Alumni Spotlight: Karsen Gradidge

Karsen Gradidge, age 17, travelled alone to Cusco Peru from November 23rd to December 9th of 2013. She is from British Columbia Canada and is currently attending her first semester of University, majoring in Psychology. Karsen has a passion for spoken word poetry, chai tea, reading good books, and practicing yoga.

What inspired you to volunteer with United Planet in Peru?

Machu Picchu

Karsen: Between finishing high-school and starting University I wanted to do something life changing. Looking to
have an experience that would be both challenging and enjoyable I settled on travelling.

I knew that I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country, and when I found United Planets volunteer trips I never looked back. Having previously looked into a few other volunteer organizations that required travelers to be over 19 I was relieved to finally find an organization that would work with an underage volunteer travelling on their own.

I found inspiration in many forms. Wanting to kick-start my life as a free thinking, free spirited and independent individual was the most prominent. My life was and is very privileged and although I have always felt blessed and appreciative of my opportunities.

I was ready to meet reality and see how the rest of the world lives day to day life. I was inspired to travel to Peru by a strong internal need for creating change and self-discovery.

What was the best moment of trip?

Karsen atop Wayna Picchu

Karsen: One of the many moments I will never forget took place when I was standing on the top of Wayna Picchu. I had traveled, by bus and train, from Cusco to the tiny town of Aquas Calientes. My alarm went off at 5 am the next Day and I headed by bus up Machu Picchu. I was the first person through the control gate to hike the very well-known Wayna Picchu Mountain.

The climb was both mentally and physically challenging for me, and when I reached the top I sat down to rest. Surrounded by the ancient Incan ruins I was hit with the realization that the whole experience was real, and that I had traveled, alone, to another continent.

For the first time during my trip I took a moment to be proud of myself. I will never forget how it felt to know that my dream of traveling had finally become my reality.

If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?

Karsen: Honestly the only thing I would change about my trip was the length of time. I stayed for 2 weeks but could easily have stayed for 5. I loved every minute of it and was sad to come home. Even now I wish I could go back.

One other thing I would do differently was packing. I had packed mostly basic, plain clothing for wearing at the volunteer project. I wish I had brought a few more nice things for dinners and been able to dress up a little more.

Tell us about one person you met on the trip.

A four-year-old named Aricili changed my life

Karsen: The people who had the most impact on my life where the children at my project. I especially connected with a little girl named Aricili, who was 4. We had so much fun playing together and I will never forget the lessons I learned from her.

She was born into the kind of poverty that, prior to my Quest, I could barely imagine. The entirety of the two weeks I volunteered she never changed her outfit or shoes, both of which were falling apart.

I am inspired everyday by the positivity of that little girl. She was full of laughter and light, and she changed my life.

What advice do you have for someone considering this program?

Karsen: Be prepared for communication challenges. I was informed that my host family did not have Wifi, but I
had not realized how difficult it was going to be to communicate with my parents. Being used to picking up my phone and sending a message whenever I wanted, I found myself feeling extremely isolated during the first few days of my trip.

Another thing was culture shock. I was fully prepared for the culture shock upon arrival in Peru, but what I had not considered was experiencing the opposite on my return home. Upon arrival home in Canada I experienced just as much upheaval and confusion as I did
in Peru.

I found myself very out of it for two whole days. I actually started boiling drinking water before I remembered that I could drink the water from the tap. I was not prepared to return to a home country that felt so foreign.