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My name is Ebony Zapata, I’m a 16 year-old junior and I was accepted to be a part of Project California 2017. When I found out that I was going to spend most of my summer in California, I realized how my life was about to take an incredible and unusual turn. I was so excited to meet people of different cultures, backgrounds, and hometowns. I was also quite nervous because I have never been a people person and it was going to be a challenge to make friends. However, when I went on the trip, every expectation that I had about the people, the activities, and the community service completely transformed.

When I arrived at California, I was the only Hispanic person out of all the students that had attended, so you can expect that I felt like an outsider. I didn’t talk to anyone the first day and I remained with my eyes stapled to my phone the whole time. I wasn’t very friendly and I wasn’t planning on changing that because I had always been more of an independent girl who likes to be alone. I thought that was going to be my plan for the whole summer until Jagger started talking to me. Jagger was this awesome, funny and incredibly sweet guy that invited me to talk to him and his friends. After I told them I was from Nicaragua and what my name was, they began to think that I was incredibly cool. I honestly didn’t talk to them as much in the first few days but everything changed when I won a game that our Director had made us play to get to know everyone better. I won in the category of “Who’s the Best Dancer of the Group” by belting out to a salsa number that I was sure nobody else knew how to dance to. After that everybody started talking to me and asking me if I could teach them how to dance and it honestly made me feel important. I didn’t try to make friends, everyone just started trying to be friends with me and I know how narcissistic that sounds but it’s 100% true. At the end of the trip I had a squad, and they were honestly a great addition to the incredible summer that I had. By the middle of the trip I had gotten this reputation that I was “good at everything” just because I was the best girl soccer

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player of the group, I could ice skate and roller skate, I could dance, I could drive, and I could sing. It was amazing to have a reputation that made me one of the coolest girls in the group because it invited people to talk to me and to find out if the rumors of my awesomeness were true.

This trip was able to turn this summer into the best summer of my life. My favorite parts were when we went to Six Flags, when I was at community service, when I went surfing, kayaking, and snorkeling. Honestly, I loved every single part of this trip but those were my ultimate favorite parts because of how they made me feel. The day at Six Flags was the best day of my life. I went on 8 rides that I never thought I would have the guts to ride. In every single one of them I felt like my life flashed before my eyes and that felt incredible. The best part was that my friend, Jagger, had a fast pass so we skipped every line with him and we went straight to the ride we wanted to go in. We screamed our lungs out in the crazy rides and we always came out of the rides dying of laughter because of the excitement that we were feeling. It was so amazing how much an amusement park could make you feel do great while making you feel so scared. I loved every single part of it and I don’t regret choosing the friends that I chose to go on the rides with me because they enjoyed it just as much as I did.

When I was working at Unity Shoppe, I learned what “putting the needs of others ahead of your own” actually meant. I was able to see how people were so embarrassed when they asked for help and food, and I was able to see the look of struggle on their faces while they did that. I was a store helper so I told customers what they could take and the quantity of things that they could take. It was not a hard job but just by greeting the customers with a smile and telling them that they could take anything they want, I already felt like I was making a difference. The Shoppe’s founder, Barbara, was the sweetest lady I have ever met. She told us stories about how

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the store rose up to what it is now and how much it took to turn the store into what it is now. What I loved about her was that she always gave us advice and told us what would be best for us to do in the future. I thought her intentions were really considerate and caring for somebody who had only made our acquaintance. I miss working there and helping the customers, it was honestly the best part of my trip. When I went surfing, kayaking, and snorkeling I realized how much fun my life was missing. I got to stand up multiple times on a surfboard, I got to go in the middle of the ocean on a little boat with no prior knowledge of how to swim, and I got to be centimeters away from fish when I went snorkeling in the waters near Catalina islands. The experience was amazing and it honestly made me turn into a girl who loves anything that has to do with sea. When it was the last day of the trip, I witnessed how every single one of the campers I was with was crying because they were saying goodbye to their friends. However, I didn’t cry about my friends, I cried because I had to say goodbye to the amazing counselors that we had. They were so fun and so incredible to be around that when I hugged one to say goodbye I started crying out of nowhere because I knew I was not going to be able to hang out with her again. I really didn’t want to leave the fantasy of California for the reality of New York. I loved it there and I didn’t want to leave because I knew that there was nothing to look forward to after this. However, I was eternally grateful for what I had learned from this trip. I have learned to try new things and be friendlier to people because you never know how much of an amazing effect they can have on your life. I have learned that helping people doesn’t have an exact definition because there is not just one way that you can provide assistance to someone who’s in need. Helping people is not about forgetting your needs and only worrying about someone else’s, it’s about minimizing the importance of your needs because the needs of someone else require more attention. The up-close of people struggling has made me appreciate the things that I have in life

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and the things that I’m going to obtain in the future. I have learned to be a better person and to always find a way that I can contribute to society. This was the best summer of my life because I released a side of me that seemed nonexistent in the past and I have made it the new me. I can honestly say that the new me is the best me and it’s all thanks to Trip of a Lifetime.