Making Friends while Traveling

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We’ve been on the road almost two months now. That’s enough time to start assessing what’s coming together and what hasn’t (yet). Work and money? So far, so good. How about dealing with long-term travel’s inherent problems? Check. Next comes the homeschooling: are the kids getting everything they need, academically? And according to the schedule that I had planned out? Uhm, no.

They’re behind, and that’s my fault — work has been going so well that I’ve been putting in twice the hours I thought I would (a blessing and a curse). I had planned to have the kids reading, writing and blogging in English by now, but that was more than a little ambitious. It will come. Keiko is keeping them on-task with Japanese, math and science, and it won’t be long before my initial blast of work and deadlines settles down (famous last words) and I can hunker down and get them doing more than a daily journal.

So all the main areas are covered, right? Well, not exactly. There is another important box to check off, and it deals with the dry, academic term known as “socialization.” Socialization can mean many things, but for our purposes, I define it as making friends while traveling, adjusting to new people and nurturing relationships.

Making Friends while Traveling

Homeschoolers are familiar with this, as are parents who move a lot (business and military transfers come to mind). Kids need friends, and proximity to playmates can factor into many important family decisions. It can make you reconsider homeschooling altogether.

Expat and immigrant parents also understand this scenario, because most moms and dads want their spawn to have at least some exposure to their home language and culture.

However, when raising kids in a country that is not your own — or in our case, “countries” — it can be especially difficult to expose your children to any of these things. Often, the best resource is families with a similar background, so you start searching for these people. You join clubs, sports teams and Facebook groups that might give your kid an opportunity to meet someone like them — or someone like you. You might move to a different part of town, or to a different city altogether, for that opportunity.

Well, now the Yoshikawa-Jenkins clan are in a permanent move situation. By the end of the year, we will have lived in three new countries, for two months each. It’s hard to make friends in that time.

Making Friends while Traveling is NOT hard.

Both of our kids have started several friendships, and I think hope that at least one of them will last. Keiko and I used to live in Taiwan in the late ’90s, and we have many old friends from those days who have settled here with their spouses and children. Friends like Ali and Jomei, whose son, Callum, is bilingual, bicultural and athletic — just like our son.

They hit it off immediately, and have been nearly inseparable ever since. Ali and Jomei are old friends, so the fact that the boys hit it off so well has been a special treat since it allowed us to all spend more time together (that combo when the kids and the parents all share the same level of fondness for each other? That is a rare and beautiful thing).

S joined Callum’s soccer team on the weekends, and after soccer, they would wrestle, play cards and spur each other on to the next level of Khan Academy’s math lessons. Callum and Ali joined us for snake hunting, and our kids spent the night at Callum’s place a few weekends ago (which gave Keiko and I our first night alone in months). When Callum and S are together, no one complains of boredom. Watching them play makes me grin like an idiot.

Callum plays with our girl M, too (his age falls in between my kids), but up until that point, most of the children we had encountered were boys. M had no problem with this — she can wrestle with the best of them — but over the weekend, we went camping on some friends’ property in the mountains. My buddy Lief married Alas, who is a member of the Bunun tribe, one of Taiwan’s fourteen recognized aboriginal groups. To get to their land, one must traverse roads that have been ravaged by typhoons, flooding and landslides.

I drove Ali’s jeep with a load of kids, including Rich and Alas’s two boys. Meeting us in the village was T, Alas’ 12-year-old niece, and various other cousins. M and T were glued to each other all weekend, and M has every intention of keeping that friendship going. I hope she does.

But what happens when we leave Taiwan? It’s coming up: less than ten days now. How will they maintain these relationships? How will they make new ones?

Making friends on the road will take on new meaning when we have to start from scratch. The process starts again in Penang, but this time without the benefit of knowing parents in the area. One step I’ve taken is to sign the kids up for the distance learning program at an international school near our Penang apartment.

Our kids won’t technically be students there — they won’t need uniforms or attend classes — but for around USD $150, both kids have access to the school library for the two months we are in town, and they can also join after-school clubs.

I’m betting on this being a place to connect with other families, but I’m still searching for other ideas. We’ll hit local parks and sport centers once we arrive, but any other suggestions from readers are welcomed. I also plan to scour Facebook, Craigslist, Couchsurfing and local magazines/websites for groups and activities, as many families before me seem to have found success this way.

I’m willing to do quite a lot to find my brood some playmates. If that includes driving a jeep with seven kids and a dog through unpaved, washed out roads to get them amongst their peers, so be it. I’ve read about how socialization can come more naturally for homeschooled kids and about all the meaningful relationships that traveling kids can make, but I have to tell you, it’s going to take some time before my concerns are abated. That’s ok. I’m willing to take that leap and see where it leads us. To get this new life to work, “making friends while traveling” is one box that we must be able to check off.

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