Meet Anh, Daniela, and Jennifer — three Summer Search Bay Area students who completed their first summer experiences this summer!
This is a particularly important milestone because students embark on their first summer experiences shortly after joining Summer Search as sophomores, sometimes unsure of what to expect. The challenges they face and the growth they experience sets the foundation for intensive mentoring when they return.
From left to right: Anh, Daniela, and Jennifer.
Now as high school juniors, they have been partnering with their mentor to reflect on and learn from their triumphs and setbacks… and were kind enough to share some of their personal reflections with us.
So, if YOU weren’t able to have a summer adventure this year, here is your chance to get a closer look at the kinds of transformative trips that our Summer Searchers experience!
Where They Went
For his summer experience, Anh traveled to Colorado, Arizona, and Utah on a “River and Service Quest” with Deer Hill Expeditions. As one of Summer Search’s longest standing summer partners, Deer Hill offers a unique blend of awe-inspiring wilderness adventures and meaningful cross-cultural service projects in the American Southwest.
Daniela also trekked to the southwest, spending three weeks with Deva Healing Center on one of their all-women “Soul Journey” programs in Arizona. Deva’s programs incorporate beginner yoga, expressive arts activities, and outdoor adventures, providing students with a therapeutic and inspiring experience.
Jennifer was also on an all-female trip with Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC) this summer. During ETC’s courses, students spend two weeks backpacking, sea-kayaking along a California watershed, and learning about natural resources while developing leadership skills and outdoor ethics.
Jennifer (fourth from the right) in Tomales Bay, CA with her Environmental Traveling Companions group.
Before They Left
Prior to departing for their summer journeys, most of our students experience a mix of excitement and nervousness, especially around the idea of being away family and friends, often for the first time in their lives.
As Daniela explained, “This trip was my first time leaving home for a long time and not having any communication with anyone [from home]. Before leaving, I was very nervous and overthinking about challenges that I will encounter during my trip. Once it was actually time to leave, my mom took me to the airport in Oakland. That’s when reality hit me, and when my mom gave me my last hug, I didn’t want to let go.”
“This summer trip was really the first time that I had been away from my family for an extended amount of time,” shared Anh, who was also struck with a similar dose of reality as his Deer Hill departure date approached. “Before the night I left, I was hit with the sudden realization that this was actually going to be something completely different from what I’ve ever experienced.”
Anh (second from the left) with fellow Summer Searchers in Arizona on his experience with Deer Hill Expeditions.
Jennifer was really looking forward to “the opportunity to go away from my home and get lost in the beauty of nature.” However, as an avid reader of fantasy books like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, she was nervous about being disconnected from the stories she enjoyed so much. “It meant leaving behind my electronics and ebooks. I could do just fine without social media, but I had never stopped reading for this long and I had just gotten a new series that I was eager to read.”
Challenges They Faced
Backpacking, rafting, camping, manual labor, and no technology were just a few of the many challenges our students would face this summer.
As Jennifer mentioned, leaving her comfort zone of books and reading stories was going to be one of her biggest challenges. She credits her ETC experience with helping her be more present. As she explained, “[Before my trip] I would escape to a new world and get lost in books and that would be pretty much all I’ll do. This trip helped me see nature and not just through literature, but by getting to be physically involved.”
For Daniela, her most challenging obstacle was backpacking through the mountains and backcountry in Arizona. “At the beginning, everything felt extremely heavy and I had thought I was prepared, but I truly wasn’t. Many times I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore and just felt like giving up. That’s when my family came to my mind and I told myself to do it for them because my parents have done so much for me.”
Daniela (standing, third from the left) with her Deva Soul Journey group.
Family was also very much on Anh’s mind during his trip. In fact, that feeling of being homesick proved to be the most difficult aspect of his experience. “The challenges that I ran into weren’t as physical as I had expected. Instead, it was actually the mental challenges that were really hard to overcome. As I said before, this was my first time I had been away from my family so being in a completely new environment with new people was very unsettling. Some nights, I would be lying in bed staring at the night sky which really made me emotional that I wasn’t there with my family. I was very lucky to have such an inclusive group that really helped me settle in and focus on the things that mattered — the present.”
Highlight of Their Trip
But it’s not just hard times out there in the woods. From learning new things and connecting with new people, to pushing the boundaries of their comfort zones and overcoming challenges, our summer experiences are filled with many impactful, inspirational, and transformative moments.
Anh really enjoyed both the physical activities of backpacking in the mountains and working on service projects with Native American families during his Deer Hill expedition. “The highlight of my trip was really discovering these new things I probably would have never seen if I had not gone on this amazing trip. I learned the different skills needed in order to camp in the wilderness, and I also learned about the different cultures of people that live in various parts of the U.S.”
Anh at an indigenous cliff drawings site with his Deer Hill group.
For Jennifer, it was all about the meaningful connections she made on her ETC journey. “I loved being outside and having the opportunity to meet new people in a new environment and having this experience to discover more about myself.” She continued: “I created amazing friendships… created through trust and being able to tell my life story to a bunch of girls my age that I didn’t even know. These are friendships that I never imagined myself having.”
Daniela shared a deeply personal revelation, saying, “I learned to love myself and know my worth just by being my own human being. I admit that before being part of Deva Soul Journey, I didn’t love myself or know how much I am actually worth. During the trip, I met some incredible, beautiful women. We did many activities that involved writing down things we loved about ourselves and we uplifted one another when we needed that support. Once I came home, I felt that spark inside me. I love myself now more than I ever have throughout my whole life. I am a beautiful and strong young woman and I know I can do anything I set my mind to. I am worth so much and anyone would be fortunate to have me part of their life. I, Daniela, am a powerful and kind-hearted soul!”
Support From Their Mentor
Throughout their time at Summer Search, our students are partnered with a staff mentor who builds an authentic and long-lasting relationship in order to provide individualized support for many facets of a student’s life, including preparing for summer trips and integrating those profound experiences into their lives.
Oh by the way, Anh, Daniela, and Jennifer actually all have the same mentor in the Bay Area: Sharon Lebenkoff! All three students expressed plenty of gratitude to Sharon for all the ways she supports them on their Summer Search journeys.
“[Sharon] provides really great emotional support,” Anh said. “Some weeks, I would be feeling so out of it, but right after one of our weekly check-ins, I would instantly feel better. Whenever I would have a problem, she really helped me break it apart and solve the issue with clarity every time.”
Like Anh, Jennifer appreciates Sharon’s mentoring skills and style in their one-on-one discussions, saying, “[Sharon] keeps the conversation interesting every week and she knows how to help me with what I need.” Jennifer is also thankful for Sharon’s help in deciding on a summer program with ETC. “She thought that this trip was being the best fit for me and she was absolutely right!”
Jennifer on her summer experience with Environmental Traveling Companions.
Daniela echoed her fellow Summer Searchers’ sentiments. “My mentor, Sharon, is honestly a pure kind person. She advised me so much before leaving and always encouraged me with positive vibes. I have a strong connection with her because she listens to me and always checks up on personal situations with me. I am grateful to call her my mentor.”
At Summer Search, we push ourselves and our students to learn from each experience and apply their learnings in school, work, and life. Here are just a few things that these Summer Searchers learned that they will continue to build upon in our program and beyond.
“Back at home, the only things I thought you could do outside was simply playing sports,” Anh explained. “Throughout the trip I learned that different activities such as river rafting, camping, and frisbee could still be just as fun… Summer Search has allowed me to have new experiences, make new friends, and most importantly, discover a bigger piece of who I really am.”
“Along this trip our instructor told us that we should always believe that emotions are beautiful and they are what makes us humans,” Jennifer reflected. “Throughout this trip I discovered that I have many emotions bottled up and that it was okay that I didn’t have a name for those emotions just yet. But since then I have focused more on me and my feelings and what they are. I’ve already put a name to some of the feelings but not all. All the feelings that have been bottled up for who knows how long were all discovered one evening on a beach a few days after I had shared my life story.”
“I learned during my trip that I can do anything, literally anything,” Daniela stated proudly. “I was able to carry so much weight on my back, walk so far, and keep myself safe. This results [in me feeling like] anything I really want to do, I know I won’t give up. This is actually a powerful message I will carry throughout my whole life because I really thought I wasn’t going to make it, but I did.”
Daniela enjoying the views on her Deva Soul Journey experience.
We hope that learning about Anh’s, Daniela’s, and Jennifer’s trips inspires you to get outside, try something new, skip social media for a day, and/or show more compassion for yourself and one another. We learn so much from our students each summer, and this year was no exception. Thank you for being part of the Summer Search family and supporting our students to thrive.