People are often blind to change as it is happening. Once the experience has ended, they understand a change has taken place. It wasn’t until we drove out of the town of Clintwood, Virginia, and down the winding roads of the Appalachian Mountains that I realized I was a changed person. At first, I had rather selfish reservations about attending the mission trip. Did I really want to spend my time off of school doing something school related? Furthermore, did I want to spend it doing hard labor for total strangers? I took a chance, set my reservations aside, and prepared for what turned out to be a transformative and seminal adventure.
Before my Appalachia experience, I rarely tried new things. I felt trapped inside this routine I had become so accustomed to. I hung out with the same group of friends, did the same old thing every weekend, and had the same narrow-minded outlook with which I was raised. I argued against and refused to listen to the opinions of others. I did not recognize my need for change and how comfortable people can become with themselves until the mission trip.
The girls who made the Appalachian journey alongside me remain some of the closest friends I have today. Initially, I didn’t think we would connect on any real levels. I recognized faces and names from classes at school, but they just weren’t my people. However, there's something about cramming 30 teenage girls into a house and allowing them to coexist that forms a forever bond. Between staying up too late, fighting over the next shower, and sharing plenty of laughs and tears, I could never forget the impact those people have had on the person I am today.
In Clintwood, I was given many opportunities to disrupt my normal patterns. The work involved ripping up floors, drilling, painting, cutting wood, laying out tile, and various other projects to finish fixing the projects my group was assigned. Aside from doing service, I learned so much about teamwork, taking stock of the positive things in my life, and focusing on what I have rather than what’s missing. Most importantly, I learned to step outside myself.
Interacting with and working for the homeowners was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. As a white girl who had attended Catholic school her whole life, I knew that I was privileged. I’d completed my fair share of volunteer work but had never taken the time to get to know the faces and stories behind who I was helping. After hearing the struggles and everything that the community members had endured, I became inspired to weave service work into my normal routine upon returning home.
My mission trip experience taught me to listen and to value differences in others. It also provided me with the courage to embrace new challenges, and the wisdom to get rid of any preconceived notions before embarking on a new journey. It’s been over two years since this life-changing expedition, yet I find myself thinking back to it frequently. The values and lessons instilled in me during my time on the trip have affected many aspects of my life. Gratitude, patience, and diligence are qualities that I never truly put to use until Appalachia. I now use these lessons and qualities I gained every single day to climb the mountains I face and approach life gracefully and with hope for what the future will bring.
So the next time an opportunity to try something out of your comfort zone presents itself, take it. Whether it be a mission trip like mine, a new club at school, a blossoming friendship, or anything different than what you’re used to, trying these unfamiliar things can only help you grow into an amazing and educated person. At the very worst, you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation for a limited time. At best, you acquire lifelong friends, memories, and wisdom. Climb your mountain, and you will never forget the view from the top.