This article, written by a former VISIONS participant, was first published in TeenLife

My month in Nicaragua with Visions Service Adventures helped me make the connection between school and the world around me that I was looking for. After I came home, I had a clear understanding of what I wanted to do with my future schooling and that I was going to use my college education as a path to a career in which I make a positive impact for others.

After the last couple weeks of summer drifted away and my senior year started, so did the process of college applications. College applications are really never what you want to be doing in your spare time. My friends and classmates whined and complained about writing their essays, but for me I had nothing to really complain about. I was ready and motivated to plow through my applications. I wanted to apply to college.

The long and boring college essay that everyone else was talking about was not the one I was writing. It was not even remotely hard nor did it take as long as it seemed to take my friends. I had so much to write about such as the people I met on my trip, what work I had done, and the Nicaraguan culture and the adventures I experienced. After seeing the desire and willingness to learn in the Nicaraguan kids around me who could hardly afford a decent pair of shoes let alone notebooks and pencils, I realized that my education here in the U.S. is a great privilege that most of us take for granted.

In Nicaragua our work building community structures, involved getting really dirty, sweating and working hard. But, it never really felt hard nor did it seem to take a long time. I was with such great people who wanted to help in any way they could. Every Nicaraguan was grateful and excited that I had come all the way to where they live to meet and help them. This gratitude and the smiles all around me were contagious. Happiness filled the work site. Their smiles, shining through their dirty, sometimes sweaty, faces was worth every nail I hammered, every spot of mud and dirt on my shirt and on my face, and all the sweating, too.

When I got home I knew I want to do something with my life to help people. I want to travel and experience new cultures and new people, and most of all I want to see those smiling faces again. I don’t know the job title that I will have when I enter the work world, but I plan to focus on international studies and human development in college, and to choose an educational path that leads to a job that gratifies me as much as I was gratified by every moment I was in Nicaragua.

Traveling abroad with Visions to do community service more than helped with me write my college applications and essays, and scholarship applications. Community service helped me find more of myself; begin to figure out what I want to do with my future. I am more than ready to start college and start making a difference in the world.