My Great Escape

By: Sophie Winik, IATG ContributorJuly 26, 2016


I've never really felt like school was “my thing”. I struggled for years with a learning disability that made certain things more difficult for me than others. School was a challenge, and nobody seemed to understand that my learning style wasn't the same as everyone else’s.

In high school, things were even more difficult. I transferred schools after my freshman year, barely got through sophomore year, and then finally by junior year I had enough. I was stressed, I was getting sick often, and I was dealing with teachers who didn't understand my learning disability. I knew it was going to be a tough year going through SATs and applying to colleges, but it ended up being beyond "difficult." I was miserable, so by the middle of the school year, I dropped out.

Fast forward a few miserable months, and I decided I really wanted to do Birthright, a free ten day trip to Israel. I was finally feeling excited about something again! I applied, went through the interviewing process, and I was good to go.

It was a ten day group trip to a country I had never been to. Was I scared? A little. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

When the ten days were up, I didn't want to go home. I wanted to continue traveling. I had people to visit and stay with in England, and there was a volunteer opportunity I really wanted to explore. So I hopped on the plane alone and landed in London. For several weeks, I stayed with a friend and explored England, while coordinating with the head of the volunteer organization about when I could come. Everything was going great.

The volunteer position involved working in a monkey sanctuary. I would be observing and recording monkey behaviors and learning about them from a psychological standpoint. Seeing as I love animals and learning about their behaviors, I thought it was worth exploring. I travelled by bus for a few hours to Cornwall, anxious and ready to see some monkeys.

I lasted a week. It was not at all what I was promised. I was isolated. I was alone in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't fed anything but nuts (the same mixture fed to the monkeys). I didn't have any outside communication. I felt sick and worn out.

My phone wasn't working. I couldn't call my parents back home. They hadn't heard from me. They ended up calling the volunteer organization, but I wasn’t told about the calls the first few times they tried. After many attempts, they finally got ahold of me. I wanted to tell them everything. However, I had no privacy, and I felt like I wasn’t able to be honest about my experience. My dad decided to ask me "yes/no" questions to make sure I was safe. All I could think was how much I wanted to leave. But how?

I was starving. I recall drawing pictures of food in my journal and licking the paper, as I closed my eyes, imagining the food I drew being real. I needed to get out of here. I told the head people I wasn't well, and I needed to leave. They said I had made a commitment, but I didn't care. A few hours later, I used the computer without their knowledge, emailed my friend, booked a bus back to town, and called a taxi to pick me up in the morning.

When I awoke the next morning, I was even weaker. I grabbed my bags and headed outside. On my way out there was a demand to give a donation to the organization, but I kept walking and met the taxi driver. I got in the car, and we drove away. I did it! I got myself out of this mess!

A few hours later, I arrived at my friend’s house and opened the door with a sigh of relief. To my surprise, my brother, who was traveling abroad at the same time, was there to greet me. After a week of being isolated and alone, here was my brother. I was so happy.

I was abroad by myself for about three months. I experienced so much, both good and bad. I learned a lot about myself in the process. I wasn't aware how strong I was. I learned what it meant to be and feel independent. And that's when I knew, that despite all the frustration and difficulties I experienced, before and during my travels, I triumphed in the end. I knew that I now wanted to go to college. And right at that moment, I began applying to schools.

When I returned to the States and soaked in all I had gone through, I couldn't believe who I was. Did I really tackle all of that alone? Being independent was a great feeling, and I was ready to continue it.


Let’s Chat!

Tell us about your first time being independent? What did you learn and how did you grow? Celebrate how far you’ve come!

About Sophie:

SOPHIE_WINIK_.jpgSophie is a preschool teacher in Southern California. When she is not teaching the little ones she is writing stories about her experiences with bullying, with the hope that her words will help others stand up against bullying and be another voice to end the hate. Sophie is also an artist who loves to paint and draw and is studying to be an art therapist, specifically working with children. Check out her anti-bullying stories at



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