reader report

Big OE: Travelling with kids

GAME ON: Medieval games in Tallinn.
GAME ON: Medieval games in Tallinn.

As a teenager I dreamed of going to university, gaining my degree and then using it as a passport to the world as I travelled off into lands unknown and saw as much of the world as I could. Unfortunately life doesn't always work out as you plan. I got to university, but never got my degree.

I did get to a land unknown in my early 20s when I had the opportunity to work in a ski resort in Japan for two seasons, but that was about it.

For the next 20-odd years that feeling of wanderlust and the desire to see the world, to live in places where you are the odd one out, where you are the imposter who doesn't speak the language was suppressed by life itself.

DREAMING IN RED: A 10-year-old's dream come true to visit St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square.
DREAMING IN RED: A 10-year-old's dream come true to visit St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square.

First there came the need to make a living and as someone without a degree, the only way to do that in my chosen field was to start a business of my own.

While I may have spent 20 years doing something that I loved, it hasn't exactly been financially rewarding.

Then there came a wife and kids, and a house and mortgage, then when we were just starting to make some real headway we are struck by the global financial crisis, so travel was always something that we would do "one day".

As parents, we hoped that "one day" we would also be able to take our kids with us to experience the world with them before they flew the coup and did it themselves while looking through the bottom of a pint glass.

Early last year we received an email advertising a teaching position in Saudi Arabia so I sent my wife's CV away and lo and behold she got an interview.

She was shortlisted and then offered a position at the school, but not the one that she had applied for, which would have seen all of us go.

The seed was sown; if she could get that far on her first application, chances were that given time she could get one of the head teacher jobs that included bringing the family.

About a month later another job popped up, this time in Moscow, which was a place the whole family had wanted to visit anyway. Again I sent away the application on a Sunday, by Monday they wanted an interview and on Friday during the Skype interview they wanted to know how much she wanted to be paid and when she could start.

What was initially just a twinkling of an idea was suddenly a reality.

While the Moscow job seemed good there was also an element of doubt in our minds as to how honest the employer was and whether he would actually honour the verbal contract we had with him (we struggled to get a written contract out of him before leaving - alarm bell number one). Anyway what did we have to lose?

He was paying for our airfares to get there, putting us up in an apartment, even if it did fall apart after six months we would have experienced an amazing part of the world without having to spend a lifetime's savings to get the family there.

Three months later, we were off, leaving New Zealand, our families and our whole lives behind, setting off into the great unknown.

The first stop was Dubai, where we had a ball for three days, then the final leg to Moscow.

What a shock, it was like stepping back in time 50 years into the set of an early James Bond movie with flasher cars. It took some time to get settled into this totally alien environment where no-one spoke any English, however we managed.

Within six months we were really enjoying the city. Unfortunately though our suspicions about the employer were realised and my wife was laid off because they could no longer afford to pay for our apartment and that we had 10 days to vacate it.

That turned into a real fight and after consulting a lawyer we were warned by her to keep quiet, watch our backs, lock our doors, make sure we knew where our children were at all times and get out of Russia sooner rather than later.

It was not the sort of end to a job most early childhood teachers would experience.

We packed our things, put some in storage till we could get them later and took what we could to Finland where luckily we had family living.

We flew out of Russia on April Fool's Day this year and two days later I started work in an architect's office in Helsinki, fulfilling another of the life long dreams of mine to be an architect.

This was an interim move as in the 10 days we had to leave Russia my wife had applied for and been offered an excellent job in Tokyo, Japan, so we knew we had four months to fill in before she was due there.

We used our time in Finland to explore the Baltics, falling in love with Estonia and visiting Sweden and Norway as well as seeing a fair bit of Finland itself.

We are now firmly embedded in Tokyo and our children are attending a Japanese Elementary School where all instruction is in Japanese.

It has been hard going for them but after only three months they are showing real progress with the language and really enjoy school despite the obvious difficulty of not understanding a word the teacher is saying.

We have seen and experienced a hell of a lot in the last 14 months.

While our children may be repeating the same school grade for the third year due to differences in school starting ages in these parts of the world, they have gained an amazing amount of knowledge and insight into different cultures and history.

We have been able to see history from different perspectives in all of the countries we have visited and see what they consider important historical events and battles.

While I would have loved to have done an OE while I was younger, this has by far been a greater experience than a beer swilling, girl chasing jaunt around Europe ever would have been.

To see the awe and wonder in a young child's eyes as they view some of the buildings we visit, or the interest they show in the museums we have been to, or the sheer joy as they experience life as a local.

Whether it has been a sauna followed by a dip in the cold sea in Finland, sliding down snow mounds outside our apartment in Moscow, running off to spend the day at the beach from our apartment in Finland, a fireworks festival in Tokyo or walking the streets of the Old City of Tallinn; these are the experiences which will be etched in our children's memories and we are pleased that we have been a part of them.

We have now been gone 14 months and have been enjoying ourselves so much we don't know when we will return if ever.

It's not that we don't like New Zealand, it will always be home, but there is so much to see and do in the big wide world that once you have started it is hard to stop.

While living in a world where you can't understand a word that is spoken or even read the signs around you is a challenge, it adds something to your life as you are continually learning, trying to interpret and understand what is going on around you and there is no way of slipping into the same old same old rut that life in your native land sometimes evolves to - for a while yet anyway.

So for those who have missed their opportunity for the big OE, or those like us who would love to explore the world with your families, my advice is to hold onto those dreams.

Never give up on them and always look for opportunities to realise them, you never know where the opportunity will come from.