By Olga Mikulska, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar

Olga is a Work and Travel participant from Poland. During her stay in Colorado, she wanted to make an IMPACT: Interest, Modesty, Positive Energy, Altruism, Commitment, and Tenacity. Check out her video and blog post below.

When I came up with an idea of taking part in Work and Travel Program, most people reacted with genuine enthusiasm and encouraged me to go to the USA. However, there were still some people who seemed skeptical. I used to hear a plethora of arguments about what I should consider before embarking on such a distant journey. “Why do you even want to go there? It’s so far away… You need a visa… The program is pretty expensive… The earnings are higher in many European countries…bla…bla…bla…They have….GUNS!” What I’m getting at now is how happy I am that I didn’t listen to those who presented a rather gloomy vision of the journey. I think that I already mentioned it, but it was the best decision in my whole life that I plucked up the courage and decided to come to the USA. Literally! Not only did I learn a lot about myself, but also I gained a broader perspective on life in general. But the most important of all are all the unforgettable memories. What I feel right now is ineffable. There are no such words that could render how precious the time spent in America was for me. So enough of this talk, let’s watch some bits and pieces of my free time and travelling in the USA.

As you probably already know, we spent the first three and a half months in Colorado. It’s a pity that this is a state that goes unnoticed and is very underrated. When people are asked about their dream spot in the USA, they usually think about California, Florida, or New York. Believe me, Colorado is astounding! Awe-inspiring! Breath-taking! Surely, it must’ve been love at first sight. I can’t account for it in any other way. What fueled the flames of love was definitely Beaver Creek, a small and quaint village whose inhabitants captured my affections each and every day. They were loving, caring, optimistic, and always eager to start a friendly chat or to offer help. It’s no wonder I enjoyed spending lots of my free time with them. To tell you the truth, I didn’t have much free time in Beaver Creek, since I worked a lot. But at least I learnt how to appreciate every single moment and take the most out of my life in Colorado. Whenever I had a day off, I tried to be as active as possible. I spent most of my days off hiking. I could recommend the Beaver Lake Trail and Overlook Trail. The first one, as its name suggests, leads to a very beautiful lake. The second one presents its hikers with a wonderful panorama of the mountains. But the most rewarding and memorable hike for me was my first fourteener at the Quandary Peak next to Breckenridge. It is about 60 miles from Beaver Creek. The hike took us about seven hours in total. I didn’t realize that it’d be such an exhausting experience. Believe me, exercising or even breathing at such high altitude is no mean feat. But it was totally worth it! The scenery was…WOW! Just take a look.

Another beautiful trail that you shouldn’t miss being in the area is the Hanging Lake Trail. It’s about 50 miles from Beaver Creek, in Glenwood Springs. Turquoise water, charming waterfalls, gorgeous canyon walls…Has it already made you dreamy? If not, the photos speak for themselves. Another memorable place for me was the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. What particularly became embedded in my memory was the cave tour. The cave was spectacular, the guide was hilarious. His lecture was highly informative. It may all sound like an excerpt from a guidebook but it’s really true. Glenwood Springs really enchanted me.

And the highlight of the day…The Giant Canyon Swing! I still don’t know whether it was more terrifying or more incredible. Even now, when I look at the video, it sends shivers down my spine. The image I still have before my very eyes is the precipice which I could see from the top of the swing. Actually, I’ve just decided. It was INCREDIBLE! I’ve tried the swing twice and I’d do this once again!

In September, we finally had plenty of time for travelling. On the one hand, we couldn’t wait and explore other states in the USA, but on the other hand we had to say goodbye to Colorado. I still remember my last day in Beaver Creek. It was the most emotional day for me. But as they say… to begin a new chapter in your life, you have to close the old one…So off we went. We rented a car and started our journey. Entering Utah, we already noticed the change of scenery. All the rock formations were spectacular. But once we arrived in Arizona and saw the Grand Canyon, we were completely at a loss for words. It was ASTOUNDING! All of my friends who I travelled with, including myself, had such a moment that we couldn’t get a word out when looking at the endless canyon. It was so gigantic that none of us could comprehend it.

The next destination was southern California. We got there late at night. I remember the moment we opened the doors, got out of the car, and instantly noticed the change of climate. We immediately felt the heat wave even though it was only 1 am. I was truly amazed at the flora, its variety, a wide kaleidoscope of its colors. The aura of the place is indescribable. You have to be there to feel the vibe of the place. You have to take a bath in the ocean to feel the breeze in your hair and to feel that the place is special. Southern California is another place that I fell in love with.

So some pieces of advice for you! Don’t go to San Francisco prior to finding accommodation. Finding any vacancies in the middle of the night may be verging on the impossible. Don’t stop your car to use the Internet with your windows lowered in the city center. Don’t make eye contact with seedy people, even unwittingly. They may start talking to you. If it’s too late and they start talking to you, don’t try to continue the conversation just to be polite. Maybe our expectations were too high because everyone had assured us that we’d love the city. Maybe we weren’t prepared to see so many weirdos and homeless people in the city. But despite all this, I’m glad that we visited it and we could see another facet of the country. Otherwise, it would be too idyllic, right? In addition, I’m really glad that I could see the Golden Gate Bridge. This moment was special and kind of symbolic for me. I could see the landmark of California with my own eyes. I could take a photo against a background of the most popular symbol of San Francisco, which I had seen just in books and films up until then.

And finally, our last destination was New York City. We didn’t expect that the city would make such an impression on us. After living in Beaver Creek, it was a totally different experience. Breakneck pace, a flood of people, abundance of everything…it all made the city mind-boggling. Although I knew that I couldn’t live in such a place permanently, I loved it. NYC offered so much that it wasn’t possible to get bored there. The days we spent there were very intense, but at the same time, absolutely amazing. Now I know that New York is a must if you visit the USA.

I must say that it’s extremely difficult for me to sum it all up or to end my short story in a clever or witty way. It’s so difficult to commit all of my thoughts and feelings to paper. I’ve gotten an impression that no matter what I’ll write, it won’t be enough to express how I feel about all of my American experiences. So I’ll let others speak for me:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain