Into the Wild: Junior to embark on unorthodox journey

January 4, 2010 — by Grishma Athavale and Maggie Lin

Snorkeling in the Galapagos, backpacking in the Andes and hiking up to the summit of Machu Picchu. Sounds like a dream vacation, but these breathtaking adventures will be daily fare for one lucky junior.

Starting Feb 1, junior Courtney Payne will attend The Traveling School, a program that sends 15 high school girls on a trip across the world for a unique educational experience. In various South American countries such as Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Payne will spend over two months experiencing nature to its fullest—rock climbing, surfing, and white-water rafting are just some of the activities the group has incorporated into its high-adventure agenda. She will also learn about the different cultures and circumstances of the people living in various countries in addition to doing some community service work.

Payne first heard about the traveling school from her mom’s coworker back in 7th grade.

“He started telling us about the program and telling my mom and I how terrific it would be for me [to go there]”, said Payne. “I started seriously considering going about a year and a half ago, and began the application process in February of last school year.”

As an Adventure Scout, a program similar to Boy Scouts except that it is exclusively for girls, Payne has always been interested in the great outdoors, and this program will open doors to so many different worlds, she said.

“I am really excited about so many things. For one, backpacking, snorkeling, mountaineering and surfing for PE credit sounds really awesome,” said Payne. ” [Also] I think that giving back to the communities we visit—teaching children English and building water systems in small villages—will be very rewarding.”

She also looks forward to learning Spanish from experience rather than from a textbook.

Payne will only have three days of “proper” schooling a week in unorthodox settings such as the side of a glacier in a tent, on a boat in the middle of the Galapagos Islands or atop Machu Picchu.

“I’m excited about the experience of really leaping into something completely new, without any real safety net; no friends, no family, no anyone I know…and yet that’s also terrifying, like starting everything all over again,” said Payne.

Meanwhile, Payne is taking classes at the local West Valley community college because of their flexible schedule. Going to school four days a week, Payne’s workload piles up as professors expect students to conform to the high standards of a college class.

“Taking classes at West Vally College is different,” said Payne.”Teachers expect you to do a lot of work on your own, and I have a lot of reading homework—I once had 90 pages for homework in one class.”

Payne somewhat regrets not going to Saratoga High this year. Due to conflicting schedules of middle college and high school, Payne can not spend as much time as she would like with her friends. Nonetheless, she still looks forward to the many adventures she will experience in South America in the spring.

“As much as I regret not being here for my friends and family, I am excited to leave,” Payne said. “It means I get to experience something most teenagers, most high schoolers, can’t even dream of.”