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When I applied for Trip of a Lifetime, I never believed that I would end up going. I was used to a lot of the same– the same streets, the same people, the same routine– and it never crossed my mind that anything would change much. While my peers had the privilege of being able to afford things like summer camps and family vacations, I was held back by my background; my mother is a single parent, so expensive trips were out of our reach. Getting accepted was a huge game changer. I was given a chance to get past my limits and experience something new through travel. The idea of it all was both exciting and intimidating. I hadn’t spent more than a weekend away from home, and even then I was surrounded my friends or family. Despite this, I was eager to branch out. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I didn’t want to miss, and, after a few weeks of planning and learning more about the trip, I was on my way. When I got on the plane to California, I was ecstatic; I knew my summer would be unforgettable.

Excluding the first two days, we started each morning with community service. I was apart of a project called Unity Shoppe, where I got to help out at what essentially is a free department store that works in the Santa Barbara area. It helps low-income families by providing necessities, and it helps to prevent homelessness, provide disaster relief, and give the families a sense of dignity in spite of their circumstances. My friends and I looked forward most to meeting with the clients, and we considered it the best part of the day. We got to know them, and their stories, and I genuinely felt that I was making a difference in their lives. Being apart of a community service project was special to me, in that I got to know all parts of the city. I enjoyed seeing Santa Barbara and doing the activities together, but I also liked meeting the people who live there and learning how life is for the average person. It was an immersive and fulfilling experience.

My days in Santa Barbara showed me a whole other world. Outside of community service, I spent the afternoons doing a variety of different things I’d never done before. I remember trying surfing for the first time. On the east coast, surfing isn’t very popular, it was something that I’d only seen on T.V. or in movies. Actually doing it was incredible, and while I wasn’t particularly good at it, finally standing up on the board was so thrilling, I won’t ever forget it. A similar experience was on the first day in California, when we tried the ropes course. I’d always been afraid of heights, so swinging on zip lines and climbing 30 feet in the air were not things I’ve ever intended on doing. I was terrified, of course, but once I finally gave it a try, I had the time of my life. I’m still proud of myself for not letting anything hold me back. In fact, a lot of the trip helped me get over fears and worries I had in the past, which is something I’m extremely grateful for.

As far as making friends, it was surprisingly easy to talk to the other kids, and getting to know them has helped me to feel more comfortable in my own skin. It also helped me see how similar we were despite living completely different lifestyles. It has always worried me that my background would keep me from relating to my peers and living a normal life. But the friendships I made, and the experiences I had, helped me to see that I am not defined by my circumstances, and I will cherish this lesson for years to come.