Classroom Without Walls

March 14, 2009
By Charlotte McConaghy BRONZE, Sherman, Connecticut
Charlotte McConaghy BRONZE, Sherman, Connecticut
2 articles 0 photos 1 comment

I swat an ant off the side of my paper as I finish the assignment and place my pencil down. Beads of
sweat form across my forehead as the Guatemalan sun beats down on me. Behind a crumbling tower of
limestone blocks, Montezuma Oropendulas bellow and Howler monkeys moan; suddenly I realize how far
away I am from my bland local high school. When my junior year at Shepaug Valley High School began,
I felt bored and dreaded the long months ahead. School can be great but the years just seem to drag
on. I knew I needed a change. After searching for months online through educational exchange lists
and databases, I found The Traveling School; a high school semester abroad program for girls based
out of Bozeman, Montana. I immediately joined the program and on February 1st, 2009, flew to
Houston, Texas to meet my new classmates. After shoveling one last American meal into our gaping
mouths at Fuddruckers Restaurant, we discussed our inspiration for wanting to leave our comfortable
lives for three and a half months of travel. Luckily, the other girls felt the same as I did. Robin,
17, of Albuquerque, New Mexico said, 'I was stuck in a routine... I was ready to do something
different.' Greta, 16, of Bozeman, Montana felt similiarly. She said, 'A lot of people complain
about how they feel stuck in life. I do not want to be one of those people.' We would all be
spending the next fifteen weeks together exploring and studying while traveling through Guatemala,
Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras. This unique program offers countless experiences but what makes
it so special for me is the ever-changing classroom. Here, there are no walls, no limits to what we
can learn. Every class links directly to our surroundings which makes the content come alive.
Instead of flipping through pages of textbooks and scanning photos of exotic places, we get to feel
the humid climate, smell the tropical flora, hear the indigenous Mayan languages, see the ancient
ruins, and even taste the local, spicy cousine. Evelina , 17, of Florence, Italy stated, 'That is
The Traveling School- we do not sit around in a building; we surround ourselves with the
curriculum.' As a student in Advanced Spanish, I am given many opportunities to interact with
locals. Elvis, our attractive cave guide at Semuc Champey, Guatemala flashed his pearly whites while
commenting that most girls our age who live nearby usually have two kids by now. Na'kin, an
elderly traditional Lacanja woman who makes a living creating alluring seed jewerly, squealed with
excitement as she proudly boasted about her granddaughter learning the same ardous craft from her.
Our burly guest speaker, Luis, from El Hato, Guatemala laughed heartily at our surprised reaction to
learning that he taught English at the local elementary school, yet he did not know much of our
language. I suppose I could read information like this in books but to actually hear about life in
Central America from the people who live here exemplifies how I am able to get the most from my
education. From Spanish to Natural Science, I found my class nestled on a grassy knoll deep in the
lush landscape of Antigua, Guatemala. We learned about different types of volcanos while overlooking
Fuego, one of three active volcanos in Guatemala, as it launched its smoke into the air across the
bustling valley below. We silently examined avocado trees as a large ash-grey mushroom cloud emerged
from the cone. The following day, we hiked up the side of the volcano Picaya. The heat emanating
from the spewing lava helped warm us against the frosty winds thrashing our ponytails about. Would
you get to munch on strawberry-flavored marshmallows roasted by the heat of molten lava with a high
viscosity if you were back in your hometown? I think not. My fellow classmate Merritt, 17, of
Fairview, North Carolina loves how, 'Everything I see and hear, I learn. It helps me make a
personal connection.' One of the best examples so far of how we surround ourselves with learning
includes having history class while trekking through ancient, unearthed Mayan citystates. There were
no desks or inspirational posters taped onto walls. I contemplated different theories of the
collapse of the Mayan Empire while seated inside one of the famous ball courts in Tiakl, Guatemala.
Temple II towered above us which contained the tomb of King Chocolate (translated). According to
recovered stone markers that documented Tikal's history, called Stellaes, King Chocolate served as
a mughty ruler for years during the height of Tikal's Golden Age ' and we were having class
there! As groups of elderly tourists walked by with bulky cameras around their necks and souvenir
T-shirts from a nearby tienda, their eyes gleamed with curious interest. I am currently writing this
article against an eroded piece of limestone, surrounded by sheep poop, in the rocky mountiain tops
of Chautuj. We backpacked thirteen miles today through rebuilt indigenous villages once destroyed
during the recent civil war. The Traveling School is offering me the best learning environment I
have been priviledged enough to enjoy. Anna , 15, of York, Maine says, 'I love The Traveling
School and I am so glad I put in the work to get here!' Traditional secondary education seems so
spare and basic when compared to actually living amongst the cultures and within the environments
covered in the curriculum. What we kearn here is applicable to real life. Although at times it may
sound like it, we are not here on vacation. We are hard-working, determined young women growing and
learning much more than we ever have before.

The author's comments:
This piece was written to inform other girls about this amazing, one-of-a-kind study abroad program, The Traveling School, and to hopefully inspire them to join and therefore change their lives for the better!

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.

Swoon Reads

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!