MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – With the Morgantown weather still in limbo and half the semester complete, West Virginia University students joined the flock of college co-eds nationwide that flee for paradise in the warm sun and a week like no other.
For one WVU student, freshman women’s soccer player Amanda Hill
, she traded in a week at the beach for an unexpected and moving trip to Thailand.
In early February, Hill reached out to her brother, Ray, for a possible visit to see him at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Ray informed his sister that he would be out of the country on a mission trip with YWAM – Youth With A Mission – an international volunteer movement of Christians from many backgrounds, cultures and Christian traditions.
“Fifteen hundred dollars, six medical shots and a month later I was on a plane to Thailand,” smiled Hill, who balked at the initial offer to join her brother on a trip.
Off she was on a flight with 18 members of the Colorado YWAM group and one other civilian.
“I can always go to the beach and it’s something we try to do in the summertime anyways,” said Hill of her non-traditional spring break. “Plus, I’m not one who can just lay around the beach all day. I’m more of the snorkeling, adventurous type.”
Despite only knowing her brother among the group of travelers, Hill was anxious for the getaway.
“I wasn’t nervous at all. I was just excited to go because of the positive experiences my brother Ray has had on previous mission trips,” said Hill.
Not everyone, however, was so relaxed on her impromptu plans.
“My dad and coach Nikki (Izzo-Brown) were nervous,” laughed the Washington, Pa., native. “I had to reassure them a few times.”
After four legs of flights totaling 25 hours, they finally arrived at the Akha tribe village in Thailand where the game of soccer broke the ice for Hill and her new friends. They played on a dirt field where language barriers were knocked down. Quickly, smiles and laughter replaced silence and awkward stares.
“It’s amazing what a little round ball can do to bring two different cultures together,” offered Hill, who was introduced as the
U.S. soccer player and was happy to leave behind a few soccer balls.
On the YWAM “to do” list were cleaning up a church and school building in the village. Hill and company restored the only church in the village by painting, laying cement and installing solar panel lights.
“Once we finished, we also held an American/Akha service where pretty much the whole village came, and their pastor preached alongside my brother,” said Hill. “It was very neat.”
Hill spent the next few days learning more about a new culture, a much simpler one.
“They live a very simple life,” said Hill. “It was about connecting with the people of the village and looking at life from their perspective. They live in a village with no electricity, and they were just happy to get up do the simplest of things.
“I didn’t have any expectations going in but came home with a life-changing perspective.”
What began as a phone call to her brother, ended with a new found appreciation for the basics of life.
“Given the chance, I’d absolutely go again,” said Hill. “I’d go anywhere.”