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Last year, entering my first semester at UNC Charlotte, I was a small-town girl who had traveled to a very limited number of places. My vacations in the past had stretched a mere 700-mile radius, from Hilton Head, South Carolina to Disney World, Florida. I never guessed that my first semester at UNCC and my involvement in a campus ministry, Niner United, would’ve landed me across the world in Kenya, Africa.

I started attending Niner United at the beginning of my first semester of college hoping to find a supportive group of Christian students with a passion for making a difference in the life of their fellow students and the surrounding community. To my surprise, the members of the campus ministry I chose were not only interested in reaching out in their community… they were also reaching out to countries thousands of miles away.

When the idea of traveling across the world to Kenya was presented to me by Steve Cheyney, Niner United’s campus minister, I was shocked. I’d heard stories about the dangers of traveling overseas and entering into an unfamiliar country as an American citizen, so the thought of placing myself in one of those situations seemed risky. However, being the optimistic and easily excitable person that I am, I eventually committed myself to spending my spring break on a mission trip in Kenya.

On March 3 I boarded an airplane and left the comfort of the United States with a passport in my hand, fear in my mind, but an undeniable excitement in my heart. Little did I know that traveling to Kenya would not change the lives of the African children I would soon meet, it would change my own.

After spending nine joyful days in Kenya, I returned to the U.S. quite a different person than I was before. Stepping out of my comfort zone and traveling to Kenya both strengthened my relationship with God while also encouraging personal growth within many areas of my life.

Being exposed to the African culture broadened my knowledge and appreciation of the traditions, practices and uniquities of countries around the world, not limited to Kenya. Soon after returning, I made the decision to change my concentration to International Public Relations due to the exposure of a new world I experienced while abroad. Learning the ethics and values of people so different from me, yet still being able to find significant similarities is a binding connection that left me wanting to discover more.

Without the opportunity to participate in a mission trip in Africa, chances are, I probably never would’ve left the United States. Flying on an airplane used to be a fear of mine, as well as the thought of being more than a few hours away from my family and my home. Now, I realize had I not traveled to Kenya, I never would’ve discovered my burning passion for travel.

Despite my hesitation and the initial fear of boarding a 14-hour flight, once we landed in Kenya, the journey was the least of my worries as the infectious African culture consumed me. Traveling abroad helped me to conquer a fear I wouldn’t have been able to overcome otherwise.

As a communications major, knowing how to interact with a variety of people is extremely important. Although most of the African people we encountered spoke English, the cultural, moral and circumstantial differences caused communication to be difficult at times. I believe everyone on the trip mastered a new way to effectively communicate and understand by opening our minds to new ideas and learning how to present our ideas in different ways. My interactions with the people in Kenya as well as my mission team made me more confident in learning to relay and comprehend diverse communication.

Travel opportunities are all around us, with options to go abroad through many different organizations whether it be a campus ministry, a research group or a semester of education abroad all on your own. It’s safe to say my decision to board a plane to Kenya quickly became one of the most impactful experiences of my life. In all the world, there are an impressive range of unique cultures for everyone’s taste, so no matter where you decide to travel, I can bet you won’t be disappointed.