After their intense summer vacations, several local teens have learned to appreciate modern toilets, play Spanish-style soccer, and share a house with 20 people. Many high school students and recent graduates veered from the beaten path over the summer with unusual trips, camps and service projects.
Natasha Kilibarda of Cabin John, who is a rising senior at Walt Whitman High School, spent part of her summer vacation working for a volunteer program called “The Road Less Traveled.”
She traveled with 14 other teens from across the country to the San Blas Islands on the coast of Panama, where they built a warehouse as a service for the islanders. There was no electricity and no running water, and they used a camping stove to cook dinner. Because fresh water was scarce, the volunteers were each allotted three scoops of water from a coconut for a single shower during the entire month-long trip.
The strong friendships that Kilibarda formed made up for the ascetic living arrangements. She now talks on the phone everyday with five of her fellow volunteers, and they are planning a “reunion trip” over winter break to provide community service in another part of the world. Kilibarda also forged close bonds with the people of the San Blas Islands.
“The community really welcomed us,” she said. “They had festivals every night we were there, and there was dancing in the main courtyard.
“The children on the island were fascinated – they’d never had anyone from another country on the island before,” because there is no tourism there, said Kilibarda. “They grew really close to us while were there. Saying goodbye was tough.”
Upon returning home, Kilibarda found herself in awe of running water and toilets.
“You wouldn’t think of flushing a toilet as something out of the ordinary,” she said. “These people, all they ate was a bag of rice and the mangos they picked form the tree outside. They spent maybe 25 cents a day on the stuff they needed and that was it. People here spend hundreds of dollars a day on stuff they don’t.”
Kilibarda said that observing the conditions in Panama and learning how she can help make a difference has changed her life.
“I know it’s the best experience of my life hands down,” she said. “There’s so much more to life [than money] and it’s easier to see in a place that doesn’t have the amenities we have here. Coming home with that kind of memory was amazing – I could never pay for an experience like that.”
Kilibarda is looking forward to the start of school on Aug. 28. She plans to encourage friends to participate in “The Road Less Traveled” program. She also plans to make her final year of high school one to remember.
“Senior year is your most memorable of high school,” she said. “All the good stuff happens senior year, so I’m excited.”
LILY HARRIS, also a rising senior at Whitman, honed her soccer skills while learning about a foreign culture this summer.
Through a company called EduKick, Harris traveled to an international soccer camp in Spain with about 50 students ages 12 to 18 who hail from across the globe. They played and trained during the week and went sight-seeing on weekends. The coaches only spoke Spanish, which gave Harris, who completed AP Spanish last year, the chance to brush up on her language skills.
“It was a really good time, especially because [the camp took place] during the World Cup,” said Harris. “We played against a local women’s team in Spain. It was a completely different culture and style of play.”
How is European-style soccer different?
“The women’s teams we played were older than us, a lot more physical and a lot more aggressive,” said Harris. “It was different from America, but a nice change. Walking around the city and in the suburbs, little kids were playing soccer everywhere, which was different from around here where you see a lot of basketball courts.”
Harris has played soccer since she was five years old. She plays on the varsity team for Whitman, and as a sophomore she made an assist to help them win the state championship game. Her team made it to the state finals again last year.
Harris is on a competitive club team and participates in numerous tournaments and college showcases. She hasn’t decided whether she will play soccer in college.
“I’m really looking forward to soccer season,” said Harris. “[It will be] my last year of getting to play in the stadium. I’m excited to go out to lunch and not have to stay on grounds. I’m also looking forward to getting closer with [other students in] my grade and all the big events in the spring like prom and beach week and graduation.”
MADDY GORIN, a rising junior at Churchill High, also had a soccer-filled summer, though she remained in the States. In addition to training about 15 hours a week during her break from classes, Gorin attended a weeklong soccer camp at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.
Gorin will play on Churchill's varsity team for the second year. She also plays year-round with her club team and even traveled with them to the soccer camp, where they focused on fitness and ball training skills.
“It was fun – I loved my team,” said Gorin. “But none of my teammates really liked the coach, and I wasn’t in really good shape so it was hard.”
Gorin and her family found a way to relax and stay in shape at the same time through a weeklong visit to a spa at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa.
“We all got spa treatments, massages and facials, and we did classes like aerobics and yoga and pilates,” she said. “I was able to work out at Nemacolin but it was relaxing. My sister’s leaving for college in a couple weeks so I got to spend a lot of time with her.”
Maddy’s older sister Dani, who graduated from Churchill High in June, will attend Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., in the fall.
JOHN APRIL of Potomac, who graduated from Winston Churchill High School in June, enjoyed both a family vacation and a vacation with his peers over the summer.
April said that Churchill has a tradition in which the graduating seniors finish school a week before everyone else and head to Ocean City, Md., and Bethany Beach, Del. His older brother took part in the ritual two years ago.
“The most fun is definitely that there are no parents,” he said with a laugh. “We go to the beach everyday with everyone from our school and also other kids from around the area. There are kids everywhere – you hang out at the board walk and have a lot of fun.”
There was a downside amidst all the revelry.
“We [were in] one house with 20 guys in it,” said April, “so it wasn’t the cleanest house I’ve ever seen. But it was very fun.”
Later in the summer, April and his parents, brother, sister, aunt and grandparents went on a weeklong cruise to southern Alaska. He was surprised by the warm weather.
“I thought it was going to be much colder than it was – some days it was in the 70s and most of the time [it was] in the 60s,” he said. “We saw glaciers, huge mountains, and lots of animals and whales.”
April will head to the University of Central Florida this month to major in video game development. He is an avid fan of video games and digital media. He looks forward to his freshman year with a mix of emotions, but overall he is “more excited than scared.”
“In a way I’m very excited because I want to go and be independent. I’m going down to Florida and I love warm weather so I’m excited about that,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who’s going to Central Florida, and in a way that’s kind of scary. Most of my friends know at least someone who’s going to their school.”
So how did the last summer before college life compare to summer breaks?
“I was doing something all the time – hanging out with my friends, going to the beach and visiting college for orientation,” said April. “This summer was the best summer I ever had.”