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Meet the Gacek family homeschooling in Bali

So who am I talking to?

Profile: Jeneen, husband Hariyono and two children Java (13) and Khiana (10)

Originally from: Edmonton, Canada

Arrived in Bali:
Originally I came here middle of August 2001 for a four-week holiday with my best girlfriend, which was extended by two weeks because our flights got cancelled when 9/11 happened. It was a very random holiday completely not researched or thought-out but someone recommended to go there so we decided to book it. When we arrived in Bali the first 3 days we were both in complete culture shock – barely speaking a word to each other! It was one of the most difficult holidays a person could have! Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I often wonder how I ended up back here! I got deathly ill with food poisoning for over a week, motorcycle burns, camera stolen, my friend had money stolen, I lost my contact lenses and I didn’t have my glasses and it just went on and on!!!

In 2003 when I was 28 yrs old, I quit my job, sold my apartment and cleaned up my life back in Canada and I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok with the idea of doing a world tour through Asia, Europe, Africa, South America and then back home to Canada.

Instead of this world tour I landed back in Bali and rented a friends villa for what was only to be 6 months.

Home in Bali is: Pererenan, Bali

How long do you plan to stay?  

Back in 2003 after travelling in Thailand for 6 weeks I came to Bali and rented out my Canadian friends villa for 6 months. I definitely didn’t plan to stay long as it was supposed to be a ‘step’ in my world tour. However here I am married to an Indonesian man with two children 14 years later!!!Our trip to Java to see Mount Bromo

What made you move to Bali?  

Originally, my friend who offered me a 6-month rental in a villa in the Umalas. Back then there was nothing around and you would be going on rickety broken roads. Our villa was next door to a death temple, which I thought was so interesting. Taxi drivers wouldn’t come to our house because to them it was a sacred area. Bali was so different – picture no Sunset road but potholes the size of cars that you had to navigate!

What did you do back in Canada?

I worked in a furniture design studio in sales and I managed the East Coast of the United States so did lots of travelling there too.

You found your husband in Bali….tell us how that happened?

I first met him on my holiday back in 2001. Funny story… I had lost my friend and back then there were no phones so I just tried to find her in the places we would normally go and I ended up waiting for her at the beach by myself all day and then towards end of the day I thought I would just go back to the villa and I assumed I would see her.

One of the guys that I had been chatting to at the beach asked if I needed a ride and I said no I will just take a taxi back but he insisted his bike just ‘over there’ and he could take me back. I had been talking to him all day and he knew I was looking for my friend and he said he could take me back as he knew where the villa was. Finally I said yes, it was sunset and we start walking away from Double Six beach to get his bike and we just walked down a little gang, and then another little gang and then another and I am thinking this is the type of thing your mother told you not to do! However I couldn’t get back even if I wanted to as we had made so many turns by now so I was thinking ‘that’s it’. Then there is a dead end with a tree (again I thought this was it) and there is this little Balinese door to a home behind the tree and he said come on in! I go in (again your thinking not a smart idea) and that is where my husband Hari (Hariyono) was staying and he was cooking dinner for everybody and he asked me to join them for a bite to eat. After all of that his bike was inside this little place!!!

I ended up staying there for dinner and kept phoning the villa where my friend and I were staying to see if she was still there (she ending up touring the whole day). One of them drove me home and my friend and I kept in touch with these nice guys. They took us around a little bit but after we left Bali I thought nothing more of it.

Then in 2003, about a year and half later when I came back to Bali to rent my friends villa for 6 months, I was at the Bintang supermarket in Seminyak and as I walk outside Hari was standing there! I was like ‘Hey do you remember me?.’ At the time he was living in Ubud and I invited him and his friends over and cooked them a Canadian dinner of Macaroni and Cheese which they thought was disgusting!

Then, my now husband Hari and his friends started hanging out at my villa. My girlfriend who came on the original holiday also came to visit me and brought her sister and a bunch of friends so they all came and stayed with me on a holiday.

My great friend and business partner Dianna, 2013

When Hari and his friends would come over they were working on some designs for leather bags which we all liked and asked if they could make some for us. Everybody started ordering from them. They also made these necklaces with bone and leather and it became popular.

My intention when I was living overseas was to come up with some kind of business so I was like ‘this could be interesting’ and ‘lets get a bunch of things made and bring them back to Canada and sell them.’

So my friend stayed on in Bali with me and we started working on this business called BauXo.


Where did the business name BauXo come from?

Hari and his friend used to say all the time do you like ‘me’ and we would be like ‘yeah sure’ and they meant do we like ‘Mie’ as in Mie Goreng (fried noodles) and they would say ‘oh because we like Bakso better’. Bakso is a traditional beef ball soup that is a popular afternoon snack sold from street carts.

So after a jewellery range was made, my friend (now business partner) said she would take them back to Canada and see what happens. It was well received and people started ordering. Then it grew and grew and Hari and his friend couldn’t make them all by themselves and so we started a factory in Ubud. We hired five people in a little place in Ubud amongst the ricefields.

Our Bauxo store in Bali

My friend’s role was to run all the trade shows, sales and marketing back in Canada until three years ago when she moved to Hong Kong.

Dianna and I talking business and more!

So Hari and I spent more and more time together through the business and I guess it grew into something more. After about a year into the business he came back to Canada with me for about a month and it was very entertaining as he had never seen snow and been in the cold weather.

I will never forget after we landed in Vancouver and stayed over at a friends place, the next morning he wakes up with a noise bleed because it is so dry and it took him a while to get used to it. He said it was very difficult to smile in Canada because his lips would crack all the time! His skin on his hands would peel off like a snake! But he does love Canada and he handled it very well.

The following year we got engaged and both my parents flew to Bali to try and stop the wedding. My parents had never been to Bali before. My mum came before we got engaged and tried to convince me to decide otherwise. Her view was that Hari was Muslim and Muslims have multiple wives and I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. She came with a purpose to talk me out of it so I ended up asking her to find her own place to stay if that was how she felt as we are very much going to be together. So she moved out of our villa and rented another nearby. She ended up staying for six months and did a complete 180- she loved it, rented a motorbike, relaxed, and we went all together on a trip to Lombok and she really got to know Hari. It was crazy!! My dad came at the tail end of it and also tried to convince me to re-think my decision.

Mum and I enjoying Nasi Campur

So after I got back from another trip to Canada we went straight to Java and got married there first.

I told Hari and his mum I didn’t want a religious ceremony and my only two rules is that I don’t wear anything on my head and I don’t want to say anything that I don’t know the meaning. So clearly that didn’t happen! His parents are religious but were open and totally fine about Hari marrying me.

So here I am totally jet-lagged and I am sitting in this tiny room and we are all packed in there and of course they put something on my head and they give me something that I have to say in Arabic and then the priest comes and makes me say these things over and over again because I didn’t say it with enough conviction. I had parts of it written on my hand and parts of it written on a paper. I had no idea what was going on at any point!

Then we came back to Bali and had a wedding in Jimbaran and it was really pretty, super relaxed in a big villa. His whole family came and my family and we all stayed there for three days. Our white wedding was on the second day and we were barefoot with me wearing a simple white dress. I have never been big on weddings.

Our wedding in Jimbaran

A year later my son Java was born in Canada where we stayed for 7 months and we lived right next to our office too. Then our daughter Khiana was born in 2007.

Trip to Nusa Lembongan

What is a typical day here for you and your children?

There is always a lot going on. Java has taken on the role of cooking breakfast. We always have breakfast together as that is the time when we discuss what everybody is doing for the day as both my kids are homeschooled. It depends on what my children are working on and whether they need help from my husband and me.

Jazz Market in Bali

Tell us more about homeschooling

Since September last year we chose a homeschool program run out of Canada called ‘Self Design’ with a learning consultant who we meet with online every two weeks. They start the term with a learning plan which they have created and based on what they like to learn for the term.

Usually for the week they may pick one thing to focus on or mix it up with a few topics. For instance Khiana is super into Harry Potter and racism and human rights so the day might revolve around a craft, some reading and other activities around Harry Potter in the morning and then in the afternoon it could be learning about influential women or maybe some type of project with us.

Everyday is totally different. We decided there is no schedule. We did try a schedule in the beginning but it was not suitable for our family, it turned into a disaster. Now they have worked out what works for them individually. Java does more random tasks where he puts them in a jar and pulls them out to see what he is going to work on. For example he will do five tasks and then go into his love of bikes. He pulls them apart and uses different parts and sees how they go together.

Whereas Khiana will go more project-based where she will do mostly work on that all day and then add a few extras. They pretty much plan their own day and then we discuss when they need my help with, say for example Math and English comprehension. Hari would be more helpful with making things as he is super artsy and will do things like metal works, making costumes.

Playing with the kids in our yard

At the beginning, we didn’t know how it was going to work and they needed our guidance, however the theory behind this homeschool program is that we are naturally motivated and do want to learn things but we have been so structured in the past that we think it must be done a certain way.

As painful as it was for the first few months, I did nothing, of course said ‘ask for my help if you need’ but ‘you are on your own and I am not going to assign your work’. So you need to work out how you want to learn – do you want to read, watch a video, write about it, be creative, make experiments, do you want to work with numbers? How do you want to do it? It challenged them to see how they wanted to learn and what makes them feel good.

As part of the program, we also had to do a ‘family values’ survey which helped them a lot. So for instance, Java needs to feel like he is taking challenges and risks and that he is growing as a person so there are specific ways to make him feel motivated everyday. Whereas Khiana is more of a giving and kind person and in order for her to feel like she is succeeding she needs to be helpful or to be contributing to a bigger cause.

At Khiana’s birthday party

As they started to see what motivated them they are completely fine and although it was hard in the beginning it was great for us to go through that. There are two other families in Bali that are also doing the same program but only half the year they live in Bali so it is hard to do things together.

My son surfs everyday and that is his social connection where there tend to be other kids also home schooled surfing. Khiana also volunteers at her old school and reads and we work it out so she can play with her old friends during the break.

Java surfing everyday 

What made us choose home schooling was that Java was in year 6 at Sunrise and they were grouping kids in younger years which can be good but he was getting very bored and not challenged and we actually went to all the other schools around Bali and we couldn’t come to agreement for another option. So then I thought we might need to move back to Canada and I started to look at schools back there and then through searching I stumbled across the homeschooling ‘Self Design’ program which opened up conversations about what we all want and it became interesting to Java and we started to explore it more.

So we decided to give home schooling a try and by choosing this option we could put up our villa up for sale as it would give us the flexibility of travelling more as a family while homeschooling.

My daughter absolutely loved that idea of visiting her favourite pars of the world and using the online program. We were super anxious but after doing it but 6 months into it we sat down with them both and did an assessment to see whether they wanted to continue and hands down they both wanted to continue with it.

It will still depend what happens over the next few years and what they are interested in doing as it might be a high school option to open up into university. If that is the case it probably won’t be in Bali but probably Canada. Even though I know Canada is beautiful, it doesn’t suit me but I do want the kids to experience life there too.

Apart from home schooling activities our work could involve having meetings, sourcing things, looking at materials for the business. Most of our silversmiths are home based and live outside Ubud and we have one person managing all of them. We also have a factory in Java that is run by my brother-in-law.

Bringing in the New Year

Tell us about your food experiences living here

We have a super big mix. It is a mix of Canadian/Indonesian foods. Then we can get inspired after visiting another country and exploring other cuisines like Vietnamese.

Family trip to Vietnam

My son loves to try anything weird too and my husband and him are always looking trying new Warungs in the area. Java loves cooking rice puddings. Typically breakfast we have pancakes every morning and it has been Java’s favourite since he was little. Mid mornings Hari would get Indonesian food like rice, cakes, lumpur and tofu.

Pancakes for her birthday but also every other morning!

What do you think about the locals? 

I have always loved how welcoming they are and how super appreciative they are of their lives. They have such a genuine smile! They are very happy people regardless of what they do or don’t have. However I can see the Hindu religion is becoming an expectation and it is difficult for work, having a family and being obligated to take time off and do ceremonies. For example, I have a worker who says he has to buy one particular chicken for the priest of which he can’t afford so he buys a different one. The religion is starting to be a more of an expectation rather than from your heart.

What are you enjoying most whilst living here?

Never a day goes by when it isn’t surprising! It is always interesting as opposed to Canada where it is very predictable. It’s been 14 years and no matter whether you think you’ve ‘got it’ you still don’t and that is what makes it so interesting.

Spending some time in Gili Air

What have you least enjoyed so far?

Anything that is government relate, it completely frustrates me! For example, Hari went back to Java to get his passport renewed and he sat in the passport office for the three days straight! Even with a ticket number you have to wait and wait and if you don’t pay extra, you aren’t seen. Or after our house was built we went to the electricity provider and they said there was no more electricity to give out to the area. However after finding person after person after person and paying a certain amount we got someone to make it happen!

What do you miss back home?

Predictability too! Things are straightforward. Selection of things, like at the grocery store!

Back in Canada

Have you experienced any “culture shock’?

The sounds and smells when we first arrived here on holiday were so vivid. It was all very overpowering and intense. However the second time I didn’t feel that at all and my friend and I dove right in and tried the local way of doing things, like travelling on a local bus with lots of chickens and boxes! It was crazy!

How has it been being part of an expat community?

I have met a handful of Canadians but there aren’t a lot like there are Australians. It goes in stages where you have this big group of friends and then one by one they leave, it never gets easy.

Our wonderful expat friends

What is the best thing you have done while you have lived here?

The experience in building our house in Pererenan was super rewarding. We bought the land 9 years ago and there was nothing out here, nobody came out here. There was only one Echo Beach Restaurant and we used to sit there and really liked the area. It was still so quiet and you could drive around on your bike and it felt like old Bali. It was a challenge and very time consuming but it only took 10 months and it was exactly what we pictured. The kids were still small and it felt so nice that we created this beautiful space. The process was very rewarding. Our intention was to keep it tropical yet minimalist and keep things very simple.

Our house in Pererenan

If you had to describe Bali in three words what would it be? 

Unpredictable – Free – and lastly not a word I can think of but a vibe 🙂

I guess you could say that Bali has a special power that will give you or help you in ways that you didn’t know you needed! People always leave with something that they needed in some way – hope that makes sense!

What tips do you have to those looking at making the move to Bali:

Be open to anything. Understand that your way of being or what is right for you is often different than someone else’s. This became very obvious to me when raising the kids. I clearly saw the difference in religion or culture. Sometimes these new ways we learn are better that what we believe to be right.

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