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Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter: October, 2008

Dearest Readers,
It's been a long time! Things have been pretty exciting for me since I last wrote: I spoke at two big unschooling conferences, the Northeast Unschooling Conference in May and Live and Learn in North Carolina in September, AND I lead my first Worldschooling Travel Tour to Mexico in October!

From October 1st to 21st, 2008, I showed two unschoolers around Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Puerto Escondido! It was amazing. (See photos from the trip here:

We wandered ancient ruins of the Aztec, Zapotec, and Mixtec civilizations; we climbed the pyramids of Teotihuacan; we explored colorful, fascinating markets; we viewed powerful paintings and murals by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera; we swam in Hierve el Agua's springs in the mountains of Oaxaca; we swam on tropical beaches; we saw el Ńrbol del Tule one of the oldest and largest trees in the world; we saw, and felt, colorful wool textiles in TeotitlŠn ; and we heard live music in the zůcalo town square, in restuarants, and even on the bus.

We ate a lot of good food! Everything in Mexico is so flavorful: even the Mexican version of the club sandwich, tortas, are spicy and satisfying!

Of course, what was most exciting about it all was "we"! I was sharing all these experiences with two people totally new to this type of travel. I met Hannah, 15, from Texas, and Cameron, 20, from South Carolina, at the Northeast Unschooling Conference in May and quite honestly I couldn't have asked for two better people for my first travel tour.

They were excited about all there was to see, learn, and do and they were present: looking, listening, tasting, and questioning. They appreciated the great things Mexico had to offer and treated the culture shocks and difficulties as challenges from which to learn: to me facing those challenges is at least half the value of travel.

What was really new and challenging for me was being a guide on my first travel tour and, I suppose, having more responsibility than I've ever had in my life! I'll cut to the chase: I made mistakes. Some things didn't go as I planned. I was indecisive and unsure at times. Okay, I was often unsure. But the honest truth is, it went really, really well. There was a lot I learned about leading a trip and there was a lot we all learned about everything.

From Spanish language skills, to food, culture, poverty, history, politics, self-discovery, and possibilities we all learned so much. During the trip Hannah, a girl who grew up next door to Mexico, said, "I had heard such bad things about Mexicans but I'm surprised just how nice everyone is!" She also said that she learned more Spanish in a few days than she did in months with a course on the computer. Cameron too noted how the waitress barely understood when he tried to order water on the first day but by our last night in Mexico City he was totally comfortable ordering his dinner.

Of course, the biggest things were more subtle than that. And I honestly think that some experiences we won't really understand for years. There are things I've learned while travelling, powerful lessons, that I didn't understand until four years later.

At the same time it seems like it has had some immediate effects on them. I was thinking I should give some sort of final speech to wrap things up at the end of the trip. But when I casually asked them what they think they'll do when they get home, they each already had very meaningful, inspired plans. I realized I didn't have to say anything special to them.

Actually, one evening Cameron told us he had been writing out plans for the rest of his life in his journal. At first, I wasn't sure if he meant it. But eventually he shared some of his plans and I realized he really had done some self-reflecting and made powerful goals not just for what he wants to do but also who he wants to become.

And Hannah recently wrote me saying, "I donít know how much Iíve changed or in what context that might be, but since the people around me are commenting on it something must have happened :-). All I know is that being that far from home and that safety zone did me a lot of good, and I canít wait to go again. Itís almost like recharging your batteries, it revitalizes things you didnít even known were dieing down." I couldn't have said it better.

I've been wanting to lead a travel tour for years now, I tried to get one organized a few times in the last year to no avail, and it finally happened and with success! It's a big step for me: a dream come true; a very new role. There are tentative plans and people lined up for a trip to Guatemala next year and a trip to Japan next fall when the leaves turn their dramatic shades of red. Meanwhile, I've been finishing up my landscaping season and getting ready to actually travel around the U.S.A. this winter.

That includes going to the Unschooler's Winter Water Park Gathering ( in Ohio in February, 2009. It sounds like a fun event and I'm hoping to gather together a bunch of other grown unschoolers. If it doesn't turn into a big grown unschooler gathering this winter, I'm sure it'll happen another year or at another event because it's definitely something people have been wanting to make happen.

As my birthday comes up on December 3rd, I'll have been around for a quarter of a century, and I feel like my life is exactly where I want it to be right now! I'm really happy. And I try to remember that when I feel really upset about things that don't have to be upsetting! Only, bizarrely, maybe one of those things might be just how well things are going!

I've mentioned this kind of thing before (actually just posted a very old poem about it on my site: and I've been very conscious of it recently. But the truth is, even as I notice my fear of succeeding, truly sharing my gifts with the world, and really connecting with people, I also notice that, more and more, I've been doing all those things anyway!

I think deep down inside I've made choices, sometimes unconsciously, to do certain things, in certain ways. Those choices have changed or deepened over the years. Staying true to those choices seem to trump the obstacles laid out by the world or even myself.

The world will still kick my ass every once in awhile: don't get me wrong. But if I have some humility, work with and learn from the experiences, I'll continue to share my gifts and live fully.

No one can make a choice for someone else. But places and situations can affect how easy or how difficult it is to make certain choices on how we live and how we view the world. And we influence others in the choices we make, even, or especially, the ones made deep down inside.

May you have the courage to make true, positive choices that will cause you to shine your light and inspire and nurture those around you and the whole world.

Yours truly,
Eli Stranger in a Strange Land