Worlds Away, the Tarrier Way

An alumna describes how CWA shaped her passion for travel

by Caitlin Mahan ’12

365 days away. 16 countries. Too many hostels. 0 flights missed. 1 puppy brought home. Hundreds of new friends made.

In the past year, I rode motorbikes in Vietnam, drank Guinness in Irish pubs, skied in the Austrian Alps, sailed in Italy, celebrated the World Cup win in Paris, watched fireworks in Budapest on New Year’s Eve, and surfed every morning in Bali as the sun rose. I recognize the privilege of being able to have all of these incredible experiences and also acknowledge that the confidence to travel was instilled in me while at Charles Wright. The focus placed on new experiences through endeavors such as Winterim, Outdoor Ed, and the Global Summit exchange without a doubt played a huge factor in my ability and desire to travel for such an extended amount of time.

Discovering Passions

My friends and family were nervous before I set off. I don’t blame them: I don’t have any kids, but I’m sure if I do, I won’t be totally calm about them leaving the country at 22 with no plans, a one-way ticket, and a carry-on backpack. However, I felt rather calm leaving and, once the wheels touched down in Scotland in October 2017, I knew I had made the right decision. It was not the first time my parents had said goodbye to me as they dropped me off at SeaTac for an international trip. The summer after freshman year of Upper School, I traveled with Annie Senner to Bilbao, Spain, staying with a host family for three weeks. Taking a salsa dance class, visiting the Guggenheim, walking the streets of Pamplona—which was preparing for the running of the bulls—and trying tapas for the first time are some memories that stick out.

Lifelong Learning

Fast forward eight months, and I was once again giving goodbye hugs and finding my passport to head to Poland for the Global Summit exchange. Honestly, in the year I spent abroad I met very few people who had been to Poland, which made me realize how unique of an experience CWA had provided. That trip gave me an appreciation for looking at the darker side of history to understand the culture that persists within different nations despite turmoil or catastrophe. In the past year, I lived with an Irish family for four months and a French family for a month. In both experiences, I felt extremely comfortable living amongst families who were not my own and really tried to make the most of my time with them by spending as much time as possible conversing over tea or learning French every night as students because that is what we were told to do 10 years ago on our way to Europe. On a Winterim trip in Italy, I asked Laurel Webster and Dr. Dave Adams, “Who is this Madonna person in every painting?” and, let me tell you, I still get reminded of it. But I learned very quickly that there is no better way to learn about the world than exposure in other countries. It may sound silly, but if I had never gone to that museum, I might still not know that the Virgin Mary is called Madonna. With this newfound knowledge, Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” made a whole lot more sense. The knowledge I have gained through my travels will impact my life forever, because it has greatly increased my ability to communicate with people from all over the world no matter their age or background. Being able to recognize the Virgin Mary in paintings, knowing about the Cambodian genocide, and conversing with old Irish men in a pub about Bloody Sunday are all perfect examples of what learning outside of the classroom looks like.

Friends on the Road

Aside from the introduction to traveling that CWA gave me, I made my lifelong friends at the school. During my year abroad, I had the ultimate experience of meeting up with fellow alumni. I stayed with Jesse Hirota ’11, who is attending veterinary school in Edinburgh, Scotland. Through multiple visits, I was able to see a lot of Scotland with her and have memories that we will be able to look back at for years to come. I was in northern Thailand April 2018 celebrating Song Kran—a Thai water festival—and saw Beau Iverson ’13 and Evan Valentine ’13 had been tagged in a photo on Facebook in Chiang Mai. We ended up meeting for dinner multiple nights and attending a concert together. Daniel Hahm ’12 flew to Bangkok, and we visited famous temples and went snorkeling with turtles in Bali together. Olivia Powell ’14 was able to join me on a horse trek in the Wicklow mountains south of Dublin. Kate Jewson ’12 flew to Paris, and we saw Monet’s lily pads and live Irish dancing in Galway, Ireland. Another friend who was an extraordinary resource is Paige Henderson ’12. She traveled for 15 months and was able to give me such good advice on where to go and the best ways to get around. The rarity of being able to stay that close with friends I made 10 years ago is one of the main reasons I would send my kids to Charles Wright. The sense of community and willingness to remain in contact is incredible. Being able to share these experiences with others is one of the best parts of traveling. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling solo, but seeing a familiar face halfway across the world was always a delight. My close friends in college pointed out how unique my high school experience really was, and while traveling I met countless others who were always impressed by the trips I had already been on. The fact that my advisor, Dr. Adams, sent me a message explaining how proud he was of me for doing what I was doing is all the validation my parents should need that sending me to CWA was the right decision.

Learn More About Charles Wright Academy