Top Ten Takeaways

VISIONS teen volunteers are sure to take home a number of souvenirs from their summer journeys. Maybe it’s a handcrafted memento from a stay on the Blackfeet or Northern Cheyenne Indian reservations in Montana; a trinket that was exchanged from a student monk from the Phaung Daw Oo school campus in Myanmar (Burma); a Caribbean spice that you fell in love with on your summer adventure in the British Virgin Islands, or perhaps that fat journal that you kept throughout your life changing experience in Peru.


But as any VISIONS high school or middle school student knows, there are also a lot of intangibles that come home; things that we don’t have to make room for in a duffle bag, but that linger in the memory banks instead. These may include:

1. Gratitude: There’s something about living and working within a community that genuinely depends on your help and scaling back on the gadgets and the comforts of home. It brings about overwhelming feelings of gratitude for all that you do have back at home.

2. New Forever Friends (NFFs): There’s a reason that VISIONS doesn’t send groups of friends away together (actually, no more than two friends can attend the same summer program location together). It’s so that the programs feel inclusive, and many of the people you meet—from all different countries, cities, and walks of life—become your new friends forever. Things like age and grade become less important on a VISIONS program. Meals and most activities are in the large group setting, and we break into small rotating groups for the weekday community service projects.

3. Empathy: VISIONS students live in the same communities where they work, and in many ways it’s like walking in another’s shoes. You learn where others are coming from and feel a true compassion for what they might be going through in life.

4. Global Awareness: Many VISIONS teen volunteers have traveled before, but there’s something about living closely within a community and learning about the history of a certain area that makes you realize there’s more out there than you ever knew.

5. Self Confidence: Maybe it was the ice climbing journey on Alaska’s Root Glacier or the scuba diving in the BVIs. Maybe it was the fact that you made friends so easily and felt the power that comes with being able to help those in need. Either way, the self-confidence meter is raised during the summer experience, and remains engrained for the years to come.

6. The Travel Bug: Although it’s not an actual illness, it is a lifelong chronic bug that now follows you around; that urge to keep traveling and expanding that global awareness you got from #4.

7. Lots of Laughs: It’s amazing that you can laugh so hard while working so hard, but it’s a reality. Those NFFs that you made in #2, they sure know how to make a day more fun and see humor in the small things.

8. Hands-on Experience: No matter what program you were on, you helped to build something, whether it was a new community center, a wheelchair ramp for a community elder, or a special day camp program for local kids. Each VISIONS program has a few projects to choose from each day, so whatever your focus, you’re bringing home a new handy trade.

9. Accomplishment: VISIONS is rooted in the service work we perform, and the projects are essential for the communities. Whether you helped to build a new structure or worked with local children, you are leaving a lasting imprint, and with that comes a genuine sense of accomplishment.

10. Sense of Adventure: You just went out on a limb, maybe even out of your comfort zone, to go live and work with new people in new places. You spent after work hours and evenings exploring areas you never knew existed. You snorkeled or ice climbed or hiked into the jungle. Whatever your specific journey was, it involved adventure, and that’s something that you will probably crave for life.

What kinds of intangibles came home with you from your VISIONS summer experience? Help us add to the list!

VISIONS in The New York Times