5 Lessons in Giving Back We’ve Learned Running Summer Service Programs Abroad

5 Lessons in Giving Back We’ve Learned Running Summer Service Programs Abroad

By Whitney Hall, ARCC Regional Director

Here at ARCC we offer unique and collaborative summer service programs abroad for high school students. These range from improving access to clean water for Cambodian villagers by building bio-sand water filters to bringing solar light to homes in Tanzania. No matter the project, the goal is common: to form connections between our students and local communities, working together to create long-lasting change and maximize a positive impact.

With 35 years of summer service programs abroad under our belt, these are a few lessons we’ve learned along the way:

1. Language is more than just words.

Before our programs start, students are often nervous about their limited (or lacking) language ability. We’ve learned that sometimes actions bring people together more than words, and service is the perfect way to create a lasting bond. Finding common ground through communication is always possible, and studies have repeatedly shown that 93% of communication is actually non-verbal!1

2. Dirt is your friend.

Yes you read that right. We love dirt! The world we live in can often feel so sanitized that it’s easy to forget sometimes about the benefits of playing outdoors and getting a little dirty. The more you dive into your summer service project – whether it is building a suspension footbridge in Costa Rica or feeding a rescued elephant lunch in the jungles of Thailand, the more pride you’ll feel in really taking advantage of the ARCC experience. Outdoor play has been shown to notably improve mental health issues ranging from anxiety and depression to hyperactivity, along with improving overall physical health and even encouraging creativity.2 Thanks, dirt!

3. It’s the journey, not the destination.

You’ve probably heard this one before, but service is all about the process. It’s no different when you are a student participating in an ARCC summer service program abroad. The joy of it comes from seeing something be built from square one, and the memories you make along the way. A clean cement floor in the highlands of Ecuador takes on a new meaning when you are a part of building it and you know that you’ve helped to transform it from the the mud floor it once was. Achieving an end result is always our goal, but the significance of a project comes from seeing it’s evolution step-by-step.

4. We can accomplish more together than we can apart.

High school is often focused on the individual – achieving high grades, scoring the best SAT possible, or being accepted into the best colleges you’ve applied to. Working in a small community helps our groups get back to the basics of what people can accomplish when they come together with a plan, necessary materials and a common purpose.

5. The world is small.

Despite the distance that divides us around the world, travel teaches us that friendships can be formed across continents and service bridges us together in a way that we did not often realize was possible before embarking on our journey. Summer service programs like ours connect our students with communities in a unique way, whether it be through laughter, practicing English, or sharing a meal together that we’ve harvested in Peru at the end of a tiring day. The central lesson we leave with is that there is always something that can bring people together to create long-lasting change and uplifting memories.

1 http://www.nonverbalgroup.com/2011/08/how-much-of-communication-is-really-nonverbal
2 https://www.outsideonline.com/2059661/5-ways-get-kids-nature

ARCC Programs has offered Summer Service Programs Abroad for over 30 years. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.

An ARCC Summer is the Perfect Summer

Why Every Summer is the Perfect Summer for an ARCC Program

Why Every Summer is the Perfect Summer for an ARCC Program: Five Benefits of Returning as an Alumnus

By Danielle Baker, ARCC Admissions Coordinator & Regional Director

You’ll enter your second summer calm, cool, and collected.

Even after poring over your packing list, attending your pre-trip briefing, and practically memorizing your itinerary, so much can feel uncertain to a first-time traveler. But after spending a summer traveling across the globe with a dozen strangers-turned-family, your first-timer fears are history. As an ARCC alumnus, you know that although everything may not always go as planned you can handle the unexpected bumps in the road that can arise and make this the Perfect Summer. And what’s more, you know your leaders and new friends will always have your back.

You know the traditions, you’re part of the family, and you’ll be ready to share the #ARCClove.

Remember the chow circles that taught you something you never would have guessed about your new friend? The games that made you laugh to the point of tears? The little rope around your wrist that makes you smile every time it catches your eye? Now is your chance to spread that joy by welcoming the ARCC newbies in your group into the fold. Not only watching, but participating as they come to know the comfort, support, and FUN of the ARCC experience. It will warm your heart.

You’ll be excited as ever to explore another new corner of the globe.

Immersing yourself in a new culture never gets old. As much as you learn about yourself on an ARCC program, there is even more to be learned about other ways of life worldwide, whether you’re exploring Indian spice markets or traveling back in time in Havana, Cuba. Similarly, a second (or third or fourth or fifth!) ARCC program means the chance to take in new sights, eat new foods and try new activities all over again this summer! If you spent last summer searching for lions, elephants, and rhinos in Tanzania, this is the perfect summer to pursue scuba certification in Thailand or whitewater raft in Peru.

You’ll feel rejuvenated by the opportunity to participate in meaningful service once again.

Over and over studies have shown that doing good makes us feel good. Remember how grateful you were for the communities that took you in as their own during your last ARCC experience? Be prepared for that appreciation to wash over you once again as you work to construct water filtration systems in a rural Cambodian village or teach English to eager young Fijian children. An added bonus? It doesn’t looks too shabby on your resume either.

You’ll learn that although your first program was special in a million ways, there are so many once-in-a-lifetime adventures still to come.

You will always cherish the memories you created with your friends on your first ARCC program. Fortunately, the jokes, challenges, and adventures you share on your next program will only add to the #ARCClove. Each ARCC experience is extraordinary in its own way, and there are too many wonderful parts of the world to explore to stop at just one. Where will you go this summer?


ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 30 year. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.

Adventures in India: Embracing The Vibrant Life of India

Adventures in India: Embracing The Vibrant Life of India

By ARCC India Regional Director Eben Coenen

The ceiling fans hummed steadily as they spun sending a light cool breeze through the car as it shook and creaked along the tracks. Passengers were stacked three high on light blue folding beds hinged to the wall. Strewn into the aisle is a sea of limbs and bodies stretched out on their respective bunks fast asleep. It was still early, and John and I were restless, sitting cross legged on the top bunk gazing into a book. Our game of rummy was interrupted by the slew of passengers sleeping below us and we knew we were in for a long night. But this was an adventure after all and we were just excited to be exploring a country as spirited as India.

Getting to the train itself had been an arduous process. We ran through the streets and then hopped in a rickshaw which raced through the crowd, dodging beggars and businessmen just to catch it on time. We thought all was lost when we arrived. We had made it to the station with time to spare, but where were we going? The place was crawling with people dressed in vivid saris and turbans that flowed through the station, and we had no idea which train was ours. Disappointment turned to celebration when a kind grey-bearded official finally helped us. In a small tan room crawling with geckos he pointed out where we could find our train and ensured us that we had enough time to make it. Under any other circumstances this string of events might seem crazy, but this is India; it’s a land of color and chaos and we were here to embrace it.

Just a few days earlier we had taken a semi-air conditioned bus across the country with several friends. We had an opportunity to see a region of India that we may never see again and we wanted to make the most out of our time in this unique destination. We hadn’t anticipated that we would enjoy it this much, but we found ourselves soaking in every sight, smell and sound we could, which prompted our rush for the train. We couldn’t miss it either. It was the last overnight train and we had to be four hundred thirty miles across India by morning to meet up with a group of friends traveling to another small village where we would continue our Indian adventure.

Once we made it to the train though, we were set, and we enjoyed the landscape sliding by out our window. When we pulled into the station we jumped out of the car and took the nearest rickshaw to our hotel with just enough time to take a quick shower and grab a bite to eat before we met our larger group of travelers and boarded our bus for the next part of our journey.

This part of our adventures in India had been chaotic; it didn’t always go as planned but we persevered. The challenges we faced helped us become stronger individually and tightened our friendship, but also gave us a much deeper appreciation for unspoiled beauty and excitement that awaits those who seek it.

India can only be described as an adventure. It’s a place where three wheeled rickshaws race through the streets by the thousands tooting their horns as they whip by. They flow like a river though, streaming organically through roads strewn with people, potholes, and pets. India is a place where scents attract and entice you towards delicacies and leave your mouth watering. It’s a place where vibrant colors catch your eye around every turn. It’s unlike anything you’ve experienced and it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and hurried pace of this vibrant country. It’s is the birthplace of four major world religions and is home to some of the world’s most devout people but it’s also to some who face the most abject poverty. It offers some of the most magnificent sights ranging from the vastness of the Himalayas to the majesty of the Taj Mahal.

For many, India becomes a spiritual place. Not necessarily, as hollywood might have you believe, because of the teachers and gurus that abound there but because it shows you a raw life unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. It’s a place meant for those who want to explore a vibrant world teeming with life. It calls to you, begs from you, welcomes you, confuses you, but ultimately, it shows you just how blessed life really is.

Traveling in India is an journey and adventure that grants wisdom to those willing to open their gaze to its wonder. For me, an adventure in India is an experience not to be missed.


ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 30 year. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Discover our India summer program for 9-12th graders or find a summer program on our website today.

Reflecting on the things I learned on my Gap Semester

10 Things I Learned On My Gap Semester

10 Things I Learned On My Gap Semester

By Gap Africa 2016 Alumnus Abby Fournier

During the fall of 2016, I traveled to Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania on ARCC’s East Africa Gap Semester program. After living 90 days of adventure, learning, challenge, and so much newness, all I can say that will do it justice is that it was the experience of a lifetime. The things I learned on my gap semester seem endless, but these are the ten that impacted me the most.

1. You don’t need to speak the same language

During one of our homestays, the majority of the family didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t speak a word of Maasai; we’d only learned a teeny bit of Swahili! So when our 12 year old homestay brother translator was in another room, the grandmother and I had some interesting conversations. She would speak non-stop Maasai, and I’d occasionally throw in some English comments. I had no idea what was going on for that entire conversation and it was one of my fondest memories. Language is overrated, while presence and a smile are so valuable.

Our Homestay Family

2. New foods aren’t so scary

I am characteristically a picky eater (I don’t think so, but that’s what I’m told (:), so I was a bit hesitant to try all the new foods. With some nudging, begging, therapy, and loving encouragement, my group gradually expanded my palate. I started going out of my way to try new foods just to prove them all wrong, but I soon discovered it could be an adventure. New foods aren’t scary – they’re an authentic way to get to know a place!

3. Every moment is a chance to turn it all around

I learned that happiness is something you choose. I didn’t need to be constantly homesick if I chose not to be. If I gave a project, relationship, or discussion everything I had, I could think about home as something I’m grateful to love and miss, not something that will debilitate me. I eventually learned that when I’m down I have two choices: be consumed by negative emotions and end up with negative experiences, or be grateful, think optimistically, and treat everything as a lesson. One of the great things learned on my gap semester was how to turn it all around.

Sunset on the African Savanah

4. There are more feelings than the English language has words for

The last 48 hours of the semester I experienced all of these English language emotions at the same time: love and wholeness with the group the moment before we split, the sadness of knowing how much I’ll miss them, the anxiety of what the next few weeks will bring, the anticipation and excitement of seeing everyone at home, the frustration from jet lag and stressful travel logistics, the happiness to be traveling with my group (with free in-flight entertainment!), the despair of leaving the familiarity of the group behind, and the extreme gratitude for everything I’d experienced. And this all felt like one feeling. The English language certainly does not have a word for that.

5. Real, ethical volunteering causes real, genuine feelings

None of us were certified teachers or had any classroom teaching experience, but what the teachers at Kongoni Primary School needed most was a break, for in Kenya public school teachers are extremely overworked and underpaid. This week was the hardest week for most of us, and it was hard to stay motivated when we didn’t feel like we were making a difference. The kids’ learning didn’t change in a way that we could see, which was discouraging. But we did make a difference. The teachers needed a break so they could come back to teaching rejuvenated, and the kids practiced their English and learned to study with a different teaching style. We didn’t have the cheesy “I just did a good thing and I feel great” feeling. What we felt was real.

Teaching a Group of Kenyan Students

6. It’s fun to plank in a ceiling

Sometimes you just do things you don’t expect, like plank on ceiling beams in the attic connecting electrical wires despite your claustrophobia and fear of spiders. Never could I have imagined that doing electrical work in a cramped ceiling would be one of the highlights of the semester. I’m not even sure why I enjoyed that so much. During the Solar Energy project, I learned that I will never fully understand myself; getting to know who I am will be a lifelong journey. I’m apparently full of surprises!

Installing Wiring for Solar Energy Systems in Tanzania

7. Music changes lives

One of my favorite memories of the entire semester was when I was assigned to teach a 7th grade class the last period on the last day of our time at that school with my fellow music-loving friend. I’m not sure what we were supposed to be teaching, but we decided to teach music. Rather than teaching them an easy song like the “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” we taught them a song I sang in choir, “Give Us Hope.” Hearing those innocent, excited little voices singing a song that pleads for innocent voices to be heard, changed my life. I was touched in a way I will never be able to express.

8. Our opinions are very western

When I first learned about female genital mutilation at the Academy in Kenya, I was ready to fight against anyone who supported it. I couldn’t believe that girls were being harmed, mutilated, in such way. But what I didn’t understand is that in many tribal cultures, female circumcision marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. Many girls anxiously await this rite of passage. Who are we to say that that is wrong?

9. There is no right answer

It was so hard for me to learn about all the evils in the world that I had been in the dark about. Each time I learned about one, I agonized over what could be done to fix it so there would be less innocent suffering. Wouldn’t an easy fix for poverty in Africa be to give people money and food? Yes, the receiving people are happy because they have the means to survive, but this creates a culture of handouts, and people may be less likely to work hard to earn money when they know foreigners will provide for them. One of the things I learned on my gap semester is that there are countless perspectives and solutions with complex effects, and whichever one you think is right is just an opinion. There is no perfect way to solve a problem.

10. You grow without realizing it

On the plane home to my family, the last leg of my semester, I read the letter I wrote to myself on the first day. And I cried. I had no idea how much I’d grown throughout the semester. I felt like I was reading a letter written years before, not 3 months before. The way I thought and processed everything had completely changed. I was happier reading my letter to myself than I was reading any of the compliment/appreciation letters each member in my group had written to me. I have never been more proud of myself.

Reflecting on the things I learned on my Gap Semester

I expected to learn a lot about myself and the world during my program, but I had no idea how much it would change my life. I now travel with intention and passion, and have a more genuine appreciation for vastly different cultures. My gap semester was hands-down the best decision I have ever made.


ARCC Programs offers educational Gap Semester programs for high school graduates, as well as travel programs for teens on six continents. Find a Gap or Summer program on our website or request a catalog today.

Traveling with Celiac Disease

Traveling with Celiac Disease

By Whitney Hall
ARCC Regional Director & Celiac Authority

Traveling with Celiac Disease or other serious food allergies can feel daunting. I have lived abroad off and on for the past 10 years, but most recently spent the past 3 years in Central America. There was a time before this that I didn’t think traveling and living abroad would ever be possible given my diet restrictions.

In college, I suddenly lost 15 pounds on an already skinny frame over a matter of months. I caught mono living in a college dorm and felt tired all the time, taking multiple naps a day. But months after the mono passed I never felt better and had trouble keeping up with my classes. On top of that, I didn’t know why I was still losing weight. I started to notice I would feel sick after every meal. The campus doctor decided to test me for two autoimmune diseases: Crohn’s Disease and Celiac Disease. After a simple blood test, my diet and my life changed forever: I had Celiac.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was studying Italian and hoped to study abroad in Italy except for one thing: wheat. I had been to Italy once before with my family in high school and loved it, but the thought of traveling there for an extended period of time and not being able to eat the food made me change course. I began to study Spanish and explore an easier diet to navigate that was based in gluten free friendly foods: corn, rice, beans, meat and lots of fruit and vegetables.

A few years later, I did spend a week in Italy (mostly happily gaining weight eating risotto, salads and gelato) and finally began to feel like I had mastered my new diet. I still get sick sometimes from hidden gluten when eating out, but I have learned that it is better to be safe and eat a blander meal or stick with simple, whole foods rather than risk my health. If I could go back and give my younger self advice, I would encourage myself to not limit life’s opportunities by a food allergy.

While Celiac does not cause a life-threatening reaction like anaphylactic shock when you consume gluten, it is a serious illness where your body essentially attacks itself over time if you do not eliminate gluten from my diet. Yes, sometimes it is a pain and can make one anxious about ordering meals, but I have learned it’s possible to manage these restrictions and still explore wonderful corners of the world. It’s my hope that people with Celiac reading this will feel inspired to travel the world despite their allergy. Traveling with Celiac Disease doesn’t have to be a roadblock to exploring the world.


Often, parents call our office nervous about their child traveling with Celiac Disease. Whether it’s to a location across the world or even camping on one of our domestic programs, my coworkers and I are able to share our stories and advice which help give parents peace of mind. We would never want one of our students to feel like a door is closed to them because of a food allergy. Dietary restrictions or severe food allergies are a part of life (though maybe not a welcome one), and our Regional Directors work hard to ensure that our students are eating healthy local foods that accommodate student allergies and dietary restrictions, and learning other safe traveling habits like consuming safe water and eating peeled fruit.

We work with families to help them select programs that are a good fit for their child, particularly if a student has an allergy that causes anaphylaxis or a disease like Celiac. As an extra layer of precaution every leader on our programs is trained in Wilderness First Response, which is an 80 hour medical course designed for remote locations. The course teaches people how to respond in emergencies and recognize the signs of what an emergency is. Leaders are also taught how to administer Epinephrine and practice administering these injections with saline solution on their wilderness medicine course.

As for me, while I was living in Costa Rica the past few years, I discovered that I have an anaphylactic reaction to scorpion stings and just so happened to be living in the cloud forest where scorpions thrive. From that moment on, an Epi-Pen was always by my side. Life is full of unexpected surprises beyond our control, but it’s how we choose to manage these surprises and move forward that makes all the difference. I’m thankful that my nervousness about traveling with Celiac Disease or having an anaphylactic reaction to scorpion stings didn’t hold me back from going on safari in Tanzania, hiking into Machu Picchu, or exploring the unmatched beauty of the cloud forest in Costa Rica. At ARCC, we are proud to facilitate life-changing travel programs for teens, where safety and health are always our top priorities.


ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 30 year. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.

Infographic: ARCC’s Service Programs Impact

Infographic: ARCC Service Programs Impact

We are entering our 35th summer of running summer programs for teens. Over these years we have had the opportunity to bring tens of thousands of students across the globe to destinations far off the beaten path to explore, adventure and make a difference in local communities. Whether in the rural areas of Thailand’s Chiang Mai Province, high in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, on a small Fijian Island in the South Pacific or here at home on the streets of San Francisco, we are incredibly proud of the impact our students have had on the places and communities they have visited. The infographic below is just a small sample of the impact ARCC students have had as they travel the world on ARCC adventures.

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ARCC Programs has offered summer travel, adventure and service programs for teens for over 30 years. With travel & service programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.

Smiling Residents of Machu Picchu

The Famous Residents Of Machu Picchu

The Famous Residents Of Machu Picchu

By Whitney Hall, ARCC Regional Director

Residents of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is perhaps known best as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The ancient city, which literally translates to Ancient Mountain in the Quechua language, has survived for centuries nestled within the Sacred Valley of the Andes and was a former home to at least a few hundred people during the height of the Inca Empire from the 1400s to 1500s. While there are no longer any human residents of Machu Picchu, it does still have some very hairy ones. They wander around eating most of the time, weaving in and out of the stone structures, walking single file or side by side and taking in the view. They’re friendly to visitors and they’ll even let you take their photo if you’re fast enough. They moonlight as lawnmowers, tourist liaisons, models, couriers, and assistants to farmers and weavers. So who are these eccentric multi-tasking residents?

If you guessed llamas, you’re correct! There are llamas everywhere in Machu Picchu. The Incas valued their furry friends, who they domesticated around 4,000 B.C. and used their poop as an organic fertilizer to grow maize (corn) up at high altitude. In recent years, a group of scientists from Peru and France studied the mud in and around Machu Picchu and found evidence of this ancient fertilizer source via the insects that were found buried deep in the ground, which also contributed to this fertilization process. As a result, it’s clear that llamas helped the Incas not just survive, but thrive with a healthy organic food source.

Both llamas and humans have lived cooperatively together in the Sacred Valley, supporting one another for centuries and modeling what a truly sustainable culture looks like for visitors. Llamas and alpacas were also a source of wool and therefore provided clothing and textiles, which continues on to present day in the Quechua culture. They provided meat, and served as pack animals contributing to the economy and trade.Their cuisine of choice is grass, and they eat it in a way that doesn’t destroy the roots, so the grass can continue to grow and effectively mow the lawn at the same time.

So how many llamas still reside in Machu Picchu? While it’s hard to find an exact number, there are roughly two dozen llamas in total and each has a name tag. Peru is home to about 90% of the alpacas in the world and 26% of llamas. Alpacas are also found in the Sacred Valley at the lower elevations and have a softer fur that is also used to produce textiles.

On our Peru: Sacred Valley Service Program, students have the rare chance to live and work with a Quechua community in the breathtaking and towering mountains of the Sacred Valley. Women in the community we visit carry on the traditions of their artisan ancestors, weaving llama and alpaca fur with wooden hand tools into cozy hats, bags, sweaters and soft toys. These handmade items are truly sustainably made in every sense of the word- from the material, to the natural dyes found in plants from within the valley and make a huge difference in supporting the local economy.

Along with this special time spent bonding with families in the community through our joint service project focused on food sustainability, a visit to Peru wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Ancient Mountain, where our students have the chance to see llamas in action strutting their stuff while we learn about this archaeological icon which stands at 7,970 ft above sea level. Every building and structure in Machu Picchu had a purpose, and it is truly fascinating to hear how this city was planned. Not even wheeled machinery was used to construct the city, which is made up of heavy rocks people pushed up the mountain side and placed them so close together that you can’t put a needle in between them. They even had an extensive water system and leveled off the sloping landslide in a way to prevent the city from eroding down the mountain. Though many years have passed since the height of the Inca Empire, these structures continue to stand out as a feat of engineering centuries later.

While not everyone is a fan of the llama (although how could you not be with that face), one thing’s for certain: the llamas are a big fan of Machu Picchu.


ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 30 year. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.


Yosemite Overlook

The Gift of Travel: Bursting Your Bubble

The Gift of Travel: Bursting Your Bubble

By Bryan Salyer, ARCC Regional Director, Intrepid Traveler

I’m sitting in a tiny Costa Rican open-air cafe, drinking a well-needed, semi-cold Sprite. My large backpack filled with months worth of my personal belongings beside me. I’ve just ordered something off a laminated menu. I think chicken and rice, but honestly, I’m not quite sure, as I hardly speak any Spanish at all. Internally I’m kicking myself for the eight years of German I studied in school – Spanish would be pretty handy right about now.

Outside the wooden, hand-built cafe and its five wooden tables covered by colorful plastic tablecloths, life is twirling and whirling about. People walk down the dirt roads, stopping here and there to greet each other with large smiles speaking rapid-fire Spanish. Every once in a while, a noisy, old American school bus rolls through the tiny town kicking up dirt into the humid air. The townspeople stream into empty doorways to take cover. Once the dust settles and the air clears, the people in the streets go back to their life without any thought to the momentary pause in life.

I sip my drink and look down at my watch. Just hours ago I had landed in San Jose, Costa Rica. Since then, I made my way to this tiny, foreign town via public transportation. I’ve never even traveled outside of America and now I’m on my way to a remote village to assist on a volunteer project for several months. I can’t help asking myself what I’ve gotten into.

As the time passes, slowly I realize how different, yet similar this new environment feels. It is still everyday life, but one I’m not familiar with.. It is the same but somehow different, it has an undyingly unique cadence. So I sit and wait for my food and take in a world of different sights and sounds.

With a twinge of anxiety, which if I’m being honest is probably more than a twinge, and a body reverberating with excitement I think of the adventure that awaits. A new world, a new experience, a new adventure!

Neale Donald Walsch once proclaimed, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

This couldn’t be more true. I didn’t know it then, while sitting in that café in a small town in Costa Rica, but I sure know it now. I can look back and see the person I once was and how each stop along this crazy path we call life has affected me.

Growing up in small, rural Indiana town of about 6,000 people I grew up in what I now realize was a very small, yet beautiful bubble. My life was full of spending time in the town square, driving down country roads surrounded by cornfields, and the occasional foray into the closest metropolitan areas, Cincinnati or Indianapolis, for clothes shopping or a nice dinner with my family. I grew up with the same people around me all my life. From elementary school, to middle school, to high school we all grew together. I grew up across the street from the person who I still consider one of my best friends even to this day. Our experiences growing up were largely the same, they shaped our teenage years. Very rarely was there anything that shook our world or challenged our way of thinking. The O.J. trial, Columbine, even 9/11 seemed so far away. I was content and didn’t know or care much about the outside world. My daily life, my bubble, consumed my teenage existence.

It wasn’t until I started to travel that I began to realize the interconnectedness of all things. When I started to travel I really started to grow. I started to see that my little bubble was beginning to expand exponentially.

I quit my job as a classroom teacher and moved to the mountains of California to teach at an outdoor science school. My friends and family supported me, but they also thought I was a little crazy. I knew nobody in California and nothing about California except what I had seen and heard on the internet or television. Armed with this little information I packed all my belongings in a car and set off on the 2,000 plus mile drive across America.

During my drive, I really realized the diversity of America for the first time. Not only the landscapes, from the great plains through the Rocky Mountains and into the arid Mojave Desert, but the people I met and the vast array of experiences they had.

I spent three years in California and befriended people from all over America. Each and every one of these people “stretched my skin” and brought different perspectives and life experiences to my life. I traveled and experienced places that were nothing short of breathtaking. I looked out over the unfathomably vast Grand Canyon at sunrise, watched the sunset over the waves of the Pacific Ocean, and experienced the majestic limestone bluffs of Yosemite. I explored places that I have only dreamed of prior to experiencing them.

I had ups and downs, good times and difficult times. Even though I was still in the USA, I gained a wider world perspective by just being away from home. I grew in my independence and realized that life was an endless list of options. Best of all, I realized that I had power to choose what was next. That I had control to leave my mark on the world as I saw fit.

After three years expanding my horizons in California I decided it was time to see more of the world at large, to push myself out of my comfort zone and travel abroad. For the next 10 months, I traveled through Central America volunteering at sustainable farms and teaching English to local communities. I found myself in the middle of so many new experiences (like sitting at that café in Costa Rica) having to figure out how to order food and get where I needed to go. I learned so much about the world and myself during those ten months abroad. I learned that language is a barrier, but it is easily overcome with a little persistence, effort and a genuine smile. I learned that buses don’t always show up on time (or at all) and how to be flexible and creative in finding solutions to life’s problems. I learned how to trust my instincts and how to open up to others. I stepped out of my comfort zone and I grew, I learned, and with each challenge I met I become more confident in myself.

Ten months after I left California I came back from Central America and informed my friends and family I had accepted a job in China. Again, they supported me but this time thought I was absolutely crazy. “China?!”

The world was calling! I told them I had to go, and a week later I was on a plane to China.

For two years, I worked and traveled in Asia. I learned more than I can possibly put down on paper. In fact, I’m still learning and digesting my entire experience.

I learned about the importance of how you present yourself and how you treat others in mainland China. A first impression is always important. In Cambodia and Vietnam I learned how to rise from the ashes and about true forgiveness. In Nepal I learned about genuine, heart-felt kindness and the peaceful merging of spiritual beliefs. I learned about the duality of modern life, the haves and have-nots, and the items that are truly necessary for happiness. In all these places, I learned about love and respect, and how to recognize our differences yet celebrate our similarities (mostly over tea or delicious, hand-made cuisine).

But above all else I learned about myself and who I wanted to become. I learned who I wanted to be in this world. Travel has truly opened my eyes to a new world, has stretched my skin, and has burst my own bubble again and again. Travel has given me the greatest gift I could have asked for… a better, more aware and confident me!

Traveling is the greatest gift because unlike anything else it bursts your bubble and it gives you wings.

Give the Gift Of An ARCC Experience!!

Sign up for any ARCC Program in December and we’ll send you an ARCC Gear Pack that you can give when the time is right.
Call us at 415-332-5075 to learn more!


ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 30 years. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.

QUIZ: Which ARCC Summer Service Program is Right for You

QUIZ: Which ARCC Summer Service Program is Right for You

With 18 different summer service programs across 6 different continents, we know how hard it can be to make a decision about which program is the best match for your personality. Everyday we talk to families and help them decide between two or more programs that they are interested in. After years of these conversations, which we love, we thought it would be fun to design a short quiz that might help people figure out which program is the one for them. Plus – it’s fun to see what you come up with. Give it a try (or two!) below!

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For over 30 years ARCC Programs has offered summer service programs for teens. With travel and adventure programs on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.

Experiential Learning in Vietnam

Experiential Learning in Vietnam

Experiential Learning in Vietnam

Luke DaunerLuke Dauner is an ARCC Gap Instructor currently leading the Asia Gap Semester that travels through China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Our Gap Year Program in Asia is a unique blend of education, service and exploration of these intriguing and ancient cultures. Our exclusive access to people and places, developed over decades, gives us a window on aspects of China and Southeast Asia rarely experienced by outsiders. In Luke’s blog below he shares his perspectives from his group’s time in Vietnam as considered through the eyes of an experiential educator.

Luke studied Neuroscience and Religion at Middlebury College. Prior to ARCC, Luke was a Field Instructor for the Teton Science School in Jackson, WY. Luke has led ARCC’s California: Urban and Wilderness Service program, Thailand: Hill Tribe Impact program, and is currently leading the Asia Gap Semester.

As an environmental educator for the past two years, I have always considered “experiential education” to be most effectively implemented in nature’s classroom, learning about ecology, geology, and scientific inquiry through direct engagement with one’s surroundings. For me, history, as an academic subject, has never seemed as conducive to experiential education as science—how can one have direct experience with something that by definition has already occurred? Science is all around us, history is in the past. After traveling through Vietnam, however, I quickly realized how wrong that assumption was. History is on display in this proud country, and the decades of war that has shaped the identity of its citizens inspired as much curiosity in me as any ecology experiment ever has.

With scientific inquiry, unexpected results can often produce the most profound findings, and this is exactly what our group discovered during our first week in Vietnam. The highlight for many of us was during our stay in a community just outside of Hanoi. Here we had a talk with the American War veterans [Editor’s note: In Vietnam they refer to what we call the “Vietnam War” as the “American War”]. Coming into this experience, many in our group were harboring some guilt over our country’s brutal engagement with Vietnam, so it was no surprise that there were some nerves before we had this discussion with the veterans—our parents and grandparents were their enemies. They have every reason to hate America (and Americans): we bombed vast regions of their country, killed many thousands of civilians, and even sprayed the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, which is still causing disease and deformity in their children and their children’s children.

Yet the veterans showed nothing but compassion to our group (the first Americans they have ever met, I might add). They spoke primarily of forgiveness and reconciliation, emphasizing that it was a war between governments, not people. When we spoke of our guilt, they made certain that we abandon that guilt, and when we asked them about their country they spoke of love and pride, patriotically orating about their fight for independence and the optimism they have for the future. I think it is fair to say that our entire group was surprised, inspired, and moved by the attitude of forgiveness and compassion that seemed to permeate that room, and that became characteristic of seemingly all Vietnamese people when asked about the past. For me, I realized that I have to broaden my definition of “scientific inquiry”; observing, asking good questions, and collecting data allowed us to learn experientially about Vietnam’s history in an incredibly profound way.

Yet, just when I thought I had a firm grasp on Vietnamese identity–transfixed by an unabashed patriotism I have never known and a depth of forgiveness usually reserved for literature–we traveled south to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). Like in all great experiments, we were presented with entirely new and unexpected evidence, and my schema once again had to readjust. Saigon is the cultural and economic center of southern Vietnam, and was the stronghold of the South Vietnam-allied U.S. military during the American War. The impression of the war that the northerners gave us was one of national pride and independence–going to war was never an option for them because their freedom was at stake. In the south, however, that impression was much more skewed. Instead of a war between the governments of the U.S. and Vietnam (as it was treated in the North), some southerners defined it as a civil war in which the U.S. simply participated. Instead of a fight for national independence where communism was hardly a factor, communism was a driving force in the conflict. Instead of an unequivocal victory for all Vietnamese, reunification had its pros and cons.

As we strolled through the emotional War Remnants Museum in central Saigon and the Cu Chi Tunnels just outside the city, we were presented with a new and sometimes brutal perspective of the war. Nobody we met in Saigon ever expressed any contempt for the North or lack of pride in Vietnam–the country as a whole is strong and dignified–but the moral complexity of war and identity was revealed in the restaurant owner who is nostalgic for the days before skyscrapers, the tour guide whose parents are blacklisted from government employment, and the flagrant western influence of the city itself. This contradicting evidence ignited our curiosity, and caused us to think more critically about one of the great questions of history: how can we learn from our past?

Personally, Vietnam gave me a much greater appreciation for history as a subject, and for experiential education as a purveyor of that subject. I also realized that curiosity and inquiry doesn’t just connect you with nature, but to whatever you direct it towards–in this instance, I feel deeply connected to Vietnam. As a group, our time in Vietnam was an exercise in depth psychology and, from a scientific perspective, a wonderful and robust experiment. Our engagement with Vietnam’s history seemed at first to provide us with conclusive and meaningful results, but we realized before leaving that we had barely scratched the surface. And like all great inquiries, we left with more questions than answers.

Written By ARCC Gap Asia Instructor Luke Dauner


ARCC Gap Year Programs offers Gap Year travel programs in India, Asia, Latin America, Africa, Patagonia and Cuba.