I’m not one to often step outside of my comfort zone. Once I find a daily routine that works for me, I stick to it, and for the most part am content. This leads to me often finding myself in familiar places among familiar faces. However, the same old routine in the same old places can begin to take its toll, and eventually a desire for something new is born. Something exciting and unfamiliar and outside of the typical comfort zone. This itch had been developing within me for quite some time, and rather than satisfy it with a quick scratch, I knew I needed something more. Despite my current academic and career aspirations leading down a very science and medicine oriented path, I have also always had a strong interest and passion for history. I needed to get away not only physically, but also away from the biology and chemistry that I found myself studying everyday. The best way to do this was to travel somewhere that I could expose myself to a new environment and immerse myself in its history and culture. Somewhere fresh and exciting with a history just as storied and diverse as the people who live there. Where better to find all of this than the beginning of a country as fascinating and diverse as the United States?! For my STEP project, I traveled to multiple locations throughout the Eastern United States, including Niagara Falls, Boston, New York City, Washington DC, and the mountains of Virginia. At each location, I, along with my brother who accompanied me for the duration of the two week trip, took in the sites, met amazing new people, learned of the rich history and value of each city, and immersed ourselves in the cultures of every location, with each one being just as exciting and unique as the next. I had never traveled much outside of the Midwestern United States, and STEP provided me with the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone while learning just how big and diverse the world can be without ever even leaving the country.
As I mentioned earlier, one of my largest takeaways from this experience was just how big the world can be. I know it sounds cliche, but it can be hard to understand unless you experience the idea for yourself. As someone who was born and has grown up in the Midwestern United States his entire life, I have become very accustomed to friendly faces and a mostly easygoing environment. I’m not saying that I have lived in a small rural town with a population of 200 people my whole life, but I am used to the type of environment where everyone has a smile on their face and everybody knows everybody. The first major change to this familiarity came during my first year at OSU. While OSU is certainly no NYC, you can always count on seeing a new face among familiar ones everyday, and there is a certain pace at which people seem to live at during the school year, which I find to be more quick and busy. However, upon getting to Boston or New York City or Washington DC, this was taken to a whole different level. I will touch more on specifics later, but there was a certain liveliness and pace at which people seemed to live that was unlike anything I was used to. If you don’t keep moving, these cities will swallow you whole. And while the cities themselves aren’t particularly larger than what I have seen before, the sheer number of people and places and the diversity among them adds a density to each location unlike anything I had ever seen before.
It may sound as if everything that I am saying is placing big cities in a negative light. They are too cramped, too fast-paced, and the people there are too self-centered to care about you or what you are doing. While, to be honest, I did find some of this to be true, I also discovered something that I think reveals something about myself I never knew to be true; I kind of liked it. I’m not saying that I want to be living in crowded midtown Manhattan the rest of my life in an apartment that can barely fit a bed, but there is something almost inspiring that I took away from being in these fast-paced big cities. I found that I want to see more. I want to explore more. And the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the cities makes me want to always strive to keep moving forward and pushing for something new, because once you’ve settled, you’ve stopped actively trying to improve your life. As I mentioned earlier, I’m very much the type of person who likes to get into a routine and stick to it. It is familiar and comforting knowing what to expect every day. It makes life easy and quaint in a way. But where is the excitement in that? Being in these cities was almost like having an adrenaline rush. You have to stay on your toes or risk falling behind, and there isn’t going to be anyone to help pick you up when you fall. While I’m not going to take a complete 180 in my life and start changing my routine everyday, I will certainly start taking to heart the old phrase “variety is the spice is life”. I will stop being so dependent on familiarity and start taking a chance on the unknown. There is a balance that has to be found between fun and focused, and this trip helped me discover how to keep the scale from tipping too far away from fun.
Two weeks is a decently long time for a vacation. However, my brother and I always had to stay on our toes and couldn’t afford to waste much time as that two weeks was split among five different locations spread throughout the Eastern United States. A lot can happen in two weeks, and a lot certainly did happen during this trip. Cramming everything that happened every day into this reflection would make it so much longer than necessary, but there some generalities and key events that really set the tone for the trip and helped to establish what I came to take away from the trip. As I mentioned earlier, on this trip I came to realize just how big and fast-paced the world can be. This was perhaps most apparent when my brother and I visited New York City. Immediately before we had even reached our hotel it was apparent just how different of an environment we were about to immerse ourselves in compared to anything we had experienced before. Due to some poor timing on our part, we reached the city right at prime-time 5:00 PM rush hour on a Friday night. The George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel were backed up for what seemed like miles, and we ended up taking a detour through the Bronx, which was probably just as bad of an idea. Traffic was just as slow, and it was apparent that here, people cared more about getting where they were going than for safety or the rules. My brother and I caught on and adapted pretty quickly though. The next day we decided we would explore middle and upper Manhattan. This included Times Square, Central Park, and a few other well-known locations, such as Rockefeller Plaza, The Empire State Building, and The Museum of Natural History. Despite an early start, by the time we reached Times Square, there was already what seemed like a sea of people, moving from one walk sign to the next, with the occasional rebels walking when and where they wanted. This carried from one stop to the next, with Central Park being perhaps the least dense spot, likely just because of how expansive it was. Perhaps the most fascinating observation wasn’t how many people you would find crammed into a small space, but rather just how different those people were from one another. A crowd of twenty people could be comprised of anyone from foreign tourists decked out in their I Love NYC shirts to starving artists trying to make it in the big city to Businessmen aiming to avoid the puddle of dirty water in the middle of the street. And the amazing part was that, for the most part, none of that mattered. People carried on with their days among one another without seemingly giving a second thought as to who they were surrounded by, either due to a lack of time to notice or simply a lack of interest. This carried into the next day as we explored lower Manhattan as well, although the city certainly did seem less dense as we had moved away from the typical tourist locations. Perhaps one of my most memorable moments of the trip was being on the top of the Empire State Building and thinking that the city wasn’t as big as it felt standing on the ground and just looking around. Immersing yourself in something provides a better experience than just looking at it from the outside.This diversity and pace of living is what contributed most to the grandiose sense of scale that my brother and I were not accustomed to. It was apparent in Boston and DC as well, though certainly on a slightly smaller scale. There were still tourists around every corner, and seemingly more packed in to each square mile than should be, but in Boston and DC there was at least a sense that you could stop and take a breath to soak it all in. In NYC, you truly understood the significance behind the phrase “The city that never sleeps”.
As I mentioned, my brother and I crammed a lot into the two weeks we were gone in order to get the most out of each day. This meant waking up early, constantly staying on our feet moving from one place to the next, and learning to budget our time between locations. This also meant that every day was unique and different and there was no opportunity to fall into any sort of routine. While we did involve some planning to figure out where we wanted to go each day, there was never much of a set schedule for each day to follow. We often ended up winging it, as some would say. However, we never found this to be a bad thing. Every day was exciting because we never knew what exactly we would have in store for that given day. We had to stay on our toes in order to make sure we weren’t wasting any time. This is a stark contrast to my typical personality, which often involves doing things by the book and knowing what I’m getting myself into before I, well, get into it. This did occasionally lead to us making a few errors. We often found ourselves on the wrong subway or stuck in heavy traffic at an inopportune time due to poor planning. But it also led to some great adventures, like finding the best stop for pizza in New York or finding ourselves on the edge of Niagara Falls just as the sun is setting, or even exploring the awe-inspiring vastness of Arlington Cemetery in a light rain and barely catching a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and even finding a beautiful state park in the Virginia Mountains and exploring a more quiet and peaceful environment than those we had become used to during our two week trip. I came to appreciate the unexpected and embrace the unknown, as it was in these situations that the most memorable moments of the trip were born, whether for better or for worse. I also found myself more willing to take charge and go where I wanted to go, rather than go somewhere because a guide told me to. It was these unexpected moments that made each day exciting and unique. I learned to appreciate these moments and seek them out, rather than settle for familiarity and comfort. The risk-taker and explorer within me certainly came out during the two-weeks, and I intend to incorporate that side of myself into my everyday life much more often now. I also even got to explore my creative side. One of the largest aspects of this trip was the daily recording I did. I set out on this trip with the intention of making a movie about it, to explore a small creative passion I have always had for movies and film making. I never intended to make much more than perhaps a ten minute recap of the trip, but I ended up doing so much more. It was more like a ten minute movie for each day of the trip. Not only did doing this allow me to explore my creative side even more, but it serves as something I will always have to look back and reflect on. It serves as a reference for what will be a very memorable and formative time in my life. Making the movies was an experience in itself, and has fueled a desire in me to continue to explore this creative side of myself, one that is very different from my very studious side. The collection of these movies, better termed as vlogs, can be found below.
Something that I have not mentioned yet that I took away from this trip was an appreciation for the rich and diverse histories of not only each location, but this country as well. Many of these locations played a key part in the history of the United States, and being at all of these locations and visiting the different museums and monuments is about as close to reliving that history as one can get. As I mentioned, I do have a passion for history, but much of that gets pushed to the side in pursuit of academic and career goals, with an end goal of hopefully one day working in medicine as a doctor. On this trip, I was able to explore that interest, and gained a much greater appreciation for just how important and valuable all of this country’s rich and diverse history is. My brother and I were able to walk the entire Freedom Trail in Boston, and see firsthand some of the locations that were vital in the birth of the United States. In Washington DC we saw some of the most important documents and artifacts in the history of the United States, from the U.S. Constitution to the American Flag that inspired the National Anthem. We saw the monuments, buildings, and landmarks that most people only ever see on TV or read about in middle school, such as the White House, Capitol Building, Library of Congress, the Washington Monument, and more. It is difficult to put into words just how different of an experience it is to see these things in person rather than read about them in a history book. It instills an appreciation for how important it is to preserve these things and respect the effort put into building the world we live in today. It also inspires me to push myself so that I can make a lasting contribution to this world, rather than just settle for being another part of it.
It is easy to look at this trip and simply say, “oh, so you went on vacation?” It is easy to think that it was just another vacation and I will go on living my life as I always have. But this trip was so much more than that. It was an experience. It helped me to explore interests that I otherwise would never be able to explore, at least not during college. I will be able to take my experiences and incorporate them not only into my everyday life, but also my future academic and career goals. If I want to become a doctor, I need to learn to always stay on my toes, be able to think and react quickly, and most importantly, be able to adjust to whatever is thrown at me on any given day. Being a doctor is no cakewalk, and no two days will ever be the same. Even if I don’t become a doctor and pursue something else entirely, what I have taken away from this trip will still be applicable, no matter what path that may be. I learned to embrace my interests and explore my passions, as that is where I find fulfillment and satisfaction. This trip has even inspired me to further pursue my interest in movies and film making. I intend to make more movies because I found it to be fun. It was something different than what I do everyday, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps it will yield an opportunity I never expected, and that is what is so great about taking risks. I will never settle for familiarity, as that is when I stop actively working to better myself. Embracing opportunity should not be scary, but rather should be exciting. If you stop taking risks, then you stop living life. I have become so used to familiarity and being comfortable with the same daily routine that my life has almost become boring, but I fully intend to change that. Even for the upcoming school year, I intend to take more risks and step outside my comfort zone. Familiarity breeds content, while the unknown breeds opportunity. And some opportunities just can’t be ignored.