Book Review: A Brilliant Teacher

I’ve finally finished reading the book A Brilliant Teacher: Lessons Learned From One Family’s Journey Around the World by Steve Rhine &Toby Abraham-Rhine. The Rhine family – Mom, Dad and 3 kids took 8 months off and traveled the world – Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe, Africa and South America. There are 3 different things I want to talk about – their trip, the book and how it affected them.

I was sometimes frustrated by their trip, because they were doing things cheaply (they did go into debt for this trip) they sometimes wasted a lot of time. While I like to save money myself I do prescribe to the idea that time is money so to see them skip a tour and do things themselves, which sometimes ended in not seeing what they wanted to see, was frustrating to me. Then other times they would skip the tour and do to a comedy of errors would end up spending just as much money and more time and see less. I also can’t imagine staying in some of the accommodations they stayed in, I give them credit for that. While I’m ok with hostels and basic accommodations I’m not sure I can do bugs and dirty places. Do you need to sleep with bugs to know how the locals live? Maybe.

The book was at times very interesting and at other times slow and not as in-depth as I would have liked. I just didn’t always click with them in a way that drew me in. At times it seemed to be a bit more about the adventure then about the experience. But I often have this problem with travel books, they talk so much about the experience but not the impact, I rarely connect with the author as much as I would have liked. This is where the Epilogue comes in, it was the reward for reading the book. The other gem of the book is little sidebar types of things scatter throughout the book on different topics – Philosophy’s, Extrovertism, Progress, Harmony, Intimacy. These often bridged the gap that I was stuck at.

While the impact of the trip is seen in the sidebars the Epilogue tells the tale. I’m not sure how the Epilogue would read though without reading the rest of the book. Here they talk about their re-entry to American life. A couple years ago I listened to a podcast about couple who had taken a year off and traveled and lived in Europe, at the end they talked about their re-entry and there were some commonalities, though I think expressed differently. The idea of these big stores where you can get any of 8,000 types of a single item was a change. Also the American idea of consumption and consuming whatever you want – it could be cars, big houses, food or any of a number of things. After a trip like this there is a profound impact in how you look at America and Americans. The Rhines spent a good about of time in 3rd world countries and have learned a bit about the difference between wants and needs. When they wrote the book, a year after the trip, they wondered if their children had gotten a lot out of it. They traveled in 2001. I heard Rick Steves interview them recently and their children did seem to get something out of it, their oldest daughter certainly did and struck me as being a better person for it.

It’s not the best book I’ve read, but far from the worst either. A Brilliant Teacher certainly has a place in travel books. Anyone who is considering traveling around the world, with or without children would benefit from this. Or just families considering travel with children could certainly learn from this. There are lessons to be learned on traveling, on experiencing the world and the resilience of children. They really are harder to screw up then one would think.

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