Where are they now?

How an offer to see Japan proved to be exactly what Jennifer needed


Growing up in Southern California, chances to travel were rare for Jennifer G. Within her community, there was a strong push to stay close to home and close to family. Looking around, Jennifer felt her travel dreams would only ever be just that.

Then, in her freshman year, Jennifer found out that a teacher in her high school was leading a trip with EF Educational Tours. That one opportunity changed everything. After traveling to Japan in 2019, she joined another EF tour to Iceland in 2022. Now, she’s in her first year at UC Berkeley working toward a double major in psychology and business (though she’s quick to point out she hasn’t declared anything just yet).

Oh, and she’s got big plans to keep traveling. In fact, she’s committed to making it a core part of her future.


Jennifer’s story starts with a pamphlet.

At club rush, she noticed her school had a travel club called Roaming Rajahs. Immediately she was intrigued. So, she grabbed the flyer and set off to find the club’s advisers. After tracking down Ms. Mendoza, she got the details about the upcoming trip to Japan.

Armed with all the information, Jennifer knew what she had to do next: come up with a plan for how to approach her mom. Wasting no time, Jennifer launched into her pitch as soon as she arrived home.

“Mom, there’s a trip to Japan for 8 days! I know it’s going to be expensive. I can do my part. I really want to go. Can I go? Ms. Mendoza said there will be a lot of fundraisers. I promise you won’t have to pay for everything. Can I go?”

To Jennifer’s surprise, her mom said yes. If that answer caught her a little off guard, what came next reassured Jennifer that she was on the right path. As she recalls, “[My mom] told me that she wants me to travel. She wants me to see the world. She wants me to know that if I ever want to do something, I can do it. She never wants me to feel stuck in a place and that I can’t get out. She wants me to be able to fall in love with the world and see all of its beauty.”

That talk was all Jennifer needed to hear. But still, she was full of a whole bunch of emotions.

“Although I was quite nervous, I had excitement rushing through my body,” Jennifer remembers. “I mean who wouldn’t? I was literally going to Japan! Never had I ever once thought that I would visit a country in Asia. Especially not at the age of 15 as a young Latina.”

Fast forward—Jennifer is in Japan.

Being on the other side of the world was a lot to take in. To this day she can recount the experience in vivid detail.

“[I’m] seeing people who don’t look like me. It was a culture shock…but an interesting one. I got to use toilets that heat up and play music. I got to ride the train for the very first time. I fell in love with their water and fruits! I got to interact with local high school students. I was able to be present in each moment. It was wonderful.”

As soon as Jennifer set foot back home, she could feel it: she officially had the travel bug. And she was grateful that Japan was her first trip because it opened her mind to the entire world, instead of focusing on the places in Europe she says were always romanticized on TV, movies, or social media. Prior to Japan, like most people, she had a bit of a bucket list in her mind. But after getting home, that strategy went out the window. Jennifer’s new plan was to sign up for any trip that became available.









“My thought process changed to, ‘I do not care where I go as long as I get to see a new part of the world,'” Jennifer says. “After taking time to reflect, I realized that there is a whole world outside of my bubble. I realized that there are so many people who look different, who sound different, who believe in different ideologies, who do things differently—and that it is OKAY. I realized that I want to learn about different cultures and the WHY behind everything. I want to not be ignorant.”

Traveling also made Jennifer look inward. Growing up, she had a tight bond with her mom. In fact, she’s a self-described momma’s girl. But leaving home made her realize her mom wouldn’t always be right next to her, holding her hand. Someday, she’d go off to college and her mom wouldn’t be there. Jennifer describes feeling a little sad about her realization, but ultimately knew she was better off being prepared for when that day came.

Asked to sum up her trip, Jennifer doesn’t hesitate. “This trip did wonders for me and my future.”

Jennifer credits the impact of travel as one of the reasons she’s at UC Berkeley.

She was drawn to the school because she knew it had many international students and a lot of diversity. Now, she has a roommate from Nepal, a best friend from Palestine, and a dorm full of students from Asia.

“It is a wonderful feeling knowing that I am surrounded by people with different cultures,” she says. “I learn every day.”

Beyond opening her worldview, Jennifer feels the benefits travel has had on her mental well-being.

“One of the most important things that travel brought into my life was a purpose and a safe space. The idea of traveling the world gave a purpose to my life. Knowing that I can travel and see the world while creating long-lasting memories gives me something to look forward to, especially on hard days,” says Jennifer.

“When I am having a hard day, I think back to all the places I have been to, whether they are near or far, international or domestic. I remember all the exhilarating memories with all the attached emotions and feelings. I think about the days I spent in Iceland. I remember breathing in the cold, windy air, seeing the icy blue water at the Blue Lagoon, the day that my tour guide made us close our eyes and take in the moment after hiking and encouraged us to just be present…”

Jennifer is grateful for that initial opportunity to travel and for all the possibilities her eyes were opened to. “EF and Ms. Mendoza opened the door and the possibility for me to travel,” she says. “I never once thought that I would actually be able to travel. Yes, I thought about it. But I never actually thought that I CAN. EF said yes you can, and I did.”

And she’s got no plans to stop now. Recently, Jennifer returned from 17 days in Europe on an EF Ultimate Break trip and she’s currently in the process of applying to study abroad for the upcoming school year. The future only gets bigger from there. But she also knows to enjoy the detours when they inevitably pop up. “I understand that life is not a straight path, and I can change my mind at any moment, but as of now, my plan for after college is to join the Peace Corps.”

The idea that travel would only ever be a dream feels like a distant memory. Jennifer’s travels have led her to the life she leads today and they shape her plans for the future.

“EF Tours has made a huge impact on my life and has influenced me in so many ways,” Jennifer says. “Thank you EF—thank you for all the opportunities you have given me. Thank you for making EF more inclusive and diverse. Thank you for instilling the travel bug within me.”


In EF’s “Where are they now?” series, we connect with former student travelers to learn all the ways their tour helped them grow in the moment and leave on the path to so much more.


Offer your students an EF tour and open their world to limitless possibilities

Jake Minton

Jake is a copywriter at EF. His bucket list includes (but is by no means limited to) snowboarding in Japan, exploring the streets of Nairobi, and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.