By DEVIN WEEKS
Home doesn't have to be where someone hangs a hat, or where the WiFi signal is strongest.
Four kids from Coeur d'Alene are learning that lesson, and many more, every single day they spend abroad.
"I believe that the definition of 'home' is where your heart is at," Emma Ford, 15, wrote in an email to The Press on Tuesday. "'Home' is made up of the people who give you life and make you smile. 'Home' is where welcoming hearts and love live. Not necessarily where you are born, but where you feel you can't leave."
Since the end of January, Emma and her siblings — Mara, 8, Hudson, 12 and Bennett, 14 — and their mom, Amy, have trotted the globe to experience different cultures, spread kindness and learn the true meaning of work during their semester-long "worldschooling" adventure.
They've slept on floors, in tents, in hostels, at people's houses and in drum and bell towers of a Buddhist monastery. They've traversed nearly 48,000 miles and been on 21 flights, writing thank-you notes to the pilots and crews who made their travels possible.
"I got to go in the cockpit of an international flight mid-flight and help land the plane!" wrote an excited Bennett. "Instead of reading about it in a book, I got to physically see it firsthand and be with the international pilots as the plane touched Lisbon. This experience for me would never happen in the U.S. We also have been invited to stay with a pilot's family in Italy and their four teenage kids. I can't wait!"
In their travels, the Fords attended and served at a huge traditional Thai wedding, taught English to students in rural Thailand, found 550 million-year old fossils in Morocco, helped with a food assistance program in Portugal, and viewed the bright stars over Australia. They played soccer and got muddy with kids in Indonesia. They've eaten exotic cultural dishes, made friends and interacted with animals in every one of the nearly 20 countries they have so far visited.
"One day, I went to a turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka and they showed us all the different kinds of turtles and the babies were so cute. Their flippers were so tiny and we got to hold the saved babies and I wanted to live with them," Mara shared. "One day, we rode a bike to a bat cave in the forest and it reminded me of 'The Goonies' adventure, just us and the forest, and when we walked into the cave there was 1,000 bats in the cave in every corner."
Although the trip has not come without bloody noses, exhaustion, temporary panic and other hardships, the Ford children exuded compassion in their correspondence with The Press.
Hudson shared that his interactions with people of all ages and cultures are already having a significant impact on him, "such as receiving a flower from a young boy while drinking lemongrass tea in a local village in Fiji."
"Not all the things in this world are the same," he wrote. "(In Thailand) I met this sweet girl named AM and she was nice and was going along with us every step of the way. I noticed she was shy but as I was playing ball with the students she was less shy. She was more energetic and happy. It filled my heart, and I think hers, too."
Amy, who is a women’s health nurse practitioner and a nurse midwife, has spent time delivering babies in Africa and otherwise exploring the world. She knew this would be the trip of a lifetime for her children, something that could help them grow into compassionate, world-minded individuals.
"Seeing and watching my children interact with all races, cultures and ages makes my heart burst and yes, sometimes on my outside as well, as I shield my eyes with sunglasses so they can't see my 'proud mama' tears welling. I have only walked alongside of them, not in front of them," she wrote. "I have witnessed them having full-on conversations with groups of locals and only smiles, gestures and drawing pictures were the mode of communication as stories unfold and are shared.
"When you want so desperately for your children to understand the ways of the world, appreciate what they have, be grateful, be kind, be patient, be loving, have moments with their creator and you try to teach them these things and show them the ways, then the light bulb goes off in your soul. They are finding these things within themselves," she said. "We have already met some people who have forever touched our hearts and will leave a permanent tattoo on our soul for a lifetime."
The Ford family expects to be home in early July.