“Trip of a Lifetime” I saw the application say in big words as my counselor handed it to me. I kept on looking at the words and wondering what I was getting myself into if I filled in the application. I then put it in my folder. When I got home, I did more research to figure out more about the program and I couldn’t believe the things that I found out. Everything about the program sounded way too good to be true. “Travel for free?” I couldn’t believe it. But, it was worth a shot. About three weeks later, I got an email from the organization and I couldn’t believe that I was a finalist! They said that before they can make their final decision, I must participate in a short phone interview, and I did. I was sent an email shortly after saying that I have been selected to receive the scholarship and go on a “Trip of a Lifetime” this summer! That is where it all began. Me? Traveling? I have never traveled before or even been on an airplane. This was a huge step for me. Getting out of my comfort zone and going out into the real world to discover things that I never knew existed? On top of that, it meant me having to leave my family for two entire weeks (which I have never done before) and set out into this huge world alone. It was overwhelming and I grew extremely nervous at first, but I soon realized that this was an amazing opportunity that not many students get to experience. I knew that I wasn’t going to ever get an amazing opportunity like this ever again. So I pushed all my fears aside and from that moment on, I grew ecstatic and eager to learn and travel. Who knew that one application, one phone call, and one organization would change my life forever?
The day I have been waiting for finally arrived. It was June 29th, 2014, the day I left everyone and everything behind for two entire weeks and venture out into the world alone. Was I nervous? DEFINITELY! Looking around in the JFK airport and seeing not one familiar face (other than my mom who was with me) wasn’t at all easy. But I kept on thinking positively. After everyone’s bags were weighted, it was time for one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life- saying goodbye to my mother. I couldn’t help but cry like a baby. But I knew I had to let go. I waved goodbye to my mom with tears in my eyes, walking away towards the Rein Teen Tours group. Thankfully, I was able to see two people that I saw recently at the Trip of a Lifetime meeting; Kalifala and Zairia. I also sat next to Zairia on the plane and I was excited that we would be going to California together! The plane ride wasn’t all that bad either and 6 hours went by quickly. When we landed at LAX in Los Angeles and took a two hour bus ride to California, I was stunned by how different California was from New York City with its big, beautiful palm trees and its breathtaking landscapes- I’ve never been in a place like this before. We did so much in only two weeks. One my favorite places in California was the Santa Barbara Beach because of how beautiful the scenery was. I also loved going bowling, roller blading, kayaking, the improv club in Los Angeles, and I even learned how to swim! On top of all that, we had the chance to dorm at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara) college and get a glimpse of how college life really is. It is also highly beneficial for my future. However, what made this trip a lot more memorable for me was waking up at 7:30 am every morning, eating breakfast, and leaving by 9:15am to do community service for 3 hours every day. I did community service at a place called “Unity Shoppe” in Santa Barbara. This organization is so unique and so amazing, that I can’t even begin to find the right words that will be able to describe it. It is an organization that helps provide food, clothing, and basic necessities to low-income working families, their children, and also the elderly. It’s unique because it allows families and individuals who are going through a tough time, get back on their feet and they have the freedom to choose the food, clothing, and necessities that they need rather than having someone pick it out for them. It still gives them dignity and the privilege to choose for themselves so when they go through the shop, they won’t feel like they are receiving help from the organization. Rather, they feel like they are in a real supermarket buying food for themselves and their families. Being a volunteer at this shop was the highlight of my entire trip. I learned so much within the time span of just two weeks. In the shop, I had many roles and learned how to do each and every one of them. I was a cashier and learned how to work the machine, I learned how to put tags on clothing, I organized the clothes by color, gender, and size as well as put them in hangers, I put bar codes on cans and other foods, I packaged food, and my favorite one of all, I helped take the customers around and helped them feel at home so that they won’t feel ashamed having to receive help. Seeing the brightness in their eyes and the smile on their face and the way they would hold my hand and say “thank you so much” really touched my heart and made me want to continue helping others, which I will even after this life-changing experience. Unity Shoppe also helped me appreciate my own life because I finally realized and saw it with my own eyes that there are others who have so much less than I do. Now, I am immensely thankful for what I have and as soon as I got home, I hugged my mom and told her “Thank you so much for all that you have done for me” and I told her about Unity Shoppe and how much it taught me. Just knowing that I can have fun while helping low-income families get back on their feet was a blessing. I didn’t want to leave, but I promised I’d be back.
Trip of a Lifetime was able to make all my dreams come true. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to be a part of this program because if it wasn’t for Trip of a Lifetime, I would have had yet another boring summer in New York City. I learned so much in just two weeks and everything that I learned will surely benefit me later on in the future. I even made life-long friends in which I still talk to now. I cannot thank you guys enough for giving me the chance to not only have fun and travel, but to make a difference and help others that have so much less than I do. I would have never been able to share my amazing experience without you guys making this amazing experience happen. Thank you again for enabling me to have a “Trip of a Lifetime”!