Bali Sabbatical

Former Singapore expat Karien van Ditzhuijzen writes about moving from big city Singapore to a small rural community in Indonesia. Her three children now attend The Green School, and the family live in a peaceful villa, surrounded by rice fields. “Tumbak Bayuh is a village on the west coast of Bali, about ten minutes from the sea and the hustle and bustle of touristy Canggu. It’s a different world.”

Where to?
The grass is always greener elsewhere, and as a nomad, I got itchy feet after seven years living in Singapore – a personal record for living in one place. This raised the difficult question: where should we go? That question has been buzzing around our household for years.
Often a next move for expats is dictated by work, but if there’s no such push, just a general pull towards adventure – the world is your oyster. That sounds like the ultimate luxury, but it also makes things complicated. We were drowning in a sea of choices, and having to consider too many factors – a good education for the kids, a pleasant climate, liveable surroundings, a good culture for raising children, and exciting prospects for work. For a while, we felt stuck. We were tired of the high pace lifestyle of city-state Singapore and we needed a break; time to spend together as a family before the kids get too old to want to spend it with us.

Why not Bali?
After years of debating our next move we eventually decided on Bali. It was an impulse choice, after seeing a Facebook post on The Green School. Combined with my fascination for all things Indonesian, and my husband Roel’s wish for a fun place to spend his upcoming sabbatical overthinking his next steps, it seemed perfect. The question I’ve been asked many times in recent months is ‘why Bali?’ I always want to answer; ‘why not Bali?’

Packing up
I like to call myself a nomad but a genuine nomad tends to travel lightly, whereas I carry a lot of stuff! I take my home with me wherever I go. And it’s a full home. My children are the same. When we travel and arrive in a new hotel, sometimes for just one night, they start nesting. They divvy up the beds, arrange their stuffed animals, notebooks, pyjamas and other items and voila; they feel at home. They often refer to hotels or guesthouses we stay in as home, too.
I get ridiculously, sentimentally, attached to objects. I still remember some items I lost years ago, and genuinely miss them at times. One of the reasons for my attachment is that I rarely simply buy something. Years ago, I needed a new teapot, and I spent hours online, browsing vintage websites to find the perfect one. At some point my husband looked over my shoulder and dryly commented: ‘Normal people just go to a shop and buy a teapot…’
So when we move house or country, which is on average every few years, I pack up all this stuff and ship it to the next location; even if it’s across the world. But our move to Bali proved a painful one. It soon became clear most houses there are rented out furnished. At the same time, storing furniture in Singapore proved more expensive than renting a house in Bali!
When I asked for advice on an online group, the first comment came in quick: “sell everything, you will feel so happy and light afterwards.” Never would I sell my collection of vintage enamel trays! The antiques we collected over the years! My Omani silver! Or our gazillions of books!
Thankfully, where there’s a will there’s a way. We shipped as many small items as we could manage to Bali and stored the bulk of the furniture in Europe.

A new home
So here we are. In Bali. In our new house overlooking rice fields, with our new Bali rescue dog, discovering new things, learning a new language. Away from the safety and comfort that was Singapore. We are starting to figure things out. The Bali traffic no longer defies us, as we find order in the chaos and the politeness of the Balinese (if you get cut off on your scooter you can bet it’s not a local on that bike). We are starting to find out where to get our groceries and realising we do really need to cut down on cheese. Who would have believed there is a country in the world where cheese is more expensive than Singapore?

Karien in her new Bali home

The kids are starting to settle into their new school, and things are definitely greener there! All the new parents (including me) sigh and say: ‘I wish I was a kid again so I could go to school here.’ The classrooms are made of bamboo and have no walls. They are situated in lush gardens. There are rabbits, chickens, and cats wandering about for my daughters Linde and Jasmijn to cuddle. My son Tijm has started Middle School where he can select exciting elective subjects like surfing and free diving.
The focus is on sustainability; the school wants to educate the green leaders of tomorrow. At the same time, they are innovative educators. The guiding principle is that school should be fun, as kids learn more when they can follow their passions and enjoy themselves. We hope that they will manage to challenge our boy with a passion for maths, as well as sports.


There is plenty for the parents here, too. Roel and I have enrolled in a course where we will work alongside the Balinese to learn about the rice cycle, establishing ties with local farmers and developing a shared vision for expanding organic rice supply. I can’t wait to get my feet in that mud! Roel’s other goal this year is learning to surf, whilst I am looking forward to many mornings like this one, where I sit on my patio alternating writing and gazing at our amazing view.

Karien writes about her life and adventures at bedu-mama.com