The Trip That Awakened Me
For my STEP Signature Project, I embarked on a 3 week journey to Australia and New Zealand with the Outdoor Adventure Center, where I was able to cross numerous outdoorsy activities off of my bucket list, discover my leadership style, and find parts of myself to which I had been oblivious before. We spent a week and a half traveling through Australia and another week and a half exploring untouched areas of the South Island of New Zealand. I was pushed far beyond my physical, mental, and emotional limits, forging my diamond in the rough self into something a little shinier and a little happier.
One incredible impact this trip had on my life was its ability to change my entire perspective about myself and this incredible life we get to lead. After gazing at the billions of brilliant stars that peeped out from the mountainous silhouettes in New Zealand, swimming alongside hundreds of brightly colored corals and fish in the Great Barrier Reef, and spending 10+ hours of hiking through a very small section of the towering Blue Mountains in Australia, I quickly realized how small the worries of human beings are in the grand scheme of things. In our everyday lives, we take things so seriously, as if that midterm or meeting is a life/death situation. The reality, however, is that we are simple specks of energy on an enormous planet that is filled with such incredible beauty and such amazing treachery, which are often present in the same places. However nihilistic as it may sound, the daily tasks that raise our blood pressure do not even matter amongst the grand inner workings of the Universe. Although this can make us feel unimportant and meaningless, having this realization actually makes me feel braver because it puts everything into perspective. It helps me to take life less seriously and truly live in the present moment, the moment that often makes us the happiest.
Since I was a kid, heights have terrified me more than anything else, and that is exactly why I chose to go skydiving on this trip. I decided before I boarded that first plane to the Southern Hemisphere that I would tackle any activity that made me nervous, and so I did. As the tiny plane climbed in altitude over the massive mountain peaks and glassy lakes, I thought back to the person I was when I was young. I was shy, anxious, dependent, and terrified of the world and everything in it. Back then, the idea of talking to strangers, going for a walk around the neighborhood alone, or even riding a roller coaster made my palms sweat. Fast forward 15 years and there I was, about to jump out of a plane with a bunch of strangers in a foreign part of the world I had chosen to explore on my own. The pride I felt in that moment was absolutely inexplicable. The only thing that beat that feeling was the one that engulfed me when my tandem diver instructed me to stick my legs out of the plane before we tumbled towards Earth. Never before had I felt so free, so terrified, so happy, and so me all at once. As the rushing air hugged my body, I couldn’t stop smiling. I soared over the green fields, snow-capped peaks, and smooth lakes as my cheeks flapped in the wind and my mouth dried out completely. This, I thought, was pure bliss. Buddhist monks spend their entire lives meditating quietly in an uncomfortable cross-legged position when they should really just go skydiving to feel enlightened. I couldn’t have imagined a more magical experience to help put the incredible vastness of the world into perspective.
I also realized on this trip that its the bonds we form with other people that truly make an experience great. Before I embarked on my fabulous adventure, I didn’t know any of the 22 students going on the trip. I was diving into a foreign country for 3 weeks with not a single familiar face…how exciting! I expected to make some friends and enjoy the activities with them, but I had no idea that I would be meeting some of my best friends in the entire world or that I would be learning so much from each and every one of them. I found a unique connection with each person on my trip, but there were 3 in particular that made my trip spectacular. Together, the 4 of us called ourselves the XXX crew because we felt comfortable having explicit conversations about our life experiences and emotions. Having multiple hour long deep conversations full of tears and laughter was not uncommon for us. The memories we experienced and lessons we learned from each other are truly unforgettable. Nathan, the most flamboyantly fabulous human I have ever met, taught me how to not let any obstacles slow me down. He became known amongst the group as the “rock skipper” because he hopped from boulder to boulder without a single drop of sweat after 15+ miles of hiking. Throughout everything we did, he kept his head held high and constantly reminded us to look out at the beauty that is nature. Shannon, another member of the XXX crew, showed more appreciation than I had ever seen, even more than the gratefulness we try to muster on Thanksgiving. Everywhere we went and everything we did, I always saw the brightest smile on Shannon’s face as she embraced all of the incredible activities we got to do. The third member of the group, Roslyn, lights up every room she walks into. She has such a kind, giving heart, and as a result, she truly lives to make others smile and laugh. As she told stories on our hikes and broke every semi-awkward silence with a joke (spoken in a terrible Australian accent, I might add), I couldn’t help but feel extremely grateful for these 3 wonderful people I got to spend all day everyday with for 3 weeks. I truly hope that each and every one of them rubbed off on me in some way for that would bring me closer to the person I want to be.
Beyond our close group, I also adored getting the chance to speak with locals and other world travelers. Two of the people that inspired me most were my white water rafting guide and one of our kayaking guides. My white water rafting guide was an Aussie, born and raised. He always loved outdoorsy activities and as a result, he decided not to take the ordinary path. Instead, he studied outdoors education and got certified as both a white water rafting guide and canyoneering guide. Every winter, he lives in a foreign country in the Northern Hemisphere so he can continue doing what he loves while exploring new areas at the same time. To me, that is truly admirable. Not enough people in this world follow their heart’s desires, and after meeting this guide, I decided that I must, no matter the cost. My other inspiration was one of our kayaking guides. She was born and raised in Alaska, but after graduating from college, she decided that she needed a change, some sort of adventure. So, she spontaneously moved to New Zealand, where she leads kayaking tours by day, teaches yoga by night, and studies to one day become an art therapist. That spontaneity and passion for her jobs was so refreshing in a world where those two are often lost at the expense of a financially stable career or caring for a family. I truly felt so inspired by both of them. Does that mean that I want to spontaneously move across the world and lead outdoorsy activities? Not necessarily. Does it mean that I will follow my heart no matter what? Absolutely.
This trip flipped my world upside down, quite literally because I was in the other Hemisphere on the opposite side of the world. Never before had I seen such untouched beauty in nature. I found such joy in pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, finding pure gratitude in every single moment, meeting interesting people and learning so much from them, and most importantly, meeting myself again. We sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle of ambitious academic life, so getting to escape to the pure essence of this Earth, nature, was the perfect way to rediscover who I am and who I want to be. I was inspired to travel more, to embrace every opportunity placed in front of me (no matter how frightening), to try to learn something from everyone I meet, and to take the road less traveled, the one that my heart tells me is right. As a result of this incredible trip, I simply cannot wait to see what other magic this wonderful world and wonderful life have to offer me. I am ready to embrace it all, each and every fabulous second of it.