Home Away From Home: SPS Junior Recounts Semester Studying Abroad

Stuckey (right) and his buddy Jake Vrolijik (left) proudly wield an American flag in the heart of Patagonia. (Photo courtesy Hanson Stuckey)

(MANDEVILLE, La.) — Beginning on Aug. 7, 2016, SPS junior Hanson Stuckey traveled to Cascade, Idaho, where he began an extensive studying abroad experience rooted in outdoor exposure. Stuckey, along with his 25 other classmates, later ventured to South America, where this wilderness immersion intensified.

“I was a little nervous before leaving, but I was very excited,” Stuckey said. “I love my family, I love my friends, and I love Louisiana, but I was ready to leave and go see the world.”

Despite emotions of nervousness and anxiety, Stuckey boarded a one-way flight alone, waving farewell to his family, friends, and hometown as he pursued his heartfelt passion for the outdoors.

“I’ve traveled before, but it was always with my family,” Stuckey said. “This was the first time I flew on a plane by myself, so I was a little intimidated.”

For Stuckey, this sudden separation was only the beginning of an extensive accumulation of self-reliance. While studying for 10 weeks at the Alzar School in Cascade, Idaho, this independence swiftly developed.

“Alzar was very unique,” Stuckey said. “They really stressed community living.”

At the Alzar School, Stuckey and his classmates became natives of the wilderness. Together, they lived in circular dwelling places similar to permanent tents, commonly referred to as yurts. These small structures, packed with multiple bunk beds and an iron furnace, served as their crowded living quarters. Here, the dwelling’s inhabitants were forced to completely sustain themselves, all while maintaining a successful academic career.

Additionally, while studying at the Alzar School, Stuckey enrolled in Algebra II, Spanish II, US History, Chemistry, and English courses. These classes, and all other classes at the Alzar School, were taught at either the honors or Advanced Placement (AP) level.

Through these tightly-knit communities and rigorous academics, Stuckey quickly forged intimate relationships with his new classmates.

“I felt a deeper sense of family at Alzar than I’ve felt at St. Paul’s,” Stuckey said. “Don’t get me wrong, I definitely feel the brotherhood that is present at St. Paul’s. But when you live with 25 kids your age and have to cook for them, clean with them, study with them, and hike 19 miles with them in one day, you get VERY close.”

Stuckey, along with his classmates, takes notes during a leadership debrief focused specifically on improving leadership skills. (Photo courtesy Hanson Stuckey)

Nearly every day, the Alzar School offered leadership development rooted in outdoor exposure. Students were constantly immersed in the beauty of Idaho’s scenic wilderness, and they often participated in extended excursions throughout the forested region.

“What intrigued me about Alzar was their outdoor leadership program,” Stuckey said. “Alzar focuses heavily on leadership, so much so that they put students completely in charge of expeditions. I was really interested in this, and I wanted to learn how to survive on my own.”

Every two weeks, Stuckey and his classmates would embark on these expeditions throughout Idaho’s scenic wilderness. During his first adventure, Stuckey spent six days hiking the Eastern Mountain Range.

Stuckey (left) and his classmate Nettie Cunningham (right) explore the Eastern Mountain Range in Idaho. (Photo courtesy Hanson Stuckey)

“That trip was great,” Stuckey said. “But I was more interested in kayaking.”

To Stuckey’s amusement, the Alzar School’s following outdoor expedition was a point-to-point paddling trip through the Salmon River. Here, with great skill and precision, Stuckey and his classmates navigated Class 2 and Class 3 whitewater. Each day, after completing nearly five miles of paddling, the group retreated to beaches along the river, where they spent their nights sleeping under a vast array of shining stars.

“Out in the backcountry of the Western United States, you can see every star perfectly,” Stuckey said. “It’s one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

Ultimately, these brief adventures prepared Stuckey and his classmates for the Alzar School’s culminating expedition — an extended trip to Chile in South America. For five weeks, the group plunged into Chilean culture and explored the magnificent terrain offered by the alluring region.

“Leaving the country was so fun,” Stuckey said. “I was really excited for Chile, and I had been looking forward to it for a while.”

Stuckey and his classmates walk the streets of their base camp in Neltume, Chile. (Photo courtesy Hanson Stuckey)

First, Stuckey and his classmates resided in Neltume, Chile. Later, they traveled to Chile’s Mocho-Choshuenco National Reserve, where they lodged for the remainder of the expedition. All the while, the group lived in small houses, commonly referred to as domo houses, right outside of the cities.

Stuckey takes a dip in a frigid glacier-fed lake discovered while exploring Patagonia. (Photo courtesy Hanson Stuckey)

“It was really fun exploring,” Stuckey said. “Our instructors would allow us to travel in groups of three and go wherever we wanted. Me and some of my friends would often walk the Huilo-Huilo Waterfall and just hang out together.”

While in Chile, Stuckey explored the wilderness of Patagonia, a scenic region encompassing the southernmost tip of South America bordered by the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The region is home to the Andes Mountains, and features a wide range of desert, coastal, and steppe environments.

“My favorite part about being in Chile was being able to hike in Patagonia,” Stuckey said. “The mountains in Patagonia were undoubtedly the prettiest mountains I’ve ever seen, and the valleys seemed to go on forever.”

While immersed in the breathtaking beauty of Patagonia, Stuckey learned valuable lessons concerning his own independence and self-reliance.

“Of course I learned a lot about the geography, but I learned the most about living alone,” Stuckey said. “Without anyone waking you up in the mornings or fixing your meals throughout the day, you become much more independent.”

Yet, even with this newly-discovered independence, Stuckey never stood alone. His best friends, who continuously provided support and companionship, always stood right by his side.

Stuckey (far left) and his friends navigate the Valle Hermosa in Patagonia. (Photo courtesy Hanson Stuckey)

“What made my time in Patagonia so great was the people I got to spend it with,” Stuckey said. “The valleys were beautiful, but getting to be with my best friends made it awesome. We spent hours sharing stories, playing games, and just messing around while hiking. That’s what really made it great.”

As the expedition progressed, Stuckey and his classmates grew increasingly closer to each other, developing friendships that rapidly morphed into one inseparable bond.

“We all got so much closer,” Stuckey said. “When we were presented with a difficult challenge, like hiking 16 miles in one day, we just went through it together and laughed about it afterwards.”

Yet, despite being nearly 5,000 miles away, Stuckey’s family and friends were never forgotten.

“I never got homesick,” Stuckey said, “but I did miss Louisiana a lot. I don’t really have a problem with being gone from home, but there were times when I missed my mom, my dad, my sister, and of course my friends.”

On Dec. 12, 2016, Stuckey returned home to Mandeville, Louisiana with a newly discovered sense of independence and self-reliance. Although Stuckey’s excursion abroad had finally come to a close, the instrumental lessons he learned while exploring Idaho and Patagonia will undoubtedly endure for the rest of his life.

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