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I've always scoffed at movies which showed summertime as being some sort of yearly renewal of enlightenment. Regardless of genre or age group, they all follow a similar timeline in their quest to craft the perfect coming-of-age tale. Usually, the unhappy protagonist is tossed into a leadership position, they inevitably succeed and then return home confident and wiser. Generally, the film is characterized by a bully -- it can be a strict parent, an even stricter boss, or a ruthless ninja assassin-- who gets kicked to the curb near the end of the film. With such a promising premise, I, like so many others look forward to the beginning of summertime.

In retrospect, I was a probably a bit jealous. I wanted to go on a thrilling 2-month long adventure in which I got to slay the dragon, save the kingdom and win the prince's heart. I waited impatiently for the day when some Sherlock-level mystery would fall at my doorstep, and I would find myself sorting through salicious gossip and cold-hearted fiends to solve the case. Yet, in all of my time spent waiting, it never occurred to me that in order to take part in the stories that I loved to read and watch, that I would have to be the author of my very own narrative. I failed to see how I was standing in my own way of finding this so-called "summertime enlightenment". Cliché, I know but the truth nevertheless.

I had promised myself last summer that this one would be different. Not only would I rest up from the long-months spent hunched over my textbook, fingers cramped from typing and bloodshot eyes held open by toothpicks and Washi tape. I would prep for the scholarly "New Year" - the first day of school (A much more sullen "holiday". Instead of ushering in the year with cheery music, you are welcomed to the sound of your 7am alarm ringing). I would create my own coming-of-age story, and take the first step towards my grand adventure.

My saving grace came in the form of applying to volunteer for the Pan American Games. An experience which has simultaneously stripped me of my energy physically, while electrifying my mind and my motivation for the future. My short month spent there has taught me more about the world and about myself than anytime spent in school could provide. In three weeks, I have met so many volunteers who have redefined the meaning of dedication, heart and unity. In this small period of time I've attended my first opening and closing ceremony, olympic level sport's event and concert (Pitbull, Kanye and Serena Ryder are great live). In one short month, I've made the leap from a sure teenager to a confident young adult.

I have learned resourcefulness, spontaneity and quick-thinking as my fellow volunteers and I strived to solve problems with what little knowledge we did have (with the help of our supervisors we turned into a troop of customer service MacGyvers. I have seen firsthand how much  the pwer of a sincere smile, a quick hello and little bit of confidence can brighten someone's day. Although I've never left my city, my countless encounters with members of the participating 41 countries have left me feeling as if I had just taken a tour around the world -- at this point I fully expect a mild tan or to find seashells and sand in my purse. I encourage everyone to seize the opportunity to take part in some sort of similar event, because I promise you that it will be a truly unforgettable experience which leaves you with too many fun pictures and lessons that I can't possibly share in one blog post. You will see things and do things which will make you grow and expand your horizons, which ultimately is what a (life-changing) summertime adventure really is.

~Alexandra XO

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