Self-Directed Learning: A Never-Ending Journey
Oh my goodness gracious, if you had told 14-year-old Katie that she would travel to South America for the last 6 months of her high school years, she most probably would have laughed in your face and then peed her pants out of excitement.
I have always been conscious of my education and how I learn best. In the first grade, I attended the local elementary school in my hometown of Maple Grove, Minnesota. After the first year of traditional school, I was done. It was easy to see the homeschooled kids in my neighborhood were having more fun than I was and I told my mom I needed to follow in their lead. We worked with Calvert Curriculums and kept it pretty similar to what was being taught in the public school systems through the 4th grade.
After we moved to California, everything changed. People were homeschooling more liberally than in Minnesota. There were homeschool field trips to the aquariums, museums, and anywhere else of interest to students. There were co-ops, park groups, forums, and conferences devoted to homeschoolers. At one point, my mom even taught an intro to art class out of our home. (This is where I met my best friend, Franz, and we started South Bay Homeschool Teens, a group for homeschool teens ages 12-19 to get together from around the Bay Area and hang out for a while. It grew to have over 300 members before it was disbanded.)
By this point, I wanted more than my at-home learning atmosphere could provide. I started attending Live Oak Academy, a private Christian school that met 2 days a week and loaded students up with hours on hours of homework for the off days. This school was unique because of their Latin program which went from elementary school all the way to AP Latin, something rare on the west coast. I stayed there 6th-8th grade but realized I was not devoted enough to continue on to their rigorous high school.
I was not ready for public high school. I was not ready for the competition, the nights crying due to the pressures of a performing arts school, and for the teachers who were too burdened with 100+ students to help me. I had expected scenes from High School Musical (minus the singing, I wasn’t totally clueless.) I was elected freshman class president, had 7 class periods, ran cross country and track, and participated in theater productions. My days were nonstop from 7 am until 9 pm, when I would get home and do homework. Repeat. A few weeks into the second semester, I left. I experienced a period of depression that hit hard, and I took the rest of the year to get help and sort out where I was mentally and emotionally. I signed with Ocean Grove Charter School to finish up the rest of my credits.
Come sophomore year, I decided it was only just the particular school I had been at which was stressing me out, and started at the local high school as a transfer student. It lasted for 5 weeks. On transcripts, these 5 weeks do not exist. While I was at school, my little sister and mom were experimenting with “unschooling“, a newer form of at-home education. Unschooling is an alternative education path which has absolutely no curriculum; it allows the student to explore their interests and find what truly sparks their soul. It gives them the time to pursue and become experts in the field. I decided to try this, because why not? I had tried everything else up to this point. I expected my passion to be delivered in a dream, or in a neat package at my doorstep with a note saying “congratulations, here is your passion and path in life!” Sadly, this was not the case. I went through many phases, and none of them brought me true joy. We hired Blake Boles as a mentor for over the winter months. He helped me build this site (thanks, Blake!) and narrow in on a few paths which were exciting to me. It was at this point I realized how important travel was to me, but it was not yet time for that to begin. I applied to trips to Nepal, Mexico, France, and Peru, but none of them worked out for me.
This was incredibly frustrating, so I decided on a new path that became available as I began my junior year of high school: community college. I enrolled as a concurrent enrollment student at De Anza Community College in the fall of 2014 and took classes such as women’s studies, intro to business, mass communications, principles of marketing and even a philosophy 101 course. I learned on a campus of students who were there to learn and better themselves, it was a supportive environment. In May of 2015, I traveled to Ecuador with a group of world schoolers through the company Project World School. World Schooling is the act of families traveling the world as an educational path in itself. The children (and adults!) learn from the new cultures, languages, countries, politics, etc.
After the trip to Ecuador, I sold my soul to a few other unschooling trips. These trips were life-changing! One for the better, one for the worse. First, I embarked on a trip to Colorado with Unschool Adventures: their adventure semester. The opportunity to frolic in the mountains with 23 other passionate passionate unschoolers was the dream I never knew I had. It came true. We would complete challenges every day and document them, creating a work ethic and level of honesty that has stayed with me since.
The second trip I embarked on was with the same company as the Ecuador experience, Project World School. After talking with the program director and CEO, I entered into a 6-month internship abroad with them. We lived in Mexico, Peru, and Amsterdam while hosting teens for a month at a time. Although I am grateful for the lessons learned, here’s the biggest takeaway: don’t enter into an internship without a contract at the age of 17!
Finally, the traditional time for college came along. I committed to Colorado State University in Fort Collins at the beginning of 2016, despite my many desires to take a gap year. This turned out to be a very good decision. I resided in a living community during my freshman year, Global Village. The students in this program were all international or huge travelers, something which made me feel at home immediately. Although the snow was (and still is) a challenge, I persevered for my love of the Rocky Mountains. In the first year, I studied journalism and fell in love. I began writing for College Avenue as a contributor and found passion in working with a Girl Scout troop as a leader.
Sophomore year, I declared a minor in women’s studies along with my journalism major. I also moved into a house with three other amazing roommates and a dog, Skipper. The Girl Scout troop continued. I became the features editor of College Avenue. Overall, the year was a lesson in self-care and absolute self-compassion. I took a trip to Belize over New Year’s Eve and from there bused up the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico before heading home for my second semester. There were many girl-empowerment playlists and badass dance parties mixed in with study and publication planning nights.
As an upperclassman, I decided it was time to hit the study abroad scene once again. In the spring of 2019, I unloaded my suitcase in Meknes, Morocco. In Meknes, I learned a year’s worth of French in 3 months and lived and breathed women’s studies and Moroccan immigration policy. After my 3 months of studying, I joined my roommate from the United States to walk the Camino de Santiago. I’m including this as a detail in the “education” page because I do believe it was a large learning opportunity for me.
My fourth and final year of my undergraduate degree was spent (is being spent?) traveling as much as possible and preparing for opportunities after graduation. I crammed 16 weeks of classwork into a mere 9 weeks to take advantage of an internship offer in New Zealand for the second half of the semester; I was the assistant leader on the Unschool Adventures New Zealand 2019 trip (remember them from my senior year of high school? Passion always comes back to hug you when you feed it with cool trips.). My second semester has been trying to learn as many practical skills (German 100? Why not!) as possible before being handed a diploma.
Even though I am no-longer unschooled, I continue to be a self-directed learner. I know that I will always listen to my passion and follow it to the joy it will bring me. Once an unschooler, always an unschooler.