notes from an unschooled world wanderer

This is a guest post. I met Twyla a couple months ago, when she came to NYC. And then, last month, we both happened to be in London at the same time, so we hung out there, too. I would hang out with this girl anywhere in the world. And I might have to, if I want to see her, because she is always somewhere new. When I think of everything right about unschooling, I think about Twyla.

I asked her for a bio and here is what she wrote: I am a 19-year-old nomad. I left my home town three months ago, where I used to teach partner dance with my dad, study what interested me and live life. After Istanbul I plan to go to Beirut to continue learning Arabic. As I travel I like to focus on language, dance and food. My blog is

I asked her to tell us a little bit about her life, as a traveler and an unschooler. This is her guest post:

My first night in Istanbul was a little overwhelming. I had committed to renting a room there for the next two months. But of course I explored the rest of the house.

The living room – converted into an art studio for my land lady – smelled of old cigarettes. The warped white walls were laden with paintings in all stages of completion. The floor was splattered with paint, and tubes of acrylic rested peacefully on a stained wooden shelf.

In my room a creaky bunk bed (missing its top bunk) pushed up against the garish green wall. Luckily I like garish colors.

When I did my laundry, I flooded the bathroom because I didn’t put the drain tube in the toilet.

One of my housemates is an actor, the other a journalist. Nice guys, although neither of them speak English.

As I sat at the cluttered table in the living room listening to guttural Turkish banter between the people I just met and would now be living with, I wondered if it was illogical for me to be drawn to this place. Will I survive two months of this? I started to think of all the alternate options. Maybe I will just stay for one month, then travel around Turkey. Maybe I will find another place to live. My mind skipped through possibilities like a flat stone thrown from the beach.

I seem to be constantly surprising myself with the choices I make. When I left home months ago I was looking forward to traveling with no plans, seeing what experiences I ran into. But, when I got to Turkey I started to feel constricted by the unplanned nature of my life. I spent more time waiting for some sort of inspiration to come to me, rather than going out and doing something – anything. And then I realized I want plans. I want something to do every day that makes me fulfilled and happy. I don’t want to wander aimlessly through this gigantic cultural hub of a city. And I want to learn the language.

If I have learned anything in the unschooling environment, it is that I have the ability to do what I love, what makes me happy. And I have the right to shift what I’m doing whenever it starts to feel constraining. There is no need for me to keep up appearances or continue on a path that doesn’t suit me in order to prove anything. Because I don’t have anything to prove.

My schooling journey, which led to unschooling, hasn’t been straightforward; I started in Waldorf school, homeschooled for one year, was in public school for five years, did online school for two weeks and concluded with two months of alternative school before I decided it was time to follow my own interests. When I decided school wasn’t where I wanted to be, I was 16 and thankfully my dad was supportive of my choice. My mom was skeptical at first, but I did my research and convinced her. Now she has seen me in the world as an unschooler and she supports me one-hundred percent. After leaving school I didn’t plan what I would do instead, but I knew I wanted to spend my time doing art; at that point in time designing and sewing clothing and purses. As far as I can remember, sewing (and going to the gym) were my main activities that year.

The following year I spent six months traveling in Europe with my sister and my dad, teaching dance. The idea to travel solidified just days before my dad was scheduled to leave for Italy on a three-week biking trip during the summer of 2009. My dad, my sister and I decided it was time to travel together; I was 17 and itching to be on my own, but this would be one of our last chances to travel as a family. That morning we were sitting on the ferry boat talking about how we could make travel work for us. We decided that finding a storage place for free or relatively low cost was the key. When we got home a woman from our dance classes had left a voicemail on our machine, and it turned out she had an almost empty barn, relatively weather proof, sitting on her property, which we could use in exchange for dance classes. We took the first load from our house to the barn that afternoon.

At the end of the summer the three of us hopped on a plane to Norway, spending a total of six months in Europe over the next nine months. Traveling in close proximity to my family was wonderful and tough at the same time; luckily we get along really well. We made lasting connections with many people, stayed in over 50 homes (we only stayed in a hotel one night out of the six months) and have a few great stories to tell. This trip sparked something in me; I knew I wanted to seek adventure and new cultures on my own.

And recently, I have embarked on the solo journey I dreamed about. Even though my goals have changed since I first had the idea to travel, halfway through my year of studying Arabic at Edmonds Community College. My initial thought was to spend a week or two in Turkey before going to the Middle East, a good way to transition cultures. But, the week has expanded and contracted multiple times over the course of the past months.  I start an intensive Turkish course on December 5th at the Dilmer language school. Every day I learn a few more Turkish words with the help of my room mates; when I asked for a pastry in a little shop the other day the man behind the counter answered me in Turkish, I guess my accent’s improving too! Unfortunately, I had no idea what he said when he answered me, but that also will change in a matter of time.

I have found a state of contentment. My apartment is conveniently located in the middle of Istanbul. My roommates, landlords and all of their friends are artists and creatives; I have known them for a week and feel completely comfortable with them. I especially love my landlady’s laugh; she’s 31 and laughs in short, gruff bursts. I’ve started doing art again – I painted for nine hours yesterday. I joined a gym today, with yoga and other classes. The warped walls in the living room are starting to feel homey and I enjoy watching the progress on the construction site next door; luckily they don’t work at night. I found three natural food stores near me and bought brown rice and rose hip tea. I am starting to make a life here. Even though I will leave in two months, I am going to live these moments to the fullest.

At the end of January (when my Turkish visa is up) I am going to Lebanon, to study Arabic in Beirut for three months. I will create another life there; An apartment, friends, and an intensive Arabic language course. But by then, who knows what other adventures I’ll have thought up.

Through unschooling I’ve learned that, in a sense, I create my surroundings. But “unschooling” to me is only the absence of school. I am not (nor was I before) looking for something to replace the daily tribulations I encountered in school. I am simply living life. Anything I want to learn is at my fingertips because I know how to go out in the world and seek knowledge. I know how to ask questions. I know that if I want to be independent I need to support myself; and if I support myself in a way that’s fulfilling I will be infinitely happier. I know how to have meaningful relationships and I know how to communicate effectively. I know that sometimes I have to experience hard things, and that’s part of learning. I also know that I will continue learning because to stop learning is to stop living. And all of this, I learned in the last few years while I was not ‘forced’ to be in a classroom.

Life is a learning experience. The most important thing is to keep learning; in whatever way fits best.

15 comments to notes from an unschooled world wanderer

  • Love this post!! Thanks for sharing a bit of your story, Twyla. :-)

  • Pam

    The link for Twyla’s blog is not working. :o(

  • I admire your flexible and adaptable nature. Twyla. However, I wonder if, as you get older and wiser, you will change your thoughts about this: “And I have the right to shift what I’m doing whenever it starts to feel constraining.” Certainly you have the “right”, but are there some things worth working through, even when they feel constraining? Like marriage, for example?

  • @Evelyn

    I always have the choice to change something if it’s not working. I also have the choice to work through it. The point I’m making is that is is solely my choice.

  • Sarah

    I loved your post Twyla. I am home/un schooling my two kids. I so wish I had done what you are doing at that age, no one ever told me follow my interests or passions, they just asked me which college I was going to go to and what would I study, which is a limited way of looking at life, esp. at that age. I just wasn’t raised to think outside the box. I love you are creating your life, I wish the same for my kids when they are your age!

  • @Sarah

    It’s great that you’re giving your kids the opportunity that you didn’t have at that age. You are creating an environment where your kids can follow their dreams at any age!

  • Cat

    I am homeschooling my young girls (ages 6 and 4 so really they just play A LOT!) and find your post so inspiring. This is what I hope for my girls and I feel so confident when I read:

    “If I have learned anything in the unschooling environment, it is that I have the ability to do what I love, what makes me happy. And I have the right to shift what I’m doing whenever it starts to feel constraining. There is no need for me to keep up appearances or continue on a path that doesn’t suit me in order to prove anything. Because I don’t have anything to prove.”

    I know too many people caught up in doing things as they’ve always been done despite the misery associated with it. I know too many kids labeled because they don’t fit in the box that their parents did or the one they expect. As a homeschooling parent (who is considered a crazy hippie to most of my family and old friends), it is often a challenge to find inner strength even when I know we are doing the right thing. Thanks Twyla and Kate for telling us the truth about this wonderful journey!

  • Amy

    I love that you are finding your own way in the world Twyla, and doing it so unconventionally. I am an unschooling mama and my husband and I are planning a journey throughout Asia with our two young boys. I hope that we inspire them to live the life they dream of and discover all the world has to offer.

    Good for you for living your dreams!

  • @Cat and Amy

    I love to hear about unschooling Mamas! I didn’t discover unschooling for myself until I was 16 (and that’s okay I have WONDERFUL parents nonetheless), but it’s wonderful you can give such a gift to your kids from a young age!

  • Twyla, if it’s not too personal, I’d love to know how you’re financing your traveling. I would love to travel, and my kids would love to travel, but we can’t afford it. I have heard of quite a few people who somehow manage to travel anyway, so I wonder if I’m missing something obvious.
    Also, how did you make whatever arrangements you’ve made, like where you are staying? And when your family stayed in over 50 homes during your travels… how did that happen? Did you just go, and figure things would work out?

  • @Hilinda

    For my solo travels I worked all of last summer; three jobs. But, there is a difference between traveling and living. When I first had the idea to travel I was thinking of being one place for a week or two and moving on to the next place. If you would like to travel that way it can be very inexpensive. However, I decided to live in the places I go, which is significantly more expensive (rent, food staples, household items) and therefor I need to start looking for work.

    About traveling on a budget: When I traveled with my dad two years ago, we (as a family) had less money than most people I know. The most expensive thing when traveling is lodging, but we traveled with Servas, an international peace organization where you stay with host families. It is my favorite way to get a glimpse into a culture if I am only staying a short time. However, you have to take into consideration that you are constantly sharing space with people you have just met. For extensive travel (for example six months) it is exhausting and a lot of work, not in a bad way, but work nonetheless. With kids (I don’t know what age yours are) it really depends on how flexible they are.

    Aside from living expenses you have to think about food, travel, and spending money. For food we didn’t go out to eat in a lot of restaurants. We would frequent the stores and a lot of times we ate yogurt, bread, cheese and apples. It wasn’t the most exotic, and sometimes it got boring, but we were able to be in the most expensive places (Paris for example) and still travel comfortably. Again this really depends on the age of the kids; my sister and I were 15 and 17 and understood that we needed to spend only a little amount of money.
    For travel expenses, the most expensive thing is the ticket to wherever you’re going. Our strategy was to get the cheapest possible airline ticket to Europe and use the inexpensive airlines (RyanAir, Wizz Air, Easyjet, etc.) to go from place to place. If you buy ticket ahead of time it’s easy to get really, really, really inexpensive flights. The sites take a little navigating to figure out where you can go, but once you’ve got the hang of it it’s much cheaper. We flew from Germany to Scotland and back (three people, round trip) for less than 30 euro. For our first three months we also had a Eurail pass, which was a great way to take long train rides and see the scenery, but was a bit pricey.
    As far as spending money and souvenirs, we tried to spend as little money as possible. We were traveling with just a backpack each, so that made it easy to not buy things.
    It also depends where you want to travel. If you are going to Europe it’s going to be more pricey. If you want to go to Asia I’ve heard you’re going to find cheaper things. South America is also cheaper, but I haven’t been there for a while, so I don’t have an accurate picture.

    When we left we did just go, and figure things would work out. My dad spent quite a bit of time on logistics and we stayed about 3 days to two weeks ahead of ourselves on plans. We had to constantly e-mail hosts and figure out what we were doing/where we were staying.

    I hope that helps a little and feel free to e-mail me if you have more questions or just want to talk!


  • Twyla…what an adventure! I look forward to reading where your nomad heart takes you. My unschooling daughter is my travel companion but I know she’s thinking ahead to her own solo travel.

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