Machine Learning 2.0: Living My Sophomore Year as a Digital Nomad

I’ve always lived in a tech-forward household. My dad, being a software consultant, always had computers around. My sibling and I were home-schooled throughout my elementary school years, so we spent much of our time on our laptops. As a result, I consider myself to be pretty familiar and comfortable with technology as a whole. Now, being in my sophomore year of high school during this pandemic, this skill has allowed me an advantage over many adults, and even my peers, during remote learning. When the time came for us all to learn and work from home, my family saw it as an opportunity – a chance to travel the United States on our own terms.

How This Works

We (my family and I) have converted a school bus into an RV of sorts. It has a bed, a refrigerator and freezer, counters, a couch, and plenty of storage; it’s essentially a home-on-wheels. This set-up allows us to take relatively long road trips around the continental U.S.

As I’m writing this, we’re on a four-week adventure: I say “adventure” because that’s really what they are. We don’t just plot out a route to take us to various destinations. A big part of our trips is improvisation; choosing on the spot where we want to go, what direction we’re headed, how long we want to take, etc. We start with a general idea – I wanted to see Meteor Crater in Arizona, my dad wanted to see Tombstone, Arizona, and my stepmom wanted to see Saguaro cacti, so we made Arizona our end game. There’s a lot of space between Washington and Arizona, so we decided what to see in between those points. We went to Hurricane, Utah on our way, and we originally wanted to head through Las Vegas. Unfortunately, an unexpected heat wave rolled through that area, so instead we headed east to Two Guns, Arizona.

Remote Learning

Learning from home is different for everyone. For me, it means getting up at 8 am, sitting in the dining room and joining class meetings for the next four hours. What we do in class has mostly stayed the same; say good morning, take attendance, explain assignments, etc. What’s different is the way we do these things; we turn on our microphones to answer questions, the teacher shares their screen to go over the assignment, kids fall asleep during class and no one can tell. Everyone, especially teachers, have had to learn a different way of doing things. We have had to adapt, and although everyone is still eager to get back to an in-person learning environment, for the most part it really hasn’t been as bad as people say it is.

I know I’m privileged in this way. My family has always had access to what we need, including the technology necessary to remote learning. There are many families who aren’t the same, and who genuinely do struggle with remote learning, for many reasons, like no internet access, no at-home computers, or no one to watch kids at home. I’m not at all trying to invalidate that, but at the same time, I know many people who complain about remote learning are in a similar situation as I am, and therefore exaggerate how bad it really is for them.

What I’ve Learned

For decades, people thought a classroom was a necessary component to education. But COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to prove that there’s so much more to learning than sitting behind a desk and (pretending to) take notes. Learning should both be, and happen through, experience. I’ve learned things on this trip I’m not going to forget. I learned about the locations we visited, yes, but I had more important lessons, too. I finally grasped why we take these trips; not just to see all there is to see, but to grow closer as a family. In the past, I resented these trips; I wanted to stay home and play video games, as cliché as it sounds. But this time I decided to stop thinking about going home the whole time and just live in the now and appreciate what I was being given, and it was that decision that allowed me to see the real reason behind it all.

There’s a distance in many families that my dad and stepmom will not allow in our family. We travel together to spend time with and to grow closer to each other. Of course, there are times when we need to get away from each other; being trapped together in a 70-square-foot bus for weeks at a time will do that to anyone. But it just makes us appreciate our time together that much more.

When I have my own kids, as cliché as it is, I’m not going to tell them about that meme I saw in seventh grade or that show we watched one night. I’m going to tell them about our reactions to the reenactments of famous gunfights in Tombstone, or my dad and I going on a ride in the Meteor Crater visitor center that was clearly meant for kids but was super fun anyway. Or (gross alert) that time I projectile vomited all over the bus that led to me holding a bowl with me at all times while traveling. Those are the fun, silly, sometimes gross stories that I want to be able to tell them.

Why This Matters

We’re all struggling right now. Lifestyles have changed, routines have been disrupted, plans have been thrown out the window, and mental health has plummeted. Many people are hoping to go back to the way things were before the virus, but the fact is, nothing is ever going to be the same. Companies are realizing they don’t need offices, teachers are being forced to finally learn how to use technology, kids (and adults) are learning how to live without their friends.

When the world changed, we changed along with it. But one thing that has never, and will never, change, is the human and animal instinct to survive. We survived this, and we’ll survive whatever comes our way next. There is always a silver lining, even on the darkest of clouds, and for me, that silver lining was bonding with my family in a way that many families don’t get to. What’s your silver lining?

(P.S. If you can, take a trip to Tombstone; there’s nothing quite like watching men with fake mustaches pretending to have a shoot-out in the Arizona sun.)