Phoebe Schechner has participated in a polar plunge. Submerged her body into the Arctic Ocean. Slept in Tanzania’s Serengeti while lions roar throughout the night. Kayaked with humpback whales in Australia. And has lived to tell the tale.
Schechner, a sophomore sociology major, was assigned a project in her middle school art class which had asked her to write down what she wanted in her future.
“I was thinking about it and one of my main passions is traveling… I was like, it’d be really cool to get to all seven continents before I graduated college. So I made that what I wanted to do,” Schechner says.
This year, Schechner accomplished her art project goal after arriving back in her hometown of Guilford from Antarctica, the last continent on her list.
On Dec. 26, Schechner embarked on a two-day journey to Antarctica from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. The ice-class expedition ship, the transportation Schechner used to get to Antarctica, had to pass through the Drake Passage, the waterway which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The intersection of the two oceans causes waves higher than 30 feet.
“Passing through it was not fun,” says Schechner. “The waves were really bumpy and crazy.”
Schechner had to adjust to a new way of sleeping while going through the Drake Passage, she says. The Southern student had to lay strictly on her stomach because the waves would aggressively knock her onto her side. While sleeping, her ship even got hit by a 40-foot wave.
Schechner arrived in Antarctica after 48 hours and went on her journey to see seals, penguins and whales. During the day, Schechner and the other groups of travelers accompanied on her trip explored on Zodiacs, small rubber boats used for expeditions. During the boat ride, Schechner was able to photograph the wildlife.
“I was obsessed with the penguins. They were everywhere. They were so cute and I got so many pictures. The seals and whales were also really pretty as well,” Schechner says.
Animals were something Schechner was drawn to see in every continent. Aside from traveling, she is also an ardent animal lover.
“If I’m going on a trip, I usually surround it based on [animals]. I think ‘what cool animals can I see?’”
Throughout her travels, Schechner has worked at elephant sanctuaries in Thailand and Kenya, the Australia Zoo and went on a 10-day safari in Tanzania.
Traveling through the Serengeti, in the back of a jeep, Schechner was able to see zebras, elephants, giraffes, monkeys, cheetahs and lions. With her Canon Powershot SX60HS camera, she took high-quality photos of the animal sightings.
“There’s nothing like it,” Schechner says. “You look around and you just see only wildlife, and it’s the coolest feeling.”
Schechner says being able to travel has taught her empathy. Being able to see such rural places as a student has been an eye-opener.
“A lot of the time people are sheltered and don’t understand how other people live,” Schechner says. “I got to see it first-hand which I feel is the only way to fully grasp the concept.”
Schechner went on her first service trip by herself to Belize after the 7th grade. While staying in the community in Belize, she says she “really enjoyed volunteering” and painting houses and teaching children English.
Schechner usually stays in hotels. However, while in Belize, she slept in the children’s homes on cots.
Visiting villages in Africa was also a big eye-opener, Schechner says. The children she saw, who were living in villages in the wilderness, were “very happy with having very little, which is something that doesn’t get touched on a lot.”
This African village was one of the biggest culture shocks Schechner has faced. There 13-year-old boys took her hunting with a bow and arrow, targeting birds.
“I wasn’t a huge fan of seeing dead animals because I love animals, but it was so cool to see them in action.”
Schechner says she has always grown up knowing she is very fortunate to travel to those continents. Her trips are funded by her mom, Christina Herrick. She has had older people tell her she’s too young to appreciate traveling and she responds, she is not.
“I personally matured when I was younger than most people,” Schechner says. “I’m able to fully appreciate this and experience this.”
Schechner says traveling has allowed her to “increase her bubble.” Growing up in Guilford and attending private school her whole life, she says she was very sheltered.
Schechner has been to Antarctica, Belize, Peru, Argentina, England, Italy, Scotland, Tanzania, Kenya, China, Thailand and Australia. She usually stays in a country for up to two weeks.
Schechner tracks the places she’s visited with pushpins on a map on her bedroom wall. Previously, in high school, she was given a map, allowing her to scratch off the countries. However, this map had gotten ruined when she moved.
The only complication she has had during her travels is being exhausted. She is constantly on the go, doing most optional activities offered on trips instead of getting sleep. However, when Schechner gets back from a trip, she needs to lay in bed and relax for about a week to rejuvenate, she says.
“It’s hard to go, go, go all the time. I do that on most of my trips because I want to get the most out of them. It’s hard sometimes because I wake up like a zombie,” Schechner says.
Although Schechner has been traveling since she was 10 years old, she is nowhere near done, she says. She wants to travel to Spain, New Zealand and back to Africa.
“I am always going to travel,” Schechner says. “I want to go at least one place every year, so I wouldn’t necessarily do it for a career, but I would do it separately.”
By: Hailey Roy