Tag Archives: Foreign Correspondents

December 17, 2013

Foreign Correspondents: A Whirlwind Voyage

valerie

We are a family of experienced travelers – having visited more than 20 countries, from Canada to Jordan. On our far-flung jaunts, we enjoy immersing ourselves in the local culture, language and cuisine, experiencing the locals’ lives.

Our latest voyage was our longest – 3 weeks, 7 countries, from Copenhagen south to the D-Day beaches of Normandy and back again.  This time, our itinerary was carefully planned with the tastes of our 12-year-old son Michael in mind. Michael, with his zeal for ancient history, medieval weaponry, seafood, and chocolate, and strong opinions to boot, sets the tone for our activities. As always, he did not disappoint.

ghentcanal

Leaving Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport in the morning, we began our GPS-aided foray into downtown Copenhagen on an unseasonably warm day. Although temperatures hovered in the high 20s Celsius, low 80s Fahrenheit, the lack of humidity was summer time bliss for us, natives of Washington, D.C.’s  sticky suburbs.

Our first stop was Amalienborg Palace, where we enjoyed the sun-splashed morning and jostled with tourists of various nationalities as the changing of the guards unfolded. Soon, our jet lag caught up with us. We craved rest, finding welcome relaxation amidst a fountain and flower garden. Michael inspired our second wind, styling with my Tea Collection FashionABLE scarf.

After our car’s GPS led us astray a few times in the capital city and around Copenhagen’s teeming crowds of bicyclists, we found the Nationalmusset, home of the new Viking exhibition, featuring the Rothskilde 6 – the world’s longest surviving Viking ship. Michael enjoyed the exhibit’s interactive computer program, where he lived the Viking life. Not surprisingly, his pillaging, negotiating, and trading earned him the title of Viking.

lubeck1

After several wonderful days in Denmark, we headed south. Our destination was the Netherlands, through Germany via the Autobahn. While my husband Bruce enjoys life in the 130 plus km/hour lane, I take things a bit slower. After watching dozens of German drivers zip past me on the left, I wanted a break for lunch. Finding an Autobahn rest stop, we toasted each other with German bottled water, cheese, chocolate, and fruit.

The soaring cathedral, marvelous architecture, and canals of Utrecht, Netherlands, warmly welcomed us that evening. Utrecht is a university town, with its share of cyclists admirably navigating the narrow alleys and cobblestone streets. After the bicycle overload of Copenhagen, Michael noted that Utrecht’s two-wheeled denizens were much fewer in number, although no less brazen while driving through pedestrians and forcing cars to avoid them.

Our early morning Utrecht departure was marred by heavy rain. Fortunately, our rainy drive to Ghent, Belgium was short. Michael was excited about Ghent’s 12th century Gravensteen Castle, with its “Museum of Judicial Objects.”  These torture instruments, racks, handcuffs, and knives, were used to extract confessions. If no confession flowed from the persuasion, the guillotine awaited. We eyed the castle’s own guillotine, pondering its gory past. As the rain continued pelting us, we found salvation in our hotel and a bag of Belgian chocolates.

Les Andelys, France (2)

Sunshine marked the next morning when we drove to France for nine days. We all eagerly anticipated croissants, baguettes, cheese, and much more.

From our wonderful gîte in Caumont l’Evente, we drove the narrow Norman roads to the magnificent Bayeux Tapestries, cathedrals, abbeys, and chateaux, highlighted by the stunning Chateau de Carrouges and William the Conquerer’s birthplace in Falaise. Everywhere we went, monuments, flags, and markers reminded us of World Wars I and II, and of course, D-Day, June 6, 1944.

My great-uncle from Pennsylvania came ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day and was killed in action. Michael wanted to know more about what his ancestor did that day so we visited D-Day beaches, inspected German fortifications, talked about the allied landings, and gazed somberly at the starkly white grave markers of the American military cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer. While walking among the American graves, Michael quietly noticed the number of soldiers killed on D-Day and those who died during the war’s final days.

We topped off our last day in Normandy with a fantastic dinner at Chateau d’Audrieu, a marvelous 18th century abode and a one-star Michelin restaurant. C’est magnifique!

marmoutiercath

Wrapping up our journey, we headed east, visiting Alsace-Lorraine. Michael enjoyed the many Roman artifacts we saw. While my husband and I marveled at the Roman Empire’s ancient reach, Michael shrugged, assuring us that this was old news to him.

Driving through Germany on the way back to Copenhagen, we stopped in Cologne. There we visited the city’s magnificent cathedral and our priority – the Schokoladenmuseum. Michael loved learning how chocolate was made, enjoying a Willy Wonka-esque sample.

Three weeks later, we returned home with great memories, wine, chocolate, jam, crackers and tea that will keep our trip alive for a long time!

October 15, 2013

Foreign Correspondents: Our Most Important Trip So Far…

Tea Collection's Foreign Correspondents

We have been traveling as a family since the kids were really small.  I want them to see everything and I want them to be curious about the world we live in.  Most of all, I want them to know who they are.

This last trip we took was really important because we decided to take my guys to meet my mother’s family in Japan.

After a 9 hour plane ride and almost as many hours on trains we arrived in Kochi, a little town on the island of Shikoku in the south of Japan.

Tea Collection's Foreign Correspondent

My guys were a little nervous at first.  Who were all these people?

But here we were in the very place my mom lived until she was about their age.  And it was pretty magical seeing it all through their eyes.

Tea Collection's Foreign Correspondent

We visited some neat sites; an old castle, the bustling Harume market and a famous little bridge.

We also stopped by a beautiful shrine perched high on a cliff on the other side of the Pacific Ocean from where we live now.  The boys were amazed that the same ocean touched this beach and the beach near our house.

Tea Collection's Foreign Correspondent

My favorite moment was walking the road between my grandpa and grandma’s family homes, realizing how close their families lived to one another in this little town; watching my kids run with glee.

Tea Collection's Foreign Correspondent

Why on earth did my grandpa and grandma leave all this and move to North America so many years ago?

We traveled back up north to see the boat my mom journeyed to Canada on with her little sister and my grandma.  The Hikara Maru is now a museum in Yokohama Japan.

Tea Collection's Foreign Correspondent

Traveling with all our luxuries now: cell phones, laptops, ipads and easy commercial air travel I realize how brave my grandmother was traveling alone across rocky seas to a foreign land with two small children in tow.

“Do you know that my grandma came to Canada on this boat?” I overhear one of my guys telling the other.

“So did mine!” his brother says.

And so did mine.

I’m so glad we made this journey.  In trying to help my kids figure out who they are, I’m learning so much about myself.

February 3, 2013

Through the Eyes of Children

One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Cathy and her family traveled to Zimbabwe this winter to visit family. Cathy is a teacher who took leave from her position during the birth of her twins. When her children were toddlers, she filled her time by acting as a founding parent of a charter initiative to open Birchtree Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired school in her  hometown of Palmer, Alaska. Since the school’s opening in fall 2010, she has acted as the treasurer on the Academic Policy Committee. We outfitted Cathy’s family with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part three of their adventure.

travel with kids

I’m often asked if I believe there is true benefit in traveling abroad with young children. Will they remember their experiences? Couldn’t we simply take them to any beach or pool and they’d have an equally fantastic time? My answer – well, yes and no. Children are typically quite perceptive and are often more cognizant than we assume. Sure, my children love any beach at any time, yet my motivation for taking them abroad and exposing them to new cultures, beliefs, and attitudes is primarily because I believe that these experiences broaden perspectives in children (and adults).  Through each and every traveling adventure, we are challenged with all that is new and different.

travel with kids

So, what do we do with all the newness?  How do we process it both during the trip and after- to extend our understanding and to ensure that the experience of traveling abroad does not end when we unpack our suitcases and settle, once again, into our daily lives? Like many travelers, our family takes photos, utilizes travel journals, and we purchase works of art that transport us back to our time abroad.  These mementos enable us to deepen reflections and observations once home.

Travel with Kids

On our latest adventure through Southern Africa, we decided it was time for our children to take a more active role in documenting their experiences in order to help solidify their individual memories and give them an avenue for sharing our trip with others. To help with the documentation endeavor, we provided each of our six year old twins as well as our six year old niece with a camera. The cameras were given well in advance of our departure to ensure that our children knew how to use them and be responsible for general care. Additionally, a blank journal, colored pencils, watercolors, and crayons were provided to allow freedom in documenting daily experiences through stories, words, or simply drawings.

travel with kids

Watching the documentation process throughout the trip was a fascinating experience.  When happening upon large African beetles, we would have predicted running and screaming from our children, but found that they chose to photograph collect, analyze, and draw these strange creatures. Massive thunderstorms, which are rare in Alaska, were also documented with photos and later drawn with great detail. Our children drew pictures of an African woman transporting a fifty pound load on her head. They painted a double rainbow over Victoria Falls, and pictures of elephants and giraffes filled their SD cards. No doubt, these kids were recognizing an abundance of unique stimuli.

travel with kids

Now that we have returned home, our children are working to turn their photos into books, and have enjoyed sharing both the pictures drawn, stories written, and photos taken with friends, classmates, and family. With each sharing, I’m certain our children deepen their memories of this adventure.

As we’ve begun to unpack our memories and experiences, we recollect the many differences along the way; weather patterns, food, dress, language, customs, and routines- that were very different from those in our daily lives. Yet, we find the differences both curious and fascinating. Our children have begun to recognize that differences are neither good nor bad, but always mentally stimulating. Perhaps, they are also recognizing the commonalities we have as humans and that we can work to respect differences and learn from one another. And perhaps, we can use our broadened perspectives in our daily lives.

travel with kids

February 1, 2013

Road Tripping Through Southern Africa

One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Cathy and her family traveled to Zimbabwe this winter to visit family. Cathy is a teacher who took leave from her position during the birth of her twins. When her children were toddlers, she filled her time by acting as a founding parent of a charter initiative to open Birchtree Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired school in her  hometown of Palmer, Alaska. Since the school’s opening in fall 2010, she has acted as the treasurer on the Academic Policy Committee. We outfitted Cathy’s family with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part two of their adventure.

travel with kids

Three six year olds, four adults, one Toyota Prado and a three-week 2,100 mile road trip through Zimbabwe and Mozambique- that was our plan. Trepidation? Lots of it- I couldn’t help wondering if this was not our best idea. Yet, we were excited about spending time with my brother and his family, who had recently relocated to Harare, Zimbabwe. What we knew for certain was that we are not package tour travelers- we wanted to explore on our own as much as possible. Car travel would allow us maximum freedom for exploration.

Happily, I report, that not only did we survive, we thrived. In fact, the trip turned out to be one of our very best vacations- one that will shape our thoughts for years to come. What we learned along the way is that not only is road tripping with young children possible, it’s a fantastic way to explore at your own time and pace. Below are a few tips that guided our daily experiences.

Put the right people in the car: If traveling with others, choose your travel partners wisely. Talk clearly about expectations for the trip. For us, this part was simple. We’ve traveled with my brother and his family for years. We tend to like to experience travel in the same way and truly enjoy each other’s company.

travel with kids

Engage everyone in the plan: Should we do one very long drive today and get to the beach or spend two shorter days in the car and stop along the way? Questions such as these posed to our six year old travelers allowed them to feel a part of the decision-making and be active participants in the journey.

travel with kids

Rise early: For us, getting an early start to the day was essential. Departing by 5am on our driving days enabled us to make the most of daylight hours while the kids slept through the first several hours of the trip. Getting an early, early start to the day was also wise as it gave us more time to deal with the unexpected: road conditions, police stops, frolicking baboons, detours, and getting lost a time or two.

Sing often and reinstate those old car games: Music was a part of each of our days. Given the holiday season, Christmas tunes were at the top of our list, as were Shona songs. Additionally, We asked our children to prepare a holiday concert for us. Each child chose a favorite song, taught it to the others, and developed choreography as needed. Tried and true car games also worked to engage us for hours. What better time to play I Spy than on road trip in Africa?

Nourishment: Who could know how much kids can eat during the course of a single drive? We kept a cooler fully stocked at all times, so that we wouldn’t have to engage in time consuming sit down meals. However, roadside vendors did fill the inquisitive palate from time to time. Roasted cashews, piri piri chicken and fresh mangos were exquisite local fare readily available through a rolled down window.

travel with kids

Get out of the car: Make time for tree climbing or other out of car experiences. Sanity is much more easily maintained when recognizing that children and adults need to move. Planned and unplanned stops to walk on the beach or take dip in the ocean reenergized even our most weary travelers.

Declare Moviepalooza: Vacation is the perfect time to loosen house rules a bit. In our home, TV and movies are permitted only on Friday and Saturday nights. Allowing our children to enjoy some movie time worked well for our longest travel days. Yes, they were missing some of the scenery for a few hours, but everyone can benefit from with a break from all the newness that surrounds us during a trip.

travel with kids

Once again, knowing how you enjoy traveling and planning with those that you know and trust is essential.  We included the kids as much as we could and let them know what was happening all along the way.  They knew it could take 1 hour or 6 hours at the border and that we would all do the best we could to make it fun and easy.  We also let them know that as soon as we got to a pool or the beach, no matter the time or weather, it was swim time.  Believe me there were hiccups – unexpected police stops, room mix ups, a dead motor on a boat that had just whisked us ten miles out to sea –  but, we survived by focusing on the best and laughing at the rest.

January 30, 2013

Making The Most Of Vacations Abroad

One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Cathy and her family traveled to Zimbabwe this winter to visit family. Cathy is a teacher who took leave from her position during the birth of her twins. When her children were toddlers, she filled her time by acting as a founding parent of a charter initiative to open Birchtree Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired school in her  hometown of Palmer, Alaska. Since the school’s opening in fall 2010, she has acted as the treasurer on the Academic Policy Committee. We outfitted Cathy’s family with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part one of their adventure.

Time is always an issue when planning a trip overseas. How much time can the kids be away from school? Where can we travel to achieve maximum exposure, and once there how do we ultimately choose what we do?

Our home is gorgeous Alaska, but we relish any chance to escape the cold, dark winter environment. Many of our trips center around spending quality time with family and sharing our love of travel. Recently, we met up with my brother and his family who live in Zimbabwe.

Looking back, we found that incorporating a few simple things into our traveling routine improves our exposure and experiences.

1.     Educate ahead: We started our explorations of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Dubai months prior to our departure by reviewing maps and globes, learning about the animals we might encounter, and reading African folktales. Keeping on ongoing list of questions and predications about what we might experience helped focus our interests and potentially reduced culture shock.

travel with kids

2.     Learn some of the language- Simple phrases of hello, good-bye and thank you are fun for kids to learn and practice. In Zimbabwe, our children worked on counting to ten and singing a song in Shona, which became part of their Christmas concert performance. When the locals saw that we were trying to interact with their language and culture, they were inclined to open up so much more.

3.     Eat local- We set a goal to try something new at each meal such as crocodile and sadza. Keeping a list of new foods, how they tasted, and allowing, “it’s not my favorite” to be a reasonable response to a new dish provided a fun atmosphere for food exploration.

4.    Give back- We want to make sure that our children don’t ever leave a country with a resort view of the society.  One way we work to provide multiple perspectives of the country and people is to spend some time giving to others. On this trip, we visited a local orphanage. Our children, somewhat apprehensive at first, found that sharing the art of making paper airplanes was a bonding hit.

travel with kids

5.     Skip air travel and take to the road when possible: Our group learned much about Zimbabwe and Mozambique by taking the time to take to the roads. Experiencing police road blocks, pot holes, local markets and roadside food stands, gave us a better perspective of daily life for Southern Africans. You just can’t get the same perspective from 33,000 feet.

 

As we continue to ponder all that we saw and experienced, I can’t help but be thankful for the interactions we had along the way- Extended time with family, kind, generous and open individuals, animals galore, and breathtakingly beautiful venues!

travel with kids

October 31, 2012

Inspiring Mom Awards: Globetrotter

Inspiring Mom Awards

This month Tea wanted to celebrate the inspiring moms in our community with the IMAs and recognize their accomplishments.  We have received over 110 nominations of mothers who you said inspire you.  To help us narrow down our semi- finalists, we gathered a panel of model citizens who we thought embodied the values.  Meet two of our model citizens today from our globetrotting category- Stella Ma and Caren McCormack.  We thought it would be fun to get to know our model citizens a little bit better, so we asked them a couple of questions to see what inspires them.

Stella Ma one globetrotting model citizen.

Stella Ma is a Bay Area native who Co-Founded Little Passports, a great way to introduce the world to your little citizen.  Each month your little citizen will be sent a suitcase bursting with information about a country’s geography, history, culture, and language. You can discover her amazing company here: http://www.littlepassports.com/

Stella Ma: Globetrotter
1. How do you maintain a healthy work and home life balance?
Running a start-up while trying to raise a family is definitely a challenge. I’m driven to work hard but it’s just as important to me that I’m there for the family.  We always have dinner together, and I make sure to take time to be there for my children whether it’s attending field trips, helping with homework or taking them to extracurricular activities/classes.

2. What’s your favorite aspect about being a mom?
I love all the wonderful small moments and experiences that I get to share with my children. At pick-up last week, my younger son told me that I was his best friend.  A few weeks back, my older son told me that he’s going to work for me when he grows up because he loves Little Passports.

3. Do you have a piece of advice for moms everywhere?
I’m trying very hard to live in the moment and not worry about the next thing on the to-do list or schedule.  I can’t say that I’m very good at doing this yet.  It’s so true that our children grow up so quickly.  I want to make sure to take the time to enjoy them as they are now.

4. What’s one thing you can’t live without?
I love green tea lattes.  They’re my pick-me-up!

5. Who inspires you?
My mom is the inspiration in my life.  She immigrated to the states from China not speaking any English and she worked incredibly hard, sometimes working multiple jobs simultaneously, to make a life for our family here in the US.  I now love seeing how my children have a wonderful relationship with their grandmother.  When one of my children was asked in his English homework who inspires him, he answered “Popo” (“grandmother” in Chinese).

Caren McCormack one of our model Globetrotters.

Caren McCormack one of our model Globetrotters. Caren McCormack worked to co-found the Kilgoris Project, a nonprofit that feeds and educates children in a remote Kenyan village.  Each year Caren travels to Kenya with her family (husband and two daughters) to work closely with the organization. Karen was previously also a Foreign Correspondent for Tea and was able to travel to Kenya with a suitcase full of Tea then came home to share her travel experience on our blog, Studio T.  We invite you to read more about the Foreign Correspondent program (http://www.teacollection.com/gothere) and discover Caren’s amazing non-profit here: http://kilgoris.org/

Caren McCormack– Globetrotter
1. How do you maintain a healthy work and home life balance?
Tame the technology. On the work/life balance front, I’m challenging myself to really be present when I’m present. When I’m helping with homework, I’m not also looking at emails. At dinner, I’m not checking texts. My kids appreciate it, and I’m saner.

2. What’s your favorite aspect about being a mom?
The best part of mothering is also the biggest challenge. I love watching my daughters change with each age, blossoming more and more as individuals. The problem? They keep changing! Just when I think I’ve figured out how to best parent them, they’re on to a new stage.

3. Do you have a piece of advice for moms everywhere?
Love the ones you’re with. I’m not sure this is advice, as much as it is cheering on the sisterhood. It’s all we can really do as moms. We just keep showing up and loving our kids as they are, for who they are.

4. What’s one thing you can’t live without?
I’m tempted to give a deep answer here. But let’s be realistic—coffee.

5. Who inspires you?
The Kilgoris Project staff in Kenya! I get to work with such terrific people. Their passion for education, community and possibility makes my jaw drop.

September 3, 2012

Travel Sanity Tips from an Insane Travel Mom

One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Caren and her family traveled to Kenya this summer for a service trip. Caren is the President and Co-founder of The Kilgoris Project, a non-profit that runs schools, medical programs and economic development efforts in rural Kenya. We outfitted Caren’s family with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part one of their adventure.

Travel with Kids

Photo by Jennifer Fletcher

You’re crazy! That’s the usual reaction I get to traveling halfway around the world with kids.

Once I flew solo to Sydney with a two year old, while limping along with my own foot in a boot cast. This year I brought two elementary schoolers for a month in Kenya sans husband.

These might sounds like prescriptions for the loony bin. But having taken kids to every continent, except Antarctica, I’ve developed a few strategies for getting home without losing my mind.

1) Build in unscheduled time- Flights, meetings, tours and museums don’t run on child-friendly schedules. And there’s always a temptation to pack in whole cities in a day. Grown ups may be fine with this. However, kids need more breathing room. Fight not to fill the days. It’s ok to horse around in a hotel room for a couple of hours or just watch an iPad movie during a layover. The world will still be there when you’re done.

Travel with Kids

Photo by Jon McCormack

2) Find ways to play- The moving parts of travel bore kids and adults alike. And buses, trains and taxi don’t offer space to work out any wiggles. But if you’re willing to look silly in public, you can create fun anywhere.  Take turns finding yoga moves that fit into economy class seats. (This is far easier for the kids.)  Play Follow the Leader at an airplane gate. Make up ballet dances while the tour van fills the gas tank. I’ve done them all.  My kids are happier for it. And I often find the release helps me, too.

3) Relax the rules, but not too much- Travel days are never going to run like days at home. So it’s ok for the rules to shift a little to compensate. Pringles and peanuts will keep a child alive for a day. Everyone can stay up until 11:00PM for a few nights. Just go easy on the anarchy. If you create a free for all, you’ll pay when you need control. Sometimes you do need to lay down the law: No, you cannot pinch your sister during an immigration check. You’ll wear your seatbelt for take off and landing. And yes, you’ll be quiet when the tribal elders speak.

4) Give kids a little control- My children are much happier traveling when they feel like they make some of their own decisions. It helps to balance the powerlessness they feel at the structure of getting from A to B. We start trips with each girl having a stash of sugar-free gum to be chewed at any time. They have their own packs of markers and magnet dolls. And as their ages allow, they get to hold their own boarding passes.

5) Put your own oxygen mask on first-The airlines are on to something with this one. None of us can be in top form all the time. It doesn’t happen at home. And it’s even less likely happen when you’re jetlagged. Do what you can to carve out a little alone time, even if you can’t physically leave the kids. Take a bath. Walk hotel hallways on your floor with the room door cracked. Put your headphones on. Pretend to sleep on the plane. Just do something for yourself.

These tips, combined with humor, prayer and few deep breaths, keep me sane as I lead my kids to become citizens of the world.