Next year, several Palo Alto High School teachers are opting to leave the classroom and explore opportunities abroad. These teachers are taking advantage of a Palo Alto Unified School District policy that allows staff to take a year off for personal leave without jeopardizing their job security for the following year. Teachers may choose to use this policy for maternity leave, traveling or simply for a break.
English teacher Julia Taylor will spend 2017 traveling throughout South America. Taylor will make stops in several countries, including Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Taylor made the decision to travel in November after receiving the opportunity to buy a house. Upon realizing the permanence of her purchase, she began to reevaluate her future.
“All of a sudden, it dawned on me: is this where I want to be for the next 15 to 20 years?” Taylor said. “It was almost like a lightning bolt.”
Economics and history teacher Alexander Davis will work as a river guide during the summer, then he will spend the school year embarking on a cross-country road trip to visit friends and family. Davis will later backpack in South America or Southeast Asia.
Like Taylor, Davis’ decision stemmed from a realization that he wanted to explore the world while he still had the chance.
“I’ve been wanting to [travel] for a while,” Davis said. “There were all these things that sort of came up and got in the way, so I felt like I was putting it off and putting it off. This is the time when a lot of my friends are starting to settle down, get married, have kids. I’m not there yet, and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to do this before my life is no longer mine.’”
Much of Davis’ passion for traveling stems from his experience working as a river guide throughout California and Oregon.
“You meet a ton of really cool people who are not from Palo Alto and are not all college-obsessed like we are here and bring a lot of different perspectives and experiences,” Davis said. “I think that that is just such a cool way to see a different section of American society.”
Taylor has received a wide range of reactions from her friends and family: some are supportive of her choice while others are shocked. However, she maintains that traveling is something that she loves and will continue to do.
“I’ve had the travel bug for quite some time,” Taylor said. “I remember being 12 years old and seeing the Peace Corps commercials.”
Despite her excitement for her trip, Taylor will miss the invaluable bonds she has formed with teachers and students over the 11 years she has taught at Paly.
“At my last school I had colleagues, but at this school they’re my friends,” Taylor said.
Davis is also slightly reluctant to leave his teaching job for an entire year.
“It’s a very engaging job,” Davis said. “When I come here, I’m not thinking about other things. There’s a part of me that worries I might get bored or lonely [when travelling abroad].”
Since she has begun planning her own gap year, Taylor advises students to contemplate traveling on their own as well.
“Anybody who has the opportunity to take a gap year should take advantage of it,” Taylor said. “I feel I have learned more about myself and grown more as a person from traveling than pretty much anything else I’ve done.”