Flying Alone To Berlin At Ages 10 and 11

Education & Catastrophe 59

Camper & Summer in Berlin

Camper & Summer in Berlin summer of 2022

Hey y’all! This is John.

This newsletter is about human flourishing. Ostensibly it’s about better parenting and fixing education, but ultimately what I really care about is helping young people flourish.

This week, I’ll be sharing my two older kids’ experience flying by themselves to Berlin last summer. Covered in this issue:

  • How travel enriches young people

  • Teaching kids to take risks

  • Going unplugged and learning from nature

Let’s dive in!

Last summer, my two older kids who were 10 and 11 then flew unaccompanied from Singapore to Berlin and back. Their mum had a work trip to Europe, Camper has a good friend living in Berlin, felt like a good opportunity for them to visit to learn about the Holocaust and the end of the cold war.

Shortly after the kids came back from Berlin, Mikhail Gorbachev passed away. I asked Camper what he knows about the Iron Curtain. He said after World War Two Berlin was carved up. West Berlin went to the US, East Berlin went to the Soviet Union. West Berlin had higher wages and better quality of life, many people moved from East to West, East Berlin became worried about losing workers, so they put up a wall to stem the flow. Camper also mentioned that the Berlin wall is actually two walls, between which is a death strip. People get shot if they are found between the two walls.

I don't know if the Cold War is taught in school (I don’t think it is in Singapore), or how many kids have even heard of the Soviet Union, but I think it's important kids learn about politics, ideologies, history, and how modern day Europe came to be.

To know your future you must know your past.

George Santayana

Travel is enriching in so many ways. That is why I had no hesitation getting Camper and Summer to fly on their own to Berlin for what I believe would be an educational and rewarding experience.

When we meet people who live entirely different lives, we recognise and appreciate the privileges we enjoy back home and gain a more universal context, which frees us from societal prejudices and norms.

Getting out of our comfort zone is also a chance to get to know ourselves better.

Of all the things in life worth knowing, knowing ourselves is probably the most important. In travel, we encounter entirely new experiences that expand our worldview and help us find clues about ourselves.

As a father, providing my children with enriching experiences through travel is my love letter to them.

One year on, I asked them to reflect on their Berlin experience.

Both Camper and Summer said they would have been nervous about flying if they didn’t have each other, but it really helped that they did it together. Both were excited about going to Berlin for the first time. They didn’t know what to expect, but they went with an open heart and an open mind to take in the history and culture of the city.

The Holocaust Memorial right in the middle of the city seems to have left an imprint on both adolescents. They understood the tragedy of the Holocaust and the consequences of letting an individual’s power go unchecked.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

They enjoyed being outdoors, playing nerf gun, flying kite, racing remote control cars and eating ice-cream. Simple things that bring so much joy when you’re with friends and family and the weather is beautiful.

Camper flying kite at sunset

Beautiful weather to be outdoors

When New York Times journalist Jeffrey Gettleman took his family to Georgia last winter, he picked a country that seemed to have it all: skiing, hot springs, just the right dose of history, and huge dumplings.

So I proposed a one-week family trip designed to sweep in Georgia’s best — a little skiing in the mountains, which our 11-year-old son, Asa, loves; a little history, which Courtenay and I thought he could handle in the right doses; and for mom and dad, a little artisanal wine.

Jeffrey Gettleman

He sealed the deal with promises of thermal baths and pictures of Georgia’s legendary cuisine. Things didn’t get off to a good start with an erratic driver speeding down the highway in the dark from Tbilisi airport, but in the end everyone had a good time, including the writer’s 11 year old son who enjoyed both the ski slopes and the museums.

One of my goals in traveling with kids is to teach them to take risks.

Jeffrey Gettleman

I asked Camper and Summer what risks they took during their trip to Berlin, and both agreed flying solo as minors counts. Unsurprisingly, they couldn’t think of a single risky they did when in Berlin.

Next week, I will be in Japan with Cory (9) and Quinn (4) for Saturday Kids Unplugged Karuizawa. Five days of being outdoors offers plenty of opportunities to take risks and push themselves. I’ll certainly be making sure they do that.

I asked Camper and Summer where they would like to go next. Summer is undecided, but Camper said he would like to try skiing in the US. My wife told him it’s different from skiing in Japan, which he has done a bunch of times. Perhaps I can tempt him to try Georgia instead? I hear there is good skiing, interesting history, delicious food and irresistible thermal baths.

But before that, my wife wants to take him on a mum-and-son trip to Ubud in October when school’s out for PSLE marking. Stay in an eco-resort, learn about sustainability, and immerse in Balinese culture.

Saturday Kids Unplugged Ubud is a parent-and-child programme co-designed by Mana Ubud (eco-resort), Earth Company (sustainability-focused NGO) and Saturday Kids.

If you enjoyed this week’s issue, you may want to check out issue 13 of Education & Catastrophe ‘No Instructions.

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Till the next issue!