If immersive family time abroad appeals to you but you can’t imagine affording an entire year to the experience, then Anastasia Campbell’s story of two months with her kids in Uruguay will prove inspiring. Anastasia is a true world citizen: born in the Eastern European Republic of Moldova, Anastasia grew up in Ukraine and Russia and then moved to the United States on her own at age 18. Now Anastasia and her United-States-born husband live with their four kids in Virginia. Though their eldest daughter has multiple special needs, the Campbells do not shy away from family travel. Having spent previous summers in Moldova and Russia, this last summer Anastasia and her kids spent two months in the South American country of Uruguay. I recently had the good fortune to talk with Anastasia* about her family’s time in Uruguay and her growing passion for what she calls “world schooling.”
(Ed note: The feature photo of this post is of La Mano, a sculpture in Punta del Este, near where Anastasia and her family spent their two months in Uruguay. Photo credit: viajeauruguay.com).
Katie Quirk (KQ): On your website, you talk a lot about “world schooling.” Can you tell us a bit about what that term means to you and why it’s important to you to world school your kids?
Anastasia Campbell (AC): For me, world schooling means learning to be a patriot of our entire world, our planet. I have always struggled with the concept of “patriotism.” I understand what it means, but I can’t embrace it. We have one planet. The animals and birds migrate and are dependent on natural resources that we all share as humans. I, myself, have three citizenships: Russia, US, and Moldova by birth. I can tell you that kids in Russian schools are taught that Russia is the greatest country in the world. In the US, my kids are taught to be patriots of America. I don’t see the concept of countries going away, and I don’t think it should, but our kids need to experience the world to become global citizens. They need to understand that both natural resources and social issues are all interconnected.
KQ: Your family has enjoyed many different adventures abroad, but today I’d love to focus on your first world-schooling experience: two months in Uruguay during the summer of 2018. You rented an apartment in La Barra, a small town near Punta del Este. The area sounds lovely–full of artists, museums, colorful markets, and, of course, the beaches. Could you tell us a bit about your neighborhood and what life was like there?
AC: La Barra is filled with eclectic shops: shabby chic furniture, handmade jewelry, art galleries, family-owned cafes. We rented a small apartment in a duplex, right next to my sister’s house. Because people there walk instead of drive, we naturally saw neighbors all the time. One difference I noticed right away was that nobody was in a rush. Our neighbors always had time to chitchat and catch up. We became friends with my sister’s friends, who own a small café, as well as with some parents at my girls’ school. My second daughter even had a sleepover at one of her new friends’ home.
KQ: That’s wonderful. You mention your kids’ school. One advantage of visiting South America during the North American summer was that it was winter there and school was in session. Could you tell us a bit about your kids’ school? What was a typical school day like?
AC: The school day ran from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. There was lots of outdoor play, lots of hands-on projects, lots of socialization. Instruction was in English for the first half of the day, Spanish for the second half, and the kids got lessons in Portuguese, since Brazil is a neighbor of Uruguay. The school had a Montessori approach to math, and they also learned a lot of life skills, like cooking and gardening. And then, of course, they played soccer.
My oldest daughter, who is 11, has multiple special needs and autism. We weren’t able to find a school setting there that was appropriate for her, but that meant she and I got a lot of time together at home. She and I really bonded, and now I am more comfortable taking her out of school for travel. In fact, I think travel therapy was the best therapy she has yet received.
KQ: Take us back to some of your most cherished moments in Uruguay outside of school. Maybe you’d be willing to describe a few “snapshots?”
AC: Sure. My three girls all celebrated their birthdays in Uruguay. For my nine-year old’s birthday, we invited friends to play and climb on the rocks at the beach. We then went to a neighborhood café and shared oven-baked sourdough pizzas and cake with the kids. In that moment, though we were far from home, we truly felt “at home.”
Another memory comes from a day when we took a quiche picnic to the beach. While the kids were playing there, we saw a seal on the shore who appeared sick. We called different offices and authorities and were eventually able to help the seal.
My final memory was our Sunday tradition of going to the outdoor market, or feria, in nearby Maldonado. The organic produce was wonderful—we piled it up in the stroller and enjoyed practicing our Spanish. One vendor sold dried herbs and teas, and there were flea market rows next to the veggie stands where we picked up kids’ books in Spanish. The feria was so much nicer than regular grocery shopping!
KQ: Uruguayan breakfast foods sound unique and delicious. Would you tell us a bit about bizcochos and mate?
AC: Sure, Uruguayans and Argentinians drink mate all the time. Locals steep the dried leaves of yerba mate, a holly tree species, in hot water and then sip it through a metal straw. It’s very concentrated and caffeinated.
Bizcochos are small pastries filled with ham and cheese, or spinach and cheese, or jam, or dulce de leche. We would snack on bizcochos in the afternoon, too, while hanging out at the beach.
KQ: Can you give us a basic sense of the cost of living in Uruguay?
AC: Yes, Uruguay is definitely more expensive than much of Central America and Mexico. I certainly missed the 50 centavo tacos of Mexico! Eating out for a family of five cost about $30-$50 (U.S.), but we were able to buy most of our food for the week at the outdoor farmers’ market for about $80. Our rent was $600 a month for a 3-bedroom apartment, though remember, this was off-season. The cost of tuition for my kids’ school was $500 per child, per month.
KQ: Being able to carve out two months to live abroad is a significant feat, and yet, two months can also feel really short. What were some of the benefits and drawbacks of this amount of time for your family? Were you and the kids ready to come home at the end of two months?
AC: We could have stayed longer, but my husband was back in the U.S. for work, and so we were ready to go home to see him. Two months allowed us to embed, and to get a sense of what Uruguay is like—its history, its pace, its values. Afterwards, we were able to incorporate some of what we learned into our lives in the U.S.: slowing down, cutting out after-school activities, spending more time together, cooking together and walking more. The kids didn’t learn very much Spanish, in part because the kids at their school spoke good English, so that will be a focus of our next trip.
KQ: Tell us about your next world-schooling plans.
AC: First of all, I want to thank you, Katie, for your website. It wasn’t until I found WarmerThanCanada.com, that the idea of a family gap year started to really take shape. We are planning to rent out our house for a year, starting next summer, to store our most valued possessions in the garage, and to head south. We’ll either purchase a small RV, or drive in our van and stay at Airbnbs. We’ll stop at a few places in Mexico—Mexico City and Tulum—and then make our way to Costa Rica. I am fascinated with the national parks of Costa Rica, their sustainability initiatives, and the fact that their government has chosen not to have a military. We were inspired by the family you interviewed who enrolled their kids in a Costa Rican public school. We hope to do the same for a year. After that, we’ll see what happens and maybe visit other countries. I definitely would like to travel long-term with the kids in Russia and the former Soviet Republics–there is so much to see there–but that will have to be after Central America.
Thanks very much to Anastasia for sharing her stories from Uruguay. Anastasia’s commitment to world schooling is inspirational, and she and her family demonstrate that even two months abroad can allow for a real sense of immersion!
*Please note that some of Anastasia’s responses have been edited for length or clarity.