“Thank you for giving us a debriefing,” Canadian government employee Alexandre Germain told beijingkids when we wrapped up our chat about their most recent family travel. More than a year after driving 51,000 km and crossing nine countries in the Americas, Germain realized his family hasn’t had a chance to summarize their 12-month journey.
Dreaming of the Trip
Earlier in the conversation, Germain said that their travel was not enough. “Interestingly, it sounds like very long but to have that time to discover, homeschool, and get yourself into the culture is actually short.” But that short trip proved to be more valuable than anything the Germains have experienced.
Germain’s spouse, Melanie, called herself the “brains” of the travel as she laid its groundwork altogether. Owing from her own childhood experience of a family trip to Europe, Melanie said she promised herself that she would make a similar travel with her own family. When the spouse started dating, and later married, their similar interest in traveling made their bond stronger. “We have always worked as a team,” Melanie said, “[and]we have traveled a lot in the past 20 years together, and it’s working.”
Traveling across the Americas, as Germain said, was an idea that he and Melanie had mulled over for 10 years. The topic had many pauses and musings, like what type of mode of transportation to use. But ultimately, they settled on a land-based trip, taking their children as their primary consideration. “As the first baby came, the question was always, ‘How can we travel with the baby?’ When the twin followed, it was never an option that, “We’re not gonna do that [trip]as a family.”
No Turning Back
Five years prior to the travel, Germain bought a recreational vehicle the couple named “Winnie.” So endearing was the vehicle to Germain that he referred to Winnie as the sixth member of the family. In 2015, the couple finally took a sabbatical year and embarked on the trip in the middle of summer. They set off for Alaska in July, traveling to the western edge of continental North America from their home in Montreal, Canada.
As the day of the family travel went near, Germain said he felt it would take a toll on their children’s education. “We’re not teachers by trade or by any means but our kids [are]young enough that we can still teach them [the basics],” Germain said. Ultimately the couple used a homeschool program by the Centre National d’Enseignement à Distance, an agency under the French Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Research. That allowed them to use educational materials during the entire journey. Aside from that, Germain shared his background in mathematics and the sciences with his kids; Melanie, who studied criminology, taught their children history and languages, including French and Creole.
That one year of homeschooling, or rather “motorhomeschooling,” was stressful for the couple. But not having a specific itinerary proved to be beneficial and reinforced the education of the three children. The Germains visited museums and historical places, and met other families and kids as they traveled all the way to Alaska, several western US cities, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Belize, then back to Montreal via eastern US.
“What seemed to be probably the most stressful thing turned out to be one of our most positive experiences. Teaching your own children was an amazing feeling. From not understanding a concept to acquiring and using that concept and being able to explain and apply it in real life, it’s amazing. From the first to the last day [of homeschooling], the growth of our children was evident,” Germain said.
Children’s Verdict of Homeschooling
The young Germains, now 12-year-old Maelie (pronounced as Miley) and now 10-year-old fraternal twins Jacob and Edouard (pronounced similar to Edward) all described the homeschooling as “weird” but ended up liking it. “It was cool because not just learning about it but going to a museum where [we saw]what we learned was really cool. It was really fun,” Edouard added. Meanwhile, Maelie, who had been shy at first opened up with a big smile when she shared her experience. “Since there were not a lot of students, it’s really easy [to learn]. So if I don’t understand something, they tell me, and if I already know this, we pass it. So it’s much quicker.”
“It was kind of getting fun exploring new places … we wrote a journal at the beginning of the year and we liked it,” Jacob said. That journal contained all of their experiences, which they wrote down every night. Their parents checked the grammar and commented on the musings of their children. By the time they went home in May 2016, Maelie, Jacob, and Edouard all had three journals. Germain had kept a record of the whole trip, with whopping 12,000 photos and countless hours of footage.
Towards the end of our conversation, Germain couldn’t help but reminisce. “[The homeschooling part of the travel] was meant to be at that moment. I’m glad we did it for a year. And then we got caught in the ‘real’ life routine.”
Three months after the trip, Germain was posted in Beijing. Since they needed to organize their new home, Germain said they never had the opportunity for closure. “To revisit our trip with beijingkids has stirred up more memories. Although talking about it had created a feeling that we finally had a debriefing, I think that when I [finish posting]our videos on Facebook to celebrate exactly one year of our return, it will be perhaps the end of it… and the start of planning our next one!”
See the Germains’s journey on Facebook here: https://m.facebook.com/Enrouteavecwinnie (requires a VPN service to see the link)
Featured photo by Uni You; other photos courtesy of Alex Germain
Download the digital copy here.