Lexie is an alum of our high school Service program in Peru. For her college essay she reflected on her experience and how it reset her perspective and understanding of what true social connection means. Lexie is attending St. Lawrence University.

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Since you won’t be able to read about the moment that changed my life on Instagram, I’ll tell you about it here.

Before I went to Peru, I trusted that it would be good for me. I knew that I wanted to create a meaningful adventure for myself and spend time living in a different culture. I had thoroughly researched service travel opportunities. I also knew that the experience would be what I made it. It helps that I’m not a picky eater.

In the summer before my junior year, I spent four weeks in a Quechua village outside of Cuzco, traveling with a group of fifteen teenagers from all over the world through Putney Student Travel. In the village in Peru, there was no technology. We were always outside in the mountains. We stayed in a community house with six girls in one room. I always had a good night’s sleep in my sleeping bag on a mattress on the ground. I woke up really early each day, took a cold shower, and put on my working gloves. While there, I spoke Spanish, with full days of building for the community, playing with young children, and lots of physical activity. Our days were filled with joy.

I have photos of one of the most memorable experiences from the trip. We woke up hours before dawn to begin a twelve-hour hike. It was a rigorous hike for a beautiful reward: we could see everything from the top. I can remember this beautiful place because I took pictures on my phone. When we finally reached the top of the climb, my friends and I looked at each other with ear-to-ear grins. We looked across the valley to see patches of snow on mountains in the distance. Beneath the bright blue sky, we leaned against the rocks, taking in the views and sharing our pride in making it to the summit.

Most significant about the photos I took on that mountain is that I did not post them to social media. They were for my memories. I love being able to take pictures on my iPhone. I don’t love the pressure to upload my photographs to social media to present my life to other people. This feels very shallow to me.

The experience was a healing for me. I was energetic, vibrant, and happy for the entire month. As our group cooked together, lifted bricks together, and traveled on the bus together, we always had grins plastered on our faces as we talked about our different lives at home. We joked at the dinner table and made playful fun with each other while sitting around the campfire at night singing songs. I have never laughed harder as I did with my new group of friends each day.

I brought that happiness home with me, and also a new mindset about social connection. Social does not require social media. Like everyone I know, I used to get caught up in what I was putting online. This is what reality looks like for a teenager in 2020. Sometimes we do things, not for the pleasure of it, but for the chance to post about it. The time I spent in Peru changed me. I learned about experiencing my life with real connection, real joy, and real purpose.

>>To explore Putney Service programs, click here