Danish Family: “World is our Classroom”

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The Bagers in their "mountain classroom"

The Bagers in their "mountain classroom"

The Danish family of five had headlamps but had decided they didn’t need them.  The moonlight illuminated their way. They left the trailhead around dark and rode their mountain bikes on the single, sometimes double track up the valley, being sure to keep the Matuktuki River on their right. Dennis, the father, aside from briefly looking at the map, was going on memory. He had been in this place some 15 or twenty years prior, but that time he was high above this place, and almost slid off  Cascade Pass on snow covered wet grass, losing his fingernails while self arresting with hands and nose. This return trip had a different sense of adventure. He was returning with his wife Birgette and his three children Manus 10, Rasmus, and their little sister Frederikke, 7.  And this trip was part of a bigger adventure. He and Birgette were about a third of their way through a two year round-the-world educational odyssey with their kids.  They pedaled into Aspiring Hut around 11pm, tip toeing into the hut with their gear, careful not to disturb sleeping climbers and hikers.  I had heard they had just arrived , and what’s more that they had shipped their 1990 VW oversized camper complete with school books and bikes from Denmark through Asia, Australia, and were headed to South America after a good long stint in New Zealand I had to find out more.  The next morning I asked if I could interview them. Dennis jokingly said no but later agreed and even said I could get more info off their website.
MSI: Do you mind if I ask? How are you able to afford to take two years off with your whole family?

Dennis Bager: In Denmark there has been a law that allows either a man or a woman to take a family leave before their child is nine years old. This law has existed for two reasons. First, during Denmark’s high employment years back, it wanted to create a one year training opportunity for unemployed and by people being on leave, this provided the slot for on-the-job training .
Birgette: Secondly, the Danish government saw the social benefit of families able to take an extended time with their children so they made the provision apply to per child in the family. So if you had two children, or more, you could take the time off and still retain your job. Most families don’t take advantage of the travel option for one reason or another.
MSI: What is the main motivation for this long adventure?
Dennis and Birgette: We wanted to spend time with our family, see the world and “home school them in a way that would make them better people, better citizens.  This is been in the planning stage for many years, now it’s finally a reality!
MSI: What has been the reaction from friends and family about your decision to take to the road?
Dennis and Birgette: Almost everyone thought we were a bit nuts, and tried to persuade us into not going. It’s quite unusual to take this on.  But now that we’re on the way, we’ve had a supportive crew back home and of course lots of support wherever we go. We stay in touch and update people with updates on our website.  It’s all in Dutch, but English speakers are using the online translation tools to read the text in English.

MSI: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had so far?
About three years ago when we were planning this, was to think f we could actually do it.  Another challenge is obtaining third party insurance for the car. Also having to change plans when shipping the van hasn’t worked out as planned.  We had planned to drive through Asia, but China reneged on permission for no reason at the last moment. We think it was because of the Olympics.
MSI: Where have your travels taken you thus far?
Rasmus, 8: Some of the places we’ve been already is Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

MSI: How’s it going with schooling on the road?
Dennis and Birgette:  Well, we’re the ones that sow them about the world, we teach them,  help them with their reading and writing. We grow close to each other,  we’re a 24 hour family, but sometimes it can be a challenge.  We use local resources such as libraries and interested people who are willing to show them about what they do. They are learning English of course, and we will spend time in Ecuador at a Spanish language school so they get the basics before heading on to Peru.
MSI: You can stop and visit my godchild in Hauraz at the Restaurant Salud y Vida and have Guillermo Seminario teach your children how to make Zampoña pan flutes in Cusco. He’d love to teach your children about traditional folklore music.
MSI: What’s a memory that sticks in your mind so far?

Frederikke,7:  Swimming in Thailand and the nature of New Zealand – Taking in all the views of the mountains and oceans beaches.
Magnus,10: Swimming in Australia, but we had to make it quick because there were crocodiles in the water. I also liked the caves in Malaysia.
Rasmus,8: I’m a bit homesick for friends and family, but I’ve really liked seeing what we have so far.

MSI: If you could say something to North American kids what message would say?
Frederikke,7: Stay away from McDonalds food, and go out with your family in nature, go hiking and get exercise instead of paying too much attention to the video games. We have some Nintendos with us but we only use them once in a while when we’re sitting for a long time.

After showing the kids a slide show on Peru, and reminding them of their newly found contacts there, Dennis mentioned that they are learning more on this trip than sitting in a classroom in Denmark. He said that all three of these kids can tell you  more about the supercontinent  of Godwana than most  adults.   Rasmus and I did a little language exchange. He tried to teach me to say “strawberries and cream” in Danish, (which is evidently the litmus test for fluency, which I failed) and I taught  his siblings and him how to say “Hola, Gracias, and Como Estas”.  After a few days at the hut, doing some day hikes,  they rode back out to the trailhead, to their van, and for further adventures.  We wish them well,  and will check their progress on their website.

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