that we would not necessarily be able to recreate this experience, as we only planned to stay in a location for a maximum of 12 months. On the other hand, we knew community was important to us, and we wanted a variation of what we had. That being said, when your kids are in a local brick-and-mortar school where yours is the primary language, an authentic community forms much more naturally. We knew, with our slow-traveling lifestyle, we would have to be more intentional.
I must admit that we were not very good at building a community of friends in Costa Rica. The desire was there, but the stamina and commitment were not. We were just so tired and struggling to adjust to the new normal we were creating. There was very little time left to think about building community. And, now knowing how much effort and time needs to be dedicated to community building from our experience in Ecuador and France, I know it would have been virtually impossible in Costa Rica.
Although we didn’t quite reach the level of community-building that we wanted to in Costa Rica, we experienced it on a small-scale. Having Largo in a traditional school setting made it easier than if he had been homeschooled; however, the language barriers and the fact that playdates are less a part of the culture, still created challenges. Largo was invited to birthday parties. The school had several events, as well, and we connected with a couple of the parents. It was a small community, but, for our first step living outside the U.S. as a family, I think it was pretty fruitful. This was also the year Avalon wanted to try homeschooling. It was a bit more challenging for her, because she did not speak the language and neither did I. Luckily, she joined a local dance troupe, and they welcomed our entire family with open arms. We spent many evenings and weekends with them at practice and dance shows. Clearly finding ways to connect to the local community was more of a challenge for Avalon than Largo, given the opportunities, but for beginners who were barely surviving a huge life change, we did pretty well.
By the time we moved to Ecuador, we were only mildly experienced at community building. That didn’t stop our enthusiasm to jump in full force. The kids and I hit the ground running. (Will was in Hong Kong at the time we arrived.) Immediately, we made invitations for Largo’s birthday party, and we invited the entire class. Within weeks, we had already started building our community through his schoolmates. As for Avalon and I, we joined a local homeschool group that met every Friday. Even though I was still struggling with the Spanish, Avalon and I ventured out to meet up with our Ecuadorian friends each week. In addition, Will and I made friends with our landlords, neighbors and several other individuals. We continued to entertain people in our home during our entire year in Ecuador, and, as a result, we made amazing friends. In addition, these friends welcomed us into their homes and shared their traditions with us. It was beautiful and just what we had hoped for when we ventured out as WorldTowners—we made friends that were natives.
Then came France. By this time, we were pros at relationship and community building, or at least we felt like it. Both kids attended a traditional school, and, within weeks they were equipped with invitations to hand out to friends for our first party. In France, we grew our small social circle from families of the kids’ friends, landlords and friends to all of our neighbors, shop owners and people we met in language classes along the way. We built a social circle in Hyères that encompassed everything we desired to see in our tribe. We were not around only like-minded people; frankly, I find that dreadfully boring. We had friends that ranged ages 5 to 70. Most of our friends were French, but we also had friends from Czech, the U.S. and Germany. We had friends who were well-traveled and others who were not. Professions varied, incomes varied, and so did the way each person approached life. The common thread, however, was that everyone we spent time with was kind, fun and had a desire to befriend a family from a different walk of life. If that is not the magic sauce for an amazing social circle, I don’t know what is.
Then, we started motor-homing through Europe—and everything has changed. Even though we are only three months into this journey, we have had a lot of conversations about socializing with others, and how we will connect with people on a local level.
As it stands today our socializing with others thus far has been meeting up with local friends in different towns in Europe. Through WorldTowning, we have met and enjoyed relationships with traveler friends through the internet. We have not had the opportunity to meet all of these friends in person. We have greatly enjoyed traveling throughout France and Switzerland, getting together with these wonderful people in their homes to enjoy local cuisine, laugh and chat. I quite prefer this type of socializing right now. It complements our much-needed time alone in the motorhome to enjoy family, work and homeschool.
There was speculation that when we started motor-homing, our social life would involve other motor-homing families—and that very well still may happen. We already have a couple of meet-ups scheduled; however, I don’t see that being the bulk of our socializing. We still have a grand curiosity to meet up with those who live in the regions through which we will be traveling. But, in true Sueiro fashion, we are keeping our minds open to new adventures and new friends, however they come to us.
Socializing is not terribly hard for us. For the most part, we are extroverts, and we love parties. However, the language barriers and lack of understanding when it comes to cultural norms can be quite daunting. For example, the first time we entertained at our home in Ecuador, guests stayed until 2:30 a.m. We were definitely not expecting that, and, had we known, we would have taken a nap. We loved that our guests stayed late and were comfortable in our home, but we were unprepared. Or, there was the time we had a party in France, only to learn that we needed to serve everyone his or her drink. The French think it is rude to refill their own glasses. Or, the time—the list goes on.
We have socialized by sharing a traditional Thanksgiving meal, pizza-and-beer parties, cheese-and-wine apertifs, a desserts-only party on Valentine’s Day, hot chocolate-and-Christmas parties, and much more. Now that we are in the motorhome, we seem to be more on the receiving side of hospitality. We find a way to contribute, of course.
Are you thinking of WorldTowning? What are your social concerns? What are your social desires? #WTSocial