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“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”
Somewhere in a far off town in Australia, these words penetrated the deafening silence that pervaded the room in which I stood, deeply immersed in thoughts. It was my last day here and suddenly, it all seemed like an incredible dream. Like several teenagers from the United States of America, I had spent my summer participating in an Outward Bound program, an unconventional yet extraordinary experience that truly had an enormous impact on me as an individual.
I remember very clearly. It was nearly six o’clock in the morning and my mates and I had gathered for breakfast around the now discolored plastic mat that had served as our portable dining table for the past five days. The temperature was negative three degrees Celsius and my hands quivered as my numb fingers struggled to grip the spoon. While attempting to gulp the unsavory, bland mixture of Weet-Bix and powdered milk with Vegemite on toast for the last time, I listened carefully as the plans of the day were discussed, trying desperately to ignore the tiny vestiges of leaves and soil in my meal. Thirty-one more laborious kilometers to the top of Mount Tenet before noon, someone had said. Soreness submersed my freezing body as it ached just at the thought of positioning the twenty-two kilogram backpack on my shoulders. It was six thirty now. After ensuring that nothing had been left behind and the natural habitat appeared untouched as it did when we first arrived, we resumed our journey.
Each strenuous step, although demanding, was taken with determination and strength. With scraped legs, sore backs, and tired minds, there, with our heads held high, we stood on the top of the summit. I cannot exactly describe what that amazing sensation was – a feeling of pride, a sense of accomplishment, or perhaps, a little bit of both. Here, as I stood glancing over the capital city of Australia with a map in my hand and a compass around my neck, about ten thousand miles away from home, I was more confident and sure of myself than I had ever been. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and more importantly, how I wanted to do it.
Today, I have returned to my real world to fresh food, daily showers, and clean clothes. I wake not to crawling insects or the terror of hiking another thirty kilometers but instead to the countless responsibilities of a high school senior. My mind floods with thoughts of looming application deadlines, the ever so significant college essays, and of course, an exceptional score on the dreaded SAT. However, often, when I falter at such notions, I pause and appreciate, reminding myself of the strong and determined Janki that had survived in arduous circumstances in a strange city with strange people, who soon became great friends. I remind myself of the Janki that built her own shelter and along with her other companions convinced those that wanted to give up to continue. And when I remind myself of this Janki that stood in the meeting hall, deeply immersed in thoughts as the instructor gave her farewell message, I am convinced that I am ready. . .ready to face with confidence any mountain that is waiting for me, college or otherwise.
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