My STEP project was interning at a goat dairy in Eatonville, Washington for the summer. My daily tasks were basic animal husbandry on the farm, and also producing products from the milk. With the funds from STEP, I was also able to explore various areas in the states of Washington and Oregon.
When I came out to Washington, I was anxious that I would be lonely and bored living by myself. For my entire life I’ve lived in Ohio, and have always had friends and family nearby. Now, for the first time in my life, I was more away from all my familiarity and going out on my own. This was absolutely terrifying. I had no idea what I would do in my spare time. The owner of the farm mentioned that there would be very limited internet and phone service, and that put me over the edge. At the very least, I wanted to be able to call friends and family if I was feeling homesick, and that wasn’t even an option. My head was reeling. What if I had made a huge mistake, and would be stuck for 12 weeks? What if I hated the work? These were just some of the questions I asked myself as I drove out there.
It turns out, that being alone in a new place was the exact thing I needed. I was excited to move out to the Pacific Northwest, and it did not disappoint! Being surrounded by mountains, ferns, mosses, and huge trees was the best distraction from my initial loneliness. Since I was completely independent, I started becoming more proactive in taking care of myself, mentally and physically. I started running, I painted, I travelled, all to keep myself busy. And in doing so, my self-reliance was strengthened.
Although I grew up in a rural area, I had never lived nor worked on a farm. Truth be told, I was a little nervous on my first day. I had always heard horror stories from my farm friends about baling hay, getting kicked by animals, etc. I knew it would be physically challenging, and I was a little nervous to get started. On my first day, my nightmare came true. One other farmhand and I moved 70 bales of hay and alfalfa. It was exhausting! Instead of feeling defeated, though, it did the exact opposite. I had survived, and it was actually was not that bad. Over the next few months, I sheered 80 sheep, clipped 480 goat hooves, moved hundreds of tons of manure, and much more. Every night I went to bed and fell right to sleep. I took a lot of pride in the work I was doing, and the work ethic I began to develop. I got right along with my coworkers, and after the first week, I loved going into the barn every morning for work. We all joked around and got to know the animals very well. I realized that my past fears and anxieties about the work were all in my head, and they had no basis in reality. If you have the right attitude about the work you do, then you can complete any task.
I’ve prided myself on being able to stay busy, and this trait grew as I lived on my own. Without Wifi or internet at the farmhouse, I really had to rely on being okay with myself in order to not go completely insane. I travelled every weekend to different parts of Washington, from my neighbor, Mount Rainier, to Olympic National Park, to Portland, to the Pacific Coast. I am a homebody for the most part, but forcing myself to make weekly plans to get out of the house did wonders for me. I learned to enjoy driving several hours by myself, by making amazing playlists and taking in all the gorgeous scenery around me. This strengthened my independence, as I was free to do whatever I wanted, and I was also solely responsible for myself. In order to make the most of my limited time out there, I made a “Must See” list of all the local and state attractions. Although I was only out in Washington for 12 weeks, I am confident that I’ve seen more of the state than the majority of the locals. When I came back to Ohio and looked through all the photos I had taken on my trips, I felt a sense of pride that I made it all happen on my own.
I drove back from Washington to Ohio in mid-August, and that was a great exercise in self-reliance. I was with my brother and best friend, and we had to navigate through forest fire season out in Montana and Idaho. It was a little stressful at times, like when my Jeep stalled in the middle of nowhere, or when my AC broke when it was 101 degrees outside. It was also stressful to have my car floor flood with an inch of water! But we made the trip the best we could, despite these hiccups. It still turned out to be a lot of fun, even if we did spend quite a bit of time in car repair shops. A year ago, that trip would have sent me into a panic. But after this summer, I’ve developed a more easy-going approach to life. Most things aren’t worth worrying about.
This summer was beneficial to myself in several aspects. The most obvious one would be my professional development. I am an Animal Science major, so working with goats, pigs, sheep, llamas, and dogs all summer really strengthened my knowledge on the subject and gave me a fantastic hands-on approach. Although I would not be able to do farm work the rest of my life, I wouldn’t mind doing it for a few years after college. It is incredibly satisfying work. The other benefit was my own personal transformation. After being in Washington, I feel much more confident in myself and what I am capable of. I travelled out to an unfamiliar place and lived on my own for 3 months, and I had the best time! I now know that I can keep myself busy, and that I actually enjoy being alone. I also strengthened my independence by two-fold. I feel like I can now go anywhere with myself.
I think these transformations will greatly benefit me after college. Being dropped off into the real world with no solid plan is really scary, but if I have learned anything, it is to let go of your anxieties and embrace the change. It seems scary at first, but if you keep the right attitude, you can find space to grow as a person. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, and I have STEP to thank for allowing me this opportunity.