I had just finished my freshman year in college. I had heard a presentation from a very attractive Australian man about some program that had multiple location options and could "change my life." Usually I didn't fall for this kind of presentation, as I knew it was usually a scam to get some money out of adventuresome and wander-lusted college students. For whatever reason, though, this one latched onto me, and I thought about it for weeks after I had listened to the mesmerizing accent of the Australian man.
Once I finally agreed with my gut feeling and signed up to go, the program made it so easy for me to become familiar with fundraising resources and ways to prepare for my trip. I only had to pay a fraction of the total cost out of my own pocket, which was basically the best news I could have given myself as a college kid. May eleventh grew closer and closer, and I became more and more excited.
I was part of the first group of that summer to attend the Dominican Republic trip. I also attended the week-long immersion program that was an option to add on; and I'm so glad I did, as I learned more Spanish language and culture in that one week than I did for four years in elementary school. I became so close with my trip-mates, and when the next week rolled around that welcomed in another nine students to join us on the volunteer and adventure portion, it wasn't long before we all became a family. I know that sounds cliche, but really if you think about it, there's a certain type of person who signs up for these trips. We are vastly different in appearance and personality and mannerisms, but we all have a good heart, grounded by good feet. It's easy to become a family with such good people.
The next four weeks were the most amazing weeks of my life: not amazing in that it was awesome and stellar and butterflies and rainbows all the time, but amazing in that I was amazed at what I experienced. I helped children learn about health and fitness (en espanol!), competing in push-up contests. I spent long days bent in half, pouring and smoothing cement floors into homes that were barely the size of a typical American bedroom. I helped children as young as eight and nine understand the importance of safe sex - something that is extremely dangerous in their lifestyle. I laughed and cried with families who were more grateful for cement than anything else in the world. I gave kids piggy-backs, shoulder-rides, high-fives, and encouragement. I sat in the ranch cafeteria, listening to the sound of the rain on the over-sized palm leaves. I admired the greenery. I smelled the soil and humid air. Dominican coffee each morning was the most amazing taste I could ever imagine. I was living in the poorest condition I had ever experienced, and I was amazed at how absolutely satisfied I was with my life.
Just as I was loving the serenity of the community, it was time for the two-week adventure tour. As hesitant (and truly teary-eyed) as I was to leave the volunteer ranch, I couldn't wait to adventure and explore the wonders of the Dominican.
I hadn't prepared myself quite enough.
We went from the poorest of poor, to the richest of rich. We stayed in luxury hotels, suites, even places with full-sized kitchens (with which we took advantage and made a family dinner, multiple nights). We went horseback riding to waterfalls, repelling into caves and spelunking, zip-lining into freshwater lakes, kayaking in pretty vigorous island waves, hiking on the sides of cliffhangers, snorkeling in the clearest water I've ever seen. We stayed in hotels with water slides, we stayed in cabins that could only be reached via a truck ride across a river, we stayed in places that had flowers spread throughout the room for a more luxurious and genuine scent. We went out to dinner, we visited beaches, we made jewelry out of exclusive Dominican rock, we went dancing.
I was in awe. I was amazed. I was also upset with myself for not bringing a stronger sunscreen.
There were bumps in the trip, I'm sure. Especially considering we were the first trip of the year, there were some leadership issues we encountered. Looking back, though, I wouldn't take it any other way - because we came so much closer together as a group to take on that leadership role as a whole and make the trip something unforgettable.
And, that's what it continues to be. Unforgettable. I made a 3 ft by 2 ft collage of pictures, tickets, maps, and our bus bingo card that is still hanging on my wall. I think of inside jokes that were made on this trip. I still chat with a majority of the "family", and I visit the ones who live close by (relatively). I think of the lessons we learned while helping these families who were so grateful for everything we did. I think of the smiles on the children's faces when we would challenge them to a sit-up contest. I think of the support that was shouted to any of us who struggled with heights, speed, or deep water.
Three years have come and gone since my trip, and the memories that were made still travel with me every day.
Would I go again? Yes.
Would I go somewhere else to create more memories? Absolutely.
Will I forever find adventure in what I do, rooted from the experiences of this trip? Forever and ever, yes.