Jocelyn is a high school junior from Glen Rock, NJ, who traveled to Ecuador and the Galápagos last summer and is excited to tackle VISIONS summer number two in Alaska this year! In this interview, she reflects on swimming with sea lions, life in the community of Patate, and her most satisfying service project.

What were some of the highlights of your VISIONS experience in Ecuador and the Galapagos?

Overall, I think the best part of the trip was getting to spend time with awesome people and do work in a community where it was really appreciated. But if I had to pick some specific highlights… One of my favorite memories from the trip was getting to swim with sea lions in the Galápagos. I had never done anything like it, and it was such an incredible experience. The best part was that they weren’t kept in enclosed areas or anything like we might see at home at places where you can swim with dolphins. They were free, and we got to see them in their own habitat, and swim around with them. That’s one memory that’s really stuck with me. Another highlight was waking up early in the morning on one of the last days of the trip to go milk a cow on a nearby farm. We went out while it was still dark, met a husband and wife who do this every morning, and learned how to milk cows! I just thought it was so cool that local people were willing to take the time to bring us out to their farm and give us an amazing experience. But overall I really think that every single day of the trip was a highlight.

What was the community like/how did it feel to be living as a part of it?

The community was amazing. We were in a town called Patate, and we were living in a church right in the middle of town. There was a local fire station with a basketball court, and we went over there at least twice a week to play soccer, or basketball, or frisbee, or play with their fire dog, or just hang out. I felt so welcome in the community, and I had never been in one like it before, so that was really great. We could walk around town and see fire fighters we recognized, or people that we had worked with at the work sites, or even some local kids who had come to help teach us how to do a local dance. I just felt very appreciated, safe, and included in the community.

What were the other students like?

The other students on the trip were incredible. We came from all over the country, so we all got to learn about some areas we’d never been to. We got along great, and just hanging out with everyone when we had down time was one of my favorite things to do. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed as hard as I did on that trip, and that’s thanks to the students and leaders that were there. Everyone was excited to be in the community, and the group was also really accepting. I never felt like I was being judged for anything, and I felt very comfortable just being myself.

Does your perspective on the world seem different now that you’re home?

I definitely appreciate the things that I have more, because some people had a lot less. I think the time without a phone also made me value relationships more, so I try to spend more time face to face with other people, and have more conversations. I even try to meet more new people, because doing that in Ecuador left a big impact on me.

What was your favorite project you worked on over the summer, and what did you like about it?

My favorite project was laying down a new driveway for an “old folks home” in the town. We worked really hard throughout the entire process of digging out the old driveway, mixing cement, and laying it down, so completing it felt amazing. Just seeing the transformation was very fulfilling as well. I was proud of it, because it was probably the hardest I’ve ever worked on a project in terms of physical labor, so we put a lot into it and there were a bunch of us there together so we found ways to make it really fun.

What was your favorite excursion outside of work?

I think snorkeling in the Galápagos was my favorite trip, because of the sea lions that I talked about earlier, and because it was one of the first days of our trip; it was a really fun way to get to know everyone.

You’re heading to Alaska this summer. What are you most excited about, and how do you anticipate it will differ from your time in South America?

I’m looking forward to everything about it! I’m excited to be with another group of awesome students, to do more work that can really help people, and go on some cool adventures! I think it will be different because it will be new people, which I’m excited for! The work will be different as well, so I’m excited to learn new skills in carpentry, and the excursions will definitely be new! I’m really just excited to be going on another VISIONS trip.

If you had to pick one thing as the most valuable takeaway from your VISIONS experience, what would it be?

I think something that I took away from my experience with VISIONS was a new understanding of what’s important to me. I go to a high school that is very intense with schoolwork, so having time away from that in a new setting, with new people, where we were talking and reflecting on the things we were doing nearly every day, made me really think about what I value. I learned to value relationships more, I learned that I’m really happy when I’m working hard on a meaningful project with other people who really care about it, and I learned that there are so many ways that I can help people that can be fulfilling. I think that’s something that makes Visions really unique—we’re staying in one community for several weeks, getting to know the people, and we’re able to spend a lot of time working on projects that can make a big difference. And during all of that, we’re reflecting on everything, so we really get a chance to think about what we’re doing there. I’m so grateful for having gotten the opportunity to go on a VISIONS trip, and to have been able to take away new skills, a bunch of new friends, and better understanding of what’s important to me in my life.

Check out our Ecuador and Alaska locations to learn more about where Jocelyn has spent time and where she’s headed!

VISIONS in The New York Times