Fatoumata S, a current Junior at Validus Preparatory Academy, went on Trip of a Lifetime this summer and recently visited Berlin with her high school as part of Model United Nations. This is the first installment in the Catalyst for Change Series, a collection of posts by trip alumni sharing their stories of how they are affecting their communities today. Below is Fatoumata’s story.
As a member of the Model United Nations at my school, Validus Preparatory Academy, I have the opportunity to travel to Berlin, Germany to participate in the Berlin Model United Nations (Bermun) conference. Everyone who knows me, knows that I love to travel. This was the perfect opportunity for me to finally see Europe and participate in this conference.
I was really excited about this trip and I was working really hard to prepare for it. My school’s team was assigned India. I began to research about India & its allies and enemies, it’s geography, and resources. I also researched the purpose of the Human Rights committee because that was the committee I was a part of. We had to represent as the delegation of India, and on top of that, I was also the ambassador for my team. I took all necessary measures to make sure that I got to go to Berlin. I did my application, got my passport, went to the German consulate and paid for my visa, but there was one problem. Finance.
Being that my school doesn’t have enough money to pay for 8 students and 3 teachers to go to Germany, we had to raise about $14k. Yeah I know! We didn’t know how we’d be able to do it. We tried many fundraising ways such as selling breakfasts in the morning, juices, iceys, and even holding events. We were still only about 12 thousand short. We put our project at Donorschoose.org where people could go on the link and donate to our project. This is where the staff at Trip of a Lifetime came in. As a TOAL alumni, I sent out an email to Stan, asking him about ways that we could raise money, and he suggested some ways to me. He also told me that when there is a week left for our project to expire, I should let him know so he can suggest more ways to raise money, but he did more than that for me.
Trip of a Lifetime went on our link on Donors Choose and donated some of the money. I was grateful when my MUN coach informed me of this. We now had much less to raise. Throughout the next two weeks after that, we tried all different ways to raise money and we were doing alright with that until we only had about 1 day left on our project time with more than 7k to raise. Luckily we were able to get an extension on the deadline. Then came the day when that extension was suppose to end. We had nearly 1k to raise still. Later that day, I visited our link and was surprised to see that we had met the amount we needed to raise, and again it was Trip of a Lifetime who saved the day. I am forever grateful for them. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to experience all that I did while on that trip to Berlin.
I was now excited about everything. All the real preparation began. We booked our flights, home stays, and started packing. November 16, 2013 is a day I will never forget. Our plane left the USA and was headed to Berlin, Germany!
Getting to Germany was so exciting. When I first got there, I was excited to see their airport, to compare it to the airports I’ve been to in the U.S. It wasn’t entirely too different. It was much smaller but I liked it. The employees actually looked like they’ve built relationships. The first word I learned in German was how to say receipt, which is “criton.” I’ll never forget how to say that.
I caught a taxi to my home stay, where I met my host family. A very loving German family who had lived in the US before. They were able to relate to me and the 2 other girls from my school that were staying with them. They gave us breakfast, because we arrived at about 8am German time on the 17th. Our host mother would make us breakfast every morning for the next week that we stayed with them. Just as she made us dinner every night. It was a nice experience. We ate two meals at home every day as a family and they really treated us as if we were their own. I grew to love them so much.
We warmed up for the rest of that day and settled in. The next day we went out touring. We visited many places such as the Jewish Museum, the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag building. These places were so beautiful. I learned so much about the history of Jews, Europeans, and Germany. The second day we went touring, we visited the longest stretch of the Berlin wall that is still existent, which was in the East Side Gallery. We also visited the Fernsehturm tower, and had lunch at a burger place called Burger Meiser. We ended our day by having dinner at a place called Dicke Wirtin.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 is a day I have marked down forever. It was the first day of Bermun 2013. We had the opening ceremonies at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. It was very exciting. We heard speeches and as ambassador, I got to deliver my opening speech. It was so excited and nerve wrecking as well because there was over one thousand people in the audience. I remember my legs shaking but I believe I did well. For the next three consecutive days, we held conferences in the John F. Kennedy International High School in Berlin. The conferences lasted anywhere from 5-9 hours. In these conferences we socialized, made friends, merged resolutions to create one detailed resolution, had fruitful debates, voted and even passed resolutions.
On Saturday, the 23rd, we held conferences in the morning and passed our final resolutions. After that we got on coach buses provided by Bermun to another location for the closing ceremonies. It was bittersweet. We saw pictures and videos from the past 4 days and the chairs of our committees spoke about their experiences, and much more. We also got to take a picture with our entire committees. My homestay “brother” was one of the Bermun staffs so he was also there on the stage and I got to take pictures with him.
After the closing ceremonies we went home and changed into more comfortable clothing for the Bemun dance/party. That was a night I won’t forget. Europeans sure do know how to party. Everyone became comfortable and loosened up a little bit. It was a nice reward after days of debating and hard work. One of the things I will remember the most is that Berlin has the best public transportation system I have ever seen. It is so convenient and efficient. My favorite thing ever was taking the S-bahn (S train) to Potsdamer Platz which is a major site since the unification of Germany, S Bahnhof Botanischer Garten (Botanical Garden) and Anhalter Bahnhof (Anhalter train station) solely because these names sound so cool. Potsdamer Platz is like the 59th st. of Germany, you can transfer to many other Bahns (trains) from that stop.
The next day at 7am, we were all ready and packed, and of course our host mom had already made us a wonderful breakfast of the usual toast, sausage, eggs, coffee, juice, cheese and fruits. She was wonderful. We waited on our taxi and headed to the airport with our teachers. I was so sad to leave Germany because of the great experiences I had there. Also I was sad because I met so many other wonderful teens from over 30 countries in the world and I don’t know when I’ll ever see them again in congression. The main reason for my sadness though was that I don’t know when and If I will ever get the chance to visit Germany again.
Learn more about Trip of a Lifetime at www.projecttoal.org