Does Dave speak Chinese?

Yes.  He served a mission for our church in Taiwan years ago and has kept up with it relatively well with how much he travels to China.

So when you go to church and school can you understand anything? 

Our kids are in the “English Track” at school so they are fine there (that’s the reason we had to put them in a private school, most of them are too old to just throw into a completely Chinese environment, dang it!).

BUT they are all taking Chinese at school.  Claire is in LOVE with it.  Lucy detests it so far (she is the only one in her “beginning Chinese” class who hasn’t had any exposure to it before).  The other three kids are pretty enchanted by what they have learned so far.

As far as church goes, most members here are American so there’s no language barrier there.  There is no missionary work allowed in China.  In fact, they go over a big schpeal at the beginning of church each week to remind everyone we aren’t allowed to share what we believe here.  We are lucky enough that the government lets us meet here each Sunday, and we don’t want to ruin that trust.  I remember that little schpeal from last time we were here and was wondering if it would still be the same.  

It sure is.

Wondering if you have any Mandarin learning tips. My son is taking it this year in high school and it is HARD. I am working on it with him and we are both struggling. 

We bought Rosetta Stone for Max for his birthday before he came to China over the summer.  He learned a lot but these tones seem to come pretty naturally to him.  I cannot spit out those tones if it kills me, YET.  I’m determined to learn at least some of them.  Last time we were here I could tell a taxi driver how to get to our house and get around pretty well.  Hopefully that will come sooner than later this trip.  I’m going to do Chinese homework with Lucy in the meantime.  Maybe she can teach me a thing or two:)

How did you narrow down your school?  I’ve wanted to do a six-month stint abroad (my husband and I both work from home so just need an Internet connection). You inspired me to look into it before my kids get too old (they’re 8 and 10). 

In foreign countries, the International private schools are so dang expensive and even looking into schooling in England was overwhelming. I’d love to hear your experiences on the matter and if you just decided to bite the bullet and pay the expensive international schooling tuition? 

First of all, my sister Saydi and her family with young kids lived in England for a semester abroad a few years ago.  If you are considering that, maybe check out her blog (some of her England posts are HERE), or email her specific questions because she is an expert at that and I loved following along in her journey.  She did the homeschooling option with her two who were old enough for school and learned a ton about that.

It is true, we have learned that international private schools are expensive.  In order to do an international trip in a foreign-speaking country like this, there are two schools of thought as far as education goes.  And we know them well because Dave and I have debated them for months.  

1)  The first is to do homeschooling, (the option I was originally fighting for).  I had grand visions of teaching my kids while hiking through Guilin or sitting in a secluded section of the Great Wall and taking it all in together.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  (That’s what some of our “friends” we only really know through cyberspace are doing and it is so appealing to me.)  There are great programs out there that give you all the information you need to get your kids the education they need to graduate (and also learning so much yourself) while also having the flexibility you would want in a foreign country, especially if you are only there a short while.

2)  The second option is to immerse your family in the whole foreign schooling experience.  This is what Dave wanted (and really what we had both envisioned when we lived here last time).  He wanted the structure of it all (he’s a structure kind of a guy) and the real-life experience of going to school in a completely different place and felt that option would help our specific kids to grow the most.  Also, the whole dreamy unstructured learning idea gives him the heebie-geebies.   Maybe because he knows me and how I like to fly by the seat of my pants 🙂  

But he totally won me over to the second school of thought because I love him more than I love that dreamy vision of teaching my kids myself (which I still hope I get to do some day).  

And I’ll tell you what, as we walked away from dropping off the kids at the school that first day it hit us both that those kids are going to learn more in this school than we could have ever bargained for.  Not just from an educational standpoint (although it sure is great that way), but from a social, emotional and even spiritual standpoint as well.  If they can do this they are going to know so much more of their potential.  I am watching their confidence grow it is so tangible.  They are meeting people they could have never met back at home and they are going to learn things they never even imagined they’d want to learn.  

One of my favorite sayings my parents engrained in me is, “Don’t ever let schooling interfere with your education.”  Well, in my opinion, this schooling IS one of the best “educations” they can get.

So, in answer to this question, we feel so lucky that Dave’s business is able to help us offset some of the costs of schooling here.  We are doing this thing as bargain-friendly as we can but it’s not cheap.  We also have the added benefit of Dave’s business partner who has helped set everything up for us.  He knows the schools, the neighborhoods, all the ins and outs.  There are so many details in a trip like this it’s tough to even fathom on the onset.  

We feel very grateful to have this opportunity.  I know there are many who can’t do something like this who would love to.  BUT there are so many ways to help your family become more “global,” and it certainly doesn’t need to be a semester overseas.  

I’m reading this book right now:

and it has a whole slew of ideas for helping to teach your kids about the world while they’re at home. (Check it out HERE
if you want more info.)

Through the years of wondering if we could make this trip a reality we tried to do as much as we could to make our family more “global” from home.  

We did “International Nights” for a while where I made food from specific countries and we talked about those foreign lands at dinner (more on that over HERE).  

We hung up a huge map by our kitchen table in our old house over HERE…(we’re still trying to figure out a great one for our new house).  We discussed the world so much more with that thing looming over us all the time and I loved it.  

We have always tried to do anything we could to open our kids’ eyes to the big world out there.

One reader mentioned she might want to incorporate studying different cultures as an “around the world” theme for part of her summer activities with her kids.  

Others may incorporate world globes as decoration and make trivia questions part of family night every now and again.  You could use family breakfast to talk about world events (tried that for a week and failed, but maybe we’ll try again…).  

The opportunities to open up the world to children is endless and certainly doesn’t have to involve finances and flying across the globe.


  1. This is so exciting that you are doing this. Your writing about it is wonderful and makes it sound like it truly is something a family can do together. Keep up the good work Shawni! Also, I truly hope Grace is having a better time in school with her teacher & friends. Have a wonderful day!

  2. So glad it seems to be going well! We are in an International school in Angola, and are so glad the company helps pay. But in the same vein I love what my kids say when they come home, their friends are from around the world, my 4 year old talks about other countries like they are aroundt he corner and the world has gotten smaller and more amazing all at the same time! I am going to have to check that book out, looks great! Enjoy!

  3. As a teacher I am SO interested in the school aspect of all of this! I'd love to hear even more details, such as the curriculum, how the day is structured, routines, school lunches, etc. etc. etc. 🙂

  4. I still can't quite believe you are doing this. It's exciting and scary at the same time.
    But I keep coming back in my mind to basic practicalities… What have you found to eat? Are you trying to adapt or are you eating 'American'? What kind of bread do they have? I can't even imagine a supermarket with live fish in a tank!
    I am looking at the Chinese and Korean families here and wondering what they think about our supermarkets!
    Please tell me more about the food.

  5. I'm so excited for you guys to be doing this and I'm so happy you get to blog while there!! Our family has always wanted to do this as well, and our plan has been to do it in 2 years. I am loving following along with your adventure! One question for you that I haven't researched quite yet, is how do you handle health insurance while you're there? Can you keep your insurance from the states, or do you have to get something different since you're there beyond the length of a vacation?

  6. I think your family is so lucky to have the means to afford such neat experiences. I admire your family so much. One thing I often wonder when I read your posts though is -do you ever worry about some of the craziness in other parts of the world? Your girls are just so beautiful I would think they would stand out and perhaps attract the wrong people. The sex slave industry and things of that nature are bigger and more prominent than most people realize. Maybe I have some trust issues but I remember looking at your pics of your trip to build houses in Mexico and I wondered how in the world you were able to relax and work on the houses without being paranoid about exactly where your daughters were and who was with them – even if just around the corner. Sorry to be such a downer and I'm not saying you're a bad mom for taking your girls to these places. I'm just wondering if you worry about that I guess.

  7. Love the photos of China.

    Stace, I guess that the grim truth is that in these countries there are literally millions of poor local girls that traffickers can pick on without much fear of the authorities. They're unlikely to target the kids of rich American parents who would raise hell; it would make international news and the local police would jump to find them. (The film 'Taken' annoys the hell out of me!) In some countries kidnap for ransom might be an issue but I don't think that's an issue in China.

    BTW if anyone's thinking of coming to work in the UK it's normally quite easy to put your kids into local schools.

  8. There would be a market because they are "foreigners". Crimes involving foreigners as victims tend to be more severely punished though.

    Trafficking happens even in the US. It's not really a problem for other countries.

  9. Hi Shawni – I just wanted to let you know that I was trying to look up your blog on instagram and came across an instagram account that goes by the name "ryleeandmaria". The account includes only photos of your daughters by someone who is pretending to be them. Just thought you should be aware.

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