I am sitting in the Oklahoma City airport waiting for my flight home. ahhhh... What a glorious feeling. This has by far been the most challenging summer of my life. But, just like I told the campers every week, it is in adversity that the largest potential for growth is found. I learned so, so much, but first let's look back on what happened this summer, shall we? :)
Training-Cherry Hill, NJ
I had an incredible time hanging out with 11 hilarious, creative DI alumni and realized that even though I haven't been a DI participant for 7 years, I've still got the spark. Destination ImagiNation was huge in helping me discover my passions at a young age and really developing a hunger for life. Training made me wonder if I have a future in experiential education or even at Destination ImagiNation. It was on the Wednesday of this week that I discovered I was selected to go on the Asia Tour with Charles. I knew it was going to be a very significant time in my life, but had no clue what to expect beyond that.
Last Goodbyes-Bloomington, IN
I had 3 days to cram full with adventure, laughs, rock climbing and Redbox. I got next to no sleep, but had an incredible time with my friends Javan, Broderick and of course Colleen. We made a last second decision to go caving the night before I left for Globals, and tunneled deep into the ground laughing and singing Disney songs the whole way. :)
DI Global Finals-Knoxville, TN
16-hour work days could only be this fun at Global Finals! I don't think I have stood up so much in my life! I seriously thought my feet might just fall off or explode. It was a good taste of what was to come in the summer and the amount of work it takes to keep a program like DI running. This week, my new friend Charlie and I destroyed the town and hit up every dance party we could find. (If we could find one, we made one ourselves!)
This week also presented the harsh reality that I wouldn't be able to get in contact with friends and family at the drop of a hat like I am used to. I had a friend hundreds of miles away in crisis and had to do my best to be there for her despite lack of sleep, crazy schedule and distance.
May 31-June 11
Waiting-Bloomington and Bourbon, IN
The next two weeks were spent painstakingly waiting to leave for my tour. The first week was spent in Bloomington, avoiding cleaning the apartment, calling friends and rock climbing. The highlight of this time was definitely taking a last paddle around Lake Monroe for a day with my friend Rachel. We were able to just talk about life, eat our favorite healthy hippy foods, and take in the beauty of nature. So lovely.
The second week was spent in Bourbon where I got to hang with my awesome parents and take a night out with my long lost friend Ben. If not moderately awkward (haha), it was a wonderful time to see how far I have come since attending old Triton High.
Grand Forks AFB-Grand Forks, ND
This was my first taste of being on the road and Air Force life. Charles and I didn't quite know what we were doing and ended up working 15-hour days all week. We were both second guessing what we got ourselves into. It all ended up being worth it though to see the incredible growth in our campers over only 7 days.
Minot AFB-Minot, ND
A new base. A VERY different base. The week before our POC was very present for every aspect of the camp. At this base we sort of met our POC a couple times. haha This camp attendance was also compulsory and proved to be extremely challenging for most of the week. Again, amazing growth was seen in most of the kids and the Youth Center Staff got a lot from our training. Nearing the end of this week, I was getting so restless to get to Japan. My hotel room smelled like smoke and the most appealing form of entertainment in town was a bingo hall. Needless to say, I will not be moving to North Dakota any time soon!
June 27-July 4
"Free" Week-Minot, ND; Trans-Pacific; Fussa City, Japan
Now came our break week, which Charles and I have renamed "Hell Week." It resembled nothing of a break. We spent the first couple days of our week dodging tornadoes in North Dakota. Then at 5 am Monday morning, we started out on our sickeningly long travels to Japan. I actually loved the plane ride over there. The guy next to me was really nice and helpful answering my questions, talking about life in Japan and giving me helpful hints. ANA also has wonderful in-flight meals and adorable flight attendants.
Once we got to Japan we realized that we had lost another whole day on our way over. Break week was already half-way over already. Grand. Charles got sick, and our next couple days were a fog of fighting off jet lag. We did manage to spend a day wandering around Fussa City and a day navigating the Japan Rail Line to hang out in Electric City, Tokyo. I was surprised how similar everything was to the US. I expected to have a lot more "wonder" as I walked around, but no matter where you go, commercialism is commercialism. Even the shrine we found had vending machines inside it's gates. I also realized that the language barrier didn't really bother me. It was even kind of fun. What a world.
Misawa AFB-Misawa, Japan
We flew in through dense fog that barely lifted for the entire week. Our POC met us at the gate, and we sleepily settled into our air conditioning-free hotel. The whole base seemed to have an aversion to AC, but I didn't mind since the fog kept us cool enough. Our POC was so nice and took us all around the area. Misawa is located in the northern countryside of Japan and was my favorite place to visit. Within an hour or two of driving, you could go coastal, flatwater or whitewater kayaking, surfing, swimming, rock climbing, bouldering, deep water soloing, hiking, rafting, snowboarding, cycling or just cruising around marveling at the vast array of local farms. The people's faces were just incredible. I wanted to just meet them and take their picture. This was when I decided that I needed to take "Audrey Adventure Time" everyday to make sure I wasn't missing out on all that Japan had to offer. My favorite experience of the summer occurred here as peddled to the ocean in the rain and danced on a black sand beach in the fog. Wonderful.
Yakota AFB, Fussa City, Japan
Enter Patrina. The nicest woman and POC ever. She was so helpful and took Charles and I out to dinner several times. She even celebrated her birthday with us! What sticks out most about Yakota, though, is that it was here I realized how little effort so many of the Air Force people take to explore their new home. Virtually everyone we talked to said that they don't really leave the base for much, if ever. It makes me so sad to think about people choosing to just be content living their lives in a literal bubble. The world has so much to offer, and endless opportunities are at your doorstep! I know it is hard for military families that are constantly changing locations to be motivated to plant their roots, but I never want to be at a point where I am so content.
On a final note, I met one of my two favorite campers at Yakota. His name was Jacob, and started out as the most rambunctious of the bunch... but he had spunk. He ended up being such a great camper, and I teared up a little bit when I hugged him goodbye.
Osan AFB, Outer-Seoul, South Korea
This was when I got sick. Call it stress, call it weariness, I felt bad. I was really tired all the time and nearly lost my voice. I still made time to explore the city a bit though, since I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime. The streets were dirty and packed with little shops where you could barter over prices. it was fun, and I felt like a really world explorer as I wandered through the tiny winding streets as shoppers buzzed around me. My camera batteries died, and I had already lost the charger, so this is where my pictures stopped.
Our POC was incredible here as well. Her name is Miss Lee, a tiny, feisty Thai woman with a hunger for living life. She is around 60-years-old, a cancer survivor, skydiving enthusiast, and proud mother. Basically I want to be her when I grow up! When I visit Thailand (notice, WHEN) I am going to stay with her family.
July 24-July 31
Kadena AFB-Okinawa, Japan
Welcome to a beautiful tropical paradise! What a wonderful place. It again reminded me of an American resort town, but was a lot of fun. I was unable to get an unescorted base pass here, but was determined to explore the island, so one evening I set out on my rental bike, rode along the sea wall, listened to beautiful street music, ate my favorite meal of the summer at a shack along the road and found my way back in the dark by light of my headlamp strapped to my handle bars. I met Charles a sweaty mess at the gate after he had enjoyed a relaxing evening on base. haha I figured that I ended up riding 17-miles that night and loved every second of it.
All I wish could have been different was that I could have bouldered on this island off of a beach and gone snorkeling. I love the ocean and was pretty sad that I didn't get to take advantage of it while staying in a beach town.
The last night was fun, though, as Charles and I spent the evening with our POC's daughters at an American-style boardwalk shopping center. Charles got to participate in a street performer's act, and although he almost hit him in the head with a flaming baton, it was a good time. I also got a close-up look at the MASSIVE Okinawan bats as they fed in the trees on the board walk. I am surprised to hear myself say that they were actually pretty adorable!
July 31-August 7
Trans-Pacific; Tinker AFB-Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
July 31st was the longest day of my life... literally. On the bus ride to the Tokyo airport I asked Charles when we were supposed to get to LAX, and he said, "two hours ago today." Since we gained time on the way back, we saw two sunsets from planes and still arrived on the same day. Craziness. Life got unexpectedly more chill as we returned to the States and Oklahoma City treated us well. Charles and I saw two movies (Salt and Inception), visitied a waterpark (where my swimsuit broke!), and had a wonderful camp.
My other favorite camper was met here. Her name was Haley, and she was the sweetest, most graceful girl I have met. I would love to have a daughter like her when I get older. After our last day of camp, Charles and I got to go on the infamous Dolphin Slide that the kids had been raving about all week. It is a 30-foot-high inflatable waterslide/fun machine. This was probably my favorite camp of the summer.
Vance AFB-Enid, Oklahoma
Another great camp and great time. We had our first group of teens, which made things more interesting and our brightest group of elementary-level campers. I was SOOOO thankful to have a room with a kitchen in it and cooked most of my own meals. Charles and I also realized that we are bowling naturals and took total advantage of the 75 cent shoe rentals and $1 games.
What I learned:
I learned that I am fiercely independent.
I learned that just watching families laugh together can bring tears of joy to my eyes.
I learned a new dimension of culture shock.
I learned how essential serving through volunteerism is to my well-being.
I learned how intensely I love my family and friends.
I learned a new level of endurance.
I learned that I want to see more of the world.
I learned how important sleep, healthy food and exercise really are.
I learned that I don't mind hot weather.
I learned that I really enjoy riding bike.
I learned ways to empower kids to think for themselves.
I learned drawing is good processing outlet for me.
I learned that my hunger for adventure is not equally share with others, even with people choosing to live in adventurous places.
Whew. This was a summer I will remember for the rest of my life, and I don't think it will be especially the good things or especially the bad things that I remember most. I will remember how much I learned about myself and others and the world and how that has affected the rest of my life.