4 kids, 2 parents and a (literal) world of travel: This family has no home — and they love it!
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Anything but Average

Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness... Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

If that's true, the Kortman family has had quite the head start developing their worldviews.

Paul, 35, his wife Becky, 37, and their four kids — Alia (9), Josiah (7), Mathias (5), and Zander (3) — don't have a home. Well, at least not a stationary one.


The family of six, traveling through Thailand. All photos courtesy of Paul Kortman, used with permission. Check out their website, Home Along the Way.

In March 2014, the family of six traded in their house for life on the road. For the past 18 months, they've been traveling around the world, moving every three months or so. In the past year alone, they've lived on four continents. Currently, they're on their way to Ecuador in an RV.

What made this family give up a traditional life for one of travel and adventure?

Paul and Becky Kortman.

Well, Paul and Becky enjoyed traveling internationally as a couple before they had a family. "When we were teaching in Kazakhstan, we meet many 'third culture kids,'" Paul told me. (A third culture kid is a child who spends a fair amount of time living in a culture other than that of his or her parents.)

He and his wife were inspired to give their kids the same opportunities they witnessed in children who experienced life in different countries, including the ability "to help them avoid the consumerism and American-centric worldview they would have growing up in the states."

Additionally, Paul likes a challenge. "I was inspired by the location independent entrepreneur movement that I'm connected to," Paul said. "[But] none of these are family oriented; they're all 20-somethings who have no commitments. We wanted to prove that it could be done as a family."

Traveling abroad is beneficial to children and adults in many ways.

A recent Atlantic article examined new research on the link between greater creativity and travel. Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky has conducted many studies about the benefits of travel. "Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms," he said. "The key critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation."

The Kortman kids and Paul in South Africa.

It's not just a person's creativity that will get a boost from travel, though. Their sense of trust in others benefits as well. "We found that when people had experiences traveling to other countries it increased what's called generalized trust, or their general faith in humanity," Galinsky said. "When we engage in other cultures, we start to have experience with different people and recognize that most people treat you in similar ways. That produces an increase in trust."

There's more! The Atlantic article quoted Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Associate Professor of Education and Psychology at the University of Southern California, on the benefits that traveling abroad can have for a person's sense of self.

"What a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self," she said. "Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values … is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had."

According to all of this research, the Kortman children's lifestyle should go a long way in helping them grow up as open-minded, confident, and creative individuals.

"It's most beneficial to our kids through firsthand experiences," Paul said. “They'll be watching a video on YouTube and comment, 'Hey we were there!' or 'That's not what the Philippines really looks like.'" He explained that the family experiences life beyond videos and books — "our kids know stuff because they were there."

The Kortman kids in Indonesia.

Additionally, “They have a broader view of differences," Paul continued.

And when it comes to consumerism, a life full of travel is a great way to avoid it. The Kortmans have no trouble saying "no" to unnecessary purchases. Plus? It's a much less expensive way to live, Paul said.

While being away from friends isn't always easy, and the kids miss out on some extracurricular activities like music, dance, and sports, the freedom and flexibility that the Kortmans enjoy make the trade-off worth it.

Parents raise kids in many nontraditional ways, and the Kortmans have embraced a lifestyle that exposes their kids to many different cultures.

To ensure their educational needs are met, Becky acts as their teacher, mixing principles of homeschooling, road schooling, and unschooling.

The Kortmans in Singapore.

Given that their lifestyle isn't exactly "the norm," the Kortmans are met with mixed responses. "Some people think were crazy and irresponsible…" Paul said, "… and some are inspired. Often we receive incredulous responses from people when we explain our lifestyle."

But the people who matter the most — Alia, Josiah, Mathias, and Zander — love their way of life. “When we came back to the U.S., the three oldest made us promise that we wouldn't stop traveling," Paul said.

“They were concerned we would stop this lifestyle. When we bought an RV to live in full time, the kids wanted nothing more than to move into her… They're very attached to the RV because it gives us the ability to take more stuff with us but still live the nomadic lifestyle."

The Kortmans are able to live the way they do because Paul runs a digital marketing business, which sustains their family and three full-time employees. After their first six months of traveling, they realized there wasn't a formal online place for nomad families to gather and receive support, so Paul and Becky co-founded NomadTogether, which offers support through education, tools, and a community forum.

While taking that initial leap of faith wasn't easy — "I do have to admit when it came time to purchase the first plane tickets for the six of us, I got really nervous and procrastinated a bunch," Paul told me — the Kortmans haven't regretted their choice for a minute.

I asked Paul what he wanted others to know about their lives, and he said, "You can do it too! It's less expensive, and we're leaving a smaller carbon footprint. Consumerism is addicting, and the way we found to not succumb to it was to change [our] lifestyle."

As for the future, the Kortmans aren't certain what it holds, but they have a loose plan.

They're currently looking for a "homebase" where they can spend about six months at a time. "At this point, we're headed to Mexico and Ecuador to see if either one of those would be fitting for us."

Their kids will still experience life immersed in another culture and get to travel, and they can have horses and dogs, something they'd really like right now — the best of all worlds!

"This lifestyle aids in contentedness and slows down the pace of life," Paul said.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."