Meet: Sandra, Tyron and Taylor
From: Sydney, Australia
Arrived in Bali: August 2018
What made you live in Bali?
I’d been romanticising about spending a year abroad with my family but the timing never felt right. I was getting steady work as a freelance TV producer in Sydney, Tyron was running an Australian-based quantity-surveying business and Taylor was very settled in her primary school, so it seemed unrealistic.
Then I read an article about Green School – an architecturally stunning bamboo school located in the heart of Bali’s jungle that attracts families from around the world. Its mission is to provide a holistic learning environment that nurtures the whole child and educates for sustainability.
I thought – wow – this could be a unique adventure for all of us. Taylor was nine years old at the time, so we set about making it happen. Six months later, we were there.
Where was home in Bali and why did you decide to live there?
Green School is located roughly between Ubud, and Canggu on the west coast. Having lived seaside in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs for many years, we wanted a full green change and opted to live in Ubud. It felt more authentic to me, like the “real” Bali.
We spent the first month in Penenestan, a lovely village on the outskirts of Ubud’s centre.
Then we heard about Nyuh Kuning, a small, quaint village south of Ubud’s famous Monkey Forrest. It’s frangipani-lined footpaths were easy to navigate and the burning of rubbish (a common practice in some villages) was banned. It also offered a Bio-Bus service to Green School. (The Bio Bus is the school’s green transportation initiative using buses fueled by used cooking oil). The village had a cute splattering of cafes, warungs, a football field, and a good yoga centre nearby.
Nyuh Kuning became home for the next 18 months.
How long did you stay and why?
The original plan was to stay in Bali for one school year (August to July). But settling in takes time. Just as we were starting to feel comfortable in our green change, it was time to think about leaving. So we committed to a second year.
Why did you choose Green School?
Mainstream education has become so high pressured. There’s too much emphasis on homework and grades to the point where kids can lose the love of learning. We wanted to explore a different education model for our daughter.
Interestingly, Taylor isn’t your typical Green School kid. She’s academically minded, takes a while to make friends and would rather lose herself in a good book than the great outdoors. We knew Green School was going to be outside of her comfort zone, but that was another reason to embrace it.
She got to experience hands-on learning and took part in some fabulous craft projects (from creating a massive paper-mache Ogoh for Nyepi, to building a raincoat out of upcycled plastic). But there were times when she didn’t feel challenged enough academically.
In our second year, after liaising with Green School, Taylor was bumped from Grade Four to Grade Six (the start of Middle School), which meant learning with kids at least a year older. This was a step up for her socially and I was super nervous about it, but she was keen to give it a go.
Middle School became a game-changer. She loved having more control over her learning, different teachers for each subject, and being graded for core subjects like Maths and Literacy. By the time she was 11, she was doing algebra with mostly 13- and 14-year-olds.
In fact, you recently published a memoir Our Green Change – please share with our community what the book is about and your motivation to write it all these years later. Let us know how we can get a copy.
Like everyone else’s lives – ours was thrown a curve ball when Covid hit. We decided to return to Australia temporarily in March 2020 to avoid being locked out of the country. We never made it back to Bali. With Taylor due to start high school in 2021, we would have returned to Sydney later that year anyway.
It was during Covid that I started reflecting on the experience we’d just had, both as a Green School family, and in getting to know a more authentic side of Bali. We’d made some wonderful Balinese friends, had started learning the language, took part in traditional ceremonies… I even did a rice harvesting course through Green School’s cultural arm, Kul Kul Connection. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I had and helped me connect to the nature, people and spirit of the island.
Then there was all the environmental awareness. Green School had launched a co-working/learning space for adults a few months after we arrived called The Bridge. It’s basically Green School for Grown Ups and I relished taking part in workshops and attending talks, learning about our impact on the earth and grappling with changes we could make to reduce our carbon footprint. Green School was as much as education for Tyron and me as it was for Taylor.
I’d also been writing blog-style posts for family and friends on Facebook. Their curiosity and encouragement inspired me to keep writing. Back in Australia, I started turning those posts into chapters, and it eventually became Our Green Change – A Journey to Green School, Bali and Beyond.
What were the biggest challenges you found living in Bali?
The heat was probably the biggest one for me. I underestimated how draining constant humidity can be and it seemed to trigger an explosion of eczema. I eventually acclimatised, a little.
We also had a more traditional semi-open villa, which meant our lounge/dining area (along with our ensuite) opened directly onto our garden. It was gorgeous to look but we had to get used to creepy crawlies being part of our everyday lives. Spiders, ants, the occasional frog hopping across the loungeroom, snakes (on two occasions only, as far as we knew). It took some adjusting.
Mosquitos were probably the biggest threat because of the risk of contracting dengue fever so I very much welcomed the geckos that lined our ceiling from sundown.
Tyron had two hospital visits (one after a minor motorbike accident and another when he went into anaphylactic shock following a dodgy meal). By this stage we had a trusted doctor in Ubud who got him to very good hospital in Saba, but it was a frightening experience.
What did your daily routine look like?
Most weekday mornings I’d walk Taylor to the banyan tree in our village where she’d meet her best friend Poppy and they’d get the bus to school. Some mornings I’d head to the Ubud Yoga Centre with some of the other school mums I knew in the village. A few times a week Tyron would play golf early, then head to Outpost Co-working hub in Nyuh Kuning to work.
Thursdays were my rice farming mornings in the fields of Sibang Kaja (near Green School) and Tuesdays were our Bahasa days, where Tyron and I learned Indonesian with our guru (teacher) Ibu Okta. A few days I week I would head to Green School either to attend talks or workshops at The Bridge, or to take part in other school initiatives or assemblies (there was ALWAYS something happening at Green School).
I was generally home when Taylor arrived from school at around 4pm. We’d swim in the pool, or she’d play with school friends while I got dinner organised. Life was a lot slower and more relaxed. On long weekends or school breaks we explored the island. Highlights included Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, the Central Mountains, Pemuteran and the waterfalls near Singaraja. Rafting near Ubud was also fun.
In between it all I journaled about our experiences.
What was the best thing about living in Bali?
Slowing down, having more family time, meeting wonderful people – both the Balinese and a community of like-minded international families through Green School. Learning about the island and peeling back the layers of its culture in a way you can’t when you’re on holidays.
What advice do you have for other families making the move to Bali?
It’s hard to know exactly where you’d like to live until you get to Bali, so don’t lock into long-term accommodation before arriving. Some landlords demand up to 12 months’ rent up front. Little things – like the fact some villas are located down pathways only accessible by motorbike – can get ‘lost in translation’.
Secure good travel health insurance for the peace of mind it brings. Give yourself time to settle in…don’t try to do too much too soon. The best advice I heard in the early days was to aim for “one thing a day”.
Try to meet other families with children the same age as yours. Once your kids are settled, it’s so much easier to feel settled yourself.
Is there anything else you would like to share that I haven’t asked?
The Balinese have been graciously sharing their island with travelers and expats since they were colonised by the Dutch in the early 1900s. I think it’s important to respect the fact we are visitors on their land. Get to know your neighbours, pay appropriate wages for staff, learn the language and take part in village activities. You won’t regret it.