By Emma Segerman
I’ve spent my last two summers on USY Summer Experiences and I’ve had the time of my life, but neither of my trips were the staples. When you think of summer trips, you think of Wheels Classic, you think of Pilgrimage, and while these trips are beloved for a reason, these aren’t the trips I spend my days recounting and texting my friends over. My trips were two of the most underrated; USY On Wheels, Pacific Northwest and USY DREAM; but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
USY On Wheels Pacific Northwest, lovingly referred to as PNW, was probably the closer of my two trips to the classic Wheels experience. We spent many of our days on a coach bus, touring from the Seattle Space Needle to Crater Lake Oregon. We got a glimpse of the Wheels basics; loading our bus each morning, packing lunches, raiding Wal-Marts, cherishing Disney Day, and realizing that mandatory rest time is a blessing in disguise. But unlike any other trip, our time on the bus was complemented by a week spent on an Alaskan cruise. We stormed the ship’s buffets, prayed shacharit while looking out on Glacier Bay, and spent a unique Fourth of July bundled up in our warmest jackets. Our group was smaller than average, but this rare set of experiences brought us closer together than I ever imagined. There is no bonding experience quite like contemplating sea-sickness while wearing a winter coat in the middle of July.
While PNW gave me the perfect taste of a classic USY summer, USY DREAM gave me an experience highlighted with a deeper meaning. On DREAM, USYers travel together to the Dominican Republic and divide their time between volunteering and touring the island. We were welcomed to the DR with local cuisine and an abundance of Spanish. While we all contemplated whether we could survive on this type of diet and if we’d be able to communicate with the locals, we all soon grew a fondness for having conversations with our smiles and dining on the most inviting of home cooked meals. Like PNW, our group was small, but as we toured the island in petite coach-style buses we grew into a tightly knit family. We spent our free time on the beach, paddle boarding, riding horses, and exploring the beauty of the island. While our tourism was certainly a highlight for our instagrams, the core of our trip was in our volunteer work. We spend half our time working at a summer school camp for the DREAM organisation, a non-profit that works to bring resources to youth in the Dominican Republic. In our work, we spent time with children as they read books, practiced counting, and drew us pictures. The smiles on the kids faces, and the hugs they greeted us with every morning warmed my heart more than I can explain. If tourism isn’t enough, working with these happy kids should convince anyone that this trip is among the best any organization offers.
I may not have spent two months on a coach bus, and I may not have traveled to Israel with thirty of my closest friends, but USY still gave me the summers of a lifetime. I traveled to the most beautiful places, met my second families, and had experiences that I will never forget. So if anyone is looking to go on a summer trip, I of course recommend the classics, but don’t be afraid to try something different. You may be surprised with the best summer of your life.