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One year ago, on a muggy summer morning, I boarded a plane with some of my classmates and teachers, headed for Ecuador. The trip was intended to reveal a different world to us, as well as aid a local elementary school in a state of disrepair. A week into the trip, after sightseeing and living in the jungle, we took a short canoe journey up the Amazon River to what appeared to be a death trap disguised as stairs. Shoeless children led us down a path forged of worn planks laid across swamp-like terrain, until we spotted what looked to be an abandoned building, which in reality was their school. Wasps’ nests lay deep inside holes in the wall, bullet ants dashed along rugged borders, and nail-length splinters poked out of the handful of wooden desks. The closet-sized bathroom stood within 15 feet of the drinking water and reeked of a smell I could only recognize as the aroma of a port-a-john after an NFL game. Screaming children laughed and clustered around a damaged soccer ball as two adults approached us with ear-to-ear grins as if they had just received a great gift. Despite the horrific conditions in which they lived, these people were some of the kindest and most joyful friends I have ever made. They expressed a rare form of friendliness I usually encounter only on holidays. Everyone exhibited the same kindness. This local school had nothing, yet everyone was tremendously happy and grateful. I learned from that thankfulness because it was something I usually did not express or exhibit.
This experience enabled me to gain an appreciation for the most basic of life’s gifts. I am given many privileges at my school, such as dedicated teachers, unlimited academic opportunities, and a flourishing community that constantly encourages success. People in Ecuador and other countries all over the world do not have most if any of these gifts. Following my trip in Ecuador, I used this newly found appreciation and applied it in my life. I did not see immediate results, but after building a stronger work ethic and persevering through old habits, I continued to push myself academically. I began to see immense improvement not only in academics but also extracurricular activities. My grades improved noticeably, and in sports I dug deeper and worked harder than I had before. I started working as if I had a goal in my life, no longer working only to finish. I developed a passion for my actions, which I am practicing today. Committed to perfecting my habits and ethics, I am on an upward spiral that I have every intention of maintaining.
Other positive impacts from my trip to Ecuador, as well as a subsequent trip to New Zealand and Australia, include a craving for world exploration, a desire to experience other cultures, and dismantling of my often-hindering shyness. Other societies teach as much about themselves and their values as they help us learn about our own culture and ideals. I learned that people from all over the world have different experiences and lessons to share and teach. Exposure to other cultures, I believe, is a necessary part of the process of growing as a person. Diversity is a great part of humanity, and the trip to Ecuador helped me shake off my shyness and taught me that meeting other people always provides a benefit. I now look forward to meeting new people. I used to operate in the world constantly asking why? But now I tend to ask the question, why not? I am looking forward to meeting a diverse group of new friends in college, traveling abroad, and discovering new aspects of the world and myself based on interaction with people from all over the world.
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