BY ALEX COOK
Imagine: your mom calls you into her office and shows you a brand new inaugural program offered for the following school year with Blyth Academy where you travel for 8 months September-May, earning your Grade 11 or 12 high school credits. I couldn’t believe what she was offering… my final year of school abroad travelling Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America!? What 17 year old gets that sort of opportunity? Flash forward 11 months and I am boarding that first plane to Oxford, England about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
All images courtesy of Alex Cook
There are so many things that I could say about that year abroad. Just talking about the museums and walking tours I went on could fill up a few pages… or all the different local beers that I tried in every single new place we travelled to (19 different cities to be exact, sorry Mom and Dad and Joe!!)… or the day trips we took either visiting nearby monuments or sailing on boat cruises for the afternoon. But since this article is one coming from the heart, I am going to talk more about my personal experiences and what travelling at 17 did for me emotionally in the year before I went to university.
NEVER settle for less when it comes to choosing your friends, no matter how much it may hurt
The first experience I am going to talk about will be the most difficult. Rip off the band-aid right?! As some might have guessed, leaving high school and all of your friends behind in what is supposed to be one of the best years of your life was not an easy thing to do. With this being said, it would have been absolutely STUPID to not take advantage of this opportunity my wonderful parents were providing me. Unfortunately, my departure from many whom I considered to be close friends, did not go the way I expected.
Within the first few weeks of being away, things began to happen on social media. Students from my old high school had begun to tweet about me, comment some not-so-nice things on my Instagram pictures, and when I was checking to see who was supporting these actions I was shocked to see so many of my supposed friends names. It was obvious that these comments were being made out of spite purely for the reason I chose to leave for the year. When I confronted each individual about how these actions were hurting me, and attacking me while I was literally across the world trying to enjoy myself, their reactions were disheartening. I realized in those moments that people who you thought would be in your life forever can very easily slip out. It took this sort of experience to realize how naïve I had been in choosing my friends and vowed to never waste my time on baseless friendships again. The hurt I felt from their actions I never wanted to feel again from a friendship.
Your true friends will love and stick by you no matter what. They will not participate in merciless teasing, taunting, or making fun of for the sake of fitting in with others. True friends will comfort you in private and not add more fuel to the fire. Don’t settle for anyone who will treat you less than gold.
Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Take advantage of every opportunity offered to you even if it scares you a little bit. You only live life once and you’ll cherish the memories for the rest of your life.
Now the title of this blurb might be a little vague, but to clarify by opportunity I mean actual experiences but also meeting people. For the sake of my experience, I would say meeting people is more what I lean towards. Travelling gives you the opportunity to meet people from ALL over the world that normally you would never have the chance meet. Whether you’re out for lunch, at a bar, or even strolling on the street, you never know who you might encounter! Now yes, there is a safety issue within meeting people, so please use your judgement! Because I was on a school trip, meeting other young travellers or locals provided us with some amazing new perspective in each city.
In Australia my friends and I were fortunate enough to meet two amazing young, kind guys who lived in Airlie beach. They offered to take us to a waterfall (featured in this first picture) that was a local hotspot where we spent the afternoon exploring the area and climbing up above to follow the stream. This was one of my favourite experiences from the trip because it was just a pure example of how good humans can be. Another time we met some travellers in Peru who invited us to hangout with all their friends back at their hostel for the afternoon. It wasn’t a trip to a waterfall but it was an opportunity to meet new people and spend the day playing games, and connecting with a new group of people around the same age as us. Again, in New Zealand I met an incredible group of people who had become each other’s family staying at the hostel we were at that were there to learn English for a few months. We spent so many late nights together hanging out, getting to know each other, playing games, having life chats in the hostel hot tub.
I still keep in touch with the people I met on this trip in each new place four years later. I have friends all over the world who are constantly reminding me I have a place to stay with them if I ever travel to their country. From Germany, France, Colombia, England I know I have people there I will connect with for the rest of my life. Don’t be afraid to say yes to the people who extend an invite to hangout while abroad!
Take advantage of the education being offered. When else will you get to learn about Greek and Roman history while actually walking through Olympia and the Roman Forum?
Now ironically enough, I have never been one very interested in doing school work. I have always loved writing (thanks MUSE!), reading, but when it came to homework I couldn’t run away faster. Give me a book report and I’ll crush it, but give me a lab report I’ll say my dog ate it. So yes, I was on this amazing trip of a lifetime but lest we forget I was also finishing my final year of high school, quite an important one if you ask me! What I am SO grateful for is that Blyth offered courses that enabled us as student to immerse our self into the cultures we were living in. I studied world history post 16th century in England, Spain, and Paris (Napolean, Spanish Revolution), Early Civilizations in Greece and Rome (In Crete, one of the earliest recorded places of human habitation, the Roman Forum and Coliseum), English in Stratford England, Challenge and Change in Australia and New Zealand, and World Cultures in Peru, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.
One thing I can confidently say about my grades on this trip was that they were the best, easiest grades I have ever received because I GENUINELY loved doing my homework. Case studies were on museums/places we visited, essays were about monumental figures special to the places we were staying in, and critical responses were based off of history we had learnt that day WHILE in the place we were learning about. Experiential learning was the best thing that has ever happened to me because it taught me to be inspired by what I learn about.
If you are ever offered the chance to study abroad- DO IT! Do not hesitate, SAY YES! You will experience education in a way you have never before and will come back with eyes more wide open than you could have ever imagined.
If you are curious about the program I travelled on- look it up! Blyth Academy Global High School will be going into it’s 5th trip this fall. If you are in Con-Ed and are interested in a teaching opportunity/program manager position post-grad CHECK OUT BLYTH!