By: Becca Spilka
Twenty-three days, 20 states, and a bus full of strangers. Needless to say, Samantha Byrne was nervous.
Boarding the bus on the Davidson College campus in North Carolina, she scanned the sea of new and unfamiliar faces that had also signed up for Teens Westward Bound. With no phone and few opportunities to call home, she would quickly bond with many of these people as they trekked across the country for 23 days.
“I didn’t know anyone,” senior Samantha Byrne said. “It was just me, so I had to go out and meet all these new people, and I didn’t know if I was going to like them or what would happen. I had no idea what to expect.”
Before Samantha knew it, the trip was going full throttle and there was no slowing down. Teens Westward Bound allows all kinds of teens to visit countless notable landmarks throughout western America. Over the course of 23 days, roughly 80 kids bond with each other as they visit and experience the best parts of America.
They would see everything from New Orleans to the Alamo. The Grand Canyon to Las Vegas. Disneyland to Yosemite National Park. Salt Lake City to Yellowstone. Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River.
“I loved being able to the see the country. It gives you a new appreciation for where we live, and you can say you really know what America is,” Samantha said.
Although Teens Westward Bound was jam packed with incredible, life-changing moments, it was challenging for everyone to live without their luxuries, one being the soft, warm comfort of a bed.
“You have your sleeping bag, and we were either inside a YMCA or any kind of community building we were allowed to use. Other than that we’d be on a campground, and we’d just sleep outside,” Samantha said. “The next morning, we’d wake up and we’d go.”
Adjusting to this lifestyle, however, was easy for Samantha in comparison to adjusting to life without a cell phone, getting only the occasional chance to phone home and catch up with her family and friends. The absence of a phone allowed her to connect and grow significantly closer to the people around her.
“If you had technology, you would not bond with these people,” Samantha explained. “You have to push people out of their comfort zone if you want to build these friendships.”
Not only was Samantha able to build friendships with the other teens on the trip, but each and every teen bonded with the many counselors and especially the founder of Teens Westward Bound, Dennis Deaton. He started the program nearly 40 years ago and has watched the country change as he has shared this experience with countless individuals. Samantha said if you talk to anyone who has been on this trip, they will tell you they love Dennis Deaton.
“He is great human being. He loves you and you love him. You love everyone. They throw the word love around like crazy because you grow to love these people, it’s insane. But all Dennis wants is to share that with you, to share the whole country with you because he has so much love for it,” Samantha said.
After twenty-three endlessly exciting and busy days, Samantha was thrilled to finally return home. Her experience busing, camping and touring America taught her so much about herself and benefitted her in so many ways.
“I’m not afraid to rough it anymore, I feel like I can go through anything. It made me more personable and more likely to socialize with people,” Samantha said.
As Samantha takes her next steps towards applying for college in her senior year, she will carry with her the knowledge and experiences of Teens Westward Bound.
For more information, go to teenswestwardbound.com. If you want to be recommended, e-mail Samantha Byrne at firstname.lastname@example.org.