After Four Years of Travel, Did I Complete My High School Bucket List?

06/04/2015 05:14 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016
Michaa Krakowiak via Getty Images

The following high school reflection first appeared on THINK Global School senior Isaac Forsland's blog

"Well, have you crossed everything off your bucket list yet?"

I usually have an active imagination, but at the time I was in the midst of packing and drew a blank. It was April, and the Alberta air was just starting to recover from a mildly cold winter. Blue sky popped through the small window in my log cabin room. What my grandma was referring to was a nomad's checklist that would encompass the last four years of my life: a high school career spanning sixteen countries and six continents. Athens was to be my last journey with THINK Global School (TGS). Socks, pants, button-ups, longboards: the habitual packing routine for each high school semester. The only difference this time was the inclusion of graduation clothes.

I left my home in Canada in 2011, and now I am facing leaving home at TGS. I've gotten used to introducing my seemingly unreal school. Usually I say, "TGS is a non-brick-and-mortar, nomadic high school that learns through cultural immersion by traveling to three countries per year."

However, I've come to realize it's more than that. It's a place where forty-six students and ten teachers become family, learn about how the world can be so different, yet realize that we are quite the same. It's a different kind of home. To me, my grandma's question was asking if I'm ready to leave this multicultural family and international opportunity.

Have I crossed everything off my list?

If I sum up this archive of memories, am I satisfied with this list of milestones?

I remember a young mind with long hair, clammy palms, and a full belly from his first international meal. I was in Quito, Ecuador, 'the country with the Amazon rainforest and the giant tortoises of the Galapagos.' Ecuador provided the prospect of many checked bucket list items. But now, I understand how premature my understanding was of Ecuador and the subsequent fifteen countries I would visit. I was never one to spend hours looking online at the major destinations in my host countries. In a way, I could feel ashamed of my premature knowledge of the countries I visited; however, I found that this worked to my own advantage. An element of discovery presented itself with each journey.

The first time I discovered the unexpected in the world was my first impression of the Amazon rainforest: indescribable beauty tainted by the flames and factory piping from oil rigs. Another instance was when I discovered the magnitude of the overfishing issue in Tsukiji (Tokyo's massive fish market). Yet another moment was when I calculated that the TGS students wasted over 7,000 water bottles in Buenos Aires, a discovery made when Alejandro, my mate and friend, and I collected and recycled the plastic waste from each meal.

In retrospect, each country presented at least one environmental issue that became close to my heart and has since flourished into a passion to affect change in that area. After four years of this traveling business, it's clear to me this is a small world, and every environment is affected negatively by human activity. Scattered through my four years, I experienced over and over again a sensation of "wow, this isn't seeing the world; it's seeing our world."

THINK Global School isn't changing the world; instead, it's cultivating individuals who will positively influence it. When I look at my peers, I see strong, brave, and passionate new minds. We are the forward-thinking byproduct of a forward-thinking educational institution. We have become thinkers as a result of the time and care given from all TGS staff. We have become actors as a result of the support from our families. We have become changemakers as a result of what the world has shown us.

We have become thinkers, actors, and changemakers.

My gratitude branches off in many directions: the people and culture from our host countries, the friends made along the way, all members of staff, and, of course, my parents. Even those who cleaned our dorms, made meals for a table of 40 every lunch break, and the bus drivers shouldn't go unrecognized. This stockpile of incomprehensible thanks lends to my urge to give back to the world.

As my grandma stood there, watching me sweat in the cold Canadian spring, scrambling for an answer, I realized I wanted my travels to mean something more significant to the world. Now that the end is on the horizon, I have put a great deal of thought into what my next steps toward that reality will be. Everyone has their niche for aid, whether it be humanitarian, political, or environmental. Through THINK Global School, I have discovered that mine is the latter. I decided to make a different kind of bucket list - one that applies the TGS-taught skills and values to the environmental issues I've witnessed in the real world. It presents a collection of serious global issues that should have the attention of the public, but are commonly neglected.

I dream not of seeing the world, but seeing the world change. I know that each time I cross off a goal on my list, I will be doing it as a gesture to my school, my family, and each country that has inspired me to act upon these problems.

So...have I crossed everything off my bucket list?

Of course not. I have seen the world, but my bucket list is just beginning.