by Irene O’Brien

Hi, I just wanted to send you guys my college essay on my trip to Dominica. My month in Dominica was probably the most challenging, exciting, rewarding and happiest times in my life. Thank you for such an unbelievable experience; it’s been two years and a day doesn’t go by where I don’t think of  it.

As I took my seat on the plane, tears began to stream down my face. I was aware of the other passengers nervously observing my emotional display. I can only wonder what they were thinking, the strange scenarios they must have imagined, the impractical reasons they may have assumed were to blame for my distress. All of them ending with me, a sixteen year old girl on a plane, crying. To be truthful, none of these strange or impractical theories were probably correct. There was, in fact, little reason for me to be so upset on this flight. After spending a month in a third world country with no running water and toilets that do not flush I should have been happy, even excited to go home, but I was not.

For the past month, I had been in Dominica, a small Caribbean island, on a service trip. In Dominica my cell phone, iPod, and TV had been left behind; they were replaced with card games, kickball, and volunteer work. I had previously thought my electronics connected me to others, but the past month had proved me wrong. Many of the theories and ideas I previously held were proved wrong that month.

Both my view of the world and of myself changed dramatically. I saw how Dominicans were not upset about their lack of modern amenities, but instead focused on building relationships within the community, enjoying life, and relaxing. In the middle of a third world county, I found the happiest people I have ever met.

Martha Washington once said “I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.” The people I met on my trip showed me that it is your attitude not your possessions or the situation you are in that determines your happiness. I went to Dominica thinking I would be the one making a difference; I did not expect the people I met there to impact my life in such a profound way. I was heartbroken to leave a place where the stress of daily life was absent, but I came home understanding the importance of community and attitude. Two thousand miles from home, I learned an important lesson about myself and about life, and although it did not appear so to the other passengers on the plane I was happier than I had ever been. Irene O’Brien Dominica 2007

Thank you, Irene, for this essay about your teen summer travel to Dominica with VISIONS. We never tire of hearing from participants about their experiences….your thoughts are the fuel that drives the mission of VISIONS youth summer programs. There are many teen summer travel programs from which students can choose. Our aim is always that participants who are a “fit” for and with VISIONS find us, join us, and, frankly, soar during your time on site.

VISIONS in The New York Times