Jacob Rosen is a four-time VISIONS teen volunteer, and he is currently pursuing a degree from Ithaca College in New York. Jacob is an alumnus of Alaska ‘12, Peru ‘13, Nicaragua ‘14, and Cambodia ‘15.

Throughout my high school career, I spent my summers exploring foreign countries and doing my part in making a difference in the local communities. The experiences I have had throughout my years with VISIONS have physically, socially, and mentally changed me in the best ways possible. But now, I am excited to share my experiences, and maybe help you choose which of the amazing programs to go on. I know there are a lot of incredible options.

What types of work have you enjoyed doing the most? Do any specific projects stand out?

I love working with children and always love seeing the kids interact with us while we build. My favorite projects were the preschool in Peru and the latrines in Cambodia. In Peru, we would eat lunch and teach the little children English. Although they were much younger, they were still so curious as to what we were doing day by day. In Cambodia, there were children of all ages so they actually wanted to help, and did. The project was a major help to the school and the children and teachers would thank us day in and day out. Between every class the children would come over to play with us, help us work, and try to learn English. We made such personal connections with many of the kids at the school and that made working each day that much better. The principal even put a sign on the latrine with all our names.

What stands out most about your VISIONS summer experiences?

Whenever I share my tales with friends or reflect back on my summers I always think about the reactions we get from the local community, even the children. I think Cambodia stands out most to me because we were working in a larger city than most programs, and working at one of many schools in the area. Whenever the Khmer people saw the strange foreigners hanging out, no matter how broken their English was, they were always intent to ask what a bunch of young adults were doing in this far away land. I had a great connection with our tour guide Viet who showed us around Angkor Wat. Viet and I had a few moments to just talk while others were running around the ruins. That talk truly opened my eyes to what my purpose is in this world.

Does your perspective on the world seem different now that you’ve completed four VISIONS community service programs?

I have learned the meaning of poverty and what it means to live simply, without excess wants. I have gained a new view on the world outside of our well-cared for and sheltered American lives. I was drawn to VISIONS and how the program fully immerses you in the culture. With each program, I would set strategies for how to interact with the culture better. Also, going on four programs allowed me to help mentor peers on the program, especially with the building. The carpenters were able to entrust me to take on certain projects and I even got to teach others how to perform certain masonry or carpentry tasks. With the start of each program I felt more and more certain of my building skills, leadership skills, and adaptability.

How about the travel excursions—what stands out the most?

The most memorable excursions were Machu Picchu in Peru and ice climbing in Alaska. Machu Picchu was the most breathtaking sight I have ever seen. Being able to touch and walk around a city built thousands of feet up atop a mountain by ancient people is mind boggling. Not only that but waking up at 4 am, climbing 14,000 steps, and watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu with my peers on the trip was a seriously spiritual moment. Ice climbing in Alaska was absolutely amazing simply because we got to camp out on the banks of a gorgeous Alaskan river and hike on a glacier. I love rock climbing and outdoor adventure but ice climbing was a whole new medium for me. I loved the Alaskan nature, and the glacier that we were climbing on was breathtaking.

What were the people like, both in your group and the local people?

The community members in all locations were beyond friendly and open to sharing their culture. The native Athabascans from the village love sharing their history and Alaskan traditions. They openly prod you to ask them questions or ask them to teach you about a certain tradition. I remember the elder Yvonne taught us how to weave birch bark and prepare an Eskimo steam bath. The Cambodians, even with their extremely rough, brutal past, still wanted to open up. They want us to know about their struggles and how they have persevered through it all. But the people in the group are always the best. It can be tough living in a house with other teens, but you really do make unforgettable memories and lasting friendships. I am actually attending college with a friend from my Peru trip!

How has VISIONS propelled your future goals? Has it shifted your perspective on where you want your life to go?

VISIONS has really helped me blossom socially. I love making new friends and meeting others. If it wasn’t for VISIONS, I wouldn’t have the confidence I have today to jump right into the thick of things, whether socially or academically. Normally, I am really shy and don’t like to put myself out there but now I want to be a leader and a spokesperson. I of course also love traveling and VISIONS has kicked that love into full gear. I am looking to study abroad twice during college and maybe re-visit my previous travels over the summers. As I get older, I am focusing on my studies and hoping to get a career pertaining to what I am studying (communications, marketing, and advertising).

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am excited to share my experiences with you and hopefully whoever is reading this will join a VISIONS program! I have created numerous memories and will forever reflect back on my times with VISIONS.

VISIONS in The New York Times