From 28 July to 5 August 2017, Laura Garcia Zelaya (Westminster Academy) and Daniel Stone (Woodside High School) won a sponsored trip to San Francisco and Santa Barbara, California, USA as part of the 2017 One Degree programme.

This was made possible thanks to One Degeee, Riaz Shah and our California host, Cindy Park.

Here is Laura’s blog from her trip…

“So this is how I had one of the best trips of my life, a really important and life changing event.

There was these mixed feelings of excitement and fear inside me before the flight, but a great part of me knew that this wasn’t just a trip or travelling itself, this was a new stage and experience in my life.

The first day felt amazing, from breathing the cleaner air and enjoying the clear skies and open spaces. I remember the impression of a much bigger and wider place that came from the cloudless and blue canvas where the mountains and roads were painted. I felt so free yet so small, because everything was totally different to the city of London. And there we were, me and my friend Daniel. Yes, I was accompanied by a friend, which I had meet on the same week of the flight. To be honest at the beginning it was weird because he was the complete opposite of me. Quiet, calm and patient. We were really silent at the beginning, but we had to spend 12 hours together in a plane, so there is where the laughs and friendship happened, till we began to cry of laughter.

Early morning in Santa Barbara

After the 12 hours had passed, there we were, California! After all those annoying hours of the checking in of luggage, security checks, the waiting of the long lines and the sitting for so many hours straight. But all of that was gone from the moment in which we stepped out of
the car towards the hotel. It was amazing. We felt like celebrities as we saw all the fancy lamps and the polished floors. But the real deal was the rooms, or should I say the beds? Because each of us had a king size bed for ourselves, which for your information, was really
comfortable and allowed me to sleep like a baby.

Laura and Daniel share a pizza on their first night in California

But the hotel wasn’t all, the best part was the company we were given by Cindy. She picked us up and took us to the hotel, so she could later on invite us to eat some pizza. And it wasn’t just any normal pizza, it was delicious! Specially when she told us to eat the crust with
some honey. Weird right? But trust me, it is really yummy. A mix of salty and sweet, a flavour that melts in your mouth as you chew. And that was how we spent our first night, with the best company and one of the best foods I have ever tried. Cindy was literally the perfect
person to be with us, she was really kind and patient, which allowed us to get really comfortable with her and get familiar really quickly. Talking about “familiar”, the morning after we meet her lovely family, which is formed by herself, her husband and daughter. And
honestly, they were one of the sweetest families I’ve met. We had an all american breakfast and shared some talk about our future, letting us have some thinking about what we will do the next school year.

Laura and Daniel having an ‘All-American” breakfast with Cindy and Maya

After that, we left the hotel, and don’t blame me but I missed it the second I left. The cloudy bed and it’s infinite mirrors. The fresh smell of the newly changed bedsheets and the cleaning product with lemon essence in the toilet. But hey, I was heading to Santa Barbara,
and I completely forgot about the sad goodbye to my first friend in California, yeah, I am talking about the bed.

After the lovely morning sharing thoughts and dreams, we said our goodbyes to Cindy’s family and headed with her to San Francisco.
During our trip to the beautiful city of San Francisco I saw the landscapes you never get to see here in London, and believe me, it felt so amazing and new. When I saw the big mountains around I felt small, but reality hit me when we started to get into the inner city,
and I realised how immense the buildings were compared to us humans. Later on, putting more thought on it I realised how extraordinary we are if we’re able to build all of this buildings which are way bigger than us and how the final results are always better than
expected. The experience of walking in the streets of San Francisco was nice, but it felt better to go through the Golden Gate Bridge, with the fog covering half of it and the blue sea in both sides. After the long journey we were already heading to the airport to take our flight,
which we boarded just in time, sadly the “in-and-out” take out didn’t make it, and for those wondering “in-and-out” is a burger fast food restaurant which california citizens are obsessed with. I know that this is a fact because everyone in the summer camp kept on
asking if we had gone to eat there. But stop right there, we ain’t quite there yet.

San Francisco fog going accross the Golden Gate Bridge

We took our 45 minute flight from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, and the views were even more beautiful as the clouds mixed with the blue sea and the green lands beneath us. And there we were, in Santa Barbara, ready for what was going to come.
The week of the Summer camp we learned a lot of things that we weren’t aware of such as morality themes asking if it were wrong to kill someone in all cases (which I think is not if is in personal defence) or if you are able to tell if someone is homosexual by the first time you see them, even before speaking to them. And truly, I am thankful for this opportunity given to us, because I wouldn’t want it another way. The people were amazing and kind, they were specially good at making me blush when they would talk about my “lovely” accent. We had so many activities and exercises that allowed us to meet all kinds of people, for us to realise that at the end, we are all the same. And that is how at the end of the camp, we had come alone but left being part of a family, a community of people who have the same purpose, to change the world.

CASC friends

Sad thing is, we had to come back, but it wasn’t sad at all because I was excited to come and teach everyone what I had learnt. And the best part of it was that I now have a family at the other end of the world.”

Last night in California

Thank you Cindy Park and CASC. You can find more photos from the camp Laura and Daniel attended here.