Backpacker. The image inspired by this term is generally one of a free spirited twenty-something toting an enormous bag, wearing torn jeans and a weary smile plastered across their culture-hungry faces. The world stares at them wistfully, consumed by their jealousy. How lucky one must be, getting to travel the world in search of culture, experience, life-skills, and ultimately, themselves.
There is certain glamor associated with the grunge involved in week-long stints without showers, living out of a backpack, and the perpetual change in scenery each night as they lay their heads to rest. However, it is rare one really gets to hear about the hardships these world travelers endure. After all, they are constantly reminded of how lucky they are to be having this experience at all. A complaint would seem outlandishly ungrateful. But beyond the grime and rotating places they call home backpackers experience another kind of hardship sometimes, a sense of displacement.
Here at School of the World, we house all kinds of travelers. Frequently we will have backpackers stay with us for a period of their journey. More times than not we find that a backpacker will extend their time at the school or return several weeks later. When they return, they sigh with relief as they heave their backpack to the ground. It is as though they have found an oasis amidst their travels through the hot desert.
Ask any of them about their choice to return and without hesitation they will explain to you that there is a resounding sense of being “at home” here. It could be that the sense of home emanates from the unwavering patience and support the students receive whilst learning to surf, do yoga, speak Spanish or take photos. It could be the warmth in which they are welcomed into the school. Most likely, it is the combination of the two, which creates a sense of community and family amongst the students and staff.
Recently, one of our students, Bela returned to the school after a month of travel throughout Central America. Bela returned to the school a bit weary from her travels and hungry for a sense of friendship and community, (and an itch to surf as well) all of which she knew could be satiated by staying at the school. With her birthday fast approaching she feared a profound sense of loneliness on her first birthday away from her friends and family. When the day finally came a couple of the students posted on the blackboard that anyone who would like to join should meet at 8pm for a birthday dinner. Eighteen people showed up, sang happy birthday, came out to dinner, and celebrated her birthday that night.
The next morning Bela confided, “It was a great evening, never will I ever forget my birthday in Costa Rica. It was so nice to know everyone cared so much to come out. I’m really glad I came back to the school”
Community. This is one of the School of the World’s greatest strengths. It is more than just another place to lay your head, more than a place to learn. Here at School of the World we are a constantly changing, welcoming, family. This is what draws backpackers and vacationers alike. A home away from home.
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