Travel For Teens is proud to announce the 2014 Grand Prize Winners for the essay and video contests. They have each won an all-expenses-paid trip to Sicily, Barcelona & Paris, or Costa Rica! Please see the below videos for your introduction to this year’s talented winners. Congratulations to Katie and Elizabeth!
Click Here to vote on the Runner Up Essays and Videos!
From Sight to Self Exploration: The Permanent Change Travel Leaves on a Person
By Katie Curran
As I slowly walked through the somber hallways, intricate red and black lettering glowed in the dim light. Inching closer towards the walls, I finally reached the cold stone coming alive and speaking to me. These letters and numbers evoked so much emotion; they weren’t any story, they were part of my family’s story. It was extremely difficult to hold back tears. I stood in the Pinkas Synagogue, a memorial to 80,000 Jewish Holocaust Victims, alongside my Czech-Danish host “mother”. The city of “Ostrava” etched on the wall, was the home of many Holocaust victims and the birthplace of my host “mother”. I hold this city’s people in my heart forever.
Overwhelmed with emotion, I prayed for the deceased, that their memory may never be forgotten. Moved by such a harrowing story, I knew that although I could not fix the past, I could lead the future and be an international voice for change. Traveling to Czech Republic was much more than seeing these tourist sights; it was living among a history book, reading thousands of chapters and re-writing my own story.
Last summer I was a Youth Exchange Ambassador to Czech Republic. I can’t believe the deep, permanent change that I experienced in myself in one summer. My host mom was a refugee from Czechoslovakia when Soviet Russia invaded in 1968. My host grandmother grew up in an orphanage, as her mother was jailed for espionage in Eastern Europe during WWII. The Iron Curtain separated my host family for many decades. I witnessed resilient smiles and listened to stories of endless love that stood strong even against the walls of Communism. I’ll never forget the compelling stories I heard in my travels.
My host mother shared incredible words of wisdom with me. My new “home” was hand built by my “family’s” grandfather from the rocky ruins of churches and synagogues that had been bombed during WWII. He turned tragedy into beauty. She said don’t let little things in life to tear you down, embrace your past and enjoy every moment in life. Her positive attitude towards the Communist Regime that had torn her life apart made me realize that many of the “problems” back home weren’t really problems at all. This pivotal moment transformed my idea of travel.
To me, travel is a great adventure of self exploration. You develop a meaningful, permanent change in your life while living the legacy of the people you encounter on your journey. Traveling is a kaleidoscope that flashes a million words, emotions and memories in front of your eyes. Every passport stamp holds a story, a snapshot of momentous times. Every blank page is an unwritten story that will touch your heart and define who you are. Through my experiences, travel has become the blood that fills my veins, making me who I am. As a global citizen, I’ve caught a case of wanderlust. I wish to continue fueling my fiery passion for travel and exploration forever.
Travel For Teens would also like to congratulate our Essay Silver and Bronze Winners, who have each won a free trip to Italy: Nolan Pearson of Malibu, CA and Eliana Levey of Baltimore, MD!
I consider myself a well traveled person. From a young age my Father’s job allowed me to see Berlin, Cape Town, London, and Pisa. At 15 years old I went to China with my school and for the first time saw myself not as an outsider or “Wai Guo Ren” but truly a traveler immersing myself in culture. My plunge into Chinese culture came in the form of an old man, an erhu, and a walk by a deep green lake. My third day in Beijing was hot, humid, dirty, and laborious. My school and I had covered most of the city on foot and now found ourselves at The Summer Palace.
A friend of mine decided with our one hour of free time we ought to take a walk down by the banks of Kunming Lake. The lake was a complex shade of jade, dotted with lily pads, and moved slowly under a light breeze. A slow, melodic sadness drifted from down the path. My friend and I padded softly along the dirt path until passing a series of boulders we reached the source of the solitary symphony. A man in his mid 60’s turned around suddenly and revealed in his hands an erhu. The erhu is comparable to a two stringed violin played with a bow of horsehair. Wordlessly he stood up, handed me the instrument and motioned for me to sit on a pillow he had placed for himself atop a boulder near the water.
I was speechless as my hands floated over the strings and created the most horrific long wailing notes. I still do not know how to play the erhu. The silent compassion, humility, and hospitality of this man astounded me. This interaction surpassed a language barrier. Traveling for me will no longer be tied to a tourist hot spot or the most luxurious hotel, my new goal in life is to find all the people in the world like the erhu man.
It was the end of July. I was embarking on an adventure that awaited me on the whole other side of the United States. I had so many intense feelings—fear, excitement, suspense, and most of all fierce anticipation, as I did not know what to expect.
For the first eleven years of my life, I lived in a large Jewish community in Baltimore, Maryland. I attended an upper class Jewish day school, and was thus sheltered amongst those that were raised with relatively similar traditions and backgrounds. Then, in 2011, my father was given an opportunity for a job promotion that took our family to an area of the United States that I had barely even heard of—the Southern city of Birmingham, Alabama.
This experience was far different from what I expected having grown up in Baltimore, but I would soon realize how influential and memorable this period of my life would be. First of all, I was starting middle school in a totally different place, in a public school instead of a Jewish day school. I was one of the few Jews to attend that school. There were many kinds of people there, of all religions and from all walks of life. Some were rich while others were not. This environment was so important for me to help me to realize how meaningful and relevant the concept of diversity is, and to treasure the differences that make up the world. This experience taught me to be more accepting and open. Although religion was not the bond that connected us, hobbies and personal character—the kindness and friendliness that so many of the children showed to the “new kid” was overwhelming.
This same year was my Bat Mitzvah. Unlike most children that age who have large parties to celebrate their coming of age, I wanted to travel to Israel, the land of my historical and cultural roots. This trip was much more powerful than a mere sightseeing escapade. It not only strengthened my heritage by seeing sights that are living history to me, like the ancient Western Wall and breathtaking Masada, but it also helped me to gain an even greater appreciation for all cultures. While I was visiting, I saw Jews, Muslim, Christians, Americans, Israelis, Palestinians- all going to Israel for their own special reasons.
Since then, I have moved back to Baltimore, but my travels have helped me open up to large arrays of people. I now go to a theater arts school and have met so many interesting individuals that I have learned so much from. I continue to meet people from all walks of life and my family delights at every opportunity to invite people of other religions and backgrounds over, in hopes that this will create peaceful tolerance and understanding. I have maintained my friendships with both my friends that I met in Alabama and in Israel and am thankful to God for giving me these life affirming experiences.
The Honorable Mention videos and essays will be posted on Monday, April 21st and YOU will be able to vote to decide who wins a free trip to Sicily! Stay tuned for the link.