Money & Career

Family sabbaticals: two families' stories

Family sabbaticals: two families' stories

Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

Family sabbaticals: two families' stories

Susan and Daniel Donnecke from Germany are on sabbatical -- with their three kids. Though this may not sound like the conventional way to get away from it all -- with a five-, seven- and 10-year-old in tow -- the family couldn't be happier. "I think it's advantageous for a family to experience a sabbatical together," says Susan Donnecke, who's been on sabbatical on Hornby Island, B.C., for almost two months. "We already feel more connected."

Colin Boyd, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and Bernice Freesen, a published author working on her third book, are also spending time on the island with their two children. Boyd has owned land on Hornby -- located off the east coast of Vancouver Island -- since 1990 and the family has been enjoying the gorgeous landscape and slower pace it offers. "Families can come here on a very relaxed sabbatical. It's an opportunity many people may not have thought about," he explains.

Or understood.

Getting away from it all
A sabbatical means different things to different people; often, those who take the time off are completing an academic paper, research project or book, and receive either paid or unpaid leave from their educational institution. But almost anyone can go on sabbatical, an extended family vacation, if you will, to take a break from the stresses of everyday life. If you can get the time off, and find suitable housing and a good school nearby, you can reap a number of benefits.

For the Donneckes, the benefits include slowing down and reconnecting as a family. "You get a taste of a different pace of life here," Donnecke says. "You're away from shopping malls, traffic and crowds. You get away from the rat race."

Boyd and Freesen have taken advantage of Hornby's artistic flair. "Hornby is a creative community, full of writers, artists and musicians. It's full of wonderful people doing wonderful things," says Boyd. "Every Friday is jazz night down at the pub and that jazz is as good as anything you'd hear in Toronto or Vancouver." The family has also spent a tremendous amount of time outdoors. "The scenery here is profoundly spectacular and there are countless opportunities to interact with nature," he says. The kids, too, are getting lots of fresh air in and out of school. "It's only torrential rain that keeps them inside," Boyd says with a laugh.

Preparing for a sabbatical
The first thing you need to think about is location, Donnecke explains. Often, there is a connection to a specific destination, like family or friends who already spend time there. The Donneckes chose Hornby because Susan's brother resides there part-time.

If you don't have some connection to the place, Donnecke says families may choose a spot for the school, another bonus for Hornby. "It's sensational," Boyd says of Hornby Island Community School. "They have tremendous facilities, including a stupendous library and a great librarian." He's noticed, too, that the kids make close bonds very quickly due to the smaller class sizes. The smaller classes, Donnecke adds, also help kids' self-esteem as each child receives extra attention. Her children are thriving so far, which has only increased the family's fondness for the island. "Not a day has gone by where the kids aren't looking forward to going to school," she says.

Next, you need to secure stable housing, something affordable, the right size and -- most importantly -- available for the length of time you are planning to stay. Most sabbaticals are one year in length, Donnecke says, but they can last up to two. Boyd says there are lots of holiday homes for rent on Hornby at reasonable rates, but if you need a bit more help, the Hornby Island Community School assists families in finding suitable housing.

Both families have taken a tremendous liking to Hornby's tight-knit community -- Boyd and Freesen are in the midst of building a house on the island, while the Donneckes have extended their one-year leave an extra six months. Time well spent.

To find out more about the island, including real estate and vacation rentals, check out

The following websites contain further information about finding a sabbatical home:

Visit our travel section for more hints on getting away with your family.


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Money & Career

Family sabbaticals: two families' stories