In April of ninth grade I had no idea how I would spend the firstpart of my summer. By the end of July I had established a strong relationship with a smallnonprofit organization. 3D Life Adventures had none of the business-like feel of some camps, andits aim was not to improve a high-school student’s college application with long hours ofcommunity service or college prep courses. What struck me was the intimate feel of the program.When I received information and called to find out more, the executive director answered, the samecommitted and energetic person who picked us up from the airport and maintained contact after thesummer.
The three-week experience I had in North Carolina was beyond what I could havehoped for. 3D’s motto was “expeditions in diversity,” and it fulfilled its goals.The eight other participants came from all over the United States, with nationalities ranging fromColombian to Chinese. We were led by three guides, all of whom were extraordinary.
Theprogram stressed cultural and environmental exploration. Through our activities, games andorganized discussions, we learned about our heritages, families, home lives, religious beliefs andpersonal views. We exchanged culinary techniques as we prepared meals and shared thoughts ormeaningful quotes during the pre-dinner rituals. We visited an outdoor museum where we studied thelives of the European settlers of the Appalachians and went to Cherokee, North Carolina to learnabout the Cherokee people who still live in the area. In Atlanta, Georgia, we went to the MartinLuther King, Jr. Museum and helped out at a food bank and a community garden.
In additionto a lot of time spent discussing and learning, we kept physically active, too. Backpacking wascompletely new for most of us, as was cooking on a miniature stove (in the rain) and sleeping undertarps. Though our hikes were sometimes challenging, the resulting views over a national forest wereincredibly rewarding. We also spent two days whitewater canoeing, challenging ourselves ondifficult rapids.
When I received an e-mail notifying alumni that two-week internships werebeing planned, I was incredibly excited. So, last summer, two girls, a guide and I stayed at asmall, environmentally-conscious college in North Carolina. It was an interesting group: one girloriginated from El Salvador, the other was Mexican, our guide was from a small island in NorthCarolina, and I am a Dutch citizen. We immediately clicked. The focus, along with cultural andenvironmental education, was learning leadership skills. All three elements were balancedperfectly. We spent a lot of time learning about each other, our families, our interests and goals,but perhaps most rewarding were the leadership-focused activities. We discussed group dynamics andthe natural steps involved in developing a functional group. We practiced leading discussions andactivities, which culminated in a discussion of personal identity.
I loved every part of3D, from the time spent outdoors to the food and the cultural diversity. The people I met,including the guides, were interesting and committed to enjoying and benefiting from the 3Dexperience, possessing open minds and an eagerness to learn from one another. As a result of myexperience, I feel that I have become more aware of who I am and what I care about.
Editor’s Note: 3D is closing down after five years, but look for loads ofother summer opportunities on TeenInk.com/Summer
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.