Pumas Report Back

Reporters share their semester abroad stories

Annabel Wickham
As I am kayaking down the Rio Baker in Patagonia, Chile, I enter Gonzales, a class three rapid. I paddle through the first few waves, confident that I will be able to paddle through the rest. However, a wave hits me from the side, my boat begins to turn, and I am suddenly upside down traveling down the river. I remember everything I was taught: tap, tuck, push and pull. I wet-exit from my kayak, grab my paddle and hold onto my kayak as the waves continue pushing me downstream.
For the past two and a half months, I have been attending my semester away program at the Alzar School. I spent the first eight weeks of the semester in the Aysen region of Chile and am currently spending the remaining eight weeks in Idaho. My typical school day, both in Chile and Idaho, is a few hours longer than at University Prep. Since the curriculum is taught at an extremely accelerated pace, we fit a lot of content into a condensed period of time due to our week-long expeditions. Every afternoon and weekend, we have some type of activity which varies between a cultural and an outdoor activity. In Chile, our activities rotated between hiking, kayaking, swift water clinics and other local trips. The best part of the cultural immersion experiences was talking with the local people and hearing about their lives.
After living at Alzar’s Base Patagonia for almost a month, we ventured out on our first set of expeditions. We started off kayaking on the Rio Baker for a week and then transitioned into backpacking in Parque Nacional Patagonia for another week.
On the Rio Baker, we kayaked between 28 kilometers and 35 kilometers a day. This was on mostly flat water, though occasionally we encountered a rapid or some whitewater. My favorite part was definitely flipping in the rapid and navigating the rapid while swimming and holding onto my kayak.
In Parque Nacional Patagonia, my group and I hiked along the Aveles Trail where we averaged 10 to 11 kilometers per day. For three days during this expedition, three other students and I were “leaders of the day,” where we planned the routes, decided where we would camp, determined how many hours we would backpack each day and dealt with any unforeseen issues such as weather shifts. This leadership role showed me the importance of keeping a good attitude and staying positive through challenging and unexpected situations.
Once we returned from expeditions, we spent a few more weeks in Chile and then traveled to Cascade, Idaho for the last half of the semester. Here in Idaho, we have been adjusting to the new campus and enjoying the heavy amount of snow that has fallen recently. During my time here, I will be kayaking and rafting on the Salmon River which will be a good experience.

Loobna Shego
As people who know me understand, I am not a dog person. So, when describing what I wanted in a host family, I made sure to write down “no dogs.” So imagine my surprise when I entered my host family’s house for the first time and was greeted by Mia: a small dog.
This was one of the many things I have had to adapt to while living in Viterbo, Italy, with a little dog being the least of my issues.
After getting COVID-19 the day before my flight, I was stuck in Seattle for two weeks after my original departure date. When I finally arrived, everybody was welcoming and eager to get to know me. It was intimidating at first, as most of the students had been there for the full school year, but they were all so kind to the semester students and were excited to make new friends.
I decided to go to School Year Abroad (SYA) because this program focused on cultural immersion and learning a new language, which is what I was looking for in a semester away program. The program offers a full year or a semester option, and since I was not ready to leave Seattle for a full year, I decided to only do spring semester.
Through SYA, I’ve gotten to travel to different cities in Italy, such as Sicily, Naples and Rome. In these cities we visit popular sights and learn about the dialects specific to that region. As students, we have a lot of freedom to explore the cities independently, which pushes us to practice our Italian and interact with locals.
Adapting to the language and culture has also been a challenge. But, I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time, which I could not have done at home.
Besides Mia, I have two host sisters and two host parents. I was nervous about living with a new family, but it’s been one of my favorite parts of this semester.
As excited as I am to return to Seattle, I am not looking forward to leaving everyone here. I’ve created such strong relationships with my friends, teachers and host family that I am not ready to leave behind.
It has truly been a semester that I will always remember.