Which countries have you been to with World Challenge and when?
Peru (2012), Ecuador & the Galápagos (2013), South Africa (2014), Iceland (2015)
What really excited you about the trips?
First and foremost, I was definitely excited about the destinations themselves. The countries were all off the beaten path in their own sort of way, and I wanted to travel to places where not many other people went. I also love travelling. No matter how much I love travelling with my parents though, I think it was high time for me to experience the world on my own!
Why do you keep going back for more?
I love the thrill of spontaneity and unexpectedness I get while on the expeditions. You never know what happens next, especially when you're one voice in a sea of your other team members. We also get to do really cool things.
I'll never forget snorkelling with giant sea turtles in the Galapagos or going on safari in South Africa. Going to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa was also an inspiring experience for me. We got to meet with the girls and exchange stories from our homes. While we got to hear what life in South Africa was like, we also found many similarities between our lives and theirs.
Our community project in Ecuador was one of my favourite experiences. We stayed in a rural community church which we were also supposed to paint. When we were there, the entire village was inside the church, celebrating for some religious festival with blasting music, singing, and chanting.
All the children were outside the church, and when we arrived, all the kids rushed towards us. As we started playing with the kids, more and more came. We played with them for a while then locked ourselves in a room afterwards for a break. The kids pushed through the door and invaded our room.
It was hysterical and one of the funniest moments of my life. I'll never forget when my friends and I frantically tried holding back the door to prevent the impending invasion!
What were you worried about before going on expedition? What has been the reality of those fears?
I had no idea what I had got myself into when I signed up to go to Peru during the summer of my freshman (fresher) year. I had never been an outdoorsy person. I had never hiked nor camped out before. I had also never stayed in a hostel without hot water. It definitely took me a few days to adapt to my new surroundings, but I quickly found my step.
My fears were valid, but the whole point of a World Challenge trip is to face your fears. Having previous trepidation heightened my transformation at the end of the journey.
How do you feel you’ve changed over the course of the expeditions?
I've definitely become more appreciative of the life I live and the surroundings I am in. Through these travels, I've seen what life is like for people across the world who don't have the comforts that we do. Not only have I become more thankful, but I've also developed a sincere desire to help others and learn people's stories.
I've also become more adventurous. I would never have imagined that I would hike up an ancient volcano in Ecuador or spend the night in some random Peruvian village. It's also easy for me to work in teams now. I know how to lead, but I also know how to follow. My communication skills have definitely been heightened through all my World Challenge experiences.
Has the experience been worth the money and effort?
Of course! Though World Challenge expeditions aren't easy, in the sense that they require much planning, communication, and personal responsibility, the end reward makes up for everything. At the end of the day, you're in some unconventional country with an awesome group of people doing some pretty cool things. Not many people get to say that, and I'm so lucky that I can.
Has it fuelled an appetite for future travel?
Absolutely. My dream is to become a doctor-journalist. I want to travel around the world, treat patients, and broadcast my experiences globally through various forms of media.
How will it help when you get to college/university/work?
Well, first off, World Challenge gives me something to talk about. The experiences are so unique that they immediately draw attention. The skills that are needed and practised on World Challenge trips are also the same skills in college/university/the workforce. I've already got a head start on everyone else because I've spent my summers practising these skills and thus pre-developing myself for success later on.
What’s it been like to be part of teams who has completed something amazing?
Indescribable. It's one thing to accomplish a feat on your own, but it's definitely something else to accomplish a feat with people you genuinely love and respect.
Yes, every team has its moments where everything is going haywire, but when everything comes together, you know you're a part of something special. When I tell people of the things my team and I have accomplished on trips, I am so proud and honoured to be part of such great experiences.
Would you recommend the experience to other students?
Of course, but I would intentionally keep the details vague so they don't get any preconceptions.
Would you go again?
In a heartbeat. I'd love to chaperone a trip in the future with my school.
Shereen Al-Sawwaf, New Jersey, US – Southern Peru (2012), Ecuador & the Galápagos (2013), South Africa & Lesotho (2014), Iceland (2015)