After more than four years teaching with Participate Learning, Tracy Morris from the UK and Lilly Soto Gonzales from Peru had a single-minded goal as they packed up: enjoy one last trip to see as many natural wonders as possible in the U.S. Tracy and Lilly met when they were placed on the same grade-level team at Marvin B Smith Elementary in Burlington, North Carolina, and quickly realized that despite their differences, they were kindred spirits who shared a love of adventure. Over the years they made the most of their time experiencing the outdoors and traveling in the U.S.
Read below for a guest post that follows alumni ambassadors Tracy and Lilly’s final road trip across the U.S. and where they are now.
The Road Trip Begins
Our intention was to take all of our camping gear to friends in Colorado from my (Tracy’s) first teaching abroad experience with VIF from 2001–2004. From Colorado, we’d say our goodbyes and fly on to our separate destinations. We did some planning for where we would camp along the way, expecting it to take several weeks. At the end of the school year we sold everything we no longer needed, including Lilly’s car, moved out of our apartments, and loaded up our suitcases for home along with all our gear: the sleeping bags, the bikes on the back, and the kayaks on top.
Our goal for the trip was to travel west and check off the major parks on our bucket list. We took a winding route west to maximize the number of national and state parks we could visit, starting with Mammoth Caves in Tennessee, into Arkansas and Oklahoma, then into the southwestern U.S. states of Texas and New Mexico.
It was in Texas where things started to take a turn. About halfway through the panhandle, in Amarillo, the car gave up on us! When we had it checked out by mechanics, they told us there was no hope for the blown transmission, and no way to fix it so we could still make it to Colorado. The whole reason we loaded up the car with so much gear in the first place was to give it to old friends as we left the U.S. There were many tears for the car, but also for the kayaks and the majority of our gear, but it didn’t go to waste since we left it behind at a Goodwill Community Donation Store.
We will never forget Amarillo, Texas, but neither of us ever wants to go back anytime soon. A few days lost and our burden considerably lightened, we shelled out the money for a rental car and insurance and got back on the road.
A Once-in-a-Lifetime Road Trip Experience
We hurried to Arizona for one of the highlights of our trip, seeing Grand Canyon National Park, where we spent several days exploring, hiking, and camping. In the middle of summer a campsite is very hard to secure, another reason to plan ahead. We managed to get a permit for several days of backcountry camping (no toilets and no showers!), and the sunsets we experienced were well worth the effort. From there we saw Las Vegas, and then to Arches National Park, before heading north again to Colorado.
Connecting with Old Friends
One of the best surprises from the trip was the rediscovered connections with old colleagues and friends. We would post pictures on social media from each park, and afterward a meal, a hot shower, or an overnight stay would materialize from colleagues who wanted to say hello from decades ago. We even came across a fellow teacher from Marvin B Smith Elementary in the middle of our trip! The friends made during these teaching experiences are truly lifelong connections. Having traveled every previous summer, we wanted to end this trip with a bang by experiencing Fourth of July celebrations for the first time. Our trip ended with a cajun shrimp boil and fireworks with friends in Colorado.
Keep Learning, Keep Traveling
After the trip ended Tracy returned to the UK to interview for and secure a position to teach, and Lilly continued traveling through Asia, starting in South Korea to accompany another Participate Learning alumna on her first transcontinental flight.
In late 2019 Tracy and Lilly met up to travel extensively again, cycling through Bethlehem on Christmas Day, visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Great Pyramids in Egypt and Petra in Jordan, and traveling in Greece and Italy.
Currently, during the global pandemic, these globetrotters are biding their time until travel restrictions are lifted. While normal classes are on hold in the UK, Tracy is teaching the children of essential workers several days a week, and Lilly is staying busy by volunteering with an animal shelter while sheltering in place in Thailand.
What Travel Teaches Us
For Lilly, who’s been traveling for as long as she’s been an adult, teaching with Participate Learning gave her the chance to embrace new experiences and meet people from everywhere. She knows now that everyone can travel the world, and there are other possibilities to life that you may never know if you only stay in one city or place.
For Tracy, teaching in the U.S. and abroad has reinforced the idea that children are children, wherever they are in the world. It’s always difficult to start teaching in a new place because the curriculum is different, but they are all young people who need teachers who believe in them and care about them.
Are you a current or previous ambassador teacher with an adventure story to share with us? Contact us for a chance to be featured on social media or through a blog post. If you are interested in our teaching program, visit the Teach in the USA page to learn more.