Thursday, October 20, 2011

Globe-trotters: Westlake family leaves comforts of home for around-the-world adventure

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At right, father Phil, mother Sophia, and brother and sister Timothy and Alyssa inside a glacier in Norway. At right, father Phil, mother Sophia, and brother and sister Timothy and Alyssa inside a glacier in Norway.
By Dashiell Young-Saver
The itinerary began with familiar names: LAX airport, Vancouver, Beijing. Farther down, however, the list had become more exotic: Kuala Lumpur, Ukarumpa, Skopje.
By the end of the page, one could tell that this would be no ordinary family vacation.
On Sept. 11, 2010, the Beccue family of Westlake Village embarked on an 11-month journey around the world. Sophia and Phil Beccue and their two children, Timothy, 15, and Alyssa, 13, would traverse 33 countries across six continents, visiting old friends, sightseeing, home-schooling and performing service projects along the way.
“The theme for the trip was service and exposure,” Phil said. “We wanted to grow closer as a family, expose our children to other cultures and help those in need.”

Sophia and Phil became interested in the global community during their college years. Phil went backpacking in Europe, and Sophia, who was inspired by her pastor to travel around the world, also traveled throughout Europe after graduating. The couple dreamed of a global trip from the time they married in 1992.

DREAM TRIP—The Beccue family of Westlake Village recently returned from an 11-month adventure to 33 countries. Above, Timothy and Alyssa with orphans they met while on the adventure. DREAM TRIP—The Beccue family of Westlake Village recently returned from an 11-month adventure to 33 countries. Above, Timothy and Alyssa with orphans they met while on the adventure.Years later, with two children and the time and resources to make the journey possible, the whole family started planning their trip.
“We had brainstorming sessions where we sat down as a family and listed 10 to 20 possible countries to visit,” said Timothy, a 10th-grader. “We chose places with people that we knew or seemed like a good fit.”
The children began homeschooling with both their parents two years before the trip, and Phil left his lucrative job as a decision analyst at Baxter Healthcare with no guarantee of being rehired when he returned.

PITCHING IN—Timothy helps dig a trench in Peru. The Beccues took part in several service projects during their trip. 
Courtesy of the Beccue family PITCHING IN—Timothy helps dig a trench in Peru. The Beccues took part in several service projects during their trip. Courtesy of the Beccue family“It was a very difficult decision because I loved my job,” Phil said. “Ultimately, the family trip meant more.”
Exposed to many different cultures during their adventure, the Beccues spent anywhere from two hours in Italy for lunch to four weeks each in Kenya and Turkey.
“Every place was so interesting and different. Each country had a fresh experience,” Sophia said.
The family visited historical landmarks, sampled local cuisine and stayed with old classmates and colleagues to get the most they could from their travels.
“We met up with friends in China that we knew from 25 years ago,” Phil said. “It was great being able to interact with them again and experience the culture’s warmth and compassion.”
When not staying with friends, the family stayed in hotels or housing provided by goodwill organizations they worked with.
The variety of cultures offered a variety of experiences. According to the family, Tasmania and Norway were the most beautiful countries they visited with the most breathtaking landscapes. Their favorite meals varied from cheese, wine and meats in Austria to sliced mangos in Kenya.
Culturally, Jerusalem was the most interesting city.
“It is the epicenter of political conflict that impacts the entire world,” Phil said. “Learning about the geography of the Holy Land was really inspiring for us.”
However, not all nations were easy to appreciate at first.
“(India) was crowded everywhere. The food was very spicy, and the traffic was bad,” said Alyssa, an eighth-grader.
“But we still enjoyed ourselves because of the people we visited,” her mother added.
In addition to soaking up the cultures, the family also volunteered while abroad, participating in 10 service projects. They helped out at orphanages in Africa, built settlements for people in need in Papua New Guinea and Peru, and fostered educational development through violin lessons in a Kenyan public school.
As with most travels, there were mishaps and moments of apprehension along the way. For instance, while in Egypt only months after the Egyptian coup, the Beccues were on a bus that was stopped by a car full of military troops.
Minutes later, just 200 meters away, a bomb exploded, sending a plume of smoke 500 feet in the air. Without any explanation, the bus was then allowed to pass. Despite the scare, the Beccues said they generally felt safe during their trip.
“It was pretty shocking,”Page 1Philof 1 said about the incident. “It certainly made us a little more cautious. But it didn’t make us want to leave, and we were motivated to keep going by the courage of our host family, Americans who have been living in Cairo for years.”
Another difficult aspect of traveling was overcoming the language barrier. The Beccues took a five-day intensive Spanish language course in Peru to prepare for the trip. Sophia was also able to use her background in Mandarin. But when interacting with people who did not speak any of their languages, they had to improvise.
“In places like Cambodia, where no one spoke our languages, we used hand signals, pointing, charades—whatever worked,” Alyssa said.
Amid the chaos of traveling, the Beccues set aside weeks for rest and focusing on studies. As part of their home-schooling curriculum, Alyssa and Timothy did geography and history reports about the countries they were staying in.
The family returned in August and is adjusting to life back at home. Phil did not retain his position at Baxter and is searching for new employment.
Alyssa is back to home-schooling while taking online courses on the side, and Timothy is a full-time online student at Oaks Christian High School.
As a result of their travels, they have a new perspective on their own home.
“I am now more amazed at the excessive amount of wealth we have in this country, but at the same time I have grown to appreciate the amount of freedoms we share,” Phil said.
Surprisingly, because of renting out their house and efficient traveling strategies, the whole trip cost approximately the same as living at home for the year, Phil said.
“The way we traveled, city to city, pulled the cost down to make it a manageable trip for all of us,” he said. “We hope that our trip will inspire others to explore the world.”
To see their full itinerary and additional photographs and stories, visit the Beccue family blog at www.rtw.beccue.com.

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