STEP Reflection: Yosemite National Park

My STEP signature project was a hiking/backpacking trip through Yosemite National Park. I flew from my hometown of Dayton, to the park which is located outside of Fresno California. While there I experienced a variety of beautiful terrain and met many interesting people.

While in the park I experienced a shift in my perspective of the world and myself. I have always believed myself to be an independent person, and this trip solidified that sentiment by building on my self-reliance. Now that I am back at school, I feel confident in my ability to control my own path and continue to follow my aspirations. Even though this trip grew me as an individual, I feel it also reinforced the value in meeting diverse groups of people. I find myself seeking personal connections with people whom I would not expect myself to be drawn too. Everybody has their own life experiences, and each of them brings value because of those diverse backgrounds. Everybody has some sort of commonality, (whether it be a love for nature or something else) and it is important to realize that.

Prior to my backpacking tour, I camped three nights at the historic campground Camp 4. While at my campsite I shared space with dozens of other campers who filtered in an out throughout the week. One of my neighbors was a climbing couple who were from France and Canada. They met through their worldwide travels. The Canadian spoke multiple languages and taught English to school children around the world. She met her boyfriend in a climbing group while teaching in China. I was amazed to hear all the amazing places she has lived when only being a few years older than myself. It was inspiring to see someone who had a dream to see the world and was actually able to do it. Meeting those climbers showed me that traveling across the US did not have to be the end of my travels; people travel to follow their dreams and so can I.

My favorite interaction of the week was with my neighbors the last night at Camp 4. They were a large family from Los Angeles who were visiting just to have a good time. The older family members immigrated from Hong Kong and raised their kids in California. They invited me to their campsite for a cookout where they proceeded to feed loads of grill food and shots of bourbon. Maybe it was the altitude or maybe it was liquor they brought but I was “feeling myself”. I spent hours around the campfire in tears from laughing alongside these people I never met. I never expected one of my favorite nights of my life to be with some strangers who spoke broken English at a park. I learned that everyone can get along and enjoy each other’s company no matter how different as long as they have a good heart.

On my backpacking tour I was with a diverse group of people: a father and son from San Diego, a couple from Britain, and a nurse from Kentucky. Trey, our tour guide, was the definition of a mountain hippy. He lived out of his Subaru, carried an acoustic guitar everywhere he went, and probably hasn’t worn closed toed shoes in his life. The other guide Sophie was equally “outdoorsy” but in the opposite way. She was an Environmental Science student who spent her summers guiding trips in Yosemite. Over the four days I spent with them I got to know everyone very well. It was surprising how many personal conversations and how close I grew to these people in such sort time. I had many interesting conversations but one stuck out the most. While hiking with Trey we started talking about our lives. I told him how jealous I was that he had so much freedom. I envied his ability to pack up his Subaru and drive anywhere he pleased and experience so much beautiful nature. My envy was ironic in that he envied a lot of my life. He told me he thought it was cool that I had a contract with the Air Force and how no matter what I will have a good paying job and a secure future. Trey said he worried a lot about his future because he had no idea how he could reach his goal of having a wife and a big house for his kids someday. It was interesting that our lives were so different yet we each envied the things each other had. I think there is a balance between our lives we need to find. I need to continue to find ways to balance my passion for the outdoors with my fast-paced life. I hope Trey will find his balance too.

I think this trip has forever changed my values and aspirations. I never realized how capable I am on my own. Thousands of miles away from anybody I knew, I was able to travel and meet so many amazing people. I am now confident enough to start planning a cross-country road trip next summer. This experience and the people I met showed me how possible it is to follow my aspirations and I am excited to continue to travel and meet new people. Additionally, I am more outgoing now. Before the trip I had a really tough time meeting new people but now I feel that the task of making connections with others is not so daunting. If I can share my life with so many great people while traveling, there is no reason I cannot continue this here in Ohio. Going forward I will be more confident in my ability as an individual and in the value of meeting new people.step reflection

My STEP Project Focusing on the LGBTQ+ Community

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. 

My STEP signature project was a photography project where I went to cities all over Ohio and took portraits of LGBTQ+ youth. After the portrait session, I interviewed them about their experiences as someone in the LGBTQ+ community. I had a portrait session around every other day and I edited the photos from the sessions on the off days.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? 

At the beginning of this project, I thought I knew all sides of the LGBTQ community quite well since I have been apart of it and quite involved with the community for a decent portion of my life. However, interviewing people from such a diverse group of backgrounds with differences in culture, religion, sexuality and gender identity intersection, socioeconomic status, parental/familial reactions, and factors like those made me realize the myriad of experiences I did not know about or understand.  Before this project, I assumed I completely understood how everyone felt during their coming out process and to a degree, I think everyone who has ever had to come out does relate to those who have done the same. However, the differences in backgrounds and factors can have a huge effect on how people experience and view their journey. This project changed my assumptions about the community and the way I tended to view all stories as linear and following a similar pattern when in reality, each story is organically its own.

What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? 

One specific series of interactions that led to a friendship that was a very large factor in the change that I talked about in the previous prompt is a friendship that I developed with a biracial, queer trans man. The open and honest conversations I had from becoming friends with this guy and developing a relationship with him opened my eyes to the intersectional relationship between people’s different identities and how that can greatly affect someone’s journey through life. The ability to have these conversations in an open way without judgment and with each person being open to learn and understand where the other person is coming from creates an environment conducive to understanding.

Another set of interactions that led to this change was meeting with such a large variety of people over a certain age range and seeing the vast range of experiences within the group. Talking to two people who came from similar socioeconomic statuses, but had vastly different familial situations completely changed the way their experiences went in ways that most people would never think. Unless they experienced it firsthand or, as I did, talked to those people and learned their stories secondhand.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans

This transformation is very significant to my life and the way I view the community that I am in as well as in the way I conduct myself with others in the community. By seeing that every person’s story is organic and unique, it has allowed me to get ride of any preconceived notions or stereotypes I had about others in the community and instead gives me the space to get to know each person individually instead of assuming I know their story. However, thee journey that this project took me on this summer did not result in a single transformation. It caused changes and transformations in multiple facets of my life and in my thinking. Getting to know each story of the people I interacted with provided me with valuable human interaction and connection. This not only enhanced my people skills and made me more ready for my future as a psychologist, but also allowed me the opportunity to open my mind to the different lifestyles of people within my community and allowed me to get rid of the misconceptions and stereotypes that I had around certain groups in the community. Sometimes we think that it is impossible to have prejudices or stereotypes about a community just because we belong to it. This project allowed me to see that I had these misconceptions and it gave me the opportunity to grow out of them and develop a better mindset. This project was extremely personally transformational for me in the way it changed my thinking around myself and the way I interact in my community as well as the way I think about my community. However, my project also gave me skills that I think will be extremely important in my future career.

As someone who has a future goal of working with at-risk teenagers and young adults who struggle with mental illness, I feel that I need to understand the at-risk groups that I will see a lot. lgbtq+ folks are one of the largest young groups affected by mental illness, especially trans folks. The suicide rate is higher for the lgbtq+ community and then even higher for trans folks. Therefore, being able to talk to a number of people in the community who have struggled with mental health issues and have first hand experience of what it was like for them, was an extremely important aspect of this project for me and extremely eye-opening. It gave me exposure to the topics that I want to work with in the future as well as allowed me to develop the skills I need for my future as a psychologist. In general, the way this project has changed the way I see the world and the people around me has made me more compassionate towards those around me as I remember daily that I never know what someone has gone through because everyone has their own story that has made them who they are today. On a smaller note, but still of significance, this project reignited my love and passion for photography and for portraits and the way a photo can show a piece of someone’s soul. I think portraits can be extremely thought-provoking and emotion-inducing, but also fun and playful and light. I love the duality of portraiture and being able to work on that and explore that duality this summer was challenging and it forced me to mature as a photographer as well as a person. This project was the catalyst for many changes in myself, large and small, and the way I exist and see the world. It was an experience that I never forget and will continue to benefit from for the rest of my life.

 

A couple of my favorite shots from this summer project: