Submitted by Kathleen Burns
The vastness of time and space is so large our feeble minds can’t even begin to process it. Trillions of stars and galaxies, planets and asteroids, all moving silently through a black void in a cosmic dance of beauty and perfected harmony. All is balanced. To us, living on what seems like a mere speck, an insignificant blip in the gaze of the stars above us, we must feel very small indeed. Our world is tiny. But it is just as beautiful and strange as all the cosmos. Complex, unique, and amazing, our world is something that can be explored and treasured. There are few humans, however, that ever get an opportunity to do so. It must not seem very important to those who have traveled often, but to me, my experience on a trip to China was one I can never forget.
Last summer, my mother suggested the idea of going on a destination trip. I looked carefully through the list, choosing from the trips I knew would take me out of the United States of America. I finally settled on four to apply for, got accepted to go on three, and chose to go on one: The Great Panda Adventure. It would take me to China with fourteen other girls to work at a panda base and explore several of the cities there. I was excited and I was nervous. I would have to meet my group in San Francisco, and then fly with them all the way to Beijing. Then from Beijing, we would fly to Chengdu. I would have to go on my first flight alone to make it to San Francisco.
Despite my qualms, the flights went smoothly and we were in Chengdu before I knew it. Exhausted from flying, my new friends and I dropped our things off in our rooms and hit the streets of Chengdu. I immediately forgot how tired I was. There were so many new things to look at. I could barely turn my head fast enough as the tour bus drove us to lunch and then to an older part of the city preserved for tourists. We charged through the gates and emerged in a dazzled place of elegant buildings and sizzling food stands. Gavin, our leader, gave us permission to separate and explore on our own, and so we did. I took more pictures than I could ever need. When the group finally made it back onto the bus, it was time to go to the panda base. It gave us exactly what we wanted to see: cute pandas. When we had seen all the pandas we could for the day, we went to our first dinner in China. The food was much different than anything I’ve ever eaten before. I cautiously nibbled on each dish that was presented to us before deciding on something and going with it. Full of heavy Chinese food and weary from the two days of excitement, I finally got back to hotel and stumbled into bed.
The next morning, it was time for the panda base. Before we even got on the bus, sweat was dripping down my face and back. A hot, humid climate is no place for me. I promised myself I wouldn’t let it get to me as the bus rumbled to the panda base. The bus pulled in, we rolled out, and the two days of work began. They had us sweep and hose down the pen, clean the enclosures, feed the pandas, and even pet them. I got many pictures to show off to my friends back home. I found out that pandas are not actually all that interesting. They eat, shamble around, and for the most part are lazy, spoiled, and grumpy creatures. They eat and sleep. Pandas are, however, still adorable. People enjoy them, and it is with the help of that appeal to human emotion that they have survived this long. Of course, it is humans who are putting them in danger. The great panda has few enemies, but the most powerful of these enemies is the destruction of their homes and our inability to coexist with these gentle, intelligent creatures. Through my journey to the panda research center, I have learned much about how we hurt pandas, but I have also learned how we can help them. True to what has been told to me throughout my years as a girl scout, we must be aware of the world around. Every move we make has an impact, positive or negative. We have to be sure our impact on this world is positive. As Girl Scouts, it is our duty to take care of the Earth and all creatures on it, including humans. Treating each other right is just as important as treating the environment right. I hate to sound preachy, but I want all who read this to understand how hurt the Earth is, and how our behaviors towards it and each other has to change. It’s the only way.
I have experienced so much through this trip. I am not the same teenager who anxiously awaited her first flight alone. Because of Destinations, and because of Girl Scouts, I am more confident in everything I do. My trip to China changed my life. It made me stronger, more open-minded, and less afraid. I owe my growth over the summer to Destinations. I strongly believe that every Girl Scout should go on one of these ATS Destinations at least once in her life. The world will be open to her, and the adventures she will have will change her life forever.
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