Latrobe native sees how Christ works in world travels with Calif. university group
As Latrobe native Amber Arandas traveled on top of a bus on the Yungas Road in Bolivia — also known as “Death Road” because of its 1,800-foot hillside drop-offs and narrow 10-foot width — it swerved back and forth in the rain.
With small rocks tumbling from the side of the mountain, the traveler, nearing the end of a 4 1⁄2-month trip around the world, thought, “What has this trip done to me?”
From Aug. 5 to Dec. 17, Arandas, 20, took part in the Around-The-World Semester through Concordia University Irvine in California, where she is a junior studying business marketing.
She was one of 28 students in the 36-member group that visited 10 countries during the service- and mission-based trip through the private Lutheran university.
“Every experience, I just jumped in because it was an experience of a lifetime,” Arandas said. “I gave everything my all because this trip will only happen once.”
She learned about the program from students who previously traveled with it, then told her parents, Linda and Joseph Arandas, once she had been accepted.
“When she first mentioned it, I knew she would be going on the next one. I had the feeling that this is what she was meant to do,” said Linda Arandas.
The group left from Los Angeles and visited Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Ethiopia, Austria, Hungary, Bolivia and Peru.
Carrying a 2.5-cubic-foot backpack with all of her belongings, Arandas would sometimes go two weeks without a shower, using a yoga mat and sleeping bag at night.
“Mostly, we were living with these people 24/7. ... If you put on a little bit of mascara, everyone knows,” she said.
The group visited each country for between one and three weeks, carrying out projects such as evangelizing, teaching English, and leading a vacation Bible school among their travels.
Arandas and the other students took classes such as travel writing and studied eight languages under the direction of faculty members in the group, earning a minor in global cultural studies.
“It was really hard to balance the mission projects with class because when you're traveling, you just want to explore, but you have to discipline yourself,” Arandas said.
There were times, like long flight layovers, when the team would break into smaller groups and sightsee.
One of the goals of the trip was to emphasize “interactions over transactions,” which Arandas said was helpful.
“They taught us not so much to be a tourist, but to immerse yourself in that culture and understand how that culture works,” she said. Instead of buying a bracelet from a sidewalk vendor, she would ask the seller how she had made it.
Arandas was the only student from Pennsylvania, among others from California, Oregon, Washington and Georgia.
Her parents were able to travel by train and visit the group in New York City before the travelers departed for Peru in late November.
“We're completely overwhelmed with pride. It's so much more than we ever expected it to be,” said Linda Arandas.
Students were responsible for the cost of airfare throughout the trip, so Amber Arandas raised money by fundraising and asking family members and friends for donations, even receiving two anonymous donations from patrons of her university.
“It was 100 percent worth it,” she said. “Seeing how Christ works around the world is something I never would have imagined I would have seen.”
Arandas returned to California on New Year's Day to begin a sports marketing leadership training program. She hopes one day to work in the marketing department of a Pittsburgh sports team. She's so passionate about the Steelers that she took photos with the Terrible Towel in each country.
For now, though, she is happy to have regular showers and breakfast without 35 other people.
“We're going to look back on it and be in shock of what we did,” she said. “I'm still continuing to process it.”
Her mother said she and her husband look forward to seeing how this around-the-world journey will influence her daughter.
“We're just anxious to see where this leads her because we know it was a life-changing event,” Linda Arandas said. “I support her in whatever she does.”
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-836-6660.