By, Stevie Trujillo (www.sprinterlife.com)
Who in their right mind wants to go to school while they’re on vacation? Well, I did, but I‘m crazy about both school and traveling—so much so, in fact, that when I first heard about taking a Learning Vacation, I immediately started organizing my backpack: 2 pens, 1 dictionary, and a notebook in the front with 5 bikinis, 2 dresses, and a pair of flip flops in the back. Ahhhhh, heaving my pack up on my shoulders I couldn’t help but note how right it felt. I guess deep down I always knew my backpack went both ways.
The hard part, though, was figuring out a time for me to get away, because, well, I am always away. On April 18th, 2010, my husband and I set out from our home in Venice beach in our converted Mercedes Sprinter van to drive around the world. Everyday we’re on the go, usually not for very far or for very long, but nonetheless, we are nomads: we are moving. Up until now, we’ve driven from Los Angeles to Canada (wine tasting the whole way), and then back down through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (Tequila, Mezcal, Belikin, Aguardiente, Havana Club, Flor de Cana, Tona, Guaro, and Balboa tasting the whole way). (Hint: this may be why we’re so slow). Not that we have a set schedule anyway, but still we’d like to be to the tip of Argentina in January, during the southern hemi summer.
So, given our lifestyle, our seasonal preference and our copious alcohol intake, there really isn’t a lot of down time to go to school, nor a real need for a vacation.
But finally, as luck would have it, an opportunity came up. My husband had to go back to the States for two weeks to attend to some shit last month, and I was able to parlay his absence into my chance to attend the School of the World in Jaco, Costa Rica.
I chose to study Spanish and surfing, as opposed to yoga or digital photography (which are also offered at SOTW), because they just seem more relevant to where I’m at today, sitting on a beach in Central America.
This was my first time having ever experienced a Learning Vacation. I’ve done the backpacking thing across Europe, the dirt bag Americana road trips sleeping in Flying J truck stops along the interstate, and the five star all-inclusive resorts with cute towel animals sitting at the foot of the bed. But never have I traveled abroad with the explicit purpose of learning something—well, something useful anyway—and I have to say that it kicks motherf’n’ass. Por que, me pregunta?
Intention. As annoyingly new agey as it sounds, when you set an intention, you get more shit done than you would have otherwise. Case in point, I learned more Spanish in my two weeks at School of the World than I did the entire seven months prior to simply living in Spanish speaking countries. Yes, you can ‘pick up’ words by osmosis, but I have found that if you really want to learn something, particularly a foreign language, you need to set the intention to do so.
Intensity. Learning Vacations are intense. I spent four hours a day studying Spanish and two hours a day learning to surf. Everything hurt. Left to make my own schedule, I would not have been that disciplined. And honestly it takes that insane level of practice and repetition to get good at anything.
Inspiration. There were days that I would not have made it without the support of my teachers and fellow students at SOTW. Facing roiling mountains of brain washing whitewater, a surf instructor would paddle out by my side, cheering me on as I turtled my way to the lineup. And then when I wouldn’t stop paddling until I was in my safe zone a good 30 meters past the break, said surf instructor would patiently coax me back in from the open sea, “Please, chark bait, you come back now. “ And then there I’d be sitting in the lineup next to my beginner buddies, when one of them would go for a wave, and we’d all yell “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” as she vanished behind a wall of water to either make good with Mother Nature or get her ass kicked all the way to shore. Either way, I felt inspired, but it was the wipeouts that really got me going. I may admire athleticism, but I relate to desperate acts of survival.