Sophomore Iman Sigman plans to visit Peru through the Walking Tree, an organization that promotes global student leadership, this July. For 3 weeks, she will participate in a variety of activities including sightseeing, exploring, and working on a service project. She initially heard about the Walking Tree through a classmate, sophomore Danie Thomas, who went 2 summers ago to Costa Rica.
Thomas described the Walking Tree as “an organization that sends teenage volunteers to South and Central American countries to do a service project and also a home stay.” She said attendees simultaneously experience cultural emersion and benefit the community. Thomas said she enjoyed sightseeing in the capital and taking dance lessons.
Sigman said that while on the trip, she will view the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, and spend time exploring the Amazon Rainforest. In addition, she plans to go to a smaller village and do a home-stay with one of the local families. A home-stay allows a visitor to live in the house of a host family, and experience first hand their different customs. Sigman said that the families “take you in as their child”. Of all the aspects of the trip, she is most nervous for the home-stay.
Although Thomas was also initially nervous for the home-stay, she believes that the best part of her trip was bonding with her host family. She said her 3 little sisters were helpful and amazing. “It was nice to see that I could make relationships with people who didn’t come from the same background as me,” Thomas said. Thomas said she and her host family still keep in touch through Facebook.
According to Sigman, she and about 14 other kids from across the country will visit Peru as a group. The group will travel around the area together, but will each stay with their own host family. The group will complete a service project that will help benefit the local community. According to Sigman, the service project is currently undecided because the Walking Tree organization does not yet know what the local community needs. However, it is likely the project will incorporate some form of construction. Thomas’ service project was to build a sidewalk for Costa Rican students to safely walk to school.
Over the course of the trip, Sigman plans to speak Spanish, and learn about the community. She takes Spanish and hopes that speaking the language over the sumer will improve her skills.
Sigman applied for the program on the organization’s website by filling out a simple application. Thomas said the application process is easy. “You just go online and say why you want to do the project and why it would be beneficial to you,” she explained.
According to Thomas, the most difficult part of the trip was the culture shock and illness she faced in the first week. She also said her host family did not speak any English, so it was initially unfamiliar to form a relationship by speaking only Spanish.
However, despite these setbacks, Thomas highly recommends her trip. Thomas said it was nice to see the Costa Rican perspective of the world in comparison to Moraga’s perspective, because they contrast in many ways. “What I’ve noticed is here people are really focused on their friends and their phones and their clothes and kind of odd things; you’re not experiencing life, you’re just sort of going through it. In Costa Rica, they take every day one step at a time, and live it to the fullest,” she said.
Overall, Thomas described her experience as “life changing”.
The Walking Tree is based in Denver, Colorado and provides a variety of service adventures, conservation expeditions, and global leadership programs. According to the program’s website, the goal is to “inspire people to become global citizens who take an active interest in the world around them”. The organization wants to administer “challenging and enriching adventures” in order to provide participants with a memorable, multi-cultural experience. “Walking Tree stands for open, curious, and compassionate international travel,” the website states.