Nomading Families Talk about Life and Education – Round Table Discussion Part IV – Maya Frost
Over their many years of living abroad, the Frost family found a way to provide their four daughters with amazing international educations and not go into debt in the process. Maya has taken the wealth of information gathered through her experiences and written a book, The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education. In addition, she and her husband Tom consult with families about moving abroad and education. I was introduced to Maya through JetSetCitizen’s recent excellent interview with her and thought she would have great insight for this week’s round table discussion.
This is the fourth and final interview for this round table on nomadic families discussing life and education. If you’re interested in the topic, I encourage you to take a look at the first three:
- Soultravelers3 – RVing Europe with their young daughter for almost 4 years now
- The Atkins family – renovated a bus and took off for an amazing journey with 4 children
- Vogel – biking from Alaska to Argentina with their 2 young sons
Here’s what Maya had to say:
What was your initial goal for your children and family when you chose to take on a traveling/nomadic lifestyle?
For us, it was different than for most nomadic families because our girls were 15, 16, 18 and 19 and we were much more interested in settling into a community abroad rather than traveling around. We’d done a three-month sabbatical with the girls in India and Nepal when they were between the ages of seven and eleven, which was fantastic, and the oldest three each did a year as an exchange student in high school. Our goals were to spend time together as a family prior to their natural period of scattering as young adults, and we wanted them to find news ways to prepare for college rather than the traditional hyper-competitive college prep process. We had sold everything in the U.S. and had no plans to return to live there, so we weren’t on a year-long adventure, either: this was a permanent move abroad rather than a trip. Consequently, what we really wanted was to show them that it was possible to create a whole new life in a new place, with new friends, a new language, new culture and new opportunities.
Do you feel you have achieved or that you are in the process of achieving your goal?
Oh, absolutely–and to a far greater degree than we could have imagined! Because our girls are older, we have been able to see how spending time abroad has had a profound impact on their lives.
Our oldest daughter (23) earned her BS at 19, traveled around Latin America for a few months, then landed a job in New York (within days of arriving and with no contacts at all) in a family clinic in Harlem. Her secret weapon: fluent colloquial Spanish and a killer condom-and-cucumber demonstration to the board of directors! After a year at the clinic, she decided to get her master’s degree–and the clinic was happy to pay for it! At 23, she completed her master’s in urban public health and accepted a position with a different nonprofit–with the board’s blessings. She is absolutely passionate about her work as the program director for an organization in Washington Heights.
Our second daughter (22) took classes from six universities in four countries in three languages and still managed to graduate from college by 20. After doing two concurrent internships in NYC–one with MTV International, one with a Latino ad agency–and working in marketing, she quit to move to Buenos Aires. At first, she worked virtually for an American outsourcing company, and saved her money. Now, she is absolutely thriving as a private English tutor for doctors, business leaders and others here and has been paid as a blogger for a language-learning website. She lives in her own apartment across the street from us in Buenos Aires!
The third daughter (20) earned her degree at 19 and was hired by Norwegian Cruise Lines as a multilingual events coordinator upon graduation. She spent several months as the youngest employee (among 650!) aboard the Majesty, working the Charleston/Bahamas/Bermuda route. She’s been having the time of her life the last few months on the Mediterranean route, and will arrive in BA tomorrow for six weeks of vacation, then will be based here for the next few months as she works the BA/Santiago route. She was hired because she speaks Spanish and Portuguese fluently and has basic skills in French and German, but she had also been an RA in her dorm for the international students and is very good at making people feel connected and content–very important on a cruise full of people from around the world! She is part of a team of only six people that coordinates all events on board–every party, contest and game. So she runs bingo games for 500 people, does the morning announcements on board, gets people out on the dance floor, manages the karaoke contests, you name it. She is saving virtually everything she makes since her room and board costs are covered, and she has met hundreds of people from every corner of the globe, both passengers and crew.
Our fourth daughter is finishing her final semester of college in upstate New York and will complete her BS in December–with honors– just two weeks after she turns 19. She will return to Buenos Aires, where she is considering her next move, which is likely to include a master’s program here. She did an independent study here last summer, interviewing psychologists about how their practices changed after the devastating economic meltdown here in 2001. With a major in Applied Psychology, she has blended her interests in psychology and business.
None of them ever submitted an SAT score or took an AP or IB class. They completely avoided the angst of the typical application process and leapfrogged right over their peers, graduating early and debt-free. But most of all, they have gained so much confidence in their own ability to navigate in the world, and they are actively pursuing their interests with tremendous passion and excitement about their future.
How did you deal with educating your children while you were traveling?
Well, we did a variety of things, and each daughter had her own unique combination. Online courses allowed them to earn college credits while abroad–and one daughter finished high school online. But they also took classes locally, both high school and college level. In addition, they worked with wonderful tutors from around the world, expats with a passion for a given subject and great enthusiasm to serve as mentors! That was such a positive experience for them.
Most parents don’t even want to consider changing schools when their kids are in high school, so to leave when our youngest three were about to enter their freshman, junior and senior years of high school seemed crazy to some. We knew we were going to have to be bold and just figure out how to help our girls get what they needed to get into college in the US or Canada. We stumbled upon some stunningly advantageous options that any U.S. student anywhere can leverage to get a great global education without spending a fortune. I wanted to share what we’d learned with other parents, so I wrote a book, The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education, which was published by Random House/Crown in May. (I should point out that I had zero contacts in publishing and no real platform to speak of–I found an agent online and got a contract and advance from Random House all within a few weeks and navigated the entire pitch-to-publication process via email!)
Do you have an opinion about the age of children and doing extended travel? In other words, do you think there is a particular age group that benefits most from experiencing the world?
Our first two girls were born in Japan (my husband, a fellow Oregonian who grew up ten miles from me, and I met while teaching English in a rural community there in the eighties), and that was a wonderful experience–but we left before they were old enough to talk! We’ve been abroad with them at all different ages, and I would say that the sweet spot is really between the ages of about five and ten. It’s wonderful when they are old enough to really remember the experience but still young enough that they learn the language naturally through play and other daily activities rather than classes.
But there’s also a crucial period of brain development that occurs between the ages of about 15 and 18, and this is a prime time to send kids abroad as exchange students. I talk more about this in my book, but the fact is that those who go abroad at 16 rather than the traditional junior year of college are far more likely to be transformed by the experience and hardwire their brains for future language learning and tremendous flexibility. My husband and his siblings had all been exchange students in high school, and we knew we wanted that for our kids as well. We’ve been fortunate to blend travel, the exchange year, and family life abroad in such a way that I feel we were able to give them some powerful advantages.
Also, while we lived in the U.S. for about fifteen years, we hosted students from around the world, and that really planted the seed for our girls in terms of having a natural interest in going abroad and learning other languages. Many families wait until their kids are teenagers before considering hosting a student, but we’ve done it since our girls were infants, and it was a fantastic experience for the whole family! And foreign exchange students love spending time with young children, who tend to be very patient and they speak slowly and simply–perfect for beginning language learners!
What are the most difficult aspects of extended travel with kids?
I think the education part can be a challenge, especially with older kids, but we obviously got through that okay! The other thing that our girls mention often is that they don’t have a solid group of friends that they have moved through life with–they have a million Facebook friends from every stage and location of their lives, but it is challenging to create a sense of longevity in their friendships! Of course, Facebook and Skype make this easier–I wish I’d had them when I was doing my own traveling many years ago.
Of course, the upside is that our girls are very good at making friends wherever they go, and within days, they can establish a new group without much trouble. Kids who have grown up in the same town with the same friends their whole lives would obviously have a much harder time! Third culture kids have a degree of adaptability that is off the charts and it can serve them well throughout their lives.
What have been the greatest joys?
For us as parents, it’s just been a phenomenal experience all the way around. Our kids have had incredible opportunities that would never have emerged had we stayed in the United States, and so have we. It’s hard to imagine what our lives would be like if we had never left our suburban home in Oregon.
When I see our girls’ boundless enthusiasm and wide-open perspective on what is possible in their lives, I am full of gratitude. They have become confident, competent and compassionate global citizens. Of course, we wondered where they would choose to live once they finished college, and it has been extremely gratifying to see them scatter and then choose to come “home” to Buenos Aires! Despite the physical distances between us at different points, we are a very close family and the girls are best friends. We see each other more frequently than we would have imagined–we rarely go more than four months without seeing each one, and when we are together, it tends to be during very relaxed times. We’ve spent weeks in New York with our oldest daughter, and she has spent weeks at a time with us here, and of course, the younger three will be neighbors!
What have we given up? The stress of living life the “normal” way, I suppose. We have such freedom to do what we choose. We don’t make a ton of money–our income has been firmly planted in the mid-five figures for several years. But we have no debt, we own our home outright, we have savings, and we are extremely happy in the work we do. Our family has always been the priority for us, but we never imagined that moving abroad would allow us to actually create more meaningful careers as well! We’ve given up nothing other than proximity to relatives and friends, but that is something we manage through annual visits, email and Skype.
Moving abroad was the smartest move we have ever made.
For more about Maya, her family and her book visit any of her several sites: