Sometimes the best lessons in life come from the most unexpected places. This is exactly what these seven teens learned when they decided to volunteer abroad during their summer breaks. While a lot of kids their ages were off at camps, working summer jobs and just enjoying time off from school, these kids were in developing countries making an important difference in the lives of others. Take a look at the profound ways these teens are stepping up to change the world.
“I would have never imagined that I would grow so fond of a place that is halfway around the world, but I truly can’t imagine my life without India,” Riley says.She volunteered in Dharamsala, India, one summer and loved how it was filled with a rich sense of culture, community and spirituality. She says that it’s easy to be confined by westernized ideas when you live in the United States, but this experience helped her see that there’s a whole other world out there.
“This small mountain village at the foothills of the Himalayas taught me some of the most important principles that I have ever learned about life, happiness, love and compassion.”
Chasey Dunn, Chicago, Illinois
Chasey loved her experience in Hohoe, Ghana, so much that she went twice. Each time, she was pleasantly surprised by how much she could find in common with the other kids.“Even though we had such different lives, we were able to bond over so many things,” she says. “The culture taught me to enjoy everyone and everything.”
Chasey says she still has letters that the kids gave her on her last day, and she reads them often just to remember the experience.
“The entire experience helped me become more open-minded,” she says. “Everyone there was always so happy and high-spirited. It reminds me how grateful I should be.”
Marie Adams, Santa Fe, New Mexico
When Marie went to Lima, Peru, to volunteer, she knew her Spanish would get better, but that was far from the top benefits she got out of her experience.
“This was a life-changing experience,” she says. “It has taught me to appreciate everything. And I realized that you really don’t need a lot of material things to find happiness.”
Nicole Newman, Plymouth, Massachusetts
No one is an outsider. At least that is what Nicole learned during her volunteer time in Dharamsala, India.
“They accepted me completely while I was there,” she says. “They were really welcoming of other religions and holidays. They also promoted female empowerment. It was great to be a part of that and see it firsthand.”
Simmy Kaur, Roanoke, Virginia
Simmy volunteered at a daycare while she was in Dharamsala, India. While she learned a great deal about the culture during her time there, she was also grateful that she could share some traditions from her own hometown.
“I had a little part in teaching them about sustainability,” Simmy says. “Before, the children would throw their garbage out the window or around the daycare. They didn’t have a working system to collect and throw out their trash. So as a volunteer, I created a reusable and earth-friendly trash system made from local materials. It was a small contribution, but it was nice to see them take such pride in it.”
Arushi Gupta, Aurora, Illinois
Arushi volunteered in Hohoe, Ghana, and describes her experience as one that will stick with her forever. One of her most memorable moments was when a 4-year-old came up to her and handed her one of his most prized possessions: a rock.
“He told me that it was all he had, but he wanted me to have it because he loved me,” Arushi remembers. “This was such a special moment for me.”
Sydney Stern, St. Louis, Missouri
You don’t have to have money to be happy. This is one of the greatest lessons that Sydney took away from her time in Tecpán, Guatemala. She says a lot of people there live in poverty, but oftentimes it was the poorest who seemed most happy.“My experience taught me so much about life, and I came back home an entirely new person,” Sydney says. “One of the big things I realized is that so many people need help—both in Guatemala and in the United States—but they aren’t actually receiving it. It made me want to pursue a career in helping others.”
Want to learn more about volunteering opportunities for your students? Cross-Cultural Solutions has many options available, including summer trips, gap-year programs (after students graduate high school) and even group trips. It’s an affordable and fulfilling way to travel and see the world. Get a brochure now.
Posted by Stacy Tornio
Stacy Tornio is a freelance writer with a focus on education. She's an author of nearly 20 books, including many educational family titles. Nearly everyone in her family is a teacher. So she decided to be rebellious and write about teachers instead.