I always wanted to travel and learn different things outside of New York. The summer of 2013, I was able to achieve this dream! Being part of the amazing Project California, I was able to experience unbelievable activities that I would have never dreamt of even in my craziest dreams. Before leaving for the trip, I was anxious and confused. It was difficult to leave my family and my friends since I had never traveled alone. As I waited in the airport’s lobby, it was interesting to see several teenagers arrive from different parts of New York. Although everyone looked friendly I was glad I was not the only one who was sad to travel alone. On the plane, I only spoke to Nadien because everyone else was sleeping and the group had only met for a few minutes. Throughout the long five hour flight I had positive thoughts because I wanted to start off the trip with an optimistic mind. I got enthusiastic because I was going to help restore the environment and visit areas all over Santa Barbara. I also could not wait to meet all the students and staffs on the trip as well create unforgettable memories every day! Overall, I was thankful to have been elected to volunteer in California and enjoy its treasures for two weeks.
The first days were a bit rough trying to learn everyone’s names, adjust to the time, familiarize with the dorms, and be punctual for each activity. My daily schedule consisted of a different volunteer service for the environmental project and an afternoon elective where I had to overcome my fears to have a good time. In the mornings, the breakfast was delicious and the long bus rides to the volunteer areas allowed our group to have meaningful conversations where we all become close friends. The first volunteer activity was picking up garbage at Oak Creek in Montecito. The group collected plastic to prevent it from entering the beach. I loved restoring the beaches in California because we were able to pick up trash and see the beautiful sun rise with cool lizards in the rocks. Since we had an awesome counselor, who was very friendly and participated in the activities, the group was able to bond and laugh in the mornings. Each day our volunteer project took place in a new area with different leaders. It was interesting to help out in the store Art from Scrap because I was able to see and organize how people donate many items that were incorrectly manufactured and sold for a low price. The two days we had volunteered in the store I always remembered the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” when I folded the fabrics and sorted items because it’s a great idea for companies to donate their items to be recycled instead of throwing them away. When I volunteered at the San Marcos Foothills I was dedicated to taking out nonnative plants that were growing and taking over the land for California’s native plants. I enjoyed working with Brett, Remi, Jesse, Josh and Sam because we were able to learn and trust each other by working cooperatively. My favorite activities through the environmental restoration were the Coastal kayak trip and the island kayak trip! I had so much fun paddling through the ocean and getting to see breathtaking views of the animals and the water caves. After the incredible volunteer service in the morning, lunchtime at Santa Barbara’s cafeteria was a great way to reenergized for the afternoon elective.
Santa Barbara Days as my afternoon elective was a fabulous opportunity to visit different parts in the area. We were able to bike on a trail along the beach and shop in local stores. We had the perfect weather to take pictures in the sun as well wear a lot of sunscreen. I liked being on the Santa Barbara trolley because I saw millionaire homes and learned new facts about the famous people in California. One day we went kayaking in pairs on the beach where I was thrilled to kayak with my new friend, Sonia. It was so much fun splashing water on each other and I appreciated her singing while I paddled the entire trip. Other days were relaxing as we just lay on the beach or walked around Santa Barbara. I was glad to have met new friends in my morning and afternoon electives because it was fun to take pictures and experience the silly moments together.
On the weekends, I loved going to Six Flags and riding the rollercoasters with my friends. It was fun to work hard at a water game so I could win a stuff animal for my little brother. When we went to the movies it was the best opportunity the group got to bond. The Heat was a hysterical movie where we all laughed and afterwards we were treated to ice-cream and smoothies. It was amusing to participate in the 80s Rollerblading where we all dressed up and it was hurtful yet funny to rollerblade for my first time. Also, Comic Bowling was entertaining because we all took turns bowling while eating and dancing the night away. Each day Project California became a family enjoying the volunteer service and discovering Santa Barbara! It was disappointing to leave everyone after the two weeks when we took the final picture because it symbolized how summer was going by too fast and school was only a month away. The trip has changed my outlook on life as a whole because it taught me to take risks because I will never know if I will like or hate something unless I try it! I had never kayaked before because I was scared of tipping over and dying in the ocean, however, when the group kayaked through the caves I knew that I was safe and had to just simply enjoy the day because we had a professional leader and lifejackets that would save my life. From the trip I learned to protect the planet by doing easy things like recycling and picking up trash so it does not harm the homes of innocent animals. California has given me a glimpse of the West Coast life that consists of sunny, beautiful days where anyone’s dream can come true such as the celebrities on the Hollywood walk of fame through concentration and perseverance. This summer I can honestly and gratefully say I experienced a trip of a lifetime!