OAC Australia and New Zealand Leadership Expedition: Sarah Felix

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated on the Outdoor Adventure Center’s Australia and New Zealand Leadership Expedition. Throughout this three-week long endeavor, we traveled throughout several destinations in both countries where we participated in a variety of activities ranging from snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef to sea kayaking on Lake Wanaka of New Zealand. The leadership element of this trip came not only in the mental and physical challenge inherent in this adventure, but also through our frequent discussion of leadership theories and expectation to be a “leader of the day” for a portion of the trip.

My personal expectations for myself were challenged through this experience in terms of my understanding of effective leadership and ability to push myself beyond my comfort zone. As mentioned above, each day our trip had “leaders of the day” or LODs that directed the days’ activities and made important decisions about the itinerary. After the day had concluded, we got feedback from the leaders from the OAC. I was selected to do this on two of the days of our trip and these were great learning experiences for me. I was able to gain confidence in my leadership skills through this experience and I was able to augment and practice the skills I had developed prior. I was also able to apply the leaders’ feedback from the first day so I could improve myself and the group on the following day. In addition to this, I learned the personal rewards of stepping out of my comfort zone in my perceived physical limits. This came in the form of new activities like challenging hikes, kayaking, and mountain biking, all of which I had no prior experience with. While skeptical before participating in these activities, my ability to try something new and succeed (to a degree) was pleasantly surprising to me and gave me a sense of newfound confidence in my abilities.

My view of the world and diversity has changed ever since this experience as well. Through the cultural immersion on this trip, I was able to find many differences and similarities between our culture and theirs. In addition to this, I was able to meet so many different people from so many different walks of life; this was not only limited to the natives of Australia and New Zealand but also includes other tourists from places like Germany and the UK who surprisingly shared many similarities with me and my peers on the trip. Through the variety of different activities we participated on, I was able to meet individuals who took a passion of theirs like rafting, skydiving, or kayaking and made a career out of it; this is something that I found to be very admirable and, therefore, encouraged me to follow my passions as well. There is so much we can learn from the laid-back, friendly lifestyle that Australians live or the sense of adventure that seemed to be inherent in most everyone I met in Queenstown, New Zealand. Meeting people with these different lifestyles and views of the world was truly eye opening and gave me a hunger to move outside of my comfort zone in truly getting to know people of different backgrounds and cultures than my own.

While our geographical location was truly breathtaking in most every way possible, I found that it was the people I shared these views with who made the experience truly memorable and transformative. As mentioned above, I embarked on this journey with twenty-one other Ohio State students and two leaders from the OAC, all of whom I did not know before embarking on this trip. While we had the opportunity to mingle and get to know each other during the pre-trip meetings, I was still extremely skeptical and uneasy about traveling with a group of practical strangers for 3 weeks. While I encountered my fair share of physical challenges in this experience, overcoming my anxiety and fear of denial so as to get to know 21 strangers was by far the most challenging mental aspect for me. I was urged to step out of my comfort zone from day one and I haven’t left since then! Although it initially seemed like a daunting and exhausting task, my group members made it easy to push myself in this way; they truly were and continue to be some of the most fun-loving, humorous, friendly, and accepting people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I have no doubt that stepping out of my comfort zone in this way allowed me to meet some life long friends. This encounter with getting to know a group of strangers also taught me a lot about diversity. I learned that, even when I don’t have a lot in common with someone (whether it be major, hobbies, likes/dislikes), that they can still prove to be a person well worth getting to know. There were several people in my group that I initially misperceived and judged to be incompatible with me and this initial judgement could not have been more incorrect.

As I spoke about earlier, my experience also brought me a greater understanding of the world and different paths people may take in it. I was able to learn these lessons about geographic and occupational diversity mostly through interactions with the natives of both countries. While on our adventures in Australia, I had the opportunity to speak with and learn from several of our guides in each respective activity. Some of these people included my skydiving tandem (no better way to get to know someone than to jump out of a plane with them), our whitewater rafting guide, and our surfing instructors in Sydney. While each of these people came with their own life stories, I was able to find one thing in common with all of them: they all embraced their passions and followed them despite obstacles in their paths. Every single one of these guides were so passionate about their work and it showed through their love for the job. While maybe not as monetarily rewarding or characteristic of what we are conditioned to see as “successful,” they were so rich in life and happiness that it was impossible not to idolize and envy them. This opened my eyes and showed me that, despite my previous belief that money and power were the best indicators of success in life, that the opportunity to wake up every day and follow your passions should be the end goal for all of us. Meeting these people challenged my previous beliefs in the world and helped me to focus more on holistic health and happiness.

While my interactions with my group members and the natives challenged me mentally, this experience brought physical challenge as well. This physical challenge transformed me by giving me confidence in my ability to address the unknown, although seemingly impossible at times. A lot of these physical challenges were mentally taxing in nature; while skydiving and bungee jumping took a great amount of physical skill (mostly from my instructors and tandem), pushing myself far beyond my threshold of comfort made them far more mental for me than physical. I was surprised by the mental strength it took on my behalf to “pull the trigger” for these activities; while challenging and transformative in this regard, it left me with the feeling that I could do quite anything after conquering those challenges. These were some of many instances where I was assured of my mental strength and capability to conquer the unknown. Additionally, I was physically challenged through the array of new activities we participated on during this adventure. While extremely fun and exciting, every day proved to be another physical challenge to overcome and another mountain to climb (sometimes literally). Whether it be through physically exerting hikes in and out of the Australian Grand Canyon, kayaking, or scuba diving, I was constantly learning new skills and pushing myself to use these to become proficient in the respective activity. Again, the fact that I was able to learn these new physical skills both safely and successfully assured me of the rewards of trying new things and expanding my horizons. Perhaps the most challenging of these activities was the afore mentioned hike in and out of the Australian Grand Canyon. While the hike down into the canyon was leisurely and full of beautiful views, the real challenge came when we started to make our ascension. After ascending stairs for nearly an hour, I was physically and mentally exhausted. It came to the point where every single step up was an accomplishment. I found that, even though physically exhausting, this hike was more of a mental game than anything; I found my strength to finish the hike through talking to myself and assuring myself of my ability to conquer what seemed impossible at the time. While challenging (and somewhat traumatizing) at the time, the feeling at the top of the canyon was more than worth the climb. I left that experience feeling as though I could take on any challenge, no matter how apparently impossible it may seem.

This experience has guided and will continue to guide my thoughts and actions regarding my view of the world and my place in it. This experience has taught me to give new relationships a chance, even when they don’t seem to be likely; this accepting and open attitude has helped me gain 21 new friends and will hopefully improve my relationships moving forward. I plan to keep an open attitude and stray away from premature judgement as I am pushed to form new relationships. I think my view of diversity has been completely flipped upside down from these encounters; I now see it not as something to simply be tolerant of, but instead a redeeming attribute that can only help me to become a little more understanding of the world and the choices people make. I know this understanding and appreciation for diversity will be key in my future career in medicine; this was one takeaway I expected and wrote about in my STEP proposal, but I definitely underestimated the effect it would have on my day to day life. In meeting and interacting with the guides I mentioned above, I have been inspired to listen to my passions more and focus on what will truly define happiness in my future. This experience has challenged my view of what I want in life and showed me there are different ways to be “successful” depending on the person you ask. This is a wake-up call I may have needed at this point in my life; all of my decisions up to this point as far as my future career have been dictated by my faulty view of success.  While I am very passionate about a career in medicine and helping others, this experience may attract me to a field or specialty of medicine that may not be the most financially rewarding, but lets me wake up every day knowing that I am doing what I love and am passionate about. This experience has allowed me to cut my previous associations between success and money. Finally, as discussed above, the physical challenges inherent in this trip assured to me that I am resilient and capable enough to step out of my comfort zone and succeed at activities and interactions that may be foreign to me. This newfound confidence is something I will take with me going forward so as to make the most out of every opportunity I’m given. This confidence in myself will not only pertain to my ability to take on new physical challenges; I will use it in personal interactions, explorations in my career, and as a call to bravery to take on situations that may be initially uncomfortable to me. Overall, this experience has challenged my view of the world and the role I play in it. Its forced me to reevaluate some initial biases and inclinations that I have developed in my life thus far. Its allowed me to embrace every opportunity with confidence and an attitude for adventure. I could not be more grateful for the STEP program in helping me to be transformed in these ways.

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