If you’ve ever expressed the sentiment that the world is your classroom, that your classmates are the citizens of the globe, and that your greatest teacher is your compass … somebody standing close by probably accused you of being a pretentious snot. Not us. We think you’re great. But some people are just jerks, y’know.
Well, nuts to them. Just between us, if you think of the world as your classroom, you should know that you aren’t alone. A whole world of people see it that exact way. They’re just hard to pin down because they’re always traveling. These people are worldschoolers, and thanks to the possibilities created by online education, and especially online college, worldschooling is becoming a more accessible possibility all the time.
Worldschooling is an approach to both living and education that combines travel and exploration with formal (though not always traditional) education. There are a lot of ways to approach worldschooling, but most strategies are driven by some combination of education and adventure. But what exactly is worldschooling, and is it right for you?
We’ll help you answer the first question, and hopefully, that gives you everything you need to answer the second question for yourself.
What in the World?
The classroom is a great place to learn about things like grammar, and trigonometry, and the Periodic Table of the Elements. It’s a sterile environment, not too much to distract beyond the ticking of the ancient clock and the shuffling, throat-clearing, and murmuring of your classmates. But what kind of place is that to learn about other cultures, about the history of humanity in places far away, about the forces of all sizes that have shaped our continents, our conflicts, and our identities, collective and distinct from one another?
If we could venture an answer: perhaps not the most simulating kind of place, nor the most illuminating. If you ask those who subscribe to the philosophy of worldschooling, there are far better, more tangible, and more enlightening ways to learn about humanity.
That said, worldschooling is neither a formal style of education nor an outright rejection of formal ways of educating. As a matter of philosophy, the worldschooling community welcomes learning of every style and theory, from homeschoolers and unschoolers to expatriates learning abroad and traditional students interested in travel. You can pursue any of these approaches with the underlying premise that the world is your classroom.
Worldschooling is not about your methodology but your mode. The idea is perhaps best articulated by the Worldschoolers Facebook community, which boasts more than 44,000 members around the world. The Facebook Group credits its founder, Eli Gerzon, for coining the term in 2008. At the time, worldschooling was a natural outgrowth of the deconstructionist unschooling philosophy popular among homeschoolers. The Facebook group notes that
“the common thread among worldschoolers is that we view the world as the greatest classroom filled with limitless learning opportunities that include experiential academics, cultural immersion, leadership, real-world decision making, flexibility, and compassion among others. All who identify as worldschoolers are welcome.“
In short, approaches to education and travel may vary. You can drop everything, sell your earthly possessions, and stow away on a Carvinal Cruise bound for somewhere extraordinary. You can bail on your expensive city digs, enroll your kids in a rural Paraguayan public school, and telecommute to your American day-job. You can even go to school for most of the year while pursuing immersive travel experiences during your vacation time. At least where Facebook’s Worldschoolers community is concerned, you have a right to call what you do worldschooling so long as it is the pursuit of education in a state of motion.
This Ain’t Club Med
While there are plenty variations on how you can pursue worldschooling, the one constant is that this isn’t a vacation. It’s a commitment to a way of life. Any real education should come with challenges, with unexpected bumps in the road, even with the occasional setback. If you’re pursuing your education on the road, in an unfamiliar setting, and especially ensconced in an unfamiliar culture, these challenges can be harder to navigate, bumps can be a little bumpier, and setbacks can even be perilous. The stakes are higher when your classroom isn’t protected by four walls and an administrative building.
When you don’t study for a test, you risk getting a bad grade. But when you don’t study the culture of a country you’re visiting, you risk offending your neighbors, getting ripped off by local merchants, and failing to absorb the richness of the life going on all around you.
So, worldschooling is something quite different than a resort stay with a few outbound adventures to AAA-approved traveler’s destinations. Worldschooling should be immersive, both in your educational preparation and your willingness to truly experience, rather than merely observe. if you do find the right path to this experience, your reward will be a tangible and encompassing education unlike anything you could gain from the classroom alone.
Digital nomadism is an idea that has taken particular root for those who have become disillusioned with the cultural realities of present-day America. While this nation remains one of the world’s great bastions both for formal education and for professional opportunity, many Americans also struggle to reconcile the high cost of living, the emphasis on material acquisition, the culture of violence, the swelling racial discord and, increasingly, the political rancor.
Historically, you’d simply have to make a choice, to weigh the educational and professional opportunities against the cultural and sociological drawbacks. But for many Americans, the ability to work and learn online undoes this dilemma. All you need is a passport, a laptop, and a destination. As a recent article in The New York Times says, these three things give you the freedom to wash your hands of all the strip malls, the suburban sprawl, the gas-guzzling cars, and the shrill reality TV shows while telecommuting to your job in downtown Dallas. Digital nomadism is increasingly common among those that have the capacity to work from a computer screen anywhere in the world.
This creates the opportunity for enriching, immersive lifestyle and learning opportunities. And, reports The New York Times, the evolution of P2P hospitality through services such as Airbnb actually makes it quite easy and affordable to land nearly anywhere in the world and secure free Wi-Fi and a marginally comfortable work and study space.
In fact, if you’re thinking only rich people worldschool, the truth is, the cost of living is lower in many countries, as are the costs associated with education. The New York Times points out that, if done with intelligence and discipline, a few years on the road, unconstrained by American rent, mortgage, utility, tax, consumption, and healthcare costs, can actually be a way to save money!
This is especially good news if you’re an online student. There are real, tangible and even cost-effective ways to work toward a degree from a university while visiting every baseball stadium in America, seeing every museum in Europe, and tasting every rum in the Caribbean. At the core of worldschooling, the world around you sets the stage for your educational experience, placing you in a constant state of discovery and stimulation that ultimately primes you to be a better learner.
Oh, and it’s also a phenomenal way to make boring coursework more interesting. Sure, you have to complete that accounting requirement for your business administration degree, but at least you’re cramming for your exam in an Italian cafe. Sure, you’re dragging through that reading material on the Chinese Wars for Succession, but on the other hand, it helps that you can actually see the Forbidden City from the window of your apartment. Your video lectures on comparative literature aren’t particularly thrilling, but standing at the site of the Ancient Library of Alexandria does bring a little more excitement to the proceedings.
By taking the formal setting out of your formal education, you have the chance to draw your inspiration from so much more than the rigid triangle between grades, degrees, and jobs. At its core, this may be a way for your education to feel like, well … education. You’re out there learning instead of sitting indoors memorizing and regurgitating.
Frankly, as somebody who went to high school in South Jersey, then voyaged five exits up the turnpike for college in sunny, exotic Central Jersey, I’m jealous that you have this opportunity. When I was in school, the Internet was good only for getting concert tickets. But I won’t let my jealousy get in the way of being helpful. I just want what’s best for you.
If you think you might want to hit the road and take your online education with you, start with the best online schools out there. Check out the 50 Best Online Colleges & Universities 2019. Once you find the best school for you, you can attend from anywhere in the world!
If you’re already out there worldschooling, tell us about your adventures. We love to be inspired!