World-traveling family settles into Homer
Three years ago, the Johnson family celebrated Christmas in Egypt. Two years ago, they spent it in Tanzania, and last year, they were in Vietnam. This year, they are in Homer.
"We're excited to have a real American Christmas, and are planning to spend a lot of time together — sledding, making snow angels and skiing. We're looking forward to creating new family traditions, making special meals and giving the children gifts," mom Ahnie said.
They put their tree up in early November, and have been enjoying the local holiday fairs and events.
Jeff, a professor of mathematics, Ahnie, a historian, and their three children, Axel, 5, Ila, 3, and 1-year-old Wyn, moved to Homer during the summer. The couple met in 1998, moved to California in 2001 and married in 2005. That same year, they joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in South Africa, volunteering as teacher trainers.
"Most of our impact was made in the personal interactions we had in the communities we worked with," Ahnie said. "People loved that we tried to speak their language and that we were interested in their culture. We also showed people what real Americans are like, which is very different from the television shows they watched."
After the Peace Corps, Jeff got his PhD in mathematics at the University of Montana, and Ahnie pursued her master's degree in history, and then took on research work. The couple began looking for work internationally, and when Jeff secured a teaching position at the American University in Cairo, the couple and their young son, Axel and newborn daughter, Ila, moved to Egypt.
"The people were really kind, welcoming and generous and we had so many wonderful experiences with Egyptians and exploring the country full of ancient history," Jeff said.
Ahnie said that everywhere they went, they were treated nicely.
"There's so much animosity between the West and Middle East right now, but when we were in Egypt and they found out we were American, no one gave us a hard time," she said. "People separate the American political leadership from the people, and I like to tell people that traveling can provide a slightly different picture about a place or a people than what the media tells us."
The couple lived among other foreign families and had their third child, Wyn, while living in Egypt. Raising their family in a city with vast cultural differences provided teaching opportunities with their children.
"We might see a woman wearing a burka or kids running around in dirty clothes, and it was a challenge to answer Axel's questions in a clear and concise way without getting deeply into the complex cultural and religious differences," Ahnie said.
When Jeff's contract was coming to an end, the couple began discussing where they might move to next. While Jeff was raised in Wisconsin, Ahnie was raised in rural Alaska; Palmer and Wasilla. Both grew up surrounded by trees, lakes, rivers and mountains, and wanted their children to grow up in nature. They had visited Homer during a three-week trip to Alaska in 2008, and remembering how much they had enjoyed the community, they decided to move to Homer.
"We were looking for a nice place to raise our kids and Homer seemed perfect," Jeff said. "We're happy to think about our kids having active outdoor lives and being able to play in the forest and on the beaches."
Jeff secured a job teaching at Kachemak Bay Campus that would start in the fall. So in May, the family left Egypt, heading for Alaska.
"We are very excited to be in Homer," Ahnie said. "We're excited for the peace, the beautiful environment and the people here seem really genuine."
While Ahnie grew up skiing, this winter is their children's first time seeing snow.
"We've made snow angels, are showing the kids what color snow they can't eat and teaching them important winter and snow life skills," she said. "We got Axel gloves and he was so fascinated with them that he didn't want to take them off for the first few days."
As the Johnson family settles into Homer, they are eager to explore both the Kenai Peninsula and more of Alaska. They are also already planning their next international adventure — Greece, and plan to travel with their children every year, as the kids get older.
"Travel allows our kids to see that the world is an incredible place full of many different types of people, landscapes, foods, buildings and languages," Ahnie said. "Travel is also important to us because we escape from all the day-to-day responsibilities, work and chores that take up so much of our time at home, and we can focus on each other."
Of all the aspects of living in Homer that they are excited about, Jeff and Ahnie are the most eager to create a sense of community.
"It's important for us to create a community in Homer, because it makes life easier if you have people around you supporting you and looking out for you," she said. "We've been moving around so much and have never really settled down anywhere, and we're glad this is the place that we're settling down in."