So, how did that go??
Great. We did it. We sold our US house, moved to Sweden, and now have returned to USA. We returned July 1st and spent 4th of July 2019 still jet-lagged swimming in sunset waters and watching fireworks from the seaside of Siesta beach.
During our three years in Sweden we:
Hosted Swedish family at Thanksgiving gatherings, spent 3 Midsommars in Dalarna with family dancing around maypoles, had two cozy snowy New Years in Dalarna with family (and one NYE watching fireworks over Denmark from the Swedish shore at Nimis in The Free Republic of Ladonia), went on a 10 day backpacking trip in the Arctic without my family, camping-roadtripped in a VW van for a month in Norway (midnight sun! Vikings! glaciers! fjords! trolls! summer snow sleding in July! the WORLDS BEST STRAWBERRIES! Saltstraumen Maelstrom! ) drank too beer with my dad's siblings in German beer gardens of Frieberg, saw Hamilton in London, saw three fireworks shows for Guy Fawkes Night in England, picnicked at the cliffs of Dover, spent Halloween touring the Harry Potter halls of Cambridge University and trick or treating in Cambridge (the Cambridge Dodo! A plague themed Haunted House in a castle!), spent my son's 8th birthday with Stormtroopers at Disney Paris, and rode carousels at night with the kids under the lights of the Eiffel Tower, watched the parades of Fasnacht in Lucern, spent my 15th wedding anniversary at Neuschwanstein Castle, snowtubed upside down in a 360' loop-de-loop and sledded down the world's longest sled run in the Swiss Alps, and gathered with the extended Swedish clan in Gränna, Öland, and Lysekil.
Poignantly, this blog's last post was made about the 4th of July in the USA. July 4th 2016 turned out to be a day I was called to a birth as a midwife, and I missed hosting my mom and grandma for the last time at my house before we moved. My daughter made the blueberry and peach pies in my absence, served the family, which I enjoyed when I returned at 4 am exhausted. It was the last gathering I would have of my family - my mother and grandma died while we were gone. This highlights the burdens of birth work, even at a part time schedule- on-call, personalized midwifery takes over your life. You can not be certain to make any scheduled event.... for years ..."unless I am at a birth" was the caveat for everything. Now it is reason I am searching for a new career. Once I had kids, the cost for the time spent away, and the absence of time I could just nap and make up for lost sleep, meant American midwifery ceased to be a manageable lifestyle.
In that vein, I enrolled in the Master's in Public Health program as I hoped I would. I am glad it was only the day I was accepted to the program that I learned apparently my plan to move across the world for a MPH at Lund was a bit of a long shot. It is the most competitive Master's program in Sweden. I was one of 50 accepted, out of 1400 applications! I started in 2017, and am still finishing it up this year, from USA, because of course work I missed when I returned to USA to help with my mother's death/ estate.
The kids made an admirably smooth transition to Swedish school. I got teary watching them the first day, seeing a little girl take my then 7 year old daughter by the hand as the class walked away into the forest for their morning walk. We lucked
out with lovely (the best!) teachers and a beautiful school, and the kids made great friends. They
are all fluent Swedish speakers now. Me, not so much.... school+family
loss+general sense of displacement meant I had little energy to focus on
I was correct in thinking before we left that three years in Sweden would afford the little kids a low pressure Swedish childhood full of nature, play, and freedom. That we could sneak in three years with our then 5, 7, and 11 year old, and step back into USA life with some nice experiences, and them more matured, and able to handle US schools. The kids are back in school now, and two weeks in they are trying to get up to speed with the intensity of American school. It is all business and no play with lots of homework by comparison. I do not mind them stepping up to the more rigorous education. I believe they are up to the task, and they will adjust just fine. We moved back to a small neighborhood with tons of kids that love to be out playing, so they still have lots of free time, movement and play in their life.
And I was right that Sweden is not a place I fit in, but a fun place to go. I was smart to enroll in the Master's degree program to keep me occupied in English while there. Going to school with millennials was a thing to do, but not a place for me to find community or friends. Once my classes ended in January, I felt very isolated and lonely. I went into the start of last school year last year willing to fit in and stay in Sweden, but by March I was clear we needed to pack up and head back to USA. In Sweden I am a foreigner in every situation, full of awkward and lacking connection. I depend on my husband to do everything in Swedish, and I become a half functioning person, unable to navigate some very basic parts of my life. I can do that about three years before it takes it toll, and my soul starts dying. It was time to come back.
I am so glad to be back. I was afraid about how it would feel to return to US- we left while Obama was president, before the last election. But this is still where I am from. Here, things are easy and people are nice. My experience of Sweden is things are hard, and people are weird. I am grateful to have a life of ease again, where I can fully participate in all areas- understand the kids playing at my house, have small talk at the deli counter, get the big stuff -the administrative stuff of life- done in my language. Florida in July was not hell, either. I loved the lightening, the warm rain, the swimming pools, and watermelon. My oldest daughter fell right into the old group of friends, and my little ones have been both seeing old friends, and making new ones in the neighborhood and school.
Being in Sweden for me is like going underwater, scuba diving.... I can dive in, love the chance to look around and see a new world, but I am not of that world. I do not have what it takes to be part of that world. It's a nice place to visit, but not a place I experience BELONGING. So I come back, to USA, to participate, to fully function, to belong.
Will I be back? Maybe some day. We always say give us three years and see how we are.... we came back for USA highschool which lasts 4 years. Maybe we'll return in 4? I will finish my MPH, maybe go to American nursing school. If I get an RN in USA, I can probably work as a midwife in Sweden. Now I am in the system, I can take Swedish Language as a distance University course, and improve my Swedish BEFORE I live there again. So with my existing midwifery education + two year USA RN + Swedish language maybe I would be eligible to work as a Swedish midwife, and possibly find a place in society for myself. That is how I imagine I would approach the next chapter of The Swedelife.
Now I am back in my hometown, with out the family roots I always had. This is where I used come home to my parents. Since my
mother and grandma died while I was gone, I find it is still home, even if not a place where
my family lives. It is a place to root my own children, swim in the gulf, see people I know when I am out, call on their help when I need it, and read the paper. We even got a dog. We are set up to stay, maybe work through retirement, but still open to returning to Sweden some day. So it is, learning to live with bits of our hearts in two countries.
I don't know how most people spend their second morning home schooling. I spent mine hyperventilating into a paper bag. After less than 24 hours of educating my child at home, I was struck by the realization that I wasn't up to the task and should move immediately to Plan B. Except I didn't have a Plan B.
For two years leading up to this I had watched my daughter convince experienced, well-meaning teachers that she was incapable of mastering long division when, in fact, she simply didn't like long division. Alice's ploy raised a larger concern: At age 9, she appeared to be cruising along in school without actually doing any work. To my sorrow, it appeared I had given birth to myself, another pleasant slacker fated to a lifetime of successfully studying for midterms between classes until barely paying attention stopped working. Alice wasn't learning how to learn, she was learning how to coast. Maybe I could wait and see if she came to learning on her own. Or maybe she needed a different kind of education.
Her father and I checked out a few middle-school programs known for their rigor. Each promised to challenge Alice academically but also promised hours of homework every night. I'm greedy. I want my child challenged, but I don't want her staying up until 2 a.m. every night translating "The Aeneid." I knew we had a small window of opportunity to teach Alice to love learning, but I also knew there was an equally small window for her to be a child. Her academic options seemed to lie on either side of a wide chasm: a fluffy pillow on one side, a jackhammer on the other. I tried home schooling because I couldn't find a better alternative.
It turns out I'm not alone. Today in the U.S., some two million children are home schooled, growing at an annual rate of 7% to 15% for over a decade, according to the president of the National Home Education Research Institute. The term "home schooler" once implied "isolationist religious zealot" or "off-the-grid anarchist who makes her own yogurt." Today, it also means military parents who hate to see their kids keep changing schools; or the family with a future Olympian who ice skates five hours a day; or your cousin whose daughter is gifted but has a learning disability. The average home schooler is no longer a sideshow oddity.
"I could never ever teach math," more than a few parents told me in horror at the very idea of home schooling. Or science. Or a foreign language. But mostly, it was math. Here's my secret: I can't teach math either. Once they start calling them integers instead of numbers, I recoil as from a fat, angry snake, which is why Alice takes an online math class, with great lashings of help from her father.
But the biggest thing people want to talk about is socialization. Everyone is worried that I keep my child in a crate with three air holes punched in it and won't let her have friends until she gets her AARP card. There's a long answer, of course, but I'll sum it up this way: Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for at least 130,000 years and, in this time, they learned to be human from their elders, not from their peers. Mandatory education in the U.S. is less than 150 years old. Learning to be a productive adult human by spending a third of every day with other kids might be a good idea, but it's too soon to tell. I'm still unsure that the people best equipped to teach a 14-year-old boy how to be a man are other 14-year-old boys.
In fact, home-schooled kids are just as socialized as other children. They certainly seem to grow up to be, and feel, fully engaged. One study, by a Canadian home-schooling group, found that 67% of formerly home-schooled adult respondents said they are "very happy," as opposed to the general population's 43%. Another study, published in the Journal of College Admission, found that home-schooled students perform better on their ACTs, have higher college GPAs and are more likely to graduate in four years.
I shared many of the negative preconceptions before we began home schooling, but I can see now that my kid is as socially well adjusted as the dozens of other kids she hangs out with. (Her mother still needs work.)
As we approached the end of our first year home schooling, we asked ourselves whether Alice should continue the experiment or return to what many of our friends still call "real school." At this point it no longer seemed to us like a binary decision. It was less a matter of either/or than of how-much-of-each.
I suspect that many Americans will reach the same conclusion as they adapt to new social and economic realities. Online classes have already become part of an extended curriculum for many students. In the iTunes version of public education, relevant learning experiences will originate from the large redbrick building down the street, from a recreation center downtown, from a music studio in Seattle or a lecture hall in London. As our habits evolve, it won't be home schooling as we've known it, but it won't be brick-and-mortar schooling, either. I call it "roam schooling."
Imagine that your high-school junior spends half of every day at the brick-and-mortar school up the street. Two afternoons a week, he logs into an art-history seminar being taught by a grad student in Paris. He takes computer animation classes at the local college, sings in the church choir and dives at the community pool. He studies Web design on YouTube. He and three classmates see a tutor at the public library who preps them for AP Chemistry. He practices Spanish on Skype and takes cooking lessons at a nearby restaurant every Saturday morning.
Is this home schooling or regular school? Who cares? He's learning. More important, his curriculum hits the basics but also works for him. Nobody expects all young people to download the same 20 or 30 songs on iTunes. Why should they be limited to the same dozen or so classes for school? And if you think that public education will never change because it's too big, I'd point out that the music business looked like an invincible Goliath before digital technology raised its slingshot.
Some lessons are best learned at a kitchen table, others in a lecture hall, a chemistry lab or a gym. It would be nice if students everywhere had access to every option, and more of them will, I expect, over the next decade. With each passing year, the division between home schooling and institutional schooling will continue to dissolve. We will go to the education, and the education will come to us. The bad news is that it doesn't work that way yet. The good news is that we get to build it.
—Adapted from Ms. Cummings's "The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling," which will be published on Aug. 7. Follow her on Twitter: @quinncy.
A version of this article appeared July 28, 2012, on page C2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: My Education inHome Schooling.