Worldschooling with Eli Gerzon

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

One of the most important terms in international education and intercultural learning is a new term - Worldschooling. Coined by Eli Gerzon, worldschooling is "when the whole world is your school, instead school being your whole world."

We recently had the good fortune to spend some time at an Unschooling Gathering with Eli. He's a renaissance man who chose unschooling at age 15, and has greatly expanded his world view - and others' - since then. Eli explores the world, its cultures and people - and shares his experiences with others - through his website, newsletter, and Worldschool Travel Tours. I talked with two incredible, intelligent people who had gone with Eli on a Worldschool Tour to Mexico, and was quite impressed at the breadth and depth of their knowledge and cultural experiences. Eli is also our Worldschool Editor here on Wandering Educators, so you can continue to follow his adventures both on his site and here. 


We were lucky enough to be able to sit down and talk with Eli about his extraordinary work, Worldschool Tours, worldview, intercultural education, and travel. Here's what he had to say...


Girls in Yukata

Girls in yukata (light, casual summer version of the kimono) in Osaka taking photos of fireworks on their cell phones during one of the many festivals during the summer in Japan.



WE:  Please tell us about your site,

EG: My website,, is where people can find my writing about travel and education, including my monthly travel newsletter, and get info about my Worldschool Travel Tours and my upcoming speaking engagements. You can also see travel photos, and read about cool, interesting, and culturally significant words I've learned from foreign languages.


I started right before my first big speaking gig at Rethinking Education, a big unschooling conference in Dallas, Texas, in September 2007 but the site includes archives of my travel newsletter, Stranger in a Strange Land, which I've written since I started travelling around the world on my own in June, 2002 at the age of eighteen. The archives include newsletters from my travels in Holland, Norway, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Mexico, and Guatemala. There are also things I wrote before that while I was unschooling in high school, including an article and a speech about why I chose to leave school and start unschooling at the age of fifteen.


I'm also just starting to blog and you can read about my travels around Central America from March-May, 2009 and most recent thoughts on education here:




Himeji-jo,  one of the most famous castles in Japan.



WE: You offer incredible Worldschool Travel Tours - what is your inspiration for that?

EG: I've experienced a transformative magic and an appreciation for the world and it all it has to offer from my travels. I've shared those stories in my newsletters and in my speeches and with these tours I hope to offer others the opportunity to have these types of transformative and exciting experiences themselves. I really, really encourage people to travel on their own to strange places they've never been. But there are some people just not comfortable or ready to do that on their own, not to mention how their parents feel, and even my first trip abroad to Germany when I was 16 was with a guide and a group. I hope to offer people a taste of world travel that will inspire them to explore further, which I have already seen happen!


There's really two things I want to share, first, just the awesome experience and knowledge of how colorful, fun, beautiful, and culturally rich the people and countries of the world are. I love to take people not only to the famous tourist sites but also the markets and restuarants where the locals go and the food is authentic and just amazing. Sometime we do a lot to seek out adventure, excitement, and beauty, but I've found in my travels that's hard not to find an abundance of these things! I put very little effort into finding them and a lot of effort into making sure I go slow enough to fully appreciate them. I also make sure of that when I lead these tours.



Himeji Castle 

View from atop the Himeji Castle.


The other thing I want to share is the challenge of being in a very foreign land. That's the source of that "transformative magic" I was talking about. When you're in a new place, where things are very different, you don't have the same sort of support you have at home, and you can't even rely on the very language you've used since birth. You're forced out of your comfort zone and have to go deep inside yourself and find new resources and actually grow as a person. My job as a guide is to support them, make sure they're safe and they get what they need, but also to let them struggle with some of that culture shock and learn from it.


I'm a strong believer in unschooling where individuals study what they want and I believe that is how we learn and live best most of the time. But I've found that some of my greatest learning experiences have been things that part of me definitely did not want to do or learn! I believe we can do what we want and to an extent create our own reality but ultimately this only works when we accept and work with the reality of the world and the reality of who we are.


I don't think we can come to this understanding of reality by spending our time on problems artificially created and forced on us by someone else. The lessons I've learned from the most came from the world and that's why I use the word "worldschool" because for me the world itself has been the best teacher with the best curriculum.

In fact, I've found all I can do is share the gifts I have with the world as much as possible and I've learned to be quite happy with that. That's what travel has ultimately taught me actually: to understand the world, to understand myself, to understand what I have to offer the world, and to be happy. I guess that's my inspiration for these tours!


I've thought that the only thing I can guarantee for the trips is that you'll have amazing experiences and learn a lot: that just happens naturally when you go to these places. But yes, my hope is that it'll lead to people taking a really good look at themselves and the world and having more of an appreciation for both.



The type of houses you see all over Laos. I snapped this photo as my friends and I went on an expedition outside of Nong Kiaw in the northeast of Laos on the Ou River.

WE: How can intercultural education - and travel - change the world? How do you hope to contribute to that?

EG: My inspiration for the Worldschool Tours and my writing and speaking about travel is to contribute to real change in the world. One thing I think that's important to understand is intercultural education is really the only real education. If the point to education is to understand your world, then we need intercultural education because our world is intercultural. Just looking at our entertainment, our food, and the clothing on our backs, we see how everyone is connected to everyone else around the world. I do think to understand ourselves we need to understand the rest of the world.


When we understand ourselves we can change as individulas, and for the world to change I think individuals need to change. We have all the food, land, and resources we need in this world right now for everyone to have enough. The problems we face stem from ourselves and the institutions we've created. Like I said, I've found travel can have a transformative magic to it. In fact, the only way I've noticed people change is when they are really challenged, are forced to reflect, look inside themselves, and grow as people. This can happen without travel but we seem to have more opportunities when we travel.


Most people spend so many years in schools that are devoted to artificially created problems that are supposedly training us for taking on real problems in real life, years in the future. There are real problems right now that need to be addressed by unhindered and caring hearts and minds. So many of the great problems in history have been solved by young people and outsiders: not the people who have been "properly" trained. But again, at the same time, so many of our problems don't really need to be solved, we really just need to stop creating them.


I think when we're at home, in a place we're familiar with, especially if it's a wealthy place like the U.S., it's often easier to maintain an artificial view of the world and ourselves and we have to put in effort to look at things as they actually are. And the only way things can change is if we start by looking at them honestly.  When we travel, it seems to me, we have to put an effort in to not see things as they are. The truth is put in front of us and it's harder to deny it. If we're not ready for certain truths or don't want to see them it is possible to still avoid them. But if we're on the edge, travel can help push us over.


Part of the purpose of my tours is to provide that extra push to people. And my hope is that by going on my own journeys and accepting the challenges and the gifts I have I'm able to inspire others to do the same and give them courage. I know I'm inspired and given courage by people who go before me and I'm inspired knowing others will be helped when I take on or accept parts of myself or the world that are difficult to face. One thing travel has taught is me is to accept there are so many things I cannot change in this world but I can be quite happy sharing the gifts I have, knowing when I do that truly, it will affect others, who will affect others, and that will change the world. That idea had come to me before, but maybe the most valuable thing travel has given me is a confidence in the positive affect I can have on the world through sharing my own gifts.




A beautiful family living outside of Nong Kiaw. This is the photo that always makes the whole room go quiet when I do travel presentations.



WE: You chose unschooling at the age of 15 - can you please share more of that with us?

EG: I've tried to answer the question of why I left school so many times over the past ten years, it has been exactly ten years since I made the decision in April, 1999! The simplest answer is I decided to leave school because I found out that I could! I had been frustrated with school for years but I didn't know about unschooling or that homeschooling was a real option. A more playful answer I came up with is another question: "If you saw a monkey swinging in a tree, would you ask it why it left the zoo?" That one actually captures a lot of the spirit of the real reason. Monkeys are meant to swing in trees and zoos limit them from doing that freely. There are things I'm meant to do and school hindered me, so of course, I left.



Tortillas filled with choice of meats, sauces, and vegetables made outside a church in Oaxaca, Mexico 


When I was in school the early years were just a real struggle: first I wasn't very good with school work or pretty much anything in school except drawing, then I got good with school work and that was very exciting and satisfying in itself for a year or two, and then I hit puberty and started questioning authority more. I was constantly questioning my teachers and the work we were doing. Then in 9th grade I became much more interested in history and politics. You could say that Noam Chomsky inspired me to leave school after I heard a speech of his about the Kosovo War and why it didn't make sense when the U.S. and NATO said they were dropping bombs to help the ethnic Albanians, while the mass media I had been reading never really questioned this. And James Loewen's book Lies My Teacher Told Me: What American History Textbooks Got Wrong had a powerful, profound effect on me. I was conscious of the actual lies in our text books and our newspapers and also the huge time and energy we were wasting on pointless busy work when we could be finding out the truth. School was of course also preventing me from experiencing the beautiful in the world but at the time I was like a deer frozen in the headlights, shocked and transfixed on the oncoming dangers I saw in the world.


But eventually I realized the real reason I "rose-out" of school was I have a beautiful soul that deserves to express itself and be free and school was doing all it could to crush it. I'm not saying the people who work in schools want to do this, but that was the effect I felt it was having on me. That's why I left school.



WE: You've taken people on your travel tours and seen a sea-change in their world view. How do you plan for that, as you structure your travels wit worldschooling in mind?

EG: Besides making sure everyone is safe and getting us from point A to point B, to me, my main job on the tours is to slow things down, to make sure that we have enough time to "do nothing". Now I've found even when you try to "do nothing" in a foreign country you still learn a lot and can end up doing lots of new things. But I make sure on my tours that we have plenty of time to sit, write in our journals, and process all we've been experiencing. And on the last trip we played a lot of cards and did some Frisbee and hackey-sack. You need some light-hearted fun to balance the excitement and serious stuff.


It's also good to talk as a group. On the last trip Cameron suggested we have a check-in where we each go around in a circle sharing how things are going for us. We did that every few days and I thought that was great. I'd never force anyone to share if they weren't comfortable, but to have that opportunity to share in a group can really help.


Having plenty of down time also gives the people on the trip a chance to talk one on one with me as well if they want to. Sometimes it's just good to have another person listen especially since I've gone through my own sea-changes of world view during my travels and when I left school. I can really relate to that Sometimes I think we're all helped by hearing other people's stories.



WE: Please tell us about your upcoming trip to Japan...

EG: Actually, I'm now leading two trips to Japan this year! There was so much interest for the three week trip in November, that it seemed like the group might get to large, so we decided to lead an extra trip three week trip in August. I'm leading the tours with my step-mom, Tomoko, who is from Japan, and we're both really excited.


I'm excited about August because that's when they have lots of festivals and the best fireworks I've ever seen. I lived in Japan, tutoring adults in English, for 8 months in 2004 and while I was there I went to a couple of these festivals. I'm not usually that into fireworks but these really were amazing. Also people dress up in beautiful "yukata": the light, summertime version of the kimono.


And I'm looking forward to the November trip because that's the one time of year I haven't been there myself and I really want to see the temples of Kyoto and other places with the red maple leaves in their splendor!


I always try to make my tours as affordable as possible and the cost of this one includes a Japan Rail Pass so we can have unlimited travel on the Japan Rail lines including the Shinkansen "Bullet Train". So on both trips we'll be able to see a lot of amazing places like Kyoto, Nara, Himeji Castle, Hiroshima, and of course Tokyo. I'm also looking forward to taking us to some "onsen": relaxing hot spring baths.


The trip will be great for people interested in Japanese language, history, Buddhism, Japanese art, and technology (they're usually a couple years ahead of the U.S.) but I think anybody who is up for the challenge of travelling in a strange land will enjoy and learn a lot from this trip to Japan.



The Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral in the center of the city.



WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

EG: Follow your bliss wherever it takes you. Learn as much as you can and be ready for challenges and changes in your course. You'll find all sorts of wonderful things along the way. Sometimes you'll look for things you can't even put your finger on, but if you continue to bravely follow your bliss I think you will find it when you're ready.


WE: Thanks so much, Eli. You are an inspiration - and your worldschooling tours are an incredible learning experience.




All photos courtesy and copyright of Eli Gerzon.


Feature photo:

Standing in front of el Árbol del Tule outside of Oaxaca City, one of the largest trees in the world. The Mexican man on the left lived in South Carolina, where Cameron is from, and showed us all the animals and figures you can see in the branches of this magical tree.