laura umana

Laura Umana

Summer 2018

I had been researching study abroad programs/summer trip programs for teens for a while. It has always been a wish of mine to travel as much as possible. When I tried to find programs online, they always had a cost. First of all, my parents weren’t 100% thrilled with the idea of me leaving home, and second of all these programs were WAY too expensive. My dad works and my mom stays at home and we maintain ourselves that way, we aren't going to spend thousands of dollars to send me off for a few weeks. My family doesn’t spend a lot of money on things that aren't necessities, if we feel secure enough to go on a family trip it is always something we pay to enjoy as a whole family. Anyways, the programs I found on my own account were not something I would discuss with my family or even consider. My [new] school this year sent out an online list full of summer programs. I clicked every program until I found trip of a lifetime. Surprisingly it was on the bottom of the list and I have never heard about it before. I was ecstatic, I had found no other program previously that involved traveling that could work out for me. I had my mind set on this program, I knew that I had to work hard to have a solid heartfelt application. I might have written a little much for the application but I managed to say everything I wanted, all of which I was extremely happy about. Headed to the airport I was actually pretty calm, I'm usually anxious so it was a nice change. The orientation really helped because the alumni told us most people came alone and were in the same place as us. I also knew I had the other two trip of a lifetime girls coming with me which relaxed me because they were familiar faces. I'm usually a social person so I thought I would make friends pretty easily.

   I did not have a favorite place in this trip in all honesty. Everywhere we went on the trip part of my tour was beautiful. Sedona, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon...everything was stunning. California had its own warmth and tranquility to it that I loved. I really believe in the energy places have, when I stood on those canyons I felt powerful and content. I felt like I had achieved something, I was doing something that very few people have the opportunity to do. I mean not many sixteen-year-olds can say they climbed the rocks of Sedona.  I felt really proud of myself because I always dream big. There are so many things I want to do and so many places I want to go to but I have so many things to worry about. I don't even know what I want to do for college or life, I am just open to so many things it's overwhelming. However, being there, knowing I had finally achieved something I had dreamt about made me forgive myself for beating down my dreams to be realistic. It made me happy about being the person I am. I did have a lot more challenges on this trip than I expected. I honestly thought the other teens would be more open-minded. They all became very cliquey very quick. I was surprised that many teens came in groups and knew other people already. The alumni had told me that there had been a maximum of two pairs of best friends on their trips. As soon as I spotted rein teen tours in the airport with my mom, I was immediately uncomfortable with the lack of diversity. I thought I was just being paranoid but I noticed some of the counselors would talk around and have long conversations with the white families and their kids. Those counselors would barely glance at my mother and I, one shook her hand and that was it. I am very fair skinned so people don't immediately assume I am Hispanic. But I am not ashamed of it at all so I talked with my mom in Spanish in the airport. She is quite tan so people knew I was Hispanic and I immediately felt some people look down on my mother and I. It was just the two of us standing around for an hour. I immediately felt out of place but didn't give it much thought because I wanted to make friends once we separated from the parents. Once we did, it all became a cliquey mess. I don't like exploiting people and big groups of people who already know each other intimidate me. I introduced myself to quite a few people and started a few convos but I didn't get into any friend group immediately thinking people would be open once we got to the hotel. I was very wrong, everyone had already formed groups the airport and well I was left to be the quiet kid with the other two trip of a lifetime girls. During the whole trip, I was very aware of the lack of diversity. I only got one rude comment. However, my two friends from trip of lifetime that I stayed with for most of the trip were left out quite often. One of my friends had to travel with a group that said lowkey racist comments, and some teens completely avoided my other friend who was very sweet. I understand some teens outside of NYC have never seen a person of color but come on it is 2018 I really thought this would not be a problem on the trip. For the first two weeks, I cried every night secretly while taking a shower, I could barely call my mom without sobbing. I felt so alone. I had a breakdown when I roomed with one of my trip of lifetime friends and that's when it got better. She assured me that she felt the same way and was going through the same thing so I felt like a had someone I could talk to and relate to.

    Additionally, many of the teens do not think twice when they spend their money. I was prepared for this so it didn't bother me until we were given money to buy things for our cabin in Lake Tahoe. We got ninety dollars, here in new york with my family we would organize to spend it wisely buying only things we need, we would have covered a lot. I was rooming with the trip of a lifetime girls and two other girls, we spent 150 dollars in total. They told us to buy stuff for lunch and do not let us give an input into the money spending until we were checking out the items. I had a complete panic attack. I did not understand why two days of food summed up to $150. Us three barley had thirty dollars in our cart ti was insane and it was three of us from trip of a lifetime. The other two girls didn’t let me explain myself and one girl blamed me for being upset saying it was my fault for “not bringing enough money”. Especially because the girls wanted us to pay them back when they had not given us an option to choose the items in the first place. I had my two friends to comfort me so in the end, I was fine. The first two weeks were hard and I had to teach myself how to enjoy things alone. I feel that because that part was so hard I became more independent, I stuck with myself and the trip of a lifetime girls and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. California was so much better though, the teens in Project California were all so nice. They were sweet and welcoming as soon as we got there, the other trip of a lifetime girls in that tour assured me that they are always very sweet. I was very happy the last two weeks, I was able to enjoy the trip more because I was surrounded by warm positive people who all come with a more community-service based mindset.

     I was very touched by Unity Shoppe (my assigned volunteering service) and their mission. It would not have been something I would've have tried if I had been able to choose. However, as the days passed I realized how special their project is. I always tried to get the spot working in the clothing section. There I could interact with the people we were helping one on one. I helped the Spanish speaking families pick out their items and I felt like I was doing something that I could physically see improving the quality of people’s lives. I realized that some families just need some help, they just need a week's worth of food to get back on their feet. Just a few items of food that we often leave in the pantry could make a huge difference in whether or not a family goes to bed hungry or not. Many of these families reminded me of my own. I am very grateful to say I have never gone to bed hungry, but I know my parents had to do that in Colombia when they were kids. My mom had two other siblings and her mom was on her own trying to sustain the family. The same thing happened to my dad but he had five siblings. My parents were beyond grateful to receive a single pencil, a pencil would be their prized possession. I have thrown away perfectly good pencils. It just reminded me of my roots, and it reminded me that I am fortunate to have been brought up in a family that has good morals and values. I was raised to never take anything for granted and to think selflessly, my parents never let me throw out food. I have sometimes forgotten this and become too comfortable with what I have. Comfortable enough to forget that there are families that aren’t as comfortable as mine. I was also really impacted by the volunteers there. These are selfless people who come in multiple days a week to make sure the project is running smoothly. They are so committed to keeping the place aesthetically pleasing and warm for others. I was surprised when I walked into Unity Shoppe because of how pretty it all was. Salvation armies back here are all run down and old. Unity Shoppe focuses on making the experience as normal as possible for people. I had no idea many of these people feel ashamed of coming in and they don't like taking a lot of things even if they need them. I didn't realize how important it was to approach people kindy and offer them help even when they seem to avoid it. People often feel shame for needing help and that just made me so sad. I know that a lot of these people work hard and suffer due to their economic position. It just doesn't seem fair. It gave me hope to see a place like Unity Shoppe, hope that there are good people willing to help other good people. And, I got hope that I could actually make a difference. Right now I feel like there are so many things going on in the world that I am not nearly enough of an individual to be able to control. I often watch horrible things happen to people who deserve better and I watch as we destroy the planet, it's a lot to process. Yet, being able to hand over shirts and pants to people and see the smiles on their faces made me feel like I did have the power to make a change. That made it worth all the while. I have so many fond memories of California.

    After this trip, I feel much more motivated about my school’s “CASS” (Creativity, activity, service)  project every junior and senior has to do. I go to an IB school so helping the community is and will be a huge focus for the next few years. The CASS project is where you find an issue or organization that your passionate about and you do something that shows support. During sophomore year I did not really look forward to it due to all the work we already have. Yet after this trip, I am looking forward to that trip with a new light. I might be focusing on volunteering/fundraising for stray animals so they can get vaccinated and spayed/neutered. I already have a friend to do it with. Now I feel way more motivated to actually make it happen and work hard on it rather than just doing one fundraiser. I know I want to put my heart and effort into something that will contribute to positive change.

  Again thank you Trip of a Lifetime for giving me such an amazing experience.