With help from STEP funds, I was able to spend a summer in Colorado as part of a leadership training program with my church. I worked at the YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch as a full-time food service employee, while meeting multiple times each week growing in community with other Christians and learning what it means to be a leader in the church.
This whole experience really altered my own perception of myself, specifically in my ability to make important decisions on short notice and be independent and capable enough to carry out that decision and get everything prepared in order to do so. I definitely came out of it with a greater sense of independence and confidence in taking on “adult” responsibilities, such as planning and organizing trips, working full time, and leaving the comfort of my friends and family in order to gain valuable life experiences. My outlook on the world also shifted a bit. I had previously thought of the idea of traveling and living anywhere other than where I was born and felt comfortable as near impossible. It was not so much about a lack of opportunity, but rather a lack of confidence in stepping out of my comfort zone and leaving where it felt familiar. After the experience, after living and working across the country for a whole summer, I see the world almost as a smaller place. I see those opportunities to travel as more realistic and attainable.
step7One of the first transformational aspects of this experience happened before I even left Ohio. I was actually on a wait list for the program, and I got the call that a spot was available for me only three days before I was supposed to be at the YMCA in Colorado. All the carpools were already full, so I had to act fast and figure out how to get myself out there. I stayed up into the morning that night researching flights and shuttles. I had been on a plane once before in high school, but it was all pre-planned and I only had to show up; It required no work on my part. This time, though, I was completely responsible for figuring everything out. My parents let me handle the situation on my own. At the time it was very stressful, but looking back now it was a great learning experience not only in how to go about buying plane tickets (which I had never done before) but also simply in taking on such large responsibilities on such short notice. Had this all been planned months before, I would have certainly had my parents take care of organizing flights and shuttles. Because it was all last minute, though, I had to rely on myself to make it happen. Knowing that I got myself to Colorado in three days-time makes me much more confident in knowing that when I set my sights on something, I can accomplish it.
This was also my first time working a full-time job. Each week I worked at least forty hours, some weeks more than that. My previous job experience had me working 25 hours per week at the most. This was a new experience that I jumped into without any real transition period. At first, the shifts seemed to go slowly and it seemed as if all my time was going into work. After a few weeks, though, the workload seemed more manageable as it become more normal. I gained great life experience in managing my time between full time employment, church responsibilities, activities with friends, and everything in between. I learned how to be intentional with my time, as each hour of free time became a valuable opportunity to get together with friends or get other work done. It has helped to prepare me for a career after college, where I know work will take a large portion of my time.
step3I specifically worked at the restaurant on the YMCA’s property. It was called BuckBoard Grill. The staff was special because we were quite small so we could really get to know each other. At least half of that staff was also international. I had coworkers from Thailand, China, Turkey, and Colombia. I have been exposed to international students at Ohio State, but this experience was certainly the most I had interacted with them. Seeing them almost every day and working together really drew us close to each other. I consider many of them to be good friends. If I am being completely honest, I was always somewhat apprehensive about trying to connect with international students on campus because I did not know how tostep4 start that conversation. I even had this misguided idea that we wouldn’t have anything in common. My experience in Colorado greatly diminished those thoughts, as I came to the understanding that international students are just like me, just from another country. That sounds cliché, but it is very true. It was one of the greatest aspects of the summer, getting to befriend people from around the world, sharing our similar interests as well as our different cultural practices. We truly were a community. Also seeing them working full time across the world from their homes was very encouraging. I have always wanted to travel abroad for an extended period of time, but I never considered it a realistic option. All the international workers there, though, were proof that it is very possible to do so. I am most definitely going to look into those sorts of opportunities and consider them as real possibilities.
My summer in Colorado only lasted a few months, but it will greatly impact my future. I plan to attend PA school, and am now looking into schools in Colorado. I fell in love with the state and hope to return soon. I saw that I was able to leave home and live across the country for a whole summer, so I am confident on my ability to strive at a school across the country. I have also dreamed about doing some sort of healthcare opportunity in a different country, and the international students I met this year really inspired me to never count that out as an option. It really opened my eyes to the fact that traveling and gaining experience in a different country can be a reality if I put in the work. Overall, the experience has changed something inside me. I no longer view opportunities as unrealistic or too big to achieve. My experience made me realize that whatever goals or dreams or hopes I have for my future, I can accomplish them with the right mindset and dedication. That is something that will stick with me not only in my future career, but in everything I do.