The Art of Self Discovery

My STEP Signature Project consisted of a domestic travel out west to a series of national parks including Zion, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and Antelope Canyon. Throughout this two week journey my roommate Will and I captured pictures and videos along with keeping a field journal alongside in order to showcase the natural beauty and our personal growth.

Before embarking on our travels, I dreaded the 26 hour drive each way. I am one to get motion sickness easily which is the biggest reason why I never enjoy road trips. However, this trip felt very different from the start. I was going to explore a whole new world that I had never seen before. I was born on the west coast, but don’t remember anything about the west. The drive went smoothly and surprisingly fast, one I attributed to great company and constant curiosity. I was grateful for the drive, so that I could see the landscape changes along the way and the incredible geological and societal diversity. Arriving at the first enormous mountain with white peaks at the top, I realized how small I am. The world is full of millions of people and places that I will never see. God created such a massive piece of art for people to come together. I could see how God is individually working in everyone’s lives around the globe. Will and I also realized how long the Earth has existed and compared that to how short our human lives are on the Earth. Continuing along our journey, my understanding and view of myself and the world continuously transformed. I noticed how different landscapes and cultures help define our values. Lastly, the relationships and interactions along my journey fixed some of my misinterpretations of what living is all about. Traveling is very difficult. We had to live out of a car for days at a time, and additionally we were responsible for cooking meals on the fire and quickly adjusting plans. Many useful problem-solving skills can be related to our engineering fields of study. Adaptation and creativity are important characteristics for engineers in a competitive economy.

There were many events and various activities during the two weeks I was exploring new geography that led to the transformations I encountered. The trip was full of hiking almost every day for a few hours. Growing up running around in the woods all day, I had expectations that the hikes and trails would be easy. This was false for most of the trails. Majority were incredibly long and steep. While in Colorado, the trails were still covered with snow from the long winter they had there. This made following the path very difficult. On our way to Blue Lakes, the trail was completely covered by up to five feet of snow. We could walk on top of the snow in some spots, but other spots we would fall in almost waist deep. This led to our clothes being soaked, and the round-trip trail time to double.  However, we did not make it to the lakes. We were hungry, thirsty, frozen, and running out of daylight if we continued. The way back was horrific. I wanted to collapse the entire time, and I was very upset that we could not make it to this beautiful location. Although this day sounds terrible, I learned many things from it. It is not necessarily the destination in life that makes us who we are. It is the journey that shapes us no matter how gruesome it is. I was physically tested and emotional bat around.

This wasn’t the only trail we couldn’t complete during our project out west. While we were staying at Zion, a good portion of the strenuous trails that we were looking forward to were closed due to rock fall. Others were closed due to too much snow melt causing the rivers to flow high and fast. Since we set aside four nights of camping in Zion National Park, we quickly came up with other activities to do and a few other places to photograph. The last two days in Zion we decided to visit Sand Hollow, Red Cliffs Park, and Gunlock Park. These parks ended up being some of our favorite beautiful spots. Sand Hollow had amazing cliff jumping rocks into vibrant blue water, video clips that would spice up our end of journey video. The others had amazing sites and hikes as well. This showed to me that I need to make the best out of what is given to me everywhere I go. Some of the best experiences come from spontaneous decisions and living life on the edge. While we were camping at the Grand Canyon, it was raining almost all night, and we needed to cook food over the fire. With only a few dry pieces of

Traveling through a total of 11 states, we were destined to meet new people and interact with locals in each geographic area. In each of the national parks, I noticed a few things. The biggest thing was that there were not many college students or high school students. I was hoping to have conversations with other college student but realized that as a college student it is very hard to be able to complete a two weeklong project. Many students start working or internships when schools ends and additionally do not have the finances. I am beyond thankful for this program and for being able to strive and explore outside of the engineering classroom at Ohio State. Every tourist was extremely friendly. Most tourists were European or Asian, and some middle to upper aged Americans. There were a few interaction stories that stood out for me. First, in Box Canyon, a closed road kept us from completing our planned hike. We asked a local sheriff and a woman of the hotel staff for popular things to do in the area. The woman even let us borrow her hiking book if we returned it later that evening. I was amazed by the generosity and trust she had for complete strangers. It inspired me to continuously give to others no matter my relation to them. Another group of travelers at Zion noticed my cross necklace while I was hiking shirtless. He was from India, grew up following the Hinduism religion, and many years into his life converted to Christianity. This was an amazing and powerful story of how one person found God. We also met a group of younger teenagers at Sand Hollow State Park. They were very prideful of their land and this cliff jumping area. They spoke to us about the extremely hot summers and even why the lake was so high that year, the highest they ever remembered. While touring Antelope Canyon, we had one of the funniest native Navajo tour guides. He taught Will and I about his culture and ancestry, even showing us videos of him playing the triple flute. He was extremely friendly asking us about our background. He also showed us the best photographic techniques and spots while in the canyon, something we couldn’t have done on our own. After this tour, I was very appreciative of the Navajo culture.

Lastly, my relationships with both Will and God led to a personal transformation. Will and I were random roommates freshman year of college. I was blessed with a forever friend, who I will have lived with all four years of college. We are very similar people and know each other very well. Even being slightly off emotionally, we can tell something is wrong. However, this past year, with such busy course loads both in engineering, we never really had much time available to hangout. This project gave us adequate time to bond again and face struggles together. Additionally, we would spend every second of the day together, allowing us to get deep with each other, something guys don’t normally do regularly. We spoke about our lives and spiritual lives as we sat sit around the bonfire late at night after cooking dinner. We each had different perspectives during parts of the trip which we were able to capture with our cameras as well. We worked through any disagreements that we had, but ultimately having intentional time and experiencing new challenges and environments grew our relationship greatly. My love for people seems to take precedence over anything else. For example, this journey out of west would have the same beautiful landscapes if I went along, but it wouldn’t have been as special if it were not for experiencing it with the people you love.

Without experiencing new things, there is no growth. Without growth, there is no life. After this project I can greatly appreciate every conversation and relationship that I have, whether it be with my best friend or a complete stranger. On the other hand, I developed better critical thinking and problem-solving skills, useful for my career path as a mechanical engineer. Professionally, I have been exposed to such beautiful nature that I want to strive for ecofriendly products to protect the environment. My future plans and aspirations include starting my own company. Exploring my photography and video interests allowed me to see parts of the world that I can’t see. The video clips developed my video editing skills from an academic standpoint. My desire to travel and improve my photography skills increased as a result of such a transformational project. Additionally, I am confident in planning my own individual endeavors and want to continue to exceed my comfort zone. I hope another similar opportunity arises where I can reflect and grow as I did during this project.