The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Viktoria Alston.

Traveling alone is a liberating experience. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Peru, I was responsible for myself and only myself. I was completely alone for the first time and in a foreign country where I only had a basic grasp of the culture and language.

On my own, I quickly recognized that every action has a direct consequence. Sometimes my choices resulted in awesome experiences, like standing at the top of Torre Mirador. Other times, my choices resulted in less-than-ideal circumstances, like being kicked off a bus at 3 a.m. in a rough area of Quito because I slept through my stop. During my travels, I came to truly understand the meaning of the word “responsibility.”

As great as traveling is, nothing can beat being home.

I’ve been home for the holidays for the past couple of weeks. My newfound understanding of what true “responsibility” means has created an interesting situation during my short time here. For the past four months, I was responsible for myself and my every action. I no longer had to ask my parents’ permission to go somewhere; I just left. In Peru I was directly responsible for making quick decisions and handling the ramifications of those decisions. Upon returning home, my parents have temporarily resumed partial responsibility of me, which is a nice break from what I had adjusted to. My support system is immediately available again and my decisions don’t hold the same risk as they once did. However, despite its comforting familiarity, this time spent at home has been filled with restlessness and boredom as I anticipate my departure to Guatemala next week.

So as great as home is, nothing compares to traveling.

Being back in Hawaii has given me plenty of spare time to spend at the beach, a place I’ve missed the most since I was mostly in the desert for four months. The beach is a place of reflection and solitude for me. Now whenever I sit on the soft sand and feel the cool ocean breeze, my thoughts always wander to my most recent service placement at Hilo Rojo.

Hilo Rojo provides free education to children whose families can’t afford to send them to public school (which costs around $120 USD per year). The children I taught come from unimaginable levels of poverty and do not have access to resources that I take for granted daily. In spite of this, these kids are loving and passionate about learning. They don’t let their disadvantaged backgrounds debase their attitudes. They don’t focus on their situations. Instead, they focus on the solution – learning as much as they can at Hilo Rojo. Through my experiences teaching there, I am able to assess how fortunate I am to have endless resources for a successful future, like access to free primary and secondary education. As I sit on the beach, I think of every single one of the kids I taught and take heart in knowing that Hilo Rojo will open up more opportunities for them than they previously had. I am grateful to have been a part of that.

During my time in Peru, I learned that when a problem appears, there is a solution. The kids at Hilo Rojo didn’t focus on how they couldn’t attend public school despite living right by one. Instead they focused on learning what they could with bright attitudes. Lamenting your problems doesn’t make them shrink or disappear; it only puts a focus on the presence of the problem and pulls you further away from finding a solution. I now understand that there is always a solution and I am responsible and capable of finding it and moving towards it and beyond.