My big fat South American family sabbatical

Did you know that “Ecuador” is so named because it is located on the equator (which is, hello, “ecuador” in Spanish?)

Yes, you say? Everybody knows that? It’s obvious, you say?

Well, I didn’t…or at least, I never put two and two together. I guess I just never had a reason…until we started researching moving to Ecuador. 

What? I guess I better back up.

I’ve been hesitating writing about this, because I feel like once it’s out there, all public-like, I can’t take it back. And part of me worries that the part of me that likes to get excited about new ideas and new places won’t override the part of me that strangely also kind of hates change and will cave in when the other part of me that enjoys comfort and habit starts freaking out, and the part of me that worries about looking like a flake thinks it’ll be terribly humiliating if the whole thing falls through if the scared-comfortable-habitual parts of me win out.

But wait, I gotta back up some more. Yes, we are planning a move to Ecuador. Not a forever-move, or even a particularly long time – a year max; probably less. But definitely an extended journey, a length of time too long to be considered a mere “vacation.”

(Here’s where I apologize if you are a close friend or family member and are hearing about this for the first time. We’ve been mulling this idea over for many months, and at this point I’ve forgotten who we’ve actually discussed it with, and who we haven’t.)

Here’s our motivation for this crazy plan:

Particularly those two on the left. My big boys, 13 and going-on-15. Growing up so fast that I almost can’t remember what they looked like when they were the ages of the younger boys. Growing so fast that keeping them in shoes that fit is becoming a serious challenge.

Their lives are changing. They’re getting busier, focusing on peers and school and sports and slowly distancing themselves away from the little rituals and comforts of home.

This is all very normal and desirable….and yet, it makes me feel a little panicky. I just don’t feel like I’ve had enough yet. Haven’t made enough time. Haven’t paid enough attention.

To quote Elisa Bernick, author of The Family Sabbatical Handbook, “…our family, like many others, had a vague sense that the best of life was slipping away and we were powerless to do anything about it. There was simply never enough time or psychic space for us or anyone we knew to savor the good lives, the marriages, the children that we were all working so hard to make.”

The thing is, I do love our life. We’ve actually held a pretty firm line against the modern-day craziness, the go-go-go of one activity or sport after another. We eat dinner together as a family most nights, spend leisurely weekend days with close family and friends, laugh together, and don’t stress too much.

And yet…as my oldest son stands on the cusp of manhood I find myself greedily wanting more. Time for us to have an adventure, all together, without anyone else’s expectations or needs or schedules getting in the way.

Another motivation is that I want my kids to experience what it’s like not to live in small-town, white-bread America.

Again, I love our town. We live in a beautiful, cozy haven filled with friendly people and great schools.

But I get the nagging feeling sometimes that my kids have it a little too easy. They’ve never had to struggle to learn a language or feel like an outsider. Besides the opportunity to learn a second language, I’m eager for them to experience another culture by immersion. Talk about an education.

Jon and I both love to travel, and share a sense of adventure and a “who says we can’t?” attitude that we definitely want to pass on to our kids. Sometimes I thank my lucky stars that I managed to marry somebody who cares about following the status quo as little as I do.

Finally, we want to do this because we can. Jon and I are both self-employed; my work is totally mobile, his becoming increasingly so. I know there are so many families out there who would love to have the flexibility to try something new and different like this; for us to have the opportunity and not to take it feels like a waste.  Being self-employed definitely has its downsides…it’s just silly not to take full advantage of the benefit of geographical freedom!

There are a lot of details to work out, which I’ll be delving into in future posts so you can follow along as we plan this great adventure! But one question that might be on your mind right now is probably “Why Ecuador”?

There are a lot of practical reasons for this destination, which I’ll share in future posts, but in the meantime I wanted to leave you with this photographic persuasion:

This is Cuenca, Ecuador, the city we’re most strongly considering.
We could still be swayed to consider another place, but this one is ticking all the boxes, including that “makes my heart beat a little faster when I look at it” box. Isn’t it pretty?

Maybe you think this is nuts. Maybe you think this is the coolest thing ever. Maybe you couldn’t care less. Either way, fair warning: I’m going to be writing a lot about Ecuador, living abroad and the idea of a “family sabbatical” over the coming months.

(But even if you don’t care anything about international living, you might still want to follow along, so you can point and laugh the first time I eat a guinea pig.)

Not to mention the first time I try to carry on a conversation entirely in Spanish.

It’ll be fun. Stick around.

Comments

  1. says

    YES. YES. YES. No to the guinea pig but otherwise YES. Seriously, these are all the best reasons to consider a move like this. You’re allowed to change your mind, of course, but if you don’t, you will have the biggest cheerleader in me. Admire you and Jon…and your family is gorgeous.

    • Meagan Francis says

      Yay! I love having cheerleaders, and your support means a lot, Asha.

  2. says

    We had kinda toyed with the idea of not buying a house and instead renting doing lots of traveling, only I’m pretty sure we would not have done much. Good for you taking this on. It’s going to be amazing!

    • Meagan Francis says

      Thanks Kim! Can’t wait to share it.

    • Meagan Francis says

      Oh, thank you! Besides Cuy I’m having a bit of a hard time getting a handle on the cuisine there…seems heavy on seafood near the coast, but we’ll be up in the mountain region. I read that it’s not very spicy, heavy on plaintains :) I’ll check her out! Oh, and….gracias!

  3. Monica says

    Yes! I’m so excited for you and your family. What an adventure!

    I lived in Indonesia for awhile before marriage and kids. It changes how you see the US, living overseas. Your kids will never be the same – which is why your going, isn’t it?

    • Meagan Francis says

      >>Your kids will never be the same – which is why your going, isn’t it?<<

      Yes, absolutely! It would be a lot EASIER to wait until they’re grown, or at least until the two oldest are out of school. But we want them all to have the experience. I just know they will be more compassionate and all-around more educated because of it.

  4. says

    How exciting! Check out Sonia Marsh’s new book, From Freeways to FlipFlips and her blog, The Gutsy Writer. If you’d like, I can connect you.

    • Meagan Francis says

      Thanks Jennifer, I’d love that!

  5. says

    This is amazing! I think it’s a pretty awesome idea and can’t wait to follow along. Best wishes, Meagan.

    • Meagan Francis says

      Sarah, glad to have you along for the ride :)

  6. says

    You should definitely go. A life changing experience for the whole family. We were in Ecuador or so briefly this summer and LOVED it. Everyone I know who has gone away like this for an extended trip benefits in so many ways. DO IT!!!!

    • Meagan Francis says

      Debbie, whereabouts in Ecuador were you?

  7. says

    I think this is so good. An adventure in the middle of your one wild and precious life. It’s inspiring!

    I’ve been to Ecuador and stood with one foot in each hemisphere. I guess that’s what we do when we go out and experience the world :)

    xo

  8. Laura says

    What a deliciously exciting adventure. I can’t wait to read all about it and to see it all on your blog. Your family looks so lovely.

  9. says

    Congratulations! I’ll be following along. I have had my mind set on Ecuador ever since a cabbie in New York told me the US dollar is legal tender. Knowing that the dollar is weak in some many countries this is great news! Plus, there is nothing like an epic adventure for your little ones who are growing older every day. Have fun!

  10. says

    I found your blog last week via Rachel Held Adams, and now a friend just sent me a link to this post. Probably because our family is moving to South America in January for a 5-month sabbatical (self-employed, kids’ experience, blah de dee blah blah) and um, well, eerie. Swear we aren’t copying.
    So good luck with the researching! And with the putting the plans out there as a possible way of making them more concrete! And with experiencing life in a new culture and language!
    I’m personally terrified. And also exhilarated. We’re holding our breaths and JUMPING.

    • Meagan Francis says

      Heather, I’m so glad you found me! How eerie a coincidence! Whereabouts will you be heading?

  11. says

    Do it! We have lived abroad twice, once in Guadalajara, Mexico and another in Shanghai, China and we are itching to go again! It is absolutely the best experience and you will not regret it!

  12. says

    I’m so down with your journey! Look forward to learning about Ecuador, a place that literally never enters my thoughts. :)

  13. says

    I think that this is awesome and I can’t wait to hear about your adventures!!!! Good luck!!

  14. Jodi Helmer says

    DO IT! Ecuador is amazing. I spent a month there a few years ago and loved it. The people are lovely, the food is good (and cuy isn’t nearly as awful as you might imagine. The worst part is going into a restaurant with a “Cuy Castle” where LIVE guinea pigs are running around and having the waiter ask you to pick one). The costs are totally reasonable, too. What an adventure….

    • Meagan Francis says

      Jodi, I’ve been blown away by the low costs, which is a big part of why we chose Ecuador (since we will still have bills to pay here, we needed to be able to live there really cheaply.) A “Cuy Castle”, eh? Not sure about that part….

  15. says

    Do it baby! We are in our second overseas home and while it’s not always easy, and it definitely isn’t always pretty … (even if the pictures look like postcards!) it is ALWAYS worth it!!!

    • Meagan Francis says

      Yeah, I figure the “pretty” is mostly saved for the photos…where are you Naomi?

  16. says

    OH! Meagan! This is so fantastically awesome that I am sitting here feeling both wonder and a tinge of envy. Brave. Confident. Counter-cultural. Love, love, love it. Plus, amiga, yo hablo español y podemos practicar cuando tomas un viaje a GR.

    • Meagan Francis says

      Si! Si! To, um, whatever you just said! (I did pick out “friend”, “I know Spanish”, and “practice when”.)

  17. says

    Megan –

    What an exciting adventure, and a great place to take your family for that sabbatical! I just came across the picture of me standing right on the equator down there…almost 20 years ago! I spent two memorable weeks down there just outside of Quito. The people are so welcoming and warm. I wish you all the best.

    And I’m going to find that book right now! Thanks for sharing.

  18. Rex Devlin, no es me nombre verdadero says

    Bueno, listen, I get the idea, but every Ecuadorian I know in the States (including myself) couldn’t wait to leave Ecuador. And I have to say that your adventure in a land of poverty, as a family who’s priveleged enough to be able to exit out of your present circumstances to dip into the daily existence of another monetarily improverished culture you’ll shed within a year and still have the unfortunate audacity to look back on this adventure as a must do chapter in your existence as priveleged people to set things straight in your already sweet lives (really, there’s nothing to fix with you guys, is there?) back home makes me ill. Ecuador has beauty, and extreme poverty, and mostly people just LIVE there; they live, work, struggle in the place they were born. It’s sad what you’re doing; sad. Flip the script, and see how ridiculous it sounds. An Ecuadorian family who’s losing touch with their selves because of the struggle to make money, get an education, or find clean drinking water decides to take a sabbatical in the United States to reorient themselves, and ground their lives in the knowledge that it’s better elsewhere; only this will help them get in touch with what’s it’s like to have everything they need within driving distance. Or a phone call. Oh, wait, 99 percent of
    Ecuadorians don’t have that privelege! It’s insulting that you’re choosing to improve yourselves by mingling with a third world culture. You could just as easily do something like this in the States by moving to deprived neighborhoods in New York City; and reduce your choices to education, and resources by not dining in Manhattan hotspots, or heading to the gym when you feel stressed. That’s teach your kids to stop whining! (Allow me a moment of hysteria. Your blog is ridiculous. And to your defenders, think hard about the advertisement of what is supposed to be a very personal decision to uproot your family.)

    It’s strange that you’re spending time blogging about this personal decision to show your kids how priveleged they are (which is what this sabattical should be about; making them know how lucky they are, and how it is in the rest of the world). This should have been a private “adventure”, where your growth as a family is the center of your decision, and you don’t need cheerleaders to motivate you, or second your bravery in moving to Ecuador. I know in the States Kardashian culture rules the day, but do you really want to jump on the band wagon? You should be ashamed of yourself if you do.

    Keep your adventure to yourself. Stop looking for validation from other priveleged people.

    And protect yourselves well against malaria (yes, this is a big problem in my former country).

    Paz, y suerte,

    Eddy

    • Rachel says

      Meagan: thrilled for you! Moving abroad is such a strange and beautiful experience. What a gift for your family.

      Rex: what sad and hateful words. You could have left a comment informing us about the plight of Ecuadorians and gave some insight into your home country. Instead you attacked a well respected author for sharing something that will inspire many readers to take action on their own dreams.
      Shame on you.

    • Meagan Francis says

      So, wait. Because Ecuador is impoverished, it shouldn’t have a tourist culture? Nobody should ever visit for pleasure, or curiosity, or simply to understand life in a place perhaps not as comfortable as they are used to?

      I’m not looking for validation by blogging about this decision. I’m a writer. I write. Many of the people who read this are people I consider personal friends. I share because I find this topic exciting and interesting, and yes, because I hope it might inspire others who are considering something similar.

      I would go on, but I won’t waste my words because you are clearly know nothing about me or my motivation but are only too happy to jump to conclusions. So, good for you!

    • says

      Whoa Rex,

      I do think you protest too much. There is nothing in her post or decision that I read that has anything to do about experiencing a poor, impoverished culture as a affluent family. It’s about experiencing difference. Cultural, religious, language. People have been doing that for time immemorial. Ecuadorians even! I know a few Ecuadorians who moved to the US to experience difference, and Africans and Germans and Koreans and Americans.

      Your strange little diatribe suggests to me you have an agenda totally unrelated to this family’s decision.

      And I for one am very glad she’ll be making it public, yet another avenue to learn for all of us. Americans, Ecuadorians, everyone.

    • Tammy says

      Yo Eddy, this is not Kardashian culture. You got the villian wrong. You are clearly hurt about something, but Francis isn’t it. Direct your anger at it’s source, man, the rest of us want to hear about it.
      You are responding as though she were an armchair philanthropist motivated by privilege-guilt. You should note: she did not write “I want to help these poor people.” She was bold and honest and talked about what she and her family would get from it, with no disrespect. None. At all.

  19. says

    What a great idea to reclaim your family and slow down a bit. Would so love to do this with my family, one day. Can’t wait to see what the future has in store and will most certainly be following along living through you vicariously.

  20. says

    Oh boy!!!! Wonderful wonderful wonderful. As a fellow equator-dweller (we’ve just moved to Indonesia), I can tell you that life on this little line is pretty wonderful. Just wait till you see how golden the light becomes at 3:30 in the afternoon. Oh, I’m so excited for you, so beyond thrilled that you and your band are setting off on this adventure.

  21. says

    I think it sounds wonderful! I’ve always been sorry I didn’t live overseas when I was younger, and this reminds me that perhaps I’m just not thinking creatively enough about the present. I’m really looking forward to reading about your experiences!

  22. susie says

    Wow! This has always been a dream for me, too! I wish my husband wanted to do something like this. I spent a year in Finland after high school and it really opened my eyes.

  23. says

    I think that it is hard to understand a culture or a country unless you live there. I think that we could all benefit from understanding others in this world better, so I think your trip is helpful in a universal sense. I don’t see your year as exploitative. I think in fact you will end up educating a lot of people about what is good about Ecuador and how the people there could benefit from the resources those of us here have. And knowing you, I know you are not condescending, dismissive, or unempathetic. I think you will learn a lot about the people and the culture and in turn those of us who read your blog will learn also.

  24. bonggamom says

    What a precious gift you are giving your children! I wish all kids could experience another culture the way yours will. It will help them grow up into adults who do NOT see the world as black and white, us versus them, etc.., and give them a sense of connection with the rest of the world.

  25. says

    You’re doing it — yay! I remember us talking about it and I’m so thrilled that you are taking the plunge. Keep us all updated on your adventures, please…

  26. Tammy says

    Cuenca is AMAZING. You chose the perfect place, and, I think, the best time to do it. I can’t wait to read about it. What an exciting and soulful adventure. I’m really inspired and blown away.

  27. Veronica says

    How wonderful! I’m excited for you and your family! My DH and I have only been able to have a small “taste” of other cultures when traveling to Guatemala and South Korea to bring home our children a few years ago. Only 2 weeks in Guatemala, and one week in Korea. But those short visits left me wanting more! Both places, I told hubby “let’s move here!” I LOVED experiencing a new culture, and I know you will too. I look forward to reading about your adventure and all about Ecuador!

  28. Lester says

    Oy, somebody sent me a link to this, and I see Eddy’s point. Is everyone who’s commented on this white? Look, I doubt you can step outside of yourselves and see this supposedly brave move as it looks to those outside of this white cultural continuum of people who want to toot a horn, and look for validation of bravery by saying, “Look how brave and exciting I’m being by moving to a third world country with all the money I make and the security that provides. I want to be culturally sensitive and slow things down for my kids and family by pursuing a tourist’s adventure for a whole year in a poor country where I’ll dwell on the outskirts of skirmishes, crime and deprivation. It’ll be just like living in the green zone of Iraq! I’ll really get to know about Iraq because I’ll literally be there! I just won’t have to worry about IEDs! It’ll be fun!” Yeah, you’re a writer, yeah you need to write about your adventures to friends on your business/personal website fine, but you’re putting it out there, and your joy and declaration of what I can only see as a tourist’s view of what it means to change your life by “slumming”, does make you look a certain way. And all these folks who’ve done this, want to do this, plan to do it, oh my God, is this a rich white person’s new trend? Mingle with the brown people and you’ll center yourself, and become a better person? (I only put this to the people who’ve mingled with the indigenous, not that person who moved to Finland, which is beautiful, and found even whiter people than themselves). Alright, I’m being polemical, but expressing a truthful, emotional sentiment. I’m not sorry to post, but it was weird to hear about this site, and then read all the cheers about how another white person is going to take a tour among the unwashed to find themselves.

    Paz, y suerte,

    Oh, and vote Obama (gee, how many Romney supporters here? Everyone? I’m being an a–, but seriously, come on lady, your big fat South American Sabbatical smacks a little differently in some circles, like around all of my Peruvian friends).

    • Meagan Francis says

      I’m finding all these assumptions amusing. This is the last comment of this sort I’ll respond to, but I would like to invite you to look again at what I’ve posted. Nowhere did I say I wanted to “find myself” nor go slumming to prove to myself that I’m brave. I said that I want to:

      1) travel
      2) learn a new language
      3) show my kids (and myself) that there are other ways of living and being, and
      4) spend more time with my family.

      Period.

      Would this be different if I did all of the above among other white-skinned folks in northern Europe? I’d love to take a big fat Irish sabbatical but we aren’t as wealthy as you seem to assume.

      • Meagan Francis says

        I also want to add that while I don’t like censoring comments, I will delete comments going forward if they are mean-spirited and insulting. This is my online ‘home’ and I am happy to entertain guests who want to discuss issues rationally and politely, but I don’t much care to have poop flung at me in my living room. Thanks!

  29. says

    Congratulations!! We just got home from our “Big Fat South American Sabbatical” and it was the best decision we ever made. Wishing you all the joy and strength it will take, and so so so happy for you and your family. :)!

    • says

      Can’t wait to read about your family’s adventures! Thanks for the comment, Jamie!

  30. Karla Holt says

    You can put me in the “I think this is the coolest idea ever” category!! What a FANTASTIC opportunity!!!

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