Tell us a little about what your life was like back in the US:
We were living in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon and raising four teenage daughters. My husband had a small distribution company and I was doing consulting. It was a nice life, but we were bored and felt that we wanted to spend time living abroad with our girls before they left home. (We met while teaching English in Japan in the eighties and had spent the first few years of our married life abroad.)
What prompted the first move abroad?
It was a combination of things, but the biggest issue was that we felt we could have a richer, more vibrant life than the one we were living.
How did you deal with naysayers telling you that you were crazy?
That was a struggle for us. It’s hard enough to make a move abroad if you’re single, but we had four kids and taking them off the education track was seen by most of our peers as a really irresponsible thing for us to do as parents. Not having support was hurtful, but really, there’s only so much explaining and rationalizing you can do. The best bet is to simply avoid the naysayers and spend time with those who have done exactly what you want to do. Of course, it really helped that my husband and I were in complete agreement about everything!
Tell us a little about your book, The Global Student, and how it came about:
We had to figure out how to handle the education of our daughters while living abroad. Since we weren’t corporate transfers with a fat expat package (we ran our own small business virtually), the international schools weren’t an option for us. Besides, that was part of what we wanted to leave behind—we wanted to give our girls a different kind of educational experience than that offered by a typical suburban American high school. In the process of ushering them through high school, into college and beyond in non-traditional ways, it became clear that there were a lot of parents—even those who had never left the U.S.—who could benefit from what we had learned. I pitched it while we lived in Argentina—then got an agent and publisher without ever going to the States. I met my agent and editor for the first time during the week the book was published! The coolest thing about it has been receiving many emails each week from students, parents and others who swear that the book inspired them to change their educational journey and their entire lives. It’s really rewarding and humbling to have been a part of that process!
Editors note: I originally contacted Maya after having read her book. The Global Student.
will show you how traveling or moving abroad can actually help your child get ahead, get into better colleges, and stand out in the work force. It is a great book that I have gifted many friends over the years, and I feel should be a fundamental read for anyone who truly wants to see their child get the fullest, richest educational experience possible.
What has been the biggest challenge of living outside of the US?
I guess the hardest thing is just being so far from friends and family members who are still in the United States. We don’t visit that often (once every two or three years) but we stay in touch via email, Skype and Facebook. Fortunately, our daughters are mobile and we all get together in various corners of the world. Right now, two live in New York City, one lives in Buenos Aires, one lives in Dubai and we live in Beijing. That makes it a logistical challenge to meet up, but we make it happen at least once a year and visit each other whenever possible.
It seems as though you won’t stay in one place for too long before new adventures will beckon. Any ideas of possible future moves?
We’ve been in China for a year and just agreed to stay for another year. I’m the vice principal of a group of four English-immersion kindergartens in Beijing. Tom is helping the schools with sales and marketing while teaching five year olds. I teach part-time as well—a class of four year olds. Our classrooms are right next to each other. We eat lunch together with our two classes each day and play at recess together. It’s so much fun! A couple of years ago, when we were living in South America, I never would have imagined we’d be living in China! That’s one thing I love most about our lifestyle now—we can’t predict where we will be next. We’re really enjoying exploring different countries and cultures, and we hope to live in several other countries in the next few years. Depending on where our daughters migrate (we all tend to shift every couple of years), we’ll choose our next destination while considering the ease of getting together with them as often as possible! We’re interested in the Middle East and Africa for our next moves.
Who inspires you – any people from the past or present, or can you give us any recommendations of books that shaped your lifestyle philosophy?
We left the U.S. in 2005, before many bloggers began writing about the nomad or location-independent lifestyle. I wish there had been more books or blogs on the subject back then! Actually, our greatest inspiration is our daughters. They are all living life to the fullest and seizing their opportunities to travel and learn more about the world and themselves. And we find inspiration in the many fascinating travelers and expats we meet wherever we go.
How do you connect with the locals or other expats when you first arrive in a place?
It has really varied a lot depending on where we have lived. In Mexico, we were a good twenty years younger than most of the expats who were American retirees, but we met one young couple and a single mother and her son that really made our time there special. In Argentina, we became involved in a couple of expat groups early on and though we didn’t continue with any sort of membership, the people we met during our first few months became our close friends. In Uruguay, we were living on a farm in a very rural area, but surprisingly, we met a wonderful group of expats from around the world who were living on farms scattered around the country. Here in China, we spend most of our time with our fellow teachers and administrators of our school.
How long does it usually take for you for a place to feel like home? In what country have you felt most at home, and can you pinpoint why?
I think we felt most at home in Argentina because we had several of our daughters with us and had a bigger apartment than we’ve had in other places. We also spent three years there whereas we’ve spent less than that in other countries. And Argentina was a really fun place to be for all of us!
The two of us live in a very small rental apartment now and we don’t have many personal effects with us, so that feels less homey.
I know you have daughters who have taken after you, and are spread all over the world. How do you manage to stay so close as a family unit?
We really enjoy communicating with each other and visit whenever possible. We look forward to our reunions (we’re all heading to Lebanon in August) and we also recognize that our girls are a tight unit themselves. We love it that they are motivated to spend a lot of time with each other and don’t hesitate to buy a plane ticket to do so! The two in New York are very close but they have all shared a special time together—the two who spent a year with us in Mexico, for example, are also close. We cheer each other on and manage to feel very connected despite the distance.
What advice do you have for people dreaming of moving abroad, yet they are stuck in the ‘thinking too much about it and coming up with every excuse why now is not the right time phase, even though their heart longs to live in another culture. What would you say to try to help them move to action?
I think that it’s really important to imagine what you want and then connect with other people who have created a lifestyle you admire. Steer clear of those who tell you why it can’t be done or who fill you with fear. There are so many blogs now and of course, social media makes it a lot easier to make contacts wherever you want to go. I’ve always found it remarkably easy to connect with expats while living abroad because you all have something in common: you’ve chosen the same place to live! Trust that there are many others like you and you are certain to meet them once you make the leap. And I guess what I’d say most emphatically is that moving abroad is much easier than you think. In fact, now I think that living in the States is too hard! It’s all a matter of perspective.