9 Summer Service Program Experiences (That You Won’t Get in Summer Camp)

Summer service isn’t just about working hard. Here are nine life-changing experiences your high schooler will have on our adventures!

By Owen Clarke

If you’re thinking that transformative summer service is all about grit & hard work, you aren’t wrong. But our service programs aren’t without adventure either! 

That’s because the transformative power of VISIONS doesn’t just happen through hard work, but through cultural and emotional exploration. From the steamy jungle highlands of Peru to the rolling plains of the Montana Blackfeet Reservation, our service trips are filled with life-changing adventure experiences… ones you certainly won’t find at your local summer camp. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. Exploring One of South America’s Largest Artisan Markets

The Pisac artisan market is one of the oldest existing marketplaces in the Americas, dating back over 400 years to the heyday of the vast Inca empire. During our Peru program, we’ll spend a day exploring the colorful stalls, sampling local fruits, veggies and traditional delicacies like lomo saltado, ceviche and huancaína potato. Participants will also have an opportunity to view handmade clothing, musical instruments, ceramics, jewelry and more.

2. Attending an Indian Horse Relay

Dubbed “America’s first extreme sport”, Indian Horse Relay racing is among the oldest athletic events in America. Its origins date back three centuries, when tribes like the Shoshone and Bannock began to ride horses that were reintroduced to the North American continent by the Spanish. During our Montana Blackfeet program, we’ll attend an Indian Relay race, getting a firsthand look at the intimacy, passion and grit of this challenging sport.

3. Hosting Swimming Lessons for Kids in the Caribbean

Despite living in an island climate, many young children in the British Virgin Islands don’t know how to swim. Our British Virgin Islands program often involves helping out at a local day camp, spending time with children and providing swimming lessons, among other activities. There’s no better place to teach swimming than the warm waters of the Caribbean!

4. Learning to Cook Traditional Dominican Delicacies

Opening our taste buds to new cuisine is one way we connect with local cultures during VISIONS adventures, and the food doesn’t get better than it does in the DR! During our Dominican Republic program, participants dive into a variety of hands-on workshops, learning to make coffee, chocolate and a variety of traditional Dominican meals.

5. Visiting 500-Year-Old Ruins High in the Andes

Perched atop a high plateau (11,500 feet) in the Andes northwest of Cusco, the Moray ruins are over five centuries old. Also known as “The Inca Greenhouse,” it’s believed that these circular terraces were used by the innovative Incas to research growing conditions for various types of crops. We’ll explore the Moray complex, along with the nearby town of Chinchero and the salt mines of Maras as part of our Peru program.

6. Experiencing a Traditional Blackfeet Indian Sweat Lodge

As part of our Blackfeet Montana adventure, we’ll have the opportunity to take part in a traditional ceremony inside a Blackfeet sweat lodge. Hot stones—warmed over a fire—are piled in the center of a circular “lodge” and water is poured over the stones to create steam. Chants, meditative breathing and dancing combine to create an experience that many participants describe as both spiritual and empowering. Sometimes our program even includes helping to build a sacred Sun Dance lodge ourselves!

7. Investigating an Abandoned Coastal Copper Mine

Built in 1837, the copper mine at Virgin Gorda was already abandoned by 1862. Today, crumbling walls and collapsed shafts are all that remain. In addition to a host of other adventures, like hiking up Gorda Peak (1,370 feet), swimming in volcanic rock pools and snorkeling through a mangrove maze, we’ll visit the ruins of the Virgin Gorda mine as part of our British Virgin Islands adventure.

8. Diving into the Largest Lake in the Caribbean

Situated on the Yuna River, Presa de Hatillo (the Hatillo Dam Reservoir) is the largest body of fresh water in the Caribbean, with a water volume of 710,000,000 cubic meters and a surface area of ​​22 square kilometers (over 13 square miles). During our Dominican Republic program, we’ll spend a day relaxing on the cool blue waters of the reservoir, surrounded by verdant jungle hills. 

9. Learning to Make Traditional Peruvian Chocolate, Pottery, Jewelry and More

Just like in the Dominican Republic (and all our VISIONS programs), we try to learn from our hosts as much as possible. During our Peru adventure, participants dive into a variety of workshops with local experts, learning about everything from beekeeping to chocolate and jewelry-making, carpentry, pottery, cooking and more. (Not to mention the wealth of opportunities to improve Spanish language skills!)

Owen Clarke is a writer for VISIONS. A career outdoor journalist, his work appears in 30+ international magazines, including Iron & Air, Climbing, Outside, Rock and Ice, SKI, Trail Runner and The Outdoor Journal. He is also the executive editor of Skydiving Source and Indoor Skydiving Source.

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