Karina, a senior at Notre Dame, shares her experience of a summer trip with Wonder and the discoveries she made along the way.

Wonder is an experience that opens one up to the possibility of experiencing themselves, others, and God more fully. Wonder is “an experiential learning program for participants to encounter nature and people through awe, surprise, and beauty”, hosting different outdoor adventures in places ranging from Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Italy, and Switzerland. We have a need for beauty in our lives; a need I have been able to recognize throughout my time in Communion and Liberation.

I had the privilege to travel to Wyoming last summer with Wonder for a backpacking trip – invited by my friend and Wonder founder, Ilaria. I would like to share the five key things I discovered during my trip.

Our interdependent nature
I carried the pepperoni, the spices, the pan, the cheese, and the pasta noodles for the group. Cate carried the butter, the lighter fluid, and the pot. The food was split up into our four bags for the week and was bundled up close to our clothes and toiletries strapped on our backs. By splitting up the food amongst the four of us, we didn’t have to hold all the weight alone which made the trek much easier to bear. I was moved that this was a microcosm of the trip as a whole – revealing how we were all so dependent on each other throughout the trip. In my time as a neuroscience student, I have learned extensively about our neurobiological needs, and how we are made for living in community. Wonder provided the space for me to realize that many of my material comforts don’t allow me to truly live in this way, that I can go throughout my day seemingly completely ‘self-sufficient’ since I have all that I need to take care of myself. Yet, it was incredibly moving to strip away that comfort and really lean into the discomfort of recognizing I needed the person in front of me.

The experience of friendship
Going into the trip, I only knew some friends and my brother, Tyler. Yet, time in Wonder helped me recognize the truth of friendship. Father Giussani says, “So what is friendship? Friendship in its minimal state is the encounter of one person with another person whose destiny he or she desires more than his or her own life.” This was my experience during the trip - the people in my group really cared for me. It wasn’t a friendship rooted in having compatible interests or talking about things that are agreeable; it was a space for meaningful connection with unlikely people. Everyday, we gathered around and different people shared their life stories. It is a powerful feeling to recognize we all have a unique story worthy of being heard. No matter if I found someone easier to get along with or not, learning about these people’s stories opened me up to their humanity and givenness.

Need small things to come in to remember that I am human (hot cocoa + fruit snacks)
Oh, how the small things can remind me of my humanity! One can only eat so much pepperoni until she feels like she is going mad. Ila always came at the best moment to feed us little Trader Joe’s fruit snack buttons. I felt that even the treat of one fruit snack was an act of dignity, recognizing that a part of life is the ability to enjoy extra things. One night, we all gathered under a thin tarp to protect us from an evening of a cold torrential downpour. My heart was initially made calm by a small cup of hot cocoa. Hot cocoa is not a need, but for me, it was a true treat that helped me feel human in a distressing moment.

Beauty meeting us even through the frustrations
I was deeply uncomfortable for most of the trip. I would not use the word ‘comfortable’ to describe carrying twenty to thirty pounds of weight on my back with golf-ball size bug bites over my body, beams of sun soaking my skin, and mosquitoes swarming. Yet, even during my complaining or my self-loathing, beauty still met us. Whether that be a waterfall on the side of the trail or a lake we could jump into, beauty always came to surprise and meet us. It was a reminder of the power beauty has to penetrate, to take me out of myself, and remind me of something bigger than my frustration, complaints, and irritations.

Time for silence
Wonder allows critical time for silence. On the hikes, we had time to walk together in silence, and once we were settled at a campsite, we had time to be alone. This was a essential point of the trip because, through silence, I had the opportunity to experience my religious sense, “to the human intuition that life has an ultimate meaning (one that is real, and yet beyond our reach), and to the desire to know this meaning that expresses itself in radical questions”, and ask the questions in my heart such as: How do I want to spend my senior year? What relationships am I being called to lean into? Silence is a place for me to recognize my need for Christ to come into my life. I was grateful that Wonder allowed me the space to remember my need for Him.

These discoveries helped me to enter back into my daily life more truly, with more gratitude and awareness.

Karina, South Bend, IN