Sam Keller/My Turn
The Chinese word for crisis is written with two brushstrokes – one for danger, one for opportunity. In this spirit, the pandemic will hopefully lead to new ways of being and interacting that foster a more peaceful, sustainable world.
As one small silver lining, millions of parents have gained newfound freedom to perform their work from abroad, at least for part of each year. As we surmount the pandemic, countless families will have the flexibility to travel for much longer durations than before. This bodes well because – if done with mindfulness and intentionality – the experience of living in and working remotely from other countries can engender more empathy, stewardship, equality, and belonging. All the more so for kids and teens who, being in their formative years, are more open to the personal transformation that can come from international travel.
In light of the lockdowns that we have all experienced this past year, a lot of folks are eager to travel for an extended period of time, immersing themselves and their kids in other cultures. Yet the thought of figuring out how to go live in another country while working remotely is understandably daunting for most parents.
I can relate because this past year my wife and I pursued our long-held dream of living abroad when we moved to Tahiti with our two young kids. In doing so, we encountered challenges, but the overall experience was so impactful for our family that I became determined to enable other families to taste what it’s like to live abroad, too.
That’s why I created a travel company focused on making it easy for small groups of families to live temporarily in other countries. Known as Working Without Borders, this public benefit corporation aims to line up everything parents need.
In beautiful destinations like Tahiti, we arrange accommodations with high-speed internet, co-working spaces with inspiring design, and portable WiFi routers so participants can have even more freedom in where they work (like the beach).
For kids and teenagers, we provide a safe framework of adventure consisting of culturally rich programming. For example, our month-long program on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia is done in partnership with UC Berkeley’s research station. Participants learn firsthand from UC staff about the unique characteristics of French Polynesia’s ecosystems, the threats to biodiversity, and the efforts being undertaken to manage the transition to a sustainable future. The program also includes Polynesian elders to sensitize participants to the relationship between human societies and natural ecosystems from the standpoint of traditional knowledge. For parents with children too young to participate, we help line up nannies, day camps, tutors, and/or enroll in local schools.
Since families must apply to attend our travel programs, we are able to foster a community of people with shared values. Prior to departure, we organize video calls and establish private Facebook Groups so participants can begin to get to know each other. While in-country, we create a sense of camaraderie through shared experiences such as weekly field outings, lectures, potluck dinners, and cocktail events.
We also give participants access to local health and wellness experts and programs so they can maintain, and even enhance, their fitness and vitality while abroad. In fact, our roster of coaches enables families, if they choose, to take advantage of their journeys to achieve deep, meaningful changes in their lives and relationships.
Our trips include more than just pleasure; there is also purpose. We give families the chance to join together with others, as a team, to help restore coral reefs, save endangered species, or strengthen community centers for women who have suffered domestic abuse. We also mitigate greenhouse gas emissions stemming from flights and local transport.
The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards remote work such that many of us can now give ourselves and our kids extended experiences of cultural immersion that cause us to stretch, learn and grow into new ways of being and engaging with the world.
(Sam Keller is a Mill Valley resident who started Working Without Borders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found at www.workingwithoutborders.com.)