Summer Camp with Community Service Dominica

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Join in on Summer Fun Camp, the camp that the students on our summer community service program in Dominica have set up for local Dominican children. Check out some photos from camp activities and learn a bit about Dominican cuisine as well!

Summer Fun Camp has been rolling along, with our group experiencing increased confidence and success. More importantly, they’ve become closer with the kids. With each new activity and game, a bond is strengthened, and a robust web of connections expands. The camp hasn’t been without its share of frustrations, but because of the caring relationships that have developed, with a startling intimacy in such a short period, the highlights will reign in our memories.

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Our afternoons this week have been filled with (sometimes literal) tastes of Dominican culture, thanks to the unceasing generosity of our hosts. On Tuesday, we returned to Chaudiere Pool; but this time we were treated to delicious crayfish and crab (freshly caught with spears), river snails, and roasted plantains. The broth with the sea (well, river) food in it was glorious. After dinner that night, we played games and ate snacks with a local family. On Wednesday afternoon, we learned Creole songs and Dominican dances, and then took a lengthy scenic drive up the mountains along the Atlantic coast, stopping at boiling cold springs. The environment has been nothing short of sublime.

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But, of course, it’s the people we’ll miss the most. Our final full day tomorrow, when we have to say goodbye to everyone we’ve come to love, is sure to be bittersweet.

— Lou and Kelsey

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8 Steps to Building a House in Vietnam

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Build a house alongside students on our summer community service program in Vietnam by reading this excerpt from their blog. These 8 photos take you step-by-step through the process of building a “compassion house”, of which our group builds three each summer. 

Over the past three weeks, we’ve learned exactly how the locals build a home using only their hands, small tools, and simple materials such as sand, bricks, and cement. With their expertise guiding us, we’ve been able to contribute our labor to be a genuine part of this house-building process. We’ve tried to snap photos of each step along the way — below we present a series of panoramic photos of Site One, one of the three construction sites where the students have been working.

Community Service Site Vietnam

1. In the first few days, after we demolished the existing home, we used the broken pieces of rubble to fill the foundation.

Next, we covered the rubble with sand to fill and level the foundation.

2. Next, we covered the rubble with sand to fill and level the foundation.

Once the foundation was full and the cement base was set, we began to lay bricks.

3. Once the foundation was full and the cement base was set, we began to lay bricks.

The house grew taller as we moved from the ground onto scaffolding to continue laying bricks.

4. The house grew taller as we moved from the ground onto scaffolding to continue laying bricks.

Next step was adding the roof — this was done by the experienced local workers.

5. Next step was adding the roof — this was done by the experienced local workers.

With the brick-laying complete and the roof in place, we could begin to cover the brick walls with a smooth layer of cement. In this photo you can see where the upper part of the front walls have been plastered.

6. With the brick-laying complete and the roof in place, we could begin to cover the brick walls with a smooth layer of cement. In this photo you can see where the upper part of the front walls have been plastered.

Eventually, all the interior walls were plastered and received a layer of primer to prep them for some color.

7. Eventually, all the interior walls were plastered and received a layer of primer to prep them for some color.

Last step was the paint — this family chose a mint green!

8. Last step was the paint — this family chose a mint green!

A few more remaining touches will be added after we depart: plaster and paint on the side walls, as well as some large tiles for the floor of the house. The local workers should be able to complete most of this work over the next few days, and the family of five will be ready to move in next week! We visited all three sites yesterday to present each family with a housewarming gift and to bid farewell to the hospitable locals who have kindly fed us lunch each day in their homes. Many of the children who live nearby were also present to say goodbye and have one last informal language exchange with the Putney students! In the evening, a final ceremony with the local government youth union included speeches, some gifts as tokens of their appreciation for the Putney students, and some fun song and dance! Today we are headed north (via Hoi An for lunch and Da Nang for a flight), arriving in Hanoi late this evening. Hard to believe that we will be flying home in just five days!

Until soon,

Community Service Vietnam leaders Jenn and Cam

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Travels in South Bohemia

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Explore Bohemia alongside students on our high school summer writing program in Prague through this excerpt from their summer blog. The group is currently spending some time in the countryside with epic fantasy writer Brian Staveley (featured here in a previous blog post). 

The Writing in Prague students arrived by bus to Schlosshotel Zdíkov, the restored 14th-century hunting estate we are lucky enough to call home for a few days while we explore South Bohemia. After we arrived, our invited guest writer Brian Staveley led the group in an exercise that focused on the origins of modern English and the informed choices we make when selecting words for our writing.

high school students in summer writing workshop

Brian Staveley leads our group in an exercise in the garden of our hotel in Zdíkov. (Photo: Bridget L.)

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Madeline, Margo, Rachel, and Anna. (Photo: Bridget L.)

Author Brian Staveley

Brian Staveley leads our group in an exercise in the garden of our hotel in Zdíkov. (Photo: Bridget L.)

student writing on summer program abroad

Alex writes intensely. (Photo: Bridget L.)

High School student reading her writing

Rachel shares some work with the group. (Photo: Bridget L.)

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Caroline and Daly at Brian’s talk. (Photo: Bridget L.)

After a delicious lunch at the hotel (including some cake made from locally gathered wild blueberries!), we set out for some adventure. Most of the group headed to Kemp Rohanov, a lovely swimming hole well patronized by locals, to take a dip and do some reading and writing.

A few of us started a hike from the village of Javorník that eventually took us to meet up with the group at Rohanov. We trekked up to an observation tower with a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, walked through the forest, and met some very kind people along the way.

students hiking in south bohemia

Olivia and Madeline hiking in South Bohemia. (Photo: Bridget L.)

hiking Javornik Mountain

Madeline, Olivia, Brian, and Annie hanging out at Javorník Mountain. (Photo: Bridget L.)

We returned to our residence for a fun, medieval-themed “Knight’s Feast,” and then headed off to bed, tired but happy after a full day.

More to come!

— Annie, Matt, and Henk

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Summer Begins: Community Service Costa Rica

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Summer has officially begun! Several of our groups have touched down in their program destinations, including our first Costa Rica community service program. Check out this excerpt from their first blog post, and get excited for a summer of wonderful stories from around the world.

The chicos have arrived in Costa Rica! After a long day of travel we headed to the beach, where we spent two nights getting to know each other, playing on the beach, taking salsa lessons, and watching Costa Rica make history in the World Cup! Taking the scenic route, we made our way to our village where we were greeted enthusiastically by the smiling faces of our new neighbors. We had a Bienvenida (Welcomingparty at the school where we will be working on our main project, which included introductions by the kids to the community, food, drinks, and the thunderous cracking of a piñata that sent kids scrambling for sweets.

Community Service Work in Costa Rica

The local Boy and Girl Scout groups have been helping us work on our projects at the school.

During our first few days in the village we turned our simple living space into a home, picked fresh mangoes from the trees behind our house, scrimmaged some ticos in a soccer game, and began our construction of a fence and garden for the local school. The group has already formed many friendships with the plethora of kids who stop by our house on a daily basis and has made significant progress on our projects in just a few short days.

Until next time, Pura Vida!

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Teen Travel Advice from Summer Program Alumni

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Each year, we ask alumni of our middle school and high school summer travel programs to offer some words of advice for future Putney Student Travel students. What would you tell high schoolers who are about to embark on their first teen summer program abroad? Here are some of our favorite responses from the past year. Check out last year’s post for even more wise words!

High School Volunteer on Community Service Program in Vietnam

Alanna Jamner, Community Service Vietnam and Global Awareness in Action Rwanda.

“For starters, GO!! Choose a location and a project that excites you, and get ready to expand your world! My second piece of advice is to be adventurous and never say no to an opportunity that arises. Some of my most memorable experiences have occurred when I took a chance, so while you are away do not be lame- live a little! Finally, talk to locals. Find a way to make a connection to someone and to learn about them. Who knows, you could meet a 10-year-old girl who ends up changing your life!”

- Alanna Jamner, Community Service Vietnam and Global Awareness in Action Cambodia

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Evan has led programs in Costa Rica and Peru.

“Start exploring early and often.  You’re already on the right track if you’re planning to join a Putney summer program.  Push yourself to get out of that comfort zone on your trip.  You’ll be surprised by what you find out about yourself and the people around you.”

-Evan Ross-Miller, Community Service Costa Rica and Community Service Peru veteran leader

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Katherine Corell, Community Service Ecuador.

“You have to be open, which is one of the hardest things to be. You have to be open to meeting new people, trying new things, and stepping out of your comfort zone. Just say yes – say yes to trying the strange food your host family offers you, say yes to taking a long hike even though you may be exhausted from a day of work, and say yes to any opportunity offered to you because it’s in these moments that you choose to say yes and step out of your comfort zone that you get to have those life-changing moments that you hear people talk about. Take a chance and just go for it. I know it sounds cliché and you’re thinking that this program is just something fun to do during the summer and a good thing to write about for a college essay, because this time last year I was thinking the same thing. But if you let it be, this program can be so much more.  This is your chance to do something that matters and you can make as much or as little out of this opportunity as you want, and I desperately want y’all to make the most – but you have to be willing to go for it.”

-Katherine Correll, Community Service Ecuador

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Hannah Nohstadt, Community Service Peru.

“⁃ Before you choose a program, make sure you are choosing it for the right reasons! When and if you choose to go on a community service trip, realize that it is hard work and you need to be ready for action from day one to the final day!
 Make sure to pack everything Putney has given you for the packing list! It’s there for a reason!
⁃ Make sure to start off right with group! Don’t be afraid to be yourself and start creating a close bond with the other students as soon as you see them!
⁃ Always do what you can do for others.  Be friendly.  Be generous. Be the best YOU!”

-Hannah Nohstadt, Community Service Peru

travel writing programs for teens

Writing instructor and renowned travel writer Alden Jones, Pre-College and Community Service veteran leader.

“For students preparing for their first travel experience abroad, you probably know what my primary advice will be: Get dirty; be uncomfortable; put yourself out there! Always remember that you will leave an impression about your culture wherever you go, so be thoughtful about that. And beware, because once you travel abroad in a meaningful way, wanderlust has a way of working its way into your bones…you may never be able to stop.”

-Alden Jones, Pre-College Summer Program Writing Instructor

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Community Service Project: Water Access in Ecuador

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high school volunteer in ecuador south america

Katherine and Tupac in Chilcapamba, Ecuador.

We recently caught up with Katherine Correll, an alumna of our summer community service program in Ecuador, to talk about the non-profit she founded to bring clean, potable water to the community of Chilcapamba, Ecuador. Katherine noticed a pressing need for access to water in her community service village during her summer with Putney, and founded Pump It Up upon her return to the United States. Pump It Up aims to install solar-powered water pumps in communities for whom water access is difficult. We’re thrilled to report that enough funds have been raised to install the first pump in Chilcapamba this summer, with the help of this summer’s Putney students! A current senior at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta, Georgia, Katherine will continue her work and her studies as an Engineering student with a focus on International Relations and Spanish at Georgia Tech in the fall. Learn more about her experience in Ecuador and her goal of bringing clean water to rural communities.

Click here to support Pump It Up.

Can you tell us a little bit about your time in Ecuador? What moments or experience stuck with you the most?

This is actually the hardest question you could ask me. Every time someone asks me about my trip I go on a 20 minute rant about it because it honestly was the best experience of my life. It’s a cliché – I met the most amazing people, saw the most amazing things, and had the most amazing experiences of my life. My group became my best friends and I still talk to them every day. My leaders became my role models and they are still there for me whenever I need them. My host village became my second home and I know that I can return there whenever and that they will embrace me with open arms. And my host family became part of my real family. I lived with a group of 12 other high schoolers and 2 leaders in a small village for a month, and in some weird way we became our own dysfunctional family and Chilcapamba is our home.

When we were working in the village one day, the retaining wall keeping the road from overflowing into the water supply broke. All of the dirt and pebbles that made up the road went pouring down, but we didn’t get discouraged. As a group we came back after lunch and started assembly lines, took turns shoveling, and worked harder and longer than we ever had to in order to reconstruct the wall before we were done for the day. As a group of thirteen students who had never met before, we came together to make a difference larger than I could have ever imagined.

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Katherine and with her Community Service Ecuador group

What have you been up to since last summer? Can you summarize for us your ongoing project with Pump It Up and Chilcapamba?

Since last summer, I’ve founded a nonprofit called Pump It Up. I’m in a three year program at my school, that you apply to as a sophomore called The Program for Global Citizenship. It’s a discussion-based class on global and local issues, and as a requirement for it you have to travel during the summer through student travel organizations like Putney. As a senior, you are given the challenge of creating an organization with the goal of having a lasting impact on an injustice in the world. So I founded Pump It Up – a nonprofit organization focused on bringing clean water to rural villages where water is not easily available, so that villagers will not have to face the decision of either having dirty water or walking hours to get clean water. I’ve raised enough money to install a solar powered pump in Chilcapamba that will pump water from the spring into the village. The 2014 Community Service program in Chilcapamba is going to install the pump this summer as one of their primary community service projects.

How has it felt to transition from a Putney student to a coordinator for an independent project in your village? How has your Putney experience informed your current project?

My Putney experience really drove my project. What I saw and experienced in Ecuador is what I based my whole project on. You go into these trips expecting a fun summer experience, but that’s it. You don’t expect to meet all of these amazing people from all over the United States and the world who will be your best friends forever and see all of these amazing things that will impact you. But to be able to have all that and continue these relationships is beyond amazing. The knowledge that I really am working to solve a problem for people I care about, gave me the confidence to work through all the technical and other problems we had to address to make the project work.

community service sites in ecuador

The view from Chilcapamba.

Do you think you’ll return to Chilcapamba?

Although I won’t be headed back to Chilcapamba this summer, it feels great to know that the Putney team and my former trip leader, Jake Elliot, will handle the installation for the water pump and tanks. One day, I know I will go back to Chilcapamba. I can’t wait to see my host brother, Tupak, again, along with all of my friends from the village. After the installation of the pump this summer, I can’t wait to return and see the impact the pump has had on the village. All of the locals are so grateful for everything the Putney groups have done for them, and after living in their community for so long you truly are a part of them. In some weird way, they’re your family and you never really leave family.

What plans do you have for the summer and beyond? Do you see yourself continuing with projects such as this one?

This summer Pump It Up is installing the first pump in Chilcapamba with the help of Putney. Next year I will be starting college at Georgia Tech to study engineering and international relations, with a minor in Spanish. My experience in Chilcapamba and my project has really guided my decision as to what to study in college, and I definitely plan to take Pump It Up with me. I think that this project has so much potential to make a difference and I can’t wait to grow this organization into other villages.

What sort of advice do you have for students preparing for their first program?

I know you’ve heard it before because I’ve heard it more times than I want but you have to be open, which is one of the hardest things to be. You have to be open to meeting new people, trying new things, and stepping out of your comfort zone. Just say yes – say yes to trying the strange food your host family offers you, say yes to taking a long hike even though you may be exhausted from a day of work, and say yes to any opportunity offered to you because it’s in these moments that you choose to say yes and step out of your comfort zone that you get to have those life-changing moments that you hear people talk about. Take a chance and just go for it. I know it sounds cliché and you’re thinking that this program is just something fun to do during the summer and a good thing to write about for a college essay, because this time last year I was thinking the same thing. But if you let it be, this program can be so much more.  This is your chance to do something that matters and you can make as much or as little out of this opportunity as you want, and I desperately want y’all to make the most – but you have to be willing to go for it.

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In Memoriam

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It is with deep regret that we announce the death of George Shumlin, one of Putney’s Co-Founders and father of the current Co-Directors.  Through his life’s work at Putney Student Travel, George changed many lives and facilitated tremendous international understanding. He will be missed.  George’s obituary follows:

George Shumlin

George Shumlin

George Shumlin died April 10th at his home after a short illness, surrounded by his wife and children who loved him.

Born in May, 1925, in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Elliott and Betty Shumlin, he graduated from Plainfield High School in 1942. His college education was interrupted by World War II in which, after five months’ training at the Newport, Rhode Island, naval training station, he served for three years as quartermaster and as senior petty-officer of the Ship’s Control Division of a U.S. navy amphibious landing ship, the LST 1011. The 1011 participated in landings and in re-supply operations in both the European and the Pacific theaters of war. George was awarded the European and the Asiatic-Pacific service ribbons with battle stars.

George received a B.A. in English and Theater from Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio. He attended graduate school in Theater Arts at the University of Iowa and later earned a Master’s Degree in Education at the Putney, Vermont, Graduate School of Teacher Education (now known as Antioch New England). He served as a trustee and as chairman pro-temp of the board of trustees of The Graduate School, and he also worked on the school’s faculty as the Supervisor of Apprentice Teaching.

George worked as an actor, a stage-manager, and a director in regional theaters and summer theaters, as well as on Broadway and on network television. Later, he taught at the Putney School and at the Verde Valley School in Arizona.

In 1952, George married Kitty A. Prins of The Hague, Holland. The Shumlins settled in Westminster West, Vermont, in 1955. Together, they founded Putney Student Travel, an international, educational experience for high-school students, of which George was president for thirty-three years. He was co-founder of The Grammar School in Putney and served for eight years on its board of trustees, the first six years as treasurer. He was one of many co-founders of The Vermont Civil Liberties Union.

George loved hiking, cross-country skiing and working in the Vermont woods, maintaining the family woodlot for sustainable production and recreation. He especially enjoyed his family and he took great pride in their achievements.

George Shumlin is survived by Kitty, his wife of 62 years, and by his daughter Kate Shumlin of South Burlington and his two sons Jeffrey Shumlin of Westminster West and Peter Shumlin of East Montpelier. He is survived also by five grandchildren, Kyle Arnold, Olivia, Becca, Julia and Ben Shumlin, by a great-grandson, George Arnold, and by the mothers of his grandchildren and great-grandchild.

A celebration of George’s life will be held at a later date.

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Karla’s College Essay, Language Learning China

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Karla with local friends in China.

Karla with local friends in China.

Karla Rondon, of Littleton, Colorado, recently shared this college essay with us on her experience navigating culinary delicacies as a student on our high school summer language program in China. We loved reading this essay, which includes the valiant consumption of skewered scorpion, and wish Karla, a senior at Colorado Academy, all the best in college!

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For most of my life, I devoted myself to eating strictly the foods I knew I enjoyed, which were limited to mostly pastas and fruits, with some reliable vegetables like peas and corn thrown in. Mac and cheese was a daily staple; any attempt on my parent’s part to “broaden my horizons,” as my mom put it, would result in a screaming fit and a hunger strike. Even universal favorites like quesadillas and potstickers were out of the question due to their inherent foreignness.Then I went to China, and not only did my taste in food change, but so did my attitude towards food and, I think, new experiences.

As part of our guide’s determination to expose us to as many facets of everyday Chinese life as possible, we went to the Donghuamen night market,or as we called it, “the weird food place”. A food competition ensued. My disgust at the food I saw-bugs, snakes, unidentifiable organs-was overpowered by my desire for pride. Here was a competition that involved simply putting an object in my mouth and swallowing, which was something I did multiple times every day. So, when our guide asked how many out of my group of ten would be participating, I raised my hand and called out “wo!” along with four other kids.

I stood sweating in the stifling heat, waiting for the guide, Ben, to come back with the mystery food, teasing those who had abstained from the competition. The guide returned with five skewers of fried scorpion, a sixth empty skewer in his hand as he crunched on the scorpion in his mouth. My heart was pumping so hard I couldn’t stand still; Ben handed me a skewer and took out his camera. I counted to three and closed my eyes, just like I did before jumping off a diving board or standing up to make a speech. Then I popped the entire creature in my mouth and chomped. I won’t say I loved the taste; it was fishy, and maybe a little buttery. But I swallowed the scorpion and grinned at the camera, proud and shaking with adrenaline.
I didn’t go back for a second serving, and I don’t eat scorpions regularly now. But throughout the rest of that trip, I ate every strange food we came across: goat liver, chicken feet, duck neck, fish eyeballs. And now, I’ll eat anything that’s served to me here at home. I’ve discovered tons of new, delicious foods, and I’ve found that I’m a lot braver than I thought I was. That little scorpion gave me the opportunity to change my perception of myself and other cultures; without it, I might still be eating mac and cheese for all my meals.

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Lucy’s College Essay – Community Service Peru

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Lucy at Machu Picchu, Peru.

Lucy at Machu Picchu, Peru.

Lucy Caine recently shared with us this college essay on kinship and service. A senior at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, California, Lucy spent last summer with us on our high school community service program in Peru. Congratulations to Lucy, and many thanks for sharing these inspiring words with us!

On June 23rd, 2013 I embarked on a life-changing trip to Peru with fourteen other high school students from all over the world. This trip consisted of traveling around the cities of Lima, Cusco, Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and intense community service projects in the small, unmapped, and undeveloped community of Piscacucho. This whirlwind of an experience taught me immeasurable lessons about contrasting values of self-confidence and selflessness.

In Peru, my group members did not wear makeup, dress in clothes we normally would, take showers very often, or glamorize our selves in any way over the course of a month. In more developed countries, physical appearance and desirable personalities mask the fact that everyone is a person entitled to respect. The people of Piscacucho appreciated our presence without a second thought about how we looked, what we were wearing, whether we smelled or not, or the fact that my hair had been in the same, un-washed braid for an unbelievable amount of time. The ruggedness and lack of resources in Peru actually made me a more confident and self-assured person. This experience guided me to focus on intangible things in life such as love and justice among others and myself.

Traveling to Peru taught me how to balance being a confident individual while simultaneously putting others above myself. Fr. Greg Boyle S.J. says in his book, Tattoos on The Heart, “Kinship– not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that.” This is foundational in the Jesuit community, and an ideal I valued throughout my experiences in Peru. I reached a point on my trip where kinship completely overpowered my worries of appearance or other vanities. I did not care about how many hours of community service I would receive at the end of the trip or people’s thoughts while they scroll through pictures from my trip on Facebook. I cared about working, spending time with, and learning to love all the incredible friends from my group and the indigenous Peruvian people we met along the way. This trip taught me how to be self-less, like Jesus and Saint Ignatius, through kinship. Piscacucho, a remote and poor village, reinforced everything my Jesuit education has been trying to teach me throughout high school. In Peru, I finally understood what it means to be “a person with others” through building relationships with the local families and my group members.

I encountered mostly Spanish and Quechua speakers in Peru. At first it was difficult to develop relationships due to my inability to fluidly converse with Peruvian natives. Grappling with the uncomfortable language barrier made me remember my community service project at a therapeutic horseback riding facility. Here, the riders I worked with were severely mentally and physically disabled, making it difficult to communicate with them. Both experiences made me realize that even though language is not universal, a smile and laughter is.

I would have never thought that people who have physically so little, could enable me to gain to much emotionally, spiritually and mentally. My time in Peru immersed me in a culture that I was initially uncomfortable with but eventually it opened my eyes to my capabilities as a small part of this big world. The challenges I faced along the way encouraged me to be an individual who gives back to the world by being a person genuinely with and for others.

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Emily’s College Essay, Community Service Dominica

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Emily with local friends in Dominica.

Emily with local friends in Dominica.

Emily Perlman of Sands Point, NY, wrote one of her college essays on her experience  on our summer community service program in Dominica. Her essay describes stepping outside of her comfort zone, adjusting her perspective, and making connections with the community through volunteering. Emily will be graduating from Paul D. Schreiber High School this spring and attending Syracuse University in the fall. Congratulations, Emily!

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Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Nervous and excited, I was ready to embark on my adventure. Although the thought of being anywhere but Camp Starlight over the summer was incomprehensible to me, I realized that I cannot stay in my protective bubble forever.  It was time to move on from the comfortable and familiar surroundings of my home away from home.

I was headed to “the Nature Island,” Dominica, to participate in a student work program. The irony of me choosing to spend three weeks on the Nature Island is that I am terrified of the smallest, miniscule insects. I was not sure what to expect from this trip.

I arrived at the airport at 4:00 AM with my backpack and sleeping pad in tow. There were sixteen unfamiliar faces looking at me as I struggled with my gear through the airport. Eleven hours and many conversations later, I arrived on the most beautiful green island with sixteen new friends.

When we got to the local community center, which would be our home for the next three weeks, there was a building full of smiling children waiting anxiously to meet the newest members of the community. Right away, I realized that this experience was going to dramatically change my perspective, and begin to poke holes in my protective bubble.

On day one, before commencing our various work projects, our group hiked to a magnificent waterfall. This was my first big hike and I did not particularly enjoy it. It was muddy, tiring, and filled with the miniscule insects of which I was not fond. Our accommodations were often without running water and we had limited personal space.  It was a lot to get used to at first, but the evolving me realized that these things were not important in this environment. With the support of my peers and new friends from the village, I became more self-sufficient and pushed myself into uncharted territory.

Each day presented me with exciting experiences and new directions. By day six, I would actually call myself adventurous. In the morning, I helped run a summer camp for the community children and in the afternoon, with wheelbarrow in hand, I cleaned up the trash on the beach to prepare for the weekend festival. By the end of the day, I was outside by the spigot, happily taking a cold shower because our indoor water had been turned off.  I understood now what I could expect from this trip.

Over the next two weeks, in spite of my initial uncertainty, I easily was coming out of my bubble. In addition to running the camp, I found myself painting houses, digging ditches, mixing cement and gardening.  My inhibitions now gone, I danced on the beach, tried local foods and embraced a new culture and its people. I adopted puppies, befriended donkeys and goats, climbed trees, swung from vines, snorkeled, bathed in a river, showered in a waterfall and literally jumped off a cliff. I even hiked fourteen miles to a boiling lake, while taking in the most breathtaking scenery.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience such a unique and stimulating environment.  Spending time in a place so vastly different from my home allowed me to appreciate both what I have and what incredible gifts exist throughout the extremely diverse world in which we live.    Furthermore, this incredible destination offered me the opportunity to immerse myself in Dominican culture, and fully emerge from my old safe bubble.   This trip far exceeded my expectations.

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