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A Life Changing Experience

By Barbara I. Benavides
On November 6, 2012

As an ordinary college freshman, I never dreamt of traveling beyond Texas; for that reason, I was convinced traveling would not be in my future. However, during my first year at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), I was encouraged to participate in the 2009-2010 "Reading the Globe" Essay Competition. All the university professors encouraged their pupils to participate; in fact, they made the essay a strict class requirement. I submitted my essay, knowing I was not going to be selected because I had never won anything in my life. Yet the thought of it made me wonder how it would be like to visit a different country and be exposed to its people's lifestyle and culture. Surprisingly, a couple of days later, I was interviewed, and as a result, won a full paid trip to Ghana, Africa! I could not believe it! The news was a total mind-blowing surprise.

My first reaction was joy for winning something for the first time, but then, I realized I would be flying almost 13 hours across the Atlantic Ocean. All of a sudden, I visualized my plane falling and exploding just like in the movie, Final Destination. I was scared and continuously asked myself:  what have I gotten myself into? Besides my fear of heights and my vision of an inexplicable airplane accident, I transitioned into seeing the trip as an opportunity, perhaps the only one that would present itself in my life. This idea triggered me to overlook my fears, and I imagined myself in that mysterious continent of rich culture, history, and traditions.

During the December break, four days after Christmas, I flew out of Laredo with 15 TAMIU students and staff members. After several connecting flights and 21 hours, I landed in Accra, the capital of Ghana. At the airport, we were surrounded by native Ghanaians; I could not believe I was standing there; it was all like a dream. As I looked around, the people seemed extremely tall and strong as they helped carry our luggage. The ladies were wearing very colorful head wraps that coincided accordingly to their multicolored outfits, and some children had beautifully braided hair.

Throughout the stay, we visited pre-colonial slave castles built by European settlers, went to a soccer game, walked through hanging bridges located meters above ground between tall trees in the middle of the jungle, rode a ferry boat across Lake Volta, shopped at the local markets, and received drumming lessons from the friendly merchants. One of the best experiences was helping build a schoolhouse for children in a remote district with a couple of men from the community. Also, visiting and spending time with the joyful children of the Osu Children's Home was motivational. Because of the lack of personnel, many of the children do not receive visitors. The children enjoyed our company to the fullest. This exciting day, the children made the visit a priceless one.

Thanks to this journey, I learned about Ghana's rich culture, traditions, rituals, politics, and taboos, but most importantly, realized how great it is to help a person attain an education or dedicate a couple of hours to children in need of guidance and mentoring. Although I almost gave up traveling, I came back home with a changed mindset. The traveling experience was a major turning point in my life. Now, I want to travel to more countries and learn about other cultures. In the past, I limited myself and set an expectation for my future, but I learned there is no limit to the things one can do. Dream big and visualize doing greater things because change brings opportunities. I encourage all Laredo college students to study abroad. You might end up learning a lot about yourself and what you want to do with your life in the future.

(Barbara Benavides may be reached at

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