Our Epic 2019 Year in Review

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Another year, another lesson in epic education. Our 2019 was full of adventure, learning opportunities, and big changes. We saw a lot, learned a lot and made a big move. This 2019 year in review gives you the highlights.

2019 Year in review cover

The Epic Education 2019 Year in Review

Wow! What a year for the Yoshikawa-Jenkins clan. We visited Colombia and explored more of Mexico. Our son wandered through Europe without us. Then after six years of living here and there, we returned to Japan, a place we all feel at home. Here’s our 2019 year in review.

January > February 

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After an amazing trip through Peru for Christmas, we returned to our temporary home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in time for New Year’s Eve. Then we stayed in Central Mexico for most of the following three months. After all, the kids were attending local schools and involved in other activities. Sure, we had occasional weekend trips to Mexico City and nearby towns. But both kids had schoolwork and other obligations. For example, the boy was hanging out with new friends on most weekends and the girl got a job working as an assistant stage manager for a local musical theater. The production was called “Bikers in Camelot.” With all this happening, they were happy to stay still for a while.

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March > April

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As spring arrived in San Miguel, the beautiful Jacaranda trees began to bloom all over the city. This was perfect timing for my sister and brother-in-law to visit. They’ve come to see us in almost every place we’ve lived: Japan, Malaysia, Spain and now Mexico. In fact, their wedding on the Oaxacan coast is one of our family’s best memories. What an amazing town, and what an amazing place to stay in Puerto Escondido.

Art & Agriculture

My sis and her husband aren’t new to Mexico travel, but they had never been to the central highlands. And since they work in land management and are advocates for environmental causes, they loved the Charco Del Ingenio Botanical Gardens. This is a very cool nature reserve just outside of the city. Then we went to see two of my favorite chapels in the area. The Sanctuary of Atotonilco is a UNESCO Heritage site an amazing example of Mexican Baroque architecture. Then we went to a chapel of a very different type. The Chapel of Jimmy Ray is more like a large-scale art installation, and it is ongoing. Occupying several hectares, the Chapel of Jimmy Ray is as odd as it is amazing.

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Medellin

We spent Semana Santa (Easter Week) in Mexico the year before, so for 2019, we wanted to go somewhere else. When April rolled around we took off for Colombia and had an incredible trip. We started off in Medellin, an amazing town in the mountains with a springlike climate year-round. During the ‘80s, the reign of drug lord Pablo Escobar made this one of the most dangerous places in the world. A lot can change in 40 years. Now Medellin is a thriving creative city with some of the most forward-thinking city planning anywhere. Digital nomads love Medellin because of the culture, advanced infrastructure and low standard of living. We liked all that plus all the outdoor adventure opportunities such as paragliding, whitewater rafting, and downhill biking. We also toured Comuna 13, once ground-zero for cocaine trafficking but now a vibrant creative zone.

Cartagena

Then it was on to Cartagena, the romantic Colombian port town on the Caribbean. Here we tried our hand at kitesurfing, took some cooking lessons, and explored Baru Island with a local guide. The boy wanted to try skydiving, so he dropped out of a plane at around 10,000 feet. Overall, Colombia was an amazing trip and we’re figuring out when we can return again.

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May > June

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We spent the next few months updating lots of content from our base in San Miguel. In late April, the girl decided to leave the local school she was attending and go back to homeschooling again. It wasn’t that the school was bad — she made lots of friends and enjoyed many of the projects and special events there. Yet she wanted to move at her own pace: faster in most subjects and a steadier, more one-on-one approach in another. She still hung out with her local friends all through May and June. But now she had more free time to read and draw since she finished her schoolwork faster.

As for the boy, he and his friends were finalizing their plans for the summer: backpacking through Europe. There were seven of them in total, all 16, 17 and 18, and they all lived in San Miguel de Allende. The plan was to hit nearly a dozen places across Europe. Our boy was the youngest of the crew, but the most well-traveled. Probably the most at home in airports and train stations, as well. We said farewell to him around mid-June at the Mexico City Airport.

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July > August

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By late June, Keiko and I had decided to return to Japan for the boy’s last two years of high school. The schools in Mexico had been good for our kids. Yet we knew that 2020-2021 may be the last opportunity for our son to live in the country of his birth. We originally left Japan in 2013 to show our kids the world. After six years on the road, we had done that. Now it was time to spend some time in a country all four of us have called home. Keiko is Japanese, and we had lived together in Tokyo for 13 years.

Our kids were born in Tokyo and lived there until they were 10 and 7 years old. Japanese is their first language. Yet in 2019 they were 13 and 17 they could barely speak Japanese at all. Despite never living in the US, they identified with that side of their heritage. Both kids were now fluent in English and Spanish and yet couldn’t hold a basic conversation with Keiko’s parents. It was time to head back to Japan for a while.

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We found the right schools for the kids and made plans to live in Osaka until the boy left for college. Keiko, the girl and I left San Miguel de Allende near the end of July and headed to Mexico City. We love Mexico City so much that we set aside ten days to explore before returning to Japan. Then the three of us flew back to Osaka by early August: the hottest, muggiest and most miserable time to be in Japan. We slogged from place to place, searching for apartments and setting up appointments and interviews for the kids’ schools.

The boy’s Europe trip continued until late August. Over those two months, he had spent two weeks camping and building the foundations of a new eco-resort in the Mediterranean. No wifi, no power, and no running water. Then it was on to Barcelona, Interlaken, and Amsterdam. Then they (wisely) decided to slow down. Instead of long train rides and a different hostel every few days, they scrapped their plans for Denmark and doubled their time in Berlin.

After Berlin, he said farewell to his friends and took a train back to Spain, where he’d volunteer at a Diverbo Camp for two weeks. Then a quick catch up with his friends from our time in Valencia before flying to Japan to meet us in late August. I took the shinkansen up to Tokyo a few days before his arrival so I could meet up with old friends and work on several Tokyo post updates. Once he arrived at Haneda Airport, we flew back down to Osaka together. 

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September > October

2019 Year in review japan kyoto tokyo

By September, we had moved into an apartment near the boy’s school. The girl’s school was a few train rides away, but by then she had practiced and had the route by heart. Settling back into life in Japan took some time as well. After all, Japanese apartments are basically empty when you move in. We had to acquire everything to live: from a fridge and furniture to air conditioning units and a frying pan. Then there was getting the kids adjusted to a new and rigorous academic schedule. After six years of homeschooling and local schools in a variety of countries, we feared that it would be a tough transition.

The kids would both be joining IB (International Baccalaureate) programs back in Japan. The workload would be intense, but rewarding. To our pleasant surprise, they adjusted quickly and love where they are. Sure, they both have new pressures and challenges but seem to be thriving thus far. The boy has soccer and a new social group and the girl has dance classes and a new role in student government. They’re happy where they are, and so are we. As the kids settled into new routines, I made a quick trip to Tokyo and Kanagawa for blog research (see Tokyo, Yokohama and Hakone posts).

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November > December

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It was great to be back in Japan for autumn. From our new location in Osaka, we have easy access to Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and more, including the nearby prefecture of Okayama. We’ve visited Kyoto a few times thus far, with plans for more. Expect more posts and updates from this area in 2020! As well as Tokyo, of course.

Another thrill this year was to be in Japan during the Rugby World Cup. I know most of my fellow Americans have little interest, but I love the game. I grew to love rugby in the late ’90s while living in Taiwan, where most of my friends were from New Zealand, England, Australia, and South Africa. It also helped that Japan was doing better than it ever had in the 2019 tournament. To see Japan doing well while hosting was a special treat, just like it was when Japan/Korea hosted the UEFA World Cup in 2002.

Then by mid-December, it was off to Atlanta for the holidays. After many a Christmas in Japan, we have spent the season in Malaysia, Spain, Mexico, and Peru. It was great to be back in my hometown and see family and friends. We New Year’s Eve binge-watching movies. Then the boy left early morning on Jan 1 to fly back to Osaka since his school started earlier than his sister’s. She and I returned to Osaka a few days later. 

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Goals for 2020

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I don’t exactly, but I do try to take certain subtle steps to become a better person over the course of the next 12 months. My plan for 2020 is to take better shape of myself. I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a laptop. I used to break up that online time with exercise, stretching and a little meditation, but since the return to Japan last summer, I’ve let myself go a little. Back to work! I also have lots of Japan-related posts in the works. Watch this space!

How Was YOUR 2019?

We’ve love to hear about your travel adventures last year. What did you do? Where did you go? What did you see? Let us know in the comments!