Amir Patel and Olivia Tan, both Chicago residents, participated in our Namaste community service program in India this summer. They were kind enough to share their stories with us and explain what their trip meant to them.
“Namaste has been my favorite RLT program so far,” said Olivia, a rising senior at the Francis W. Parker school in Chicago. She has been on our community service travel programs in Costa Rica and Panama, which she enjoyed, but there was something different about her community service program India.
She chose to go to India because she wanted a culturally rich experience. Not only did it live up to her hopes, she said, but there was much she didn’t expect. While doing service in Ladakh, for example, she was struck by the beauty of the landscape. “I would be carrying bricks for our community service construction project at the Shey Abbey,” she said, “and I’d look up and all I could see were the surrounding mountains. I would get this instant warm feeling. You can’t believe you’re there.”
“My favorite part of the trip,” explained Amir, a Whitney Young senior, “was being able to see so much of the country in such a short amount of time.” He was amazed that he could tour the Taj Majal in Agra, trek the Himalayas for five days, complete community service work in Ladakh, explore beautiful monasteries in Leh and witness a traditional Indian ceremony on the Ganges while on his RLT program.
“I loved that I could come home and tell friends how much I had done in under a month,” he said.
Something they both appreciated about the program was the group experience. They both went on the program by themselves, which is normal for the majority of RLT participants, and bonded immediately with everyone. “Not only did our group click from day one, but our leaders Jackie and John made everything even better,” Olivia said.
When asked how spending summers on “The Road” had affected their lives, Olivia took a moment to collect her thoughts.
“I started traveling with RLT when I was 14 and since then, my desire to see and experience other cultures has grown immensely.”
Amir pondered the question for a little while as well. “After returning from Africa last year, my life direction changed completely. It made me rethink what my next steps were and even what I wanted to study in college.”
Since returning from India in July, he noticed a more subtle change in his thinking as well.
“I’ve been able to live in the moment and not worry about the future as much – which is really, really hard when applying to college. I can tell I’m a lot less stressed,” he said.
Together they remembered their day exploring the majestic Taj Mahal at the end of the program. Amir found it to be bittersweet. “It meant the trip was ending and I didn’t want it to.”
Olivia thought for a moment. “I didn’t find it to be bittersweet. Rather it acted as a capstone,” she said. “A way to bring closure to our fantastic trip at one of the most iconic places in India. What more could you want?”