Uncharted Learning: The Road as My Classroom

As a student at Oregon State University, my college journey is anything but typical. While many navigate the traditional pathways of dorms and lecture halls, I’ve carved a unique academic and life experience through OSU’s Ecampus, embracing a world where adventure and education intersect seamlessly. My story began at the University of Puget Sound during the peak of COVID-19 in 2020. Fresh off a gap year filled with travel and work, the abrupt shift to an in-person campus with solely online classes felt restrictive. Yet, it was here that I discovered an affinity for online learning, a realization that would drastically reshape my educational landscape.

In 2021, drawn by the freedom to design my life, I transitioned to OSU’s online program. With my computer stashed in my backpack, I’ve since explored 15 countries across six continents. My classrooms are as varied as the locales I visit, from the roaring rivers of the Patagonian Andes where I guided whitewater rafts, to the remote deserts of Peru, flipping burgers with a view of one of the world’s longest surfing waves. Each job—whether instructing kayaking in the Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador, and participating in the country’s first Olympic trials for Kayak Cross, or navigating the rugged Southern Alps of New Zealand as a helicopter-assisted packraft guide—has not only funded my travels but also enriched my educational experience.

Studying botany while living nomadically has offered unparalleled opportunities to engage with diverse ecosystems firsthand. In the lush expanses of the Ecuadorian Amazon, I lived alongside indigenous Quechua women, whose deep knowledge of local flora and their medicinal uses provided a living textbook on botanical science. Meanwhile, in Patagonia, I connected with a scientist specializing in lichen, an encounter that complimented my lichenology studies and highlighted the symbiotic relationship between academia and real-world exploration.

The flexibility of online education has allowed me to merge my passions for adventure and botany. It’s a synthesis that has transformed each destination into a dynamic learning environment, where education does not confine itself to theoretical knowledge but expands into practical, real-world application. This approach has not only nurtured my academic growth but also my personal development as an independent and culturally aware individual.

However, this lifestyle comes with its challenges. Life on the road can be exhilarating—each new town offers a blank slate, a place where no one knows your name or story. Yet, the initial thrill of anonymity has, over time, given way to a sense of isolation. The constant movement, while liberating, often precludes the possibility of deep community ties. After three years of continuous travel, the landscapes may change, but the longing for familiar faces and consistent relationships grows.

As I reflect on my journey, the highs and the lows, I recognize the profound impact of my educational path—not just on my career as a budding botanist but on my identity as a global citizen. The experience has been a testament to the immense possibilities that online education offers, enabling a fusion of life’s adventures with academic pursuits. It is a narrative not just of acquiring knowledge, but of living it, in the truest sense.

In sharing my story, I hope to inspire others to see the potential in non-traditional education paths. Whether it’s through the lens of a camera, the paddle of a kayak, or the pages of a textbook, learning can happen anywhere. And perhaps, in this boundless classroom, we can all find a way to satiate our thirst for knowledge and adventure, while remaining mindful of the communities and connections that tether us to the world.

Learn more about Peter and the rest of the HRO team: https://www.helfrichoutfitter.com/meet-the-team/

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