Rachel Buccalo

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When I received my acceptance letter from Trip of a Lifetime, I expected a trip that would give me an insight on life in another part of the world. Although this turned out to be true, I gained so much more from the trip than I had anticipated. In a duration of only two weeks, I was able to explore famed sights in four states with friends I will never forget. By being plopped down in a random seat on our tour bus by a counselor, I gained a friend who would be by my side for the rest of the trip: a person who I was able to quickly bond with over our differing summer vacation end dates. I embraced every opportunity to see geological features in real life and not on a computer screen: whether this meant holding my breath during every steep incline that my group’s Pink Jeep endured or hiking the Grand Canyon in 113 degree weather. My group was able to cool down in the air conditioned bowling alley that we went to on the first night: an event that spurred conversations and built a sense of community. Nonetheless, we visited a countless number of places that each had their own impact on my distinctive experience. The term ‘Trip of a Lifetime’ has numerous connotations to those who were accepted into the program, but, to me, it can simply be described as an unforgettable trip that was able to pack life lessons, loving friends, and beautiful sights in a small suitcase and High Sierra backpack.

To begin the adventure, Egypt (another participator in the Trip of a Lifetime program) and I met in JFK, and soon after, waved goodbye to our smiling families. At that moment, we were propelled into a swarm of teenagers who would soon become students I’d laugh and cry with. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how anxious I was of what could happen between the group, whether there would be fighting or certain students disliking each other. What I came to realize was, since our group made up such a diverse community of people, you always had a chance to meet someone new. Because this was the case, I ended my tour with friends from numerous states, backgrounds and opinions. Simple conversations were created from giving a water bottle to another during the Grand Canyon hike, and laughs were shared when I was dunked under a waterfall during Bumper Boats. Even though activities like these can be reciprocated, memories with new friends are irreplaceable.

On the trip, my tour group and I stayed at 5 different hotels; a quantity that required my group and I to live out of our suitcases and adapt to our surroundings. Every few days I had to acknowledge the fact that I would be moving to another hotel soon, which required me to keep track of all of my belongings so that I could easily pack. My organizational and prioritizing skills grew tremendously from having to deal with this aspect of the trip. I was required to keep track of all of my belongings so that I could easily pack in a period that I carved out a certain amount of time for. By developing these skills, I also became more independent; a trait that definitely grew throughout the trip. From deciding where I should eat in Wet and Wild waterpark to how far I should hike in the Grand Canyon, I have made individualistic decisions that would usually be made by others. Even though staying in a hotel room with other students requires you to be interdependent, the freedom you receive outside of each hotel requires you to rely on your own intuition. I not only became an exceptional organizer and prioritizer, but I also realized how much more mature I’ve become.