Ascension teen travels world

These days, Spencer Watson is never far from a book on Portuguese.

Watson, 19, is preparing for a seven-month trip to Brazil to immerse himself in that country’s language and culture.

An international adventure is nothing new to Watson, who spent two weeks in May hitchhiking in Europe after obtaining his international high school diploma from a school in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After mastering Arabic, German and French, Watson’s interest in learning Portuguese is the natural next progression, he said.

His love of languages started as a student at Dutchtown High School.

During a French class, Watson said, “French really clicked with me.”

Then, during the summer after his sophomore year, he studied Arabic through Startalk and National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarship program.

“It changed my life,” he said.

He spent six weeks in Morocco living with a family in Marikish and “caught the travel bug.”

After transferring to the Louisiana School for Math, Arts and Science, Watson learned about the United World College and more opportunities to learn new languages and travel.

The college’s mission to use education as a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future intrigued the high school student.

UWC has 12 schools and colleges educating students ages 2 to 19.

As he studied the mission of the college, Watson realized there was more to the world than he could learn in a traditional classroom, he said.

The application process included an interview in Atlanta and recommendations from teachers and people familiar with his volunteer work.

After receiving his acceptance letter, Watson headed for Mostar, Bosnia, and Herzegovina.

While students at the United World College speak English in class, the student body includes young people from 40 nations who speak dozens of languages.

Watson said he experienced some elements of culture shock at the school, but he wasn’t the only student to have those issues.

“We were all from different countries” and shared some of the same trepidations, he said.

“It really expanded my perception of the world,” he said.

“When I look at the globe, I don’t see a shape when I touch a country, I see a face of someone I met,” he said.

Watson took advantage of his exotic location by traveling with his classmates to their homes during breaks.

He immersed himself into as many different cultures as possible, talking to people in cities and villages and seeing more than just tourist destinations.

Watson documented much of his travel and time at the college with his lens.

Mostar, the city he called home while at the UWC, has scars from the Bosnian War, which lasted from 1992 to 1995.

Taking his camera to the streets, Watson said he was able to better understand the effects of war on a community.

Watson is considering a career as a photojournalist.

The United World College in Mostar was established in 2006 and was the first UWC with an explicit aim to contribute to the reconstruction of a post-conflict society and also the first to be housed within an existing public school.

During his two-year stint in Mostar, Watson took the traditional high school subjects including math, science, languages and the humanities. Sitting in classes with students from around the world resulted in stimulating conservations and discussions that took on a different slant than the talks he would have had back in a U.S. classroom, he said.

Campus life provided for positive interactions between students of different ethnic backgrounds.

Palestinians and Israelis “can hang out to discuss issues and you get a balanced opinion,” he said.

The experience gave Watson an “opportunity to gain a more international prospective to bring about change.”

After receiving his international high school degree, Watson and two of his friends hit the road to spend two weeks hitch-hiking in Western Europe.

“It’s not something I would probably do here, but there I felt safer,” he said.

He and his friends crafted handmade signs of different languages announcing their preferred destination. Along the way, Watson accepted a ride from BMW test drivers and lots of truckers, he said.

Back at his home in Prairieville, Watson is preparing for his next adventure.

He’s taking a year off from the books to take part in the Global Citizen Year project.

Each year, the Global Citizen Year project recruits and trains a diverse corps of “high-potential graduating seniors and supports them through a bridge year of service learning and leadership training in Africa, Latin America and Asia,” the project’s website says.

Through training and individual apprenticeships, the project Fellows develop the skills and perspectives they need to succeed in college, careers, and a global economy, the website says.

While Watson’s trip to Brazil is fully funded, he is raising $2,500 to replenish the scholarship pool that pays for his trip.

He’s hosting the Global Citizen Hoop-A-Thon at 10 a.m. on Aug. 4 in Jambalaya Park.

Folks are asked to stop by and contribute as Watson hoops. He picked up the Hula Hoop in middle school and has learned tricks through online videos.

He finds hooping meditative and relaxing.

In about a year, Watson plans to enroll in Middlebury College in Vermont to study international relations and languages.

But, for now, his sites are set on his next adventure.

To learn more about Watson’s Global Citizen Year project, go to globalcitizenyear.fundly.com/spencer-wise-watson-summer-campaign-2014-emily-f-s-team