KEY LARGO -- Teenagers from all parts of the nation and world traveled to the Florida Keys recently to take advantage of the recreational activities and unique environment.
They also say they learned a bit while they were here.
The two-week trip, hosted by the Chicago-based teen community service and adventure program, The Road Less Traveled, included kayaking through Everglades National Park, swimming with dolphins and a day trip to Key West. Their temporary home was a two-story Key Largo bayside house that sits on the water.
Trip co-leader, Emma Franklin, 22, of San Francisco and a recent Harvard graduate, said this type of program helps teenagers mature.
"We see them stretching their comfort zones," she said. "They have to do all of their own cooking and cleaning."
The 13 teenagers earned their dive certifications and took multiple trips to the reefs. Franklin said they learned about coral reef restoration as well as Keys conservation topics.
Another co-leader and past participant Amy Halpern, 19, of St. Louis and a sophomore at the University of Miami, said you can see the students become independent over the course of the American Camp Association-accredited program.
"We see a lot more self-initiative the longer it goes," Halpern said.
Being put in a different environment forces the teenagers learn to work with each other, she said.
Augustine Carnell, 15, of London, agrees. He left England this summer to get away from the thousands of tourists invading his city for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
"It was entertaining," Carnell said of his Road Less Traveled visit. "You do stuff you don't usually do."
Compared to the chilly climate of London, Carnell says he enjoys the Florida heat.
"I don't really want to go home," he said.
Scuba diving was his favorite part.
"It's quite expensive [to dive], so it was nice to be able to go on so many trips," he said.
Sydney Pultman, 15, of St. Louis, joined the Road Less Traveled group after coming off a horrible camp incident with a different program last year.
"I just wanted this camp to be a good experience," she said.
And it was.
"It's a home here," Pultman said. "I will treasure the memories I made for the rest of my life."
Her sentiments were echoed by others in the group.
Sara Stuchiner, 15, of New York, said it was great to get out of her hometown of Manhattan.
"I wanted to try new things, and this was exactly what I needed," she said. "I was completely out of my comfort zone."
Scuba diving and snorkeling also topped Stuchiner's list for the trip.
"I think it's really cool to discover this new world underwater," she said.
Matt Leinwand, 15, of Kalamazoo, Mich., said he was happy to get CPR certified.
Leinwand said he liked that the camp was being run by people that could still relate to his age. He said he considers trip leaders Halpern and Franklin to be more like older siblings.
He said the program provides the kind of summer break kids need.
"It gives you time to put your outside life on hold and focus on personal character building," Leinwand said. "It's a break from addictions, like TVs, phones and caffeine."