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There’s no shortage of activities and sites to see in Washington, D.C. Our nation’s capital is an energetic hub of history and progress. Whether you’re attending school, interning on The Hill, or landmark hopping, D.C. is an exciting place to be. The last time we were in D.C., we were earning our Congressional Award Gold Medals. Before and after the ceremony, however, we took advantage of being in close proximity to iconic memorials and landmarks.

You likely won’t be able to fit in all that the city has to offer in one trip, so we narrowed down our list into the top 10 must-see places, both popular and off the beaten path.

1.  The White House

2. The Lincoln Memorial

3. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial

4. National Gallery of Art

5. Smithsonian Museums

6. The Roof of the Kennedy Center

7. Arlington National Cemetery

8. Visit the Library of Congress

9. Hike or bike along the Potomac River

10. Explore Dumbarton Oaks

What are your favorite things to do in Washington, D.C.?

Image: Vadim Sherbakov

CultureExploreTravel

Dearest Northeast,

Someone wise once told me to always be honest with how you feel about something. So, I just wanted to take a bit of time to thank you for being you. I admit, I have never written a love letter before and I’m a little nervous. Words often pale in comparison to true feelings, but I will give this my best shot.

Since my earliest memories as a shy Kindergartener, you have been there to comfort me. From the way your rain elicits that calming dewy scent to how icy snow mesmerizingly blows across hills with a gust of wind, your temperament has always had this uncanny way of reflecting exactly how I feel on the inside.

I love how optimistic and energetic you are. As us millennials crave a fresh outlook on life, your cities provide us with an overflow of inspiration and likeminded individuals. Between the powerful minds among my beloved D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, there is no groundbreaking idea that couldn’t be born here. Something about you keeps me excited to keep on plugging forward… and quickly, at that.

I love how you have taught me acceptance. Living here has surrounded me with people and situations from all walks of life. From different shades to beliefs to lifestyles, you have taught me first hand that exposure to differences makes me a more well-rounded person. Because your cities are diverse and conveniently only a few hours apart from each other, I’m always fascinated by how easy it is to be in a new environment.

I love how festive you are. Each of your well-defined seasons truly makes every holiday feel special. You have convinced me that warm holiday seasons or cool summers are simply not right. On Easter I can count on a brisk, sunny April day; perfect for my pastel clothing and a little outdoor egg hunt. Come my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving; I know outside the auburn leaves will fall and the chilly air will smell like cinnamon and pumpkin. During holiday time, I am sure quaint stone houses will be delicately covered with twinkly lights and fake Santas. I’ve come to depend on the way you make each holiday feel so nostalgic. For that, I am thankful.

Last but never least, I love how stunning you are. What other area has such variety in so small an area? Tan beaches, rugged mountains, babbling streams, rich forests, bustling cities, cozy suburbs… you are a sight for everyone’s sore eyes. These gorgeous landscapes combined with the Victorian and Colonial architecture — it doesn’t get any prettier than that.

So many people have a love-hate relationship with the place they call home; half glad to see family, half miserable feeling trapped, but I always felt lucky that I grew up in this area. You are home whenever I feel lost.

Northeast, you are wonderful. Please, never change.

Love,
Aysia

Image: Gratisography

Culture

There are plenty of things to celebrate in the world which is why there are so many holidays and special events on the calendar. The Super Bowl has quickly become its own event even though some may think of it simply as an annual football game. So why has it become so important these days?

The Super Bowl is the championship game of the professional football season. It is the highest honor in professional football. The Super Bowl has been around for decades and has not lost any steam. Last year, more than 111 million people watched the Super Bowl, showing how much its popularity has grown. As a child, I watched the game with my father who loves sports. As I got older, I realized I enjoyed the big game for all it has to offer (which is more than just the sport!).

The Super Bowl has become an event that has something to offer for everyone. For the sports fan, there is football itself. For the music fan, there is the glamorous half time show. There are also the Super Bowl commercials, known for their inventiveness, humor and heart. By combining all those factors, almost anyone can sit down and find something to be entertained by. There is no adult content that many people can take offense to. It is programming for all ages and everyone in the family. Because of this, tons of people can gather around the television and binge on their favorite junk food. Watching television has basically become a party during these few hours of the year.

The Super Bowl has evolved into a national event. That said, it is not necessarily a bad thing. While it is a major production that generates a huge amount of money and draws millions of viewers in, it is also a wonderful event because it brings people together. Here’s how you can make Super Bowl Sunday special:

  1. Join a group of people for a viewing party. This could be your family or anyone who is important to you.
  2. Pick out your favorite recipes. Thanksgiving has turkey. The Super Bowl is junk food heaven. Find your recipe and indulge or share a healthier recipe with your loved ones.
  3. Be willing to stop what you’re doing for awhile. You may be tempted to text or do something else during the parts of the game that you are not interested in. By doing that, you might miss some of the excitement. Be part of the moment.
  4. Enjoy yourself. This event isn’t steeped in meaning like some. The point is to make memories with those you are close to. Don’t miss the chance to bond with those you love.

Image: Unsplash

CultureTravel

Summer isn’t over! Haven’t planned a vacation or gone anywhere yet? That’s good, because I’m going to share with you a place often overlooked for its true wonder: The Great Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee. Leave your beach balls and umbrellas at home, my friends, and come take a gander at authentic Appalachia.

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I recently explored the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and I can tell you that it’s more than what you expect from a typical weekend in the mountains. I certainly had a bunch of perceptions about the vacation being boring, but I was very wrong. And I’m glad I was wrong. So here I am, describing to you an experience of a lifetime. I’m going to invite you to live vicariously through my experience. Ready?

Where can I even begin?  The scenery is breathtaking and bucolic. We all need a break from reality, especially if we’re city dwellers. That’s why this rugged region, replete with emerald trees and sapphire rivers, is the perfect getaway.  You can rent a cabin from many of the lodging companies here, including Patriot Getaways, and enjoy the cozy apple wood fragrance of the area. I strongly suggest taking a dip in the hot tubs many of the cabins already have on a cool summer’s evening. Cool and summer? How do both of those words even go together? Well, the weather in the mountains is superb. It’s just the right amount of coolness mixed in with occasional warm zephyrs and acts as a therapeutic aid, allowing your mind to be calm and stress-free from the hullabaloo of city life.

After you’re done settling into your cabin, it’s time to explore the area. To really get a good picture of the place, go to Gatlinburg Skylift, Inc. You won’t regret it. Capture an amazing view from hundreds of feet above after you situate yourself comfortably on a lift seat. Enjoy yourself. Take pictures. Most importantly, just breathe!

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You must be tired and hungry from venturing all the way to the top and back to the bottom. How about some fudge as a snack? You can find fast food chains and eat-in restaurants here, but you should try what Gatlinburg is truly famous for: fudge. The Kilwins of Gatlinburg, a confectionary for any sweet tooth or fudge maven (the dark chocolate fudge is the best, I might add).

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After you’ve filled your belly with a few sweets, try some horseback riding through the mountains to burn off those calories. There are various locations that offer equestrian activities, one of them being the small town of Pigeon Forge. Big Rock Stables is an excellent equestrian activity center. Not only do they have horses, but there’s a small petting zoo with exotic birds such as emus and peacocks (you would never expect to see these in Tennessee, may I add) as well as goats and alpacas—a toddler’s dream come true. After you’re done gazing at the beauty of these petting zoo animals, move on to the big challenge: going on a three kilometer ride over a section of the mountains. Maintain your balance and remain focused, the horse will do the rest!

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You’ve gone over the mountains, now it’s time to go under them. Get ready for some unique cave scoping at Forbidden Caverns in Sevierville, which you’ll find after a scenic drive on several twisting roads through the mountain valley. Witness the creations formed by Mother Nature herself over millions of years. The cave is the same temperature year-round, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you bring a light jacket! It is said that Native Americans came here during the winters to stay warm. Be careful not to touch anything in the cave, though. The limestone formations are very fragile and can atrophy just by a simple brush of the arm.

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The Appalachian Mountain region, in general, is overlooked as a vacation destination. Nestled inside the result of old plate collisions are so many gems of nature. Have you ever been somewhere that’s often overlooked? So much wonder lies all around the world, but how much of it do we really know about? There’s a lot to see in this world, and I encourage you travel anywhere you can. Save up as much as you possibly can and travel during your youth. You won’t regret it!

Culture

Happy 4th of July! Take a moment out of your day BBQ-ing, laughing with friends, parades, and watching fireworks to truly remember why this day is celebrated. July 4th is about patriotism and honoring the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, a day when our country’s founders declared independence from Great Britain. These powerful quotes remind us why we are proud to be Americans.

1. “Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.” – Albert Camus 

2. “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

3. “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” – Maya Angelou

4. “Freedom lies in being bold.” – Robert Frost

5. “The magic of America is that we’re a free and open society with a mixed population. Part of our security is our freedom.” – Madeleine Albright

 6. “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” — William Faulkner

 7. “Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” – Albert Einstein

8. “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

9. “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Image: Timo Kohlenberg, Flickr

CultureEducationHealthSkillsTravel

*Background information: The Congressional Award is an award for young Americans (the only award given to youth by Congress), and was established in 1979 by the United States Congress. As a participant in the program, you set and meet goals in four program areas: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. Based on time commitments, you earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Certificates and Congressional Award Medals.

I first learned about the Congressional Award in 2007. As a junior in high school, I thought that I was already over occupied with activities and volunteering. However, while I was involved in academic and extracurricular activities, I was not setting goals or measuring my achievements in ways that would help me grow and learn more about myself or my community. After learning more about the Congressional Award and realizing what new opportunities and growth I could experience from the program, I recognized that it was never too late to set goals and try new experiences.

The Congressional Award positively impacted my life from day one. From the moment I knew I could be a part of this program, I had no doubt that my life was going to change in a great way. While I have learned many lessons, there are three in particular that stand out the most. The first way the Congressional Award has played a positive role in my life is by allowing me to experience things I never would have otherwise.

For example, for my Gold Medal Exploration, I planned a road trip following the Mormon Trail and the destinations that my great-great-great-great grandfather documented in his journal as he led a wagon train to Salt Lake City, Utah. Through this journey, I learned a great deal about my family history, the difficulties my ancestors faced, and saw parts of the United States I may never have seen without the Congressional Award giving me the motivation and reason to do so.

The second way the Congressional Award has positively influenced my life is that it presented me with the chance to learn more about myself through the process of evaluating my strengths and weaknesses, setting goals, determining steps to make my goals a reality, and to improve upon my previous achievements. As I earned my medals and set new goals for each new level, I had to push myself further than I did before, and being able to self-analyze and learn what I was capable of achieving was eye-opening and critical in my self-growth.

The Congressional Award is an organized journey with the freedom to choose your own paths. It is because of the structure of the program married with the individual choice to decide what activities to be involved in that brings me to the third way my life has been positively influenced. Although participants earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals as an amazing honor for accomplishing goals and hours, for me the program was never about the material achievements, but the personal non-tangible rewards I attained along the way, such as perseverance, dedication, self-motivation, and confidence. There is no question that the Congressional Award has positively influenced me, and it is an experience that has provided endless lessons and will remain a positive force in my life.

Next week, I will be accepting the Congressional Award Gold Medal from members of Congress. I have no idea what is in store, but I’m excited to find out. I will be tweeting updates about the journey via @carpejuvenis, so be sure to follow along! It is an honor to be awarded the Congressional Award Gold Medal, and it will be a very humbling and eye-opening experience.

[The photo above is me receiving the Bronze Congressional Award Medal from Congressman Reichert.]

SpotlightYouth Spotlight

Rachel Geisler is awesome. It’s as simple as that. We first met Rachel during an internship in New York City, and since that summer, she has been doing incredible things. For instance, she played Anna in the Spring Awakening National Tour. Pretty cool, right? She also spent a semester in London traveling and studying. When Rachel isn’t auditioning, she is honing her acting and singing skills and working part-time. We are beyond inspired by Rachel’s self-motivation and determination, and we can’t wait to see her again on-stage and on-screen! Read on for insight into her pre-show rituals, what she does when she forgets a line during a live performance, and a sneak peek into what life was like on the Spring Awakening National Tour.

Name: Rachel Geisler
Age: 22
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts at New York University
Follow: Twitter

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

Seizing your youth means taking every opportunity that you might have in your youth that you won’t have when you’re older. Things like taking a job or an internship that doesn’t necessarily meet your desired trajectory just take that experience and to enjoy it. A lot of my friends still get a lot of financial help from their parents, so that frees you up to take a restaurant job and to audition, which is super helpful and something pretty specific to being at this age.

What did you major in at New York University and how did you determine what to study?

I majored in Musical Theater. I grew up in New York City so I was always exposed to theater. My parents took me to shows and to the ballet when I was younger, and that definitely had a huge impact on me. I always loved the arts. I didn’t know that I wanted to perform for a long time. I wasn’t that person. Some of my friends had that moment or the show that they saw that made them want to perform forever, but I think it was a gradual appreciation for me and once I started taking voice lessons, it became more serious for me.

I found a summer camp, Stagedoor Manor, that I went to from when I was 12 to when I was 18. It was a performing arts theater camp and I was inspired by the teachers and performers to pursue theater. When I started at NYU, Musical Theater seemed like the obvious choice for me.

Did you study abroad? What was your big takeaway from studying abroad and do you think it was worth it?

I spent a semester in London. I think that everybody should study abroad at some point. It was an unbelievable experience, not just for theater but for the academics. I decided not to take any theater classes when I was there, but I saw a lot of shows. It gave me a great perspective and refreshed my appreciation for theater, which I needed at the time. Just being able to travel and being in Europe and having access to cheaper flights was great and I got to see a lot of new countries.

What or who inspired you to become a professional actress?

I started at NYU, which can be a very overwhelming place. It’s a big school and there are a lot of things to study. After my freshman year I wasn’t 100% sure if I wanted to stick with theater. And then I got the Spring Awakening National Tour and when I ended up doing that, there was no going back. That experience solidified theater for me.

I interned at Seventeen Magazine the summer before thinking that I was really interested in publishing and the fashion world. I had never really made up my mind as to which direction I wanted to go in, and then after the National Tour, I knew that theater was what I wanted to do.

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You played Anna in the Spring Awakening National Tour. Tell us about that experience.

It was the best year of my life thus far. It was so much fun. I was a huge, huge fan of Spring Awakening when it was on Broadway. I saw it about eight or nine times. I was that theater geek who saw it every weekend I could.

I loved being on the Spring Awakening National Tour, I got to see the rest of the country. My family had traveled but we never really traveled within the United States. My mom is from Japan so we were always in Asia or elsewhere, but seeing the United States was a really fun experience. Especially getting to do that with 20 other people around your age and who also love the same thing that you love, it was a really wonderful experience and I grew up a lot on that Tour.

How do you prepare for a National Tour?

You have to be in the best shape you can possibly be in, vocally and making sure you’re taking care of yourself. You’re going from bus to plane to theater, and all of the traveling does take a huge toll on your body. Just going in with an open mind and being open to the new experiences. Take care of yourself but also remember to have fun and take advantage of what I was doing.

How do you stay motivated on-stage night after night of performing?

That’s a tough one. We did 137 performances of Spring Awakening. A lot of tours do upwards of about 600 shows. For Spring Awakening, the whole cast is pretty much on-stage for the entire show. We’re sitting on the side and watching the action happening. It’s easier to stay engaged when you’re on-stage and supporting your fellow actors. You don’t ever want to be that person who is zoning out.

Getting tired does happen and you can get jet-lagged. We were in Colorado and got altitude sickness. There were points in the show where I would make sure to embrace what was happening. Even if I was exhausted and wanted to be done with the performance and go to bed, I would remember that I was on the National Tour of Spring Awakening. I would remind myself that I wanted this for so long and that I needed to enjoy it. That would always bring me back when I got tired.

What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from being a working actress?

One of the best things that I’ve learned is to be a good person. There are a lot of talented people. You think sometimes that there are some roles that only one person could play. But there were so many girls that could have played Anna in Spring Awakening, so I think the thing that sets you apart is to be a good person.

You have to be the kind of person that the director or casting director would want to spend 12 hours a day in rehearsal with. If you set yourself up with success by being nice and professional and being open and kind, that will set you apart from the millions of other people trying to act and land roles. Some of them might have an attitude problem or take the opportunities for granted and be a diva about it. I got really lucky with Spring Awakening because everybody was young and didn’t have much of an ego, but that’s not necessarily the case with other circumstances. Keep reminding yourself that you want to be the person that other people want to work with.

How do you overcome self-doubt or stage fright?

If you’re not scared there’s something wrong. It’s just a matter of learning how to channel the self-doubt and stage fright. I always get nervous. I’m always scared. I love performing but I’m not the best with public speaking. It’s just different ways of approaching different performances or exhibition.

With theater, it’s just doing the most work you could possibly do so you can do the best show no matter what. If something goes wrong, you should know the character and the story. If someone drops a line, you’ll know how to pick it up and keep the story moving. That is completely necessary in theater. People forget lines all the time. We did 137 shows and if you lose focus for one second, a line can leave you so you have to trust that the rest of the people you’re working with can handle the situation.

Have you ever forgotten a line and what are you thinking in that moment?

All the time! I didn’t have that many lines in Spring Awakening. There was one show where there was a horrible smell on-stage and I kind of choked a little bit, so everyone on stage with me thought I forgot my line because I couldn’t get my words out. It was horrible. But then someone was on it with the next line and you bring yourself back to it. If you’re in character and you know what your character wants to say, it might not be the exact line but something along those lines. Then you’ll get a note from your Stage Manager telling you that what you said wasn’t the actual line, and you’re like, yes, I know. I forgot. The next time you’ll get it right.

Do you have any pre-show rituals to get into character?

Some people go crazy with their pre-show rituals. I am really into music so if it’s a first night of a show, I try to figure out the right playlist that gets me in the state-of-mind. For Spring Awakening, that was more pump-up music because that show was a lot of energy. For other things it could be mellower. I love to listen to music.

I also try to go around to everyone who I’m in the show with and just say “hey.” When you’re on tour, you get to the theater and everyone goes to their dressing rooms and you don’t see each other until you’re on-stage. I just love to touch base and catch up really quickly and say “hi.”

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What advice do you have for youth who want to be professional actors/actresses?

Do it. There are so many people who will tell you so many different things about how hard it is, and it’s true, it’s not easy. There are definitely waves of success and sometimes you think you’re perfect for something and it doesn’t work out – maybe you’re too tall or you don’t fit into the costume of the previous person who played the role.

I’m a huge believer that you have to be a smart person to be a smart actor. I think education is insanely important and not just training. Training in the craft of acting is hugely important, but I think that learning the history of what you’re doing and keeping yourself informed on current events and being well-read just makes you a better actor. If you have things that are not related to theater or drama, that’s great because most of the time you’re playing real people and it helps to have those experiences.

That’s one of the reasons why I chose NYU – they have a huge emphasis on the academic side of theater and making sure you’re a well-rounded person as well as a well-rounded actor.

What does a day in your life look like?

It’s so different. I live with two people who have pretty standard schedules and mine is all over the place. If I have an audition, which hopefully I do, I like to go to the gym to wake my body up and do yoga. Sit in the steam room for a little bit. After an audition, I call my mom and talk to her for a little bit. I work at a restaurant so I’m there three or four times a week. That’s part of my day. Because I went to school in New York, I still have use of the facilities so if I have time, I’ll practice monologues and sing to help me feel connected with my craft. When you’re waitressing and auditioning constantly, you start to feel like you’re this product and you have to reconnect with your craft and what you worked really hard to do. I try to do that as often as possible.

What activities were you involved in throughout high school? Were there any experiences that were most memorable or life changing?

I loved high school. I did a little bit of everything in high school. I played basketball, did yearbook, and student government. I went to a really small private school in New York so everybody was involved in everything, which was great. I went to a school with somewhat of an art scene and they definitely appreciated the arts a lot.

One of my teachers, Margie Duffield, was a huge influence on me. I always loved singing and dancing and she was the one who pushed me to do more acting, and she introduced me to a lot of the techniques that I use now and when I was in school. That was a really big thing for me and having that influence who made me realize that I was enough and I could do more than musical theater.

What has your experience been like going to college in New York City?

I loved it. Clearly, I never left! It can be hard because sometimes the city is very overwhelming. My brother is now at the University of Maryland and I hear all these fun stories about what they do on-campus and all these things that are so foreign to me. One of the things about being in New York is that I was very involved with the theater community. After I came back from Spring Awakening, I was able to continue auditioning and working and do readings and workshops. Things that people not in the city don’t necessarily get to do.

I’m also a huge family person and my family lives here and at the time my younger brother was here, so it was important for me to be in New York. I thought NYU was the best fit for me so it all worked out. If I hadn’t been in New York, I wouldn’t have been able to audition for Spring Awakening, and I wouldn’t have had that experience. Everything happens for a reason.

What motivates you in your everyday life?

If you want to pursue theater, you have to keep yourself motivated. You won’t have someone everyday telling you “Great job!” Unless you’re doing a show you don’t really get that reinforcement. You have to take every little victory that you can get. If you’re standing in a studio and you hit a note better than you felt like you have a week ago, take that victory. That’s a step towards what you want to be doing.

I’ll go take a dance class and motivate myself to do what I want to be doing. When you’re not in school, there’s no one telling you that you have to go to this dance class or read this play. I try to read as many plays as I can. One of my friends is actually doing something that I admire – she’s reading a new play every day. Before she goes to bed, she reads a new play.

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Who is your role model?

My mom. It’s so cliché it almost pains me to say it. She studied art in college and didn’t necessarily end up pursuing it for the rest of her life, but she has such an appreciation for it and is so supportive of me. She’s one of those people whose words just make sense to me. She’ll just tell me what I was thinking – who knows you better than your mom?

There are definitely people whose careers I admire, but I don’t know them on a personal level so I can’t really call them a role model.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

Calm down. Being in high school in general, especially with theater, it seems like so much focus on doing an exact thing a certain way to get into college. It just seems like that is your goal – to get into college. I don’t know anybody who didn’t figure it out for themselves. They might not have gone to the college they wanted to go to, or maybe they spent a semester somewhere and worked really hard and transferred, but it’s not the end all be all. People change their majors and idea of what they want to do all the time.

In high school, you’re thinking you have to get into a specific school for a certain program. I would tell myself to calm down and that everything will work itself out. Enjoy high school because it’s such a weird time where you’re old enough to start having fun but you’re still living with your parents and getting all the benefits of that. Enjoy it and don’t think too far ahead of yourself.

What’s next for you?

Hopefully a show! I went back to school after Spring Awakening and I put all of my focus on that because graduating was really important to me. I graduated this past May and worked a little bit this summer on a few projects. My friends have started writing plays and directing and choreographing, so I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of their work. You don’t get paid or anything, but collaborating is so fun.

CultureEducation

Happy Presidents’ Day! In the United States, the third Monday in February is known as Presidents’ Day in honor of the birthday of the First President of the United States, George Washington. Having become a widely celebrated holiday, many business and schools close on Monday in observation of Presidents’ Day. How are you celebrating Presidents’ Day?

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Alternative Education Highlight: High Mountain Institute

Education comes in all shapes and sizes; there has never been a “one size fits all” when it comes to learning. Figuring out how you learn best is a challenge that you should continue to tackle until you discover what works best for you personally. Carpe Juvenis recently sat down with Megan Morrow, High Mountain Institute (HMI) alum, to talk about the high school semester program she took part in her junior year. Megan now studies at Johns Hopkins University where she majors in Global Environmental Change & Sustainability.

HMI is a program for academically driven high school students interested in an outdoor educational experience. HMI focuses on building students’ relationships with nature and their community through full physical and emotional integration. Based in Colorado, students take AP level place-based classes in tangent with learning survival and camping skills. There is a campus with off-the-grid cabins and fully functioning classrooms where students live and study when they are not busy leading hiking expeditions and camping explorations.

HMI offers a range of programs: Semester, Summer team, Apprentice Program, High Peaks Adventure, and Wilderness Medicine and Avalanche Safety courses. If you’re interested in applying to HMI, click here – applications for Fall 2014, Spring 2015, and Summer Term 2014 are due February 15, 2014.

Without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to Megan Morrow. Read on to learn more about her experiences at High Mountain Institute!

Carpe Juvenis: What exactly is High Mountain Institute?

Megan Morrow: High Mountain Institute (HMI) is an outdoor education program combined with experiential education. There are around fifty students from around the United States and you go on a set of three backpacking expeditions that are interspersed throughout the semester. You take normal classes that you would in school but you continue them when you’re on your hiking trips.

CJ: Would you recommend that someone apply to HMI and why?

MM: Yes, definitely! I was really hesitant to go and spent the entire month after I got in deciding whether or not I wanted to go. I actually replied late saying I would. But [HMI] helps prepare you for going away to college because you’ve already done it before for four months, and being in a small community forces you to deal with people. But [the staff] also teaches you about conflict resolution, getting along with people, and working with group dynamics. Its something I never thought I would be able to do … but being able to spend more than a month in the Colorado and Utah wilderness is amazing. I would have never been able to do that in my regular high school.

CJ: What is a challenge or difficulty you faced that took you by surprise?

MM: I expected that I would be homesick – and I was – but I got over it. The hardest struggle for me that I didn’t expect was that it took me a really long time to adjust back into real life again. I got so close to the people [at HMI] that I had a really hard time going back to school.

CJ: How did you feel about the academic aspect of HMI?

MM: The academics I think are really, really good. You have scheduled time to do work every night for two hours. [And work is continued on hiking trips] so you’ll have English class discussing Henry David Thoreau, or you have to do a science lab on your expedition walking around looking at trees, collecting data, writing essays, and all that. The other component is leadership training; you go over types of leadership, how to be a good leader, and you have to be “leader of the day” twice throughout an expedition where you lead your small group of students and you have to use topographical maps and make decisions about when to rest and how far to walk. As expeditions go by you become more and more independent.

CJ: Is there a certain “type” of student that should go to HMI?

MM: I think it definitely helps to be an outdoorsy person, but it was a mixture of people. It’s been interesting to see how [the students in my semester] have all grown up through college because we’re not all the same type of person. I think what’s interesting about something that [happens] in high school is that I was still young enough that it helped mold me. I was young enough to not come into it with such a strong identity that I wasn’t willing to be changed by it. I was sixteen when I went.

CJ: Has HMI stuck with you in any way?

MM: That’s actually where I started getting interested in environmental science. It’s a natural science program there so we would do water tests near old mines and learn about pollution and go to logging areas and learn about the succession.

Carpe Juvenis would like to thank Megan for her time and insight about HMI! For more information about this awesome person, check out her study abroad blog, as well as her professional blog

Photos courtesy of Megan Morrow