Editor in Chief
Expect the unexpected is the mantra that I remembered when I saw a chicken in my shower, or when I stood knee deep in mud on the island of Monte Cristo, or when the herd of cows rounded the corner and almost ran me over.
The past two years I have been lucky enough to be able to travel to Rancho Grande, a rural village in El Salvador, during my February break. On this trip we focus on starting projects, and bringing supplies that will improve the lives of our friends in Rancho. For some high schoolers this is very first time they have ever experienced “roughing it.” We sleep on mats on the floors, our showers are tarps wrapped around a tree and two buckets, we live in a constant state of dirty, and we are not in contact with a mirror for the entire week. Yet this is a time when you will see a large group of teenagers genuinely happy.
Why? Because for one week, we are truly grateful.
Everything at home that we normally don’t care for or think about, became something we love and cherish. At the end of a day of work, we were exhausted and we wanted so badly to be clean. Sometimes we would use the tarp shower, which is dumping a bucket of water on yourself, using soap, then dumping another bucket of water on yourself. We would take turns washing each others hair at the hair washing parties. Or on special nights we would walk a half of a mile down to the river, where we would swim, play frisbee and clean ourselves up (if you were lucky you would get to ride back up to the village in the back of a pickup truck.) Here in Jamesville and DeWitt nothing about our tarp showers sound very pleasing, but in El Salvador these were some of the most appreciated and loved moments of the day. Now if something as simple as having washed hair could make a group of teens so happy, imagine how our friends in Rancho feel all the time.
They appreciate things like clean hair to such a strong degree that it makes them incredibly happy. They always smile, they say hello to others on the street even if they don’t know who they are, and they radiate the joy I don’t always see here in the United States. To put things in perspective, the people of Rancho did not have access to clean water up until 10 years ago, owning a nice pair of shoes is a luxury, and the next meal is not always guaranteed. These people have a lot less than we do and yet they still greet each day with joy and laughter.
Their joy and friendship is the reason why I believe all young people should take the time to travel, serve and experience other cultures. These new cultures don’t need to be Rancho Grande, it can be the Límon Rainforest in Costa Rica, or the village of Jarabacoa in the Dominican Republic. There are places all over the world filled with people who have so much less than we do, but appear to be happier. I know I have been to each of these communities on my own.
During my travels, to Límon, Rancho, and Jarabacoa I’ve discovered so many things about myself and the world. In Límon I discovered my love for travel, and I realized that despite language barriers we aren’t that different. Sometimes I couldn’t understand the children and they for sure could not understand me, but that didn’t matter during our soccer games, mud fights, and tree climbing. In Rancho I discovered my love for the spanish language and culture. I also learned that keeping morale high is just as important as doing the labor. And last but surely not least, in Jarabacoa I discovered my own strength, that I’m actually quite good at pick axing, and that everyone loves Taylor Swift.
And that was just from spending a week or so in each country.
When a young person takes the time to travel, they expose themselves to a life filled with joy, wonder and gratitude. They then have ability to live their life filled with that same joy at home, on the road, or channel it to help others. Maybe they can do all three. According to famous authors, travel bloggers, and anyone else who has a piece to say about traveling, we can all agree on one thing: to travel is to live.
For some, travel is a constant state of discomfort and awkwardness, but someone once told me that traveling is a lot like breathing: if you think about it too much it becomes difficult. I beg everyone who claims that they don’t like travel to please reconsider, because that fear is stopping you from gaining the experiences that you so need to see the world properly. This just may be the first lesson: learn to trust yourself.
These experiences have the power to change your life and alter who you are. Every young person should place themselves in someplace new, drive themselves to love with all of their hearts, and most of all to live by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous words: “Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, and drink the wild air.”