A Trip that Changed My Life

Originally from Fresno, CA, Mari Espinoza is a Junior at the Cate School in Carpinteria, CA. Mari traveled abroad for the first time last summer on the Woza Peru trip. Below she reflects on her experience abroad and how it changed the way she views the world. Keep reading to learn more about Mari's experience in Peru with Woza and impact the trip had on her.

Six months ago I took a trip that I believe changed my life. Before the summer of 2016, I had never traveled to another country. Unlike many of my friends, I was not able to go on vacations to Ecuador during my time away from school. After years of the same routine each summer, I decided to look for summer activities. I was sitting in English class on day when my friend told me that he would be in Costa Rica for a couple of weeks playing soccer and doing some community service with an organization called Woza. Upon hearing of the prospect of traveling with the game I love, I was hooked.

This past summer, I found myself in the beautiful country of Peru. Everyday my group and I would learn about the place we were in and in the afternoon we could always count on playing soccer. The very first day after we arrived we took a tour around the Arequipa. One of my favorite parts of being on a Woza trip is I knew I would play soccer everyday. The very first night in Arequipa, I got to do the two things that I love most: playing soccer, and playing with kids. On the field at first it was really hard because I didn't know a lot of Spanish so I couldn't really explain to the kids what we were doing. However, one of the most valuable lessons that I learned in Peru is that you don’t necessarily need to talk to connect with a person. As long as I was able to show the kids how to do a move, they could understand.

Our next destination was Urubamba. The small town in the Sacred Valley was my favorite out of the places we traveled to. There, we met Edwin who is one of the nicest most intelligent people I met. He told us his story about running his own hotel and teaching himself nine different languages along the way! Urubamba also taught me about the most about myself. For a couple days, we went to Escuela de Esperanza. At the school, my group and I put on a small soccer clinic for the students. The students at the school showed me that even though there might be a language barrier, all you really need is the game of soccer to connect with one another. This also gave me a new reason to love the game that I have been playing since the age of four.

After a few more days in Urubamba our group traveled to Ollantaytambo. There, we played soccer with the local team and like in Urubamba, we were able to make friends through soccer. On the second to last day in Ollantaytambo we went to Machu Picchu which was the scariest, yet most amazing thing I have ever done. Machu Picchu was an experience that showed me that I am stronger than I look and that my fear of heights can’t stop me. Machu Picchu is a place that shows how admirable the Incans were and how little credit they got.

Above all, the trip to Peru was one of the most memorable experiences because of the people I traveled with. Without the laughs from my trip mates, my trip wouldn’t have been the same. From silly chip challenges to competitive card games, every night seemed to be a time that our group grew closer to the point that on the last day at JFK, we were sad to leave each other. Our leaders Kate and Edgar made the trip phenomenal too. They participated in our chip challenges, laughed at our antics, and made big efforts to get to know each of us on a personal level. Not to mention they helped us learn to use soccer as a tool when traveling abroad.

Peru will always be a place that is special to me because of my Woza trip. I am thankful that the first time I traveled abroad was to a place that is packed with intriguing history and the game of soccer.

Woza Soccer is a registered  501(c)(3) nonprofit,

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Woza offered financially accessible international summer service trips for high school and college soccer players, using the game to create connections across cultures and support Sport for Development and Peace organizations around the world. With soccer, service work, and cultural immersion at the heart of each itinerary, we strove to broaden the perspectives of players by demonstrating their abilities to connect with people of all backgrounds and engage long term in soccer-focused social impact. 

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Though our doors are closed as of fall 2020, our legacy and spirit live on through our alumni, partners and beneficiaries.