Name: Jessica Wetzel
Type of Project: Study Abroad
- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
I took part in a Study Abroad program called Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment in North Queensland, Australia. For three and a half weeks, I traveled to various bioregions in this country, field-exploring and studying under experts about the country’s history of the indigenous culture, environment, and sustainability practices.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
To start, this was my first opportunity to leave the United States. I have always dreamed of traveling internationally but have never had the chance to do so. This trip was definitely a monumental step in my life as it sparked a lifelong interest in traveling the world. I absolutely loved being able to immerse myself in a different culture and observe life in a completely new place. This changed my understanding of what I could handle and what I enjoy. Moreover, I discovered a unique and interesting way to learn, through travel and observation. I feel that I am more cultured after taking part in this program and going forward, I plan to prioritize traveling so that I can continue to grow in this way.
Additionally, the focus of this trip was sustainability, which involves the enduring of social, environmental and economic aspects of life. I saw the effects that human life has on the world firsthand, and learned more sustainable practices. I am now more aware of my actions and am eager to spread this awareness among future generations.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
Prior to the year 2016, I had never even been on an airplane! I was not only nervous for the 22 hours of flights, but also being halfway around the globe from my home and with a group of people I had never met. Stepping out of my comfort zone allowed me to jump feet first into this experience. I approached everything with an open mind and was amazed at different things every single day. I was able to befriend my peers on the trip, and we were able to help each other through the experiences, which made the time even more valuable.
I was also able to meet some of the most incredible people in the world. I knew that I would be learning from experts, but I was shocked that I had the opportunity to study under world-renowned researchers. Lectures and field activities led by these professionals taught me so much about the content of the course. I learned more than I ever thought possible in just three and a half weeks about all of the different bioregions and the wildlife that inhabits them, as well as Australia’s history and Australia’s sustainability customs.
Aside from formal lecturing from these people, I was also able to connect with them personally. We had set hours for lectures and activities, but afterward, I found that they would linger because they wanted to share as much with us as possible. Talking to these professionals one on one taught me even more. Our class was set up to have weekly essays and debates that were very stimulating. We had readings for support, but I found it most helpful to get the input from these professionals, and we talked for hours about so many different topics. Specifically, we had a debate that mocked a town hall meeting about zoning of the Great Barrier Reef. Our groups acted as different stakeholders, such as fishermen, conservationists, and shipping companies. We had to defend various positions, which sparked a passionate and enlightening discussion among us all. Additionally, when we camped in the outback, I was able to sit at a campfire and talk with one of our experts, Marco. Being born in Italy, travelling all over the world, and eventually migrating to Australia, he was able to speak on the importance of traveling as a way to learn. His input made me want to travel even more.
Finally, as most of the destinations on this trip were rather remote, it made for restricted cell phone use. This was probably the best thing for any of the students on the trip. It is well known that our generation is enveloped in social media. Being able to distance myself from internet and messaging was a blessing because I was able to become that much more involved in my experience. I was able to absorb everything more greatly, which made me value it all so much more.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
The most important part of this trip for me was facing my fears. Of course I was terrified to leave the United States, take numerous flights in and out of several airports, and travel to a country with some of the world’s deadliest creatures, nonetheless not knowing a single other person on the trip. However, this pushed me and made me grow. I had to take risks in order to have a personally transformational experience.
Not only was I able to make lifelong friends by going through the experience with my peers, but I was able to network with professionals. For one of our service opportunities, I actually made it into a local newspaper and onto the news on television, which was a first for me. Also, one of our experts took my contact information and offered to help me find an internship in Australia over a break if I wanted to. In addition, I was chosen as a student blogger for American Universities International Programs. This organization published my blog on their website, which was an amazing opportunity for my professional experience.
Finally, this trip was special to me as it was not directly related to my undergraduate academic focus. My undergraduate degree will be in Dietetics, and while I was able to relate certain aspects of the trip to this, such as learning about the diets of certain animals, most of the trip was about environmental science. I feel that studying a variety of things at the university level is important in establishing a diverse and complete education.
Chasing fears, networking, and diversifying my education are all important qualities to implement into my life. Growing in all of these ways will certainly help me on the road to achieving my goals as I pursue my future.
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