STEP Project Reflection

Before completing my STEP Signature Project, I would say that I had a fairly narrow and even misinterpreted view of America and the breadth of landscapes, cultures, and people.  I have lived on the eastern side of the country for my entire life, and have only ever traveled west once when I was younger. I greatly appreciated that Kevin and I drove from Columbus to each of our destinations, as this allowed me to see the changes in landscapes and cultures along the way.  We traveled from the flat lands of Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas to mountainous regions in Colorado to canyon and desert lands found in Utah and Arizona. This change sometimes occurred slowly, while other landscapes transitioned more quickly. Nonetheless, each change was incredible and eye opening as to the extreme diversity of our country.  We truly have it all. One of the major takeaways from the trip was definitely learning to value the different relationships and interactions with people that we met along the way, as well as with Kevin. I realize that the Grand Canyon may have been around for 70 million years, but people are certainly here for much shorter periods of time. I am learning to value each relationship, conversation, and interaction and learn as much as I can from each culture, because I know that each person only stays on the earth for a short period of time.  We also experienced a wide range of interactions with people, as Colorado had very minimal contact with any people and the Grand Canyon was flooded with people of many different cultures. No matter where we went, I couldn’t help but notice that the locals at each of the locations had great pride in their homeland. Each spot has helped to define and structure the values and culture of each person, which has encouraged me to reflect on how the places I have lived have changed or defined me. We were able to talk with people from all over the world, and it amazed me that every person that we interacted with was genuinely kind and found satisfaction in being able to learn about my culture.  I was very excited to learn about their culture as well, so it was a very enjoyable exchange. The trip also tied into my religious beliefs as well, where I have continued to grow in the appreciation of nature, but also see how God is working and using many different people on the earth to continue to teach me and allow me to grow.

Another major takeaway from the trip was a better appreciation of the difficulty of traveling, as there are many details and unexpected situations that cause you to think quickly and problem solve.  As an engineer, these skills are critical to our success in the industry. For example, Kevin and I had to work through living out of a car for multiple days at a time, which required extreme organization and was very uncomfortable at times.  We additionally were responsible for accounting any expenses incurred throughout the day and cooking meals on the fire. For cooking, we had to plan out grocery shopping and think about the best way to prepare the meal with our limited resources.  Sometimes this involved creating tools from sticks or rocks at the campsite to achieve our goal. When we were in Zion, most of the hikes were closed, so we ventured out to nearby parks and had to replan out our days without very much notice. This taught us to think critically and quickly, taking into account any details that may influence our plans, such as getting meals or gas, accounting for changes to the budget, and preparing for weather changes.

Most prominently, my relationship with Kevin and the interactions that we had throughout the course of the trip led to the changes and notable transformations seen in myself.  Kevin is one of my best friends, so we were able to get along very well over the course of the trip. However, there still were struggles and disagreements that we had to work through and discuss with each other.  Additionally, Kevin and I had different perspectives and were able to see the beauty in nature in varying ways. We were able to capture different photos and videos throughout the trip, and looking through our shots has allowed me to appreciate how he experienced the trip and compare it to my own experience.  Through daily conversations with Kevin, I was able to greatly appreciate our friendship even more than the location, despite all of the beauty around. What was most valuable to me was being able to spend some intentional time with him and develop our friendship while navigating the challenges of new and changing environments.  We were able to problem solve together and talk through our plan for the budget, cooking meals, preparing the campsite, reserving places to stay, and many other things. All of these conversations help to foster a deeper understanding of what makes Kevin who he is and allowed us to better appreciate our friendship.  I was surprised by the growth we experienced in just two short weeks, and this has played into a new found desire to build more relationships like this one, whether it be at school or in the workforce.

A few specific interactions with locals and travelers during the trip stick out to me in particular.  While we were in Box Canyon, one of the trails that we had planned to hike was closed due to an avalanche.  This inclined us to ask some of the locals about other trail recommendations that we could hike instead. We were able to have a conversation with one of the sheriffs and some of our hotel staff, and they were extremely kind and even offered to let us borrow a book that listed all of the popular trails in the area.  They gave us advice on gear to take during the hike and how to best prepare for the conditions. I was taken back by their generosity and enthusiasm in helping us, which has inspired me to always give others the same care and help. Kevin and I also met a bunch of locals at Sand Hollow State Park, and they were also very kind towards us.  They helped us find a cliff jumping location on the lake, and asked many questions to try to get to know us and where we were from. They took pride in knowing the land and being from the area, which made conversation with them very fun. They gave us advice on other parks in the area to visit, and we ended up going to one of them. They loved telling us about their extremely hot summers and how the level of the water in the lake changes frequently depending on the amount of snow melt.  I was taken back by their kindness and advice, which actually inspired me to tell one of my good friends about the location, as he was travelling to the area shortly after me (he ended up going as well). Locations such as the ones that we visited should never be hidden or concealed, but rather proclaimed in order for the public to be able to admire the beauty, and the locals at each of these locations definitely understood this principle. They also understood that there is so much more history behind each location that can easily be overlooked.  It was through these interactions that I was able to better appreciate the beauty of the land from a deeper understanding of the history behind it.

Another few interactions that stood out to me was with our tour guides at Antelope Canyon.  The canyon lies on Navajo land, so the only way to see the beautiful canyon was through a native Navajo tour guide.  We went on two tours (upper and lower canyon separately) and for each we had a native Navajo guide. It was so interesting to learn about their ancestry and culture in relation to the canyon.  They were able to point out interesting and unique structures in the rock and provide advice on how to get the best pictures and videos of the canyon. They were eager to teach us all about their heritage, and one of our guides took pride in being one of only three people to play the triple flute, a traditional Navajo instrument.  He was self taught and was able to share how playing the instrument relates to his people and the land. Had Kevin and I just toured the canyon on our own, we would have never been able to reproduce the caliber of photography or have the deep understanding of the formation processes and native culture that surrounds the canyon. For this, I am very appreciative of the Navajo people and their lifestyle.  At the Grand Canyon, Kevin and I talked to a few Park Rangers, who were able to provide us with recommendations on different hikes, campsite tips, and even a bus trip that would show us the whole canyon. I was able to learn more about the complexity of the canyon through these conversations, and felt blessed to have more information on the massive park.

Kevin and I were also able to interact with a number of international travelers throughout our trip, specifically at the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park where we met travelers from China, Canada, other states in America, countries in Europe and even Columbus, OH!  Although there was some language barrier, we were able to help each other take pictures and learn about the places people came from and why they decided to visit Zion. It was so interesting hearing all of their perspectives and seeing how each person interacted with and appreciated different parts about the environment.  Each interaction increased my curiosity towards other cultures and my desire to travel to their homelands. I am not necessarily enthused about seeing the landscapes as much as I am excited to meet more people, each with diverse backgrounds and histories that contribute to who they are as a person. This has helped me gain a deeper understanding of God, as His creation can be seen and appreciated through many different lenses by people of all different groups.  I recall one interaction with a two men from Great Britain at Horseshoe Bend, and they were absolutely hilarious. I loved their jargon and hearing about what they do overseas. It is so captivating to me that although outer appearance and language may differ between people, each person is the same and valued on the inside. This has helped me to better interact with my coworkers this summer, as I work in a very diverse environment.

Finally, I remember that during our first night at the Grand Canyon it was raining for the majority of the night.  Thus, we had to wait until the rain was mostly over to cook dinner on the fire. Luckily we had a couple pieces of dry firewood and found a some lighter fluid, otherwise we would not have been able to start the fire.  As it was, it took us about three hours to cook dinner and we ended up not eating until around midnight or a little after. This night really highlights the difficulty that we experienced having to cook our own food and prepare for the elements in living out of a car for the duration of the two weeks.  We learned to work smarter, not harder, which required us to think creatively and problem solve. We even were able to use some of the rocks and trees at some of the campsites to do a couple workouts throughout the trip. I was able to do a whole lot more than I expected through some of the creative ideas that we had.  I know that this will play into my success as a student and an aspiring engineer in the workforce, as these thought processes will prove critical to my performance and success.

This personal change that I have seen in myself certainly has allowed me to greater appreciate each and every conversation and relationship.  You never know where a person is from or what they have been through, and I think a better appreciation of this fact will allow me to become a better person and truly care for people without any expectation of repayment.  This along with better problem solving and critical thinking skills will certainly help me excel in the professional environment as a practicing engineer, as these two skills are vital to the success of an engineer. This trip and change has also increased my desire to practice photography more often, especially blessing others through relationships formed through the pictures.  Just as on the trip and exchanging photographs was able to build relationships and foster deeper conversations, I hope that I can continue to improve my photography skills and build more relationships in this manner in the future. I also feel more confident in planning my own trips in the future and feeling prepared to step outside of my comfort zone to try new experiences and learn about new cultures.  I look forward to my next opportunity to do so, as I see the value in experiences such as this one where I can reflect and truly see the growth that I experienced in such a short time.

Here are some pictures from the trip!

We also made a final video which is a compilation of all of the shots that were taken during the trip.  The video can be seen below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *