Families on the Move – Meet the Family Behind WitnessHumanity.com
Families on the Move
We have been blessed to connect with many amazing families online, all of whom have adapted a travel lifestyle in one form or another. We wanted to take the opportunity to introduce you to them here and highlight the positive aspects travel has had on their families. Welcome our interview series called Families on the Move. Miro & I are honored to a part of this global community we consider our extended family.
Meet the Amazing Family Behind WitnessHumanity.com
Our three member family includes Jenni, Aaron, and Summer. Our family is a bit unconventional in that Summer is not our biological child but she has become a part of our family as if she were. Summer is a artistic wiz who also loves literature and all things that question and explore spirituality. Aaron is a teacher in the free school tradition and can often be found delving deeper into his thoughts on alternative education. I (Jenni) am a youth advocate and the one who most easily embraces the unknown- I am the one who came up with the “wacky” idea to travel indefinitely. Our family is gearing up to embrace the nomadic lifestyle this summer with the plan to explore Central America first. Where are you now, where have you been and how long have you been traveling? Aaron and I are currently in Brooklyn. We are both tying up some loose ends before we leave permanently this upcoming July. Summer attends college most of the year in a small town outside of New York City. The three of us have been to a combined total of 20+ countries already including Egypt, Jordan, Nepal, the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Mexico, India and many more. Aaron began traveling as a child as did Summer. Summer spent many childhood summers in Jordan with her extended family. I did not begin traveling until my third year of undergraduate studies! We began traveling as a family in the summer of 2011 when I took Summer to India for the trip of her life! Why do you travel as a family? That first trip to India was meant to act as an eye opener and a perspective shifter for Summer. She was a teen struggling with many issues that are unfortunately far to common for American teenagers. I viewed taking her to India as her greatest potential for change. Several months of no cell phone, limited social media, and a complete change of scenery…. to say the least. It was not meant as a punishment but as an opportunity for her to get out of her American box and see what else the world had to offer. That trip was very difficult for Summer but eventually her perspective did change. She chose to be free. When we returned she begged to be enrolled in a Free School and has been a different person ever since. That experience was very powerful for me as well. I had been “bitten” by the travel bug already but seeing tangible evidence of what travel can do for a person made me even more committed to traveling and bringing the experience to others. After some research, I approached Aaron with the “crazy” idea to travel full-time and indefinitely. To my surprise, he agreed! We realized that we both want to travel for many reasons. We want to live our lives to the fullest right now; we want to experience all we can in this lifetime; we want to make connections and learn as much as we are able; we want to spend our lives seeing humanity and likeness in our world instead of differences and negativity; we want to be citizens of humanity, not just one country. What are some of the benefits your family has experienced as a result your travels? I have already spoken about the immense value it leant to Summer’s life. Beyond that I would say that Aaron and I have become closer through shared travel as well as through planning for our upcoming adventure. You quickly learn much about a person by traveling with them/ planning a trip together! Communication is key when planning something as huge and out-of-the-box as indefinite world travel. What inspired you and your family to incorporate travel into your lifestyle? Initially, it was a feeling that something was not right. Something was not lining up with the ideals that Aaron, Summer, and I talked about and the way we were living. We despise consumerism yet live in New York City. We believe travel is a far better educator than any American school yet we were staying in one place for Summer’s education. We believe that there is no such thing as “us” and “them” yet we were not really doing anything to shed light on that reality to others. So I started looking around. I saw so many other families who were making travel work. I spoke to kids on the road who kept telling me “I don’t want a “normal” life, I like traveling.” I spoke to adults who found a way to work location independently. I brought it to Aaron and we realized that there might just be a way to work towards our ideal selves through travel. It is daunting but it is quite exciting at the same time. How do you address education while you are traveling? We have only had to worry about education while traveling in India with Summer. Honestly…. it was not a worry at all. What the heck could I teach the kid that an entire sub-continent could not teach her far better?? Aaron and I both believe in a mostly un-schooling/free schooling approach to education. Experiences create opportunities for learning and acting a facilitator for Summer was far easier and far more interesting than trying to control what she was learning as we traveled. How do you and your family experience being global citizens? One of our biggest goals is to become global citizens. The name of our site (Witness Humanity) comes from that goal. We must start opening our eyes and witnessing the goings on in our world. Those who are able to make the world a better place, should. At the very least we all owe it to our fellow man to say “I see you. I see what you are going through. I want to know your story.” We owe this to those struggling around the world as well as to those who are happy and thriving in their own way only to be unfairly painted with the wide brush of “third world” or “dangerous” by the Western media. We are all a part of that term, “humanity”, so let’s stop pretending there is such a thing as “us” and “them”. As global citizens we strive to make connections with people wherever we go and to be open whenever possible to new ideas, cultures, and experiences. We try to do a little good wherever we go but at the very least we strive to do no harm. Can you share one of your family’s most memorable experiences? Yes, two. The first happened while working with exploited women and children in Kolkata, India. I arranged for Summer to work with me as an intern at a well known organization to provide her with the opportunity to do something positive while traveling. We had been visiting a shelter home for several weeks teaching art and working on promotional materials for the organization. At one point I left Summer to take photographs for the project I was working on and when I returned I saw Summer from afar, playing a hand game with one of the youngest girls. They were giggling uncontrollably despite the fact that neither one of them could understand the other. Here was one kid, “damaged” by her own definition, and another kid, “damaged” in a different way by her own definition, and they were playing hand games and giggling like nothing else in the world existed. I will forever hold that image as the exact reason I believe young people should travel. The second was during the first trip Aaron and I shared. During a typical conversation Aaron mention that he had never been to Costa Rica. I was surprised but told him how beautiful it was and then announced that I was going to arrange a trip for the spring. He said ok but I could tell he did not believe me. I did some major work and managed to get us there during his April break from school. Every single day on that trip was great but on the last day before we left, Aaron looked at me and said “I didn’t think we could do it but you got us here.” It was a simple statement but I have thought of that moment often as we plan for a life of nomadic travel. We can get there. Can you share one story from your travel experiences when you and your family had an “aha moment”. I still laugh when I think about this one. On our 16 hour flight to India, Summer was beside herself the entire way. She did not want to leave her friends, she did not want to leave her phone behind, she did not want to eat Indian food, she did not want to wear Indian clothes, she did NOT want to go. When we finally stepped off the plane to collect our bags she was silent. In the middle of the sticky Indian night, we found a cab. We piled our bags in the back and took off on an Indian cab ride (anyone reading this who has been to India knows it’s a unique experience….). As we whipped around New Delhi headed towards Paharganj, Summer was still silent. I was exhausted and did not feel like trying to cheer her up so I chose to enjoy the feeling of familiarity I now get whenever I touch down in India. As we got away from the airport and pulled into true New Delhi, Summer gasped. “Oh my God…. this is amazing! I am so glad you guys made me come!” I almost cried. Half of me wanted to shake her for the last 16 hours of utter drama she put me through and half of me wanted to get down on my knees and thank the myriad of Indian Gods for finally gracing her with a bit of sense! In that moment, I realized that I should never have tried to make Summer feel ok about going to India. She had to go due to her self-created circumstances but she needed to express her frustration, and work through her nerves in order to come around to seeing India in her own way, in her own time. Summer later told me that she realized at that moment that she truly struggles with transition, something she still actively works on. All of that “aha!” in less than 1 hour in India! What’s next? Next up is full-time indefinite travel! First stop, Central America! Name: Jenni O’Connor twitter: @WitnessHumanity web site: WitnessHumanity.com