My personal travel experience can not be categorized as a vacation and was significantly more purposeful than just a trip of sight-seeing to enjoy the scenery. My travel experience was intertwined with personal lives, hundreds of years of traditions, and the understanding of other cultures. It was a journey of “peace through understanding” (in the words of Dwight Eisenhower) that took me across the Pacific to experience the exotic countries of Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. I became a Student Ambassador as part of a People to People program created by President Eisenhower that strives to create peace through our world by sending young scholars to understand the cultures of others. While traveling I learned a lot about myself and the world around me while overcoming many challenges.
As I discovered and explored these lands, I became more than a tourist. We traveled to a Fijian school where the water extruded as the color brown and the children walked through the mud with bare calloused feet. In contrast, we were later welcomed into an Australia Catholic school where the children wore prestige uniforms and prayed every morning in their elegant on campus church. These experiences were unusual from my own world back home but opened my mind to all the differences and all the similarities we are as students.
Other highlights included congregating with officials to discuss the similarities and differences in governments. We also were involved in cultural activities like staying the night in a Marae which is an authentic Maori meeting house. We explored this culture by taking part in their traditional meals, songs, and dances. In Fiji, we traveled to an authentic rural village by longboat where the women made their own clothing and the luxuries of running water and electricity were absent. Both these experiences were one of a kind and not open to the public making it more rewarding and extraordinary.
One of the most unique experiences as a Student Ambassador was staying with a home-stay family in New Zealand and experiencing their food, language, and culture. Nervously I joined this family, unsure of the possibilities ahead of me. However, they took me in warm-heartedly showing me their community and daily life like relaxing at a natural hot springs pool. It amazed me how much of their life was similar to mine as we chatted over “Friends” and “The Simpsons”, but in retrospect remembering \ how different we were as we ate spaghetti on toast.
The hardest challenge I faced included being placed alone into a group of 32 other unfamiliar teenagers and making friendships within a few short hours before our departure. I had no friends, family, or even acquaintances as I adventured into this journey. Making friends was a harsh test to my usual shy and introverted nature. What appeared as a punishment at first became a blessing as I learned to abandon my insecurities and connect with these individuals that became my temporary family. By the end, we were a family as we retold inside jokes and revealed our personal lives back home. This new characteristic I achieved has become very handy as I enter my senior year, meeting new people and becoming more outgoing. Overall I have learned how much America plays an important role in other countries and how much they are influenced by us. I also realize that throughout this world we are all alike, only differing with our individual traditions and lifestyles and that is a truth that I will cherish forever.
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