Andover Students Reflect on Studying Abroad

By Scott Allenby, Proctor Academy
Andover students reflect on studying abroad at Proctor.
Caption: Nelson Makechnie '19, Jack Newton '19, and Samantha Parkman '19 (above in Segovia, Spain) were three of the seven Andover residents who studied abroad at Proctor this winter.

In the February edition of the Andover Beacon, we highlighted reflections from a few of our Andover residents studying abroad on one of Proctor’s five term-long, off-campus programs. In that article, we failed to highlight Jack Newton ‘19 as a member of the winter Proctor en Segovia group. Our sincerest apologies to Jack and his family!
If you have run into Samantha, Jack, Nelson, Betsy, Luke, Julian, or Amanda around town over the past month, you have probably heard about their life-changing experiences in France, Spain, and the American Southwest. Each student shared reflections on their term abroad in recent blog posts on Proctor’s website, and we wanted to share them with the local community as well. Be sure to follow the adventures of Andover’s Ryan Methven ‘19 and Sam Royal ‘18 this spring on Mountain Classroom!
Betsy Abrahamson ‘18 – European Art Classroom
While reflecting back on our term in Aix, it is bewildering to see how far I've come since first arriving. I've grown in many ways, subtle or otherwise, that has helped me grow as not only an individual but a global citizen. My comfort zone has been stretched, my mind opened, and my strengths and weaknesses illuminated. I have heard, seen, tasted, and smelled some of the most extraordinary things the earth has to offer and for that I am eternally grateful. Seeing as this is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, I have tried to embrace the uncertainty and live completely in the moment. Euro is a unique beast that has evolved through years of tinkering due to Dave and Jen's constant efforts.

I couldn't imagine leaving Proctor with better memories than those that I've made here. On that note, I would like to thank the individuals who adventured with me this term. As the grandfather of Impressionism, Pissarro, once said, “Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” We've laughed until we can't breath, meandered through cobblestoned streets in Florence, and shared the weight of groceries being hauled uphill. I cannot help but consider myself a truly fortunate individual, despite pondering where all this time has disappeared to. Something about the Provençal sun warps time so it seems like I arrived in the airport yesterday but also five years ago. Yet, now we are headed back to reality and to our family and friends (and my dog!). How incredibly beautiful.

Amanda Hinds ‘19 – Mountain Classroom
Full circle is, in essence, our exam week. We spend 4 days in one place (a rarity in itself) traversing from the library to our campsite to town and around and around and around. Our exams aren’t tests, exactly – just a single notebook, about a foot tall and 9 inches wide, filled with illustrations, writing, and sometimes coffee stains, that attempt to sum up our experience on Mountain Classroom. There are a series of prompts for each of our subjects: Community Living, English, Social Studies, Science, and Expedition Skills. There are no computers, and no spell-check. We just write pages and pages, hunched over that black Mountain Book for hours each day. At the same time, we must plan our Final Expedition (if that’s applicable – we can only do this if we make it to Final Phase.)

We spent our Full Circle in Idyllwild, California. It’s way up on a mountain, and it’s quaint – eclectic houses all around a small town with no Walmart or Starbucks – just local small businesses selling everything from coffee to toys to shoes to jerky. We arrived there after leaving sunny, beautiful San Diego. Our first night, it snowed. The next morning we went on a hike to Alex’s favorite view point in the world. The base of Suicide Rock, looking out at Tahquitz. We sat there for a long time, talking, thinking, and listening. Eventually, Alex and Kate told us we had made Final Phase. So the work began.

There were so many options. We could go basically anywhere in a 5 hour drive radius, and California has beautiful trails over nearly every inch. We eventually narrowed it down to a few options, and then even fewer. The sand dunes in Death Valley, for sand boarding. Cactus to Clouds – a 20 mile hike straight up, starting close to sea level and gaining thousands of feet of elevation. And Joshua Tree – climber’s hub and national park filled with backpacking trails. This is what we finally decided on, after hours around a campfire, in a conference room, on couches.

There isn’t really a name for the trail we decided on eventually, because parts of it aren’t truly a trail. We were going to have to use maps and compasses to connect one common trail to another less traveled. It would be around 15 miles total if we traveled the correct paths, with close to 7 for the first two days, a rest day on the third, and then a mile hike out to the extraction point. There was also no available running water out there, so we had to make a few water drops in advance close to our paths – 12 gallons in one place and 24 in another.

Julian King ‘19 – Mountain Classroom
During the fall term of my sophomore year, I remember being in the kayak bus (the old Mountain Classroom bus) speaking with a now Proctor alum Lucien Wiener ‘17. As he described the life changing adventures and the incredible experiences that he had been apart of during the Mountain Classroom of the year prior, I became increasingly interested in the program as a whole. After he shared many stories of his time off campus I remember being especially drawn towards one of the prominent parts of Mountain Classroom: the solos. The solos consist of three days alone in Cascabel Arizona, with only a tarp to sleep under, a tarp to sleep on, and any personal gear required (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, etc.). This three day experience away from all civilization, entirely alone sounded like a time that would stick with me and the members of our group forever.

Little factors started racing through our minds as we started thinking of all the potential positives of the experience: the warm desert all to yourself, the sunny days, waking up to the sound of birds chirping and ground animals scurrying about. These blissful thoughts lasted right up until the actual preparation for the solos, then all possibilities became a possible reality: what happens if I run out of food, what happens of I run out of water, what happens of it rains, what am I going to do with three days to myself?

The most challenging part of mentally preparing for the solos is coming to the realization that boredom is inevitable, but that that is OK. There are going to be times where all you want to do is call out for a friend and know that one will come from right around the corner, but having these moments is OK. This time alone is designed to take students who put a significant amount of their time and effort into their schoolwork out of the constant repetitive routine and structure. The time is designed to have us sit still and just, well, honestly, just not do anything. We have to be willing to take ourselves outside of our comfort zones and into a world of nothing but our surroundings. It is in these moments where we will learn the most, getting into the thick of it. Truly experiencing everything around us happens more efficiently completely alone. It is in these moments where we will learn more about ourselves than anywhere else. The knowing and accepting of the inevitable on our solos is almost impossible, but knowing and accepting ourselves out there isn’t. That is what solos are all about: getting to know ourselves better.

Nelson Makechnie ‘19 – Proctor en Segovia
He didn't see how Americans were viewed from the outside until the final week. Watching TV with his host abuela had become a common occurrence, but that day he saw, or rather heard, something different. It was a Spanish program, with an American character. There was nothing wrong with her language or grammar from what he could see, but he almost immediately noticed her accent. For the first time, he heard an American accent. You grow up hearing everyone move their mouth the same way, and forget that you are not the normal ones, that everyone else thinks you different. You hear every accent but your own, and with that character he heard for the first time what an American sounded like. It was almost painful. After living in Spain for nearly two months, even though he spent most of his time with his friends from Los Estados, he automatically had a stereotypical judgement of her. She seemed ignorant, annoying, and he didn't like her.

As he struggled with the lock an hour later and went to his apartment complex’s elevator, he began to think. He pondered as he left the building, onto the cobblestones sidewalk, his feet padding along the same route as the other Segovians, some getting to where they needed to be, others simply enjoying the air, happy to be walking, and that is when he saw the difference. In the US, this would not happen. The route he took to school twice a day, a little over a mile, would be taken in a car. His people were so different, and he gained an outward perspective.

The many days, cumulative hours, footsteps, the enjoyable lack of efficiency were where he was finally left to his thoughts. The commute everyday gave him the time he needed, and didn’t have before, and after a time, that was how he really began to see who he actually was.

Jack Newton ‘19 – Proctor in Segovia
We arrived at the main train station in Sevilla around two o’clock. From there it was about a half hour walk through the city to our hostel. The hostel was in an great location within walking distance of the river, the Alcázar, and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. We were at the hostel for about an hour before heading out to walk around with Ryan to learn a bit of the city’s history. Dinner was at an amazing little restaurant in the city. We had mostly traditional tapas, some ceviche, patatas, and other delicious food. After that a couple of us went to one of Sevilla’s many gelato stands and got some tasty gelato.

Our trip to the Alcázar could not be complete without Ryan giving us a quick lesson on the layers of history at the enormous fountain in the middle of the gardens. This was by far one of the most amazing places I have ever seen in my life and I hope I get to come back some time.

Samantha Parkman ‘19 – Proctor in Segovia
The adventure began as the group embarked on the final excursion to Málaga. We all met up at Segovia’s bus station and from there we made our way to Madrid. When we arrived in Málaga we were greeted by the warm air and ocean breeze. The city was full of light as we were guided through the stone streets to our hotel. On one side there were hundreds of tall beige buildings filled with city life and on the other side was the crystal clear Mediterranean.

As time flew by, Monday morning came upon us. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and not a cloud in sight. A handful of the group went horseback riding. At first we were skeptical about the horses because all they wanted to do was eat. It was an extraordinary trail with yellow flowers lining the path to the ocean. As we were riding, the rest of the group went to the town beach where they enjoyed the hot sun. Later that day, we all got together and went to Playa Monsul where a scene from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade was filmed.

On our last full day in Cabo de Gata, we had one thing on our minds… and that was the beach! We ate a quick breakfast and drove to a small town nearby where we began our 30 minute hike to a secluded beach. We spent most the time swimming in the freezing cold water, jumping off rocks and exploring. By the end of the day everyone was burnt to a crisp. We hiked back and went back to the house that overlooks the dry valley. At the end of the day we made our own croquetas and fried calamari.

Luke Weber ‘18 – Mountain Classroom
Final expedition, our last expedition. Our last time in the wilderness. We had been thinking about final expedition for almost the whole trip, and it felt crazy that it was finally here. Joshua Tree National Park was our destination. As Amanda explained earlier, it took us a long time to decide on a place and a route, but we finally did. Our whole group greatly appreciates Sam W. for taking the lead on planning the expedition. The days leading up to the expedition were hectic because we had to drop water off in certain places on our route, pack our bags and food, and on the last day before the expedition there was a rain and wind storm.

As another expedition had come to an end and we backpacked out to our destination on the last day, it was so cool to look back at our first backpacking expedition in the Gila and compare. We are so much closer as a group and so much better at living in the wilderness. Personally, I feel confident enough to go on a wilderness expedition by myself, which I would never have dreamed of before Mountain. We have all grown so much, and it is scary that we are about to go home. Before, I was scared to leave home and start Mountain. Now I am nervous to leave. Alex told us on the second to last night that no matter where we were, whenever we are sitting around in the evening meeting circle and the bell rings, he feels at home. I completely agree, and I think that we all feel that home is less of a place and more of who we are with.