How Teen Travel Became the Best Experience of My Life
At the age of 13 years old I decided it would be a great idea to embark on a 3-week journey to Fiji for an organized, teen community service trip. I was abnormally calm considering I was about to travel to a foreign country alone for nearly a month. My parents nervously dropped me off at JFK, and as I was checking into the flight, asked me one more time, “are you sure you want to do this?” I turned around, all of the sudden filled with nerves, and unsteadily said “absolutely!” I walked away from my parents and slipped on my trendy Rustic Pathways t-shirt and said goodbye to NY. I landed in LAX, which is easily the most confusing airport EVER. After speaking with multiple airport officials, getting on three different, wrong shuttles, checking how much tickets were back to JFK (amidst a nervous breakdown), and traveling to each wing of the airport, a man approached me, in the same dashing Rustic Pathways t-shirt, and asked if I was going to Fiji. Drenched in nervous sweat, I reached out and hugged him thanking him for finding me, considering I had been wandering the airport for two hours completely lost. He was definitely not happy about the sweaty hug but assured me that I had finally found the right place and led me to my flight leader.
After just moments of sitting at the gate waiting to board our flight, I instantly bonded with the other people on my trip, it was in this moment that I knew I made the right decision. After about 16+ very long hours on the plane, we were warmly welcomed into Fiji by a group of people playing music at the gate, greeting each of us as we stepped off. I immediately realized that I had never experienced such warmth from strangers, they were so happy to have us and so happy to welcome us into their country, coming from NY you can understand why the niceness surprised me. Little did I know that the warmth and kindness experienced at the airport would just be the beginning of my wonderful experience with the Fijian people. Our base camp was run by locals who very literally took us in as their children, they cooked every meal for us, spent free time with us, and took care of anyone struggling with homesickness.
As someone who had never been to a traditional sleepaway camp, sleeping in a hut with about 10 other girls was so much more difficult than I imagined. However, I believe that this trip was extremely necessary and beneficial for me in ways that I didn’t think could hold true.
I was the baby of the trip, the youngest by two years, which I thought, would make everyone treat me like a child, and limit this amazing growing experience everyone told me I would have while away. However, I have to say that being the youngest just made me grow that much more, no one treated me like I was 13, which allowed for me to mature to their level. While the age difference surprisingly proved to be a learning experience, I think my indulgence into a culture different from one that I had grown up in, truly allowed for me to grow and thrive on this trip.
I have to say one part of my trip in particular sticks out as the moment where I truly became comfortable with every member of my trip and the Fijian people. We were working in a village near Nandu, Fiji constructing a plumbing and sanitation system for the people living in the area. We had successfully dug a hole with pipes that led from the bathroom into this output area. The hole had unexpectedly flooded with water that needed to be removed before we closed the hole. Everyone volunteered me to sit in the hole and scoop out the water, and so, down the hole I went. About five minutes in, a thunderstorm broke out and the village we were working with looked down at me, yelled “15 minutes,” and placed the large cement cover on the hole, leaving me inside. I didn’t really start to panic until I felt something jump on my leg, and shined my flashlight around to realize that the walls (and my legs) of the hole were covered in tiny little frogs. Shortly after this little scare, the cover on the hole was lifted and the villager reached inside to pull me out. I was staring at him in shock that he had actually just left me in a hole for 15 minutes, and he broke out in laughter and very literally fell to the floor, rolling around laughing. Everyone heard the uproar and ran over to see what happened; everyone had a very similar reaction of intense laughter, still in the dark about what was so funny I started to ask what was going on, and each time I laughed harder and harder. Turns out I had mud smeared all over my face and frogs in my hair and on my body. From then on everyone called me “frog girl” including the villagers, and Fijian leaders of our trip.
These moments of intense laughter bonded me with everyone surrounding me; the villagers even invited me back and thanked me for the hard work and source of entertainment. I truly have never felt so appreciated in my life, I could feel how real their sentiments were which sparked a change in perspective that would follow me for the rest of my life. My trip taught me compassion, empathy, appreciation and the power of dedication coupled with genuine hard work. I underwent experiences that led to the development of life lessons that I would never have been able to experience elsewhere. I had begun to see a new appreciation for each and every person, a sense of appreciation I still have today, along with a severe case of food poisoning, that unlike my new everlasting motto to listen to people and give everyone a chance, only lasted about two weeks.
By: Halle Mason