Name: Lauren Long
Type of Project: Education Abroad
My STEP Signature Project was studying abroad through the program Environmental Studies: Ethics, Culture, and Sustainability in New Zealand and Australia. This trip enabled me to join up with other students from around the country to study our environment and how we impact the world around us. My program included a large number of hands-on activities, such as hiking and animal interactions, to gain a deeper understand of the topics we were studying and discussing.
Going into my program, I didn’t quite realize how much of an impact on our Earth I have as an individual. I thought I had a firm understanding on the steps I can take to live a sustainable lifestyle, but now I realize that there are an unlimited amount of little life changes we can make to care of our world. I learned how important it is to care for our world and everything that lives in it, from people to the tiniest of organisms we tend to forget about it. Not only this, but my trip abroad gave me new self-confidence and the belief that I am capable of accomplishing tasks I never believed I could before.
There were many key aspects of my signature project that led to these transformations in my life. First, spending a significant amount of time isolated in the nature over the course of my trip gave me time to grow more in love with our natural world. Having the time to spend camping and hiking without the distraction of technology and other man-made objects gave me the opportunity to realize how little of what we think we need to live (social media, air conditioning, etc.) is actually needed. It also gave me the opportunity to reconnect with our Earth and see how much beauty and life there is in what is untouched by humans. It helped me to see just how important it is that we do our best to preserve it the best we can.
There were many places we stopped in both Australia and New Zealand to learn more about how to care for our environment and to live a sustainable life. One of the stops that had to most impact on me was Camp Glenorchy, a small resort in New Zealand that aims to be as sustainable as possible. They have showers that turn off automatically after seven minutes, everything is completely solar powered, and they use compost toilets. It helped me to see that you can still live comfortably while still working to care for our Earth. Another stop we made during the trip was to a Wildlife Habitat. This helped me to see our important it is that we care for the animals we share Earth with and how we need make it more of a priority to keep them safe and protected.
Many events transpired over my time abroad that helped me gain more self-confidence. While there, I was challenged to try things I have never thought about doing in my life. I stayed multiple nights outside without anything but a sleeping bag, rock climbed, and came in close proximity with dangerous animals. I even faced one of my biggest fears of bungee jumping with a few of the other students. These new experiences helped me to see that I’m capable of doing just about anything I set my mind to. Having the encouragement of everyone else on my trip and a solid support system that became stronger and stronger as the month progressed, I realized that I have the ability to make the most out of my life by facing my fears and challenging myself to become better every day.
This transformation is significant in my life on multiple levels. In the future, I plan to teach the Life Sciences at the high school level. Having a deeper understanding of how we impact our world and how to properly care for it will help me to show these values to my future students. Understanding how important it is to care for our Earth, and now understanding better ways to do so, will give me the opportunity to pass this knowledge on to future generations so they too can hopefully decide care for our world. Not only this, but my new-found self-confidence can help me in academics, professional settings, and everyday life. I now know how important it is to pursue what excites you, even if it’s scary at first. Whether it’s getting through a challenging class, going for my dream job, or any other task that is difficult for me, I’ll be able to overcome these challenges to face another day.