The Trip That Awakened Me

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.

Australia and New Zealand Leadership Adventure — and my personal transformation

The leadership project that I participated in was the Australia and New Zealand Leadership Adventure. During this trip, I was part of a group of 22 students who flew across the world to Australia to gain new and exciting leadership skills, learn new types of leadership, and gain a greater appreciation of the world around us by going on outdoor adventures.

 

This trip contributed to me having a greater understanding of myself and the way that I choose to see things, while also teaching me different world views and showing me a newer and better version of myself. Something that I had never known about myself was how little I really understood about true leadership. I had a very stereotypical and narrow version of what leadership looked like, and what I thought I needed to be in order to embody that vision in my head. I thought that I had to be the “boss,” the person who told people what to do and made all of the decisions. However, during this trip I realized that being a good leader can also mean being a good follower, someone who watches out for the team, someone who sets a good example, and someone who knows how to stand up for the better interest of the group. This trip showed me that while my personality or the way that I see things may not make me a typical leader, I am able to play to my strengths in order to be a leader in all of its different forms.

Another major thing that I learned about myself during my trip to Australia and New Zealand was the fact that I do not live in the moment. I am always looking to the future or looking back at the past, but never really taking the time to enjoy where I am at while it is happening. During this trip, I actually put the things that I learned in my STEP PDCs to use, by using mindfulness to actually enjoy the things I was experiencing. Whether it was the pain of climbing into and out of a canyon, or the adrenaline of jumping off of a bridge attached to a bungee cord, I was fully intending on living within those moments, something that I seldom did before understanding this part of myself.

 

The number of events that occurred that led me to have these amazing revelations are going to be hard to write about, because I feel that the trip in its entirety did the transformation, but I will try to narrow it down. First, I will talk about why my idea of leadership changed, and how this led me to be a better leader and more comfortable with my own form of leadership. The way that this trip worked, each student got a partner with whom they would lead the group for the entire day, so my perspective on what leadership was changed from day to day. This was because the interactions between my peers as leaders was different every day. One interaction was never worse than another, even though each of them were so different in their own ways. This showed me that leadership styles will not only change with people, but will change with activity, situation, and group. There was no correct way to lead, and I realized there were a million different “right” ways to lead the group.

My main reality check came from the day that I led the group with my friend Katie. We had to lead the group on a hiking trip up a mountain in New Zealand. Katie began at the front and I trailed the back in order to make sure we could yell up to the front in case the group became too divided. As I was trailing in the back, I began speaking with one of the guides in our group, his name was Marius. He asked me why Katie and I had decided on the plan of one person being in front and another being in back, and I explained. He then said, “One of the best things about being a leader is the ability to delegate, you don’t have to be able to do EVERYTHING, because who can? The things that you should do, you have to do correctly.” I found these words incredibly helpful, so I decided to take his advice and delegate someone to be in the back while I went up to the middle so that I was better able to get a feel of what was going on within the group. This specific instance showed me that leaders don’t have to be superheroes that do everything. Good leaders will make sure that they are doing their work effectively along with supervising and delegating work out to the team.

I also learned a lot about leadership from my leadership partner, Katie. She initially led the group, and was the person that I aspired to be like, she would lead the group effectively and stay behind to help people get over branches or across rivers, which showed me how often you can learn from your peers, and that once again, the team needed different things from each of us. At the front, they needed someone who was going to forge the trail for them and help them get through safely, where in the back they needed me, who offered words of encouragement while also making sure that the team was safely and efficiently making it to the top of the mountain without leaving anyone behind. When we switched, I tried to make sure that I molded my leadership style to the situation, so once I was in the front, I took on Katie’s role, as she took on mine during the second half of the hike. All of these things combined showed me different sides of leadership and changed my entire perspective on how I will choose to lead in the future.

Another major thing I realized about myself was my new love of adventure and experiencing life outside of my comfort zone. The experiences that I had with the outdoors are what allowed me to develop the new love and understanding of the way that I choose to experience life. I feel like it sounds dramatic when I type it out, but I have learned to look at the world in a new way, and I have learned how to experience things differently. One of those moments was when we got to New Zealand and I bungee jumped off of a bridge. I was incredibly scared leading up to it, and then once I jumped, it was as if it ended so much faster than the time that led up to it. This honestly broke my heart. I wanted to live 100% in the moment, and I that was a big realization for me. The trip was going to come to an end, and I was looking forward to so many things that I forgot what it was like to actually LIVE during the moment. Even now, looking back I realized how quickly that month flew by, and how I wish I would’ve taken it all in more. Another moment was when a small group of us went for a hike, there were seven of us, and we reached the top, and I looked around and saw what we had accomplished, and how we all had such amazing and meaningful conversations on the way to the top, and I remember feeling so great at the top, and thankful and in the moment. I wanted that feeling to last forever. Every activity that we did came with those feelings, but those were the two that I remembered the most, and I will be forever grateful for the fact that I got to do such wonderful things with such amazing people.

One of my most notable transformations was my leadership skills, and the way that I perceive myself as a leader and a follower. I learned my importance as a team member in any situation, whether I act as a leader, a follower, an advocate, anything. I learned my place as a leader is fluid, and that my leadership style does not have to be one of a perfect person who can do everything and make every call. I can change myself and my style to the situation and the group of people that I work with. I had certain expectations going into this trip, I thought that I would come out knowing exactly how I was going to be a decision maker and what leadership style worked for me. However, after studying different leadership styles, watching other people lead, and being a designated leader myself, I learned that leadership is a learning process. No one is born an effective leader, these skills have to be practiced and mistakes have to be made. Like anything I want to be good at, I must continuously work at it and take constructive feedback and make changes. This honestly contributes to so many parts of my life that it is difficult to boil it down to just on part, because there are so many. Particularly as a nurse, working effectively within a team will be my livelihood. Within my personal life, being the kind of person that can be adaptable is going to help me in all situations.

While my leadership skills were improved upon, I would say my greatest transformation during my trip was my newfound love of the outdoors and my realization of how little I truly appreciated the world around me and the moments that I experienced. As I stated earlier, I learned that I seldom live in the moment, and time seems to pass by me so quickly because I constantly think about the past or the future and forget to actually experience what I am living in that moment, good or bad. After taking the time to explore the beautiful sights of Australia, and especially New Zealand, I began to have a deeper love and connection with the world around me. I realized a love for the land that I had felt only a few times in the past. I saw the beautiful mountains, the clear water of Lake Wanaka, the amazing way that travelers and locals treated their natural resources, and it changed the way that I look at the world.

Now, I take the time to stop and look around at some of the simplest things. I now watch the trees as I pass by, and I take in the beauty of a city that I have lived in for nearly two years. I now have a greater understanding of my place and my part in global warming and my views on how to go about changing the way we interact with the Earth and all of its properties has also changed for the better. I am less wasteful, and I care so much more about how we can try to fix some of the damage that we have done to the world. Overall, I have traveled into and out of a canyon, climbed mountains, kayaked lakes, and snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef. I have realized how much the world has to offer and I have found a new passion in traveling and experiencing the outdoors. I now urge others to take those leaps and make those travels, because I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would get to experience Australia and New Zealand in all of its beauty; and to be honest, I will go back there because I need to experience even more. STEP allowed me to go on my dream trip and learn more about myself than I ever thought possible, and that is the most transformative thing that this trip could have done for me.

Jailene Corporan

Go Bucks!

Australia and New Zealand Leadership Adventure

Sara Gryboski

For my STEP signature project, I travelled across the globe to Australia and New Zealand for a leadership adventure. Over the course of about 3 weeks we hiked new terrain, biked through amazing scenery, climbed mountains (and then proceeded to fall down them), and stared at a new night sky with awe. It was everything to do with the outdoors, leadership, and more.

(O-H-I-O on the shore of Lake Manapouri, South Island, New Zealand.)

Our group consisted of twenty-two participants, two OAC leaders, three native guides, and an ample amount of wanderlust. When I first looked into this trip, it was almost winter break, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my STEP grant. I was profusely scrolling through the STEP dashboard, looking for ideas and trips, when I came across the page for this trip. It looked amazing, and I couldn’t believe that STEP offered something like this. I reached out to the email linked at the bottom of the description, and shortly thereafter I received an email from a student employee at the Outdoor Adventure Center. Much to my dismay the trip was fully booked; if I wanted, I could be put on the waiting list. It was at this point that I decided that my search for a STEP project was over, and as sad as I was, there was only a teeny glimmer of hope for this project. Months went by and I had not heard back from the employee. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about being on the waiting list. Come February, and I’m checking my inbox when I see an interesting subject line: Open spot on AUS/NZ Adventure. I couldn’t believe it, and the first thing I did was forward it to my mom asking “OMG WOW, can I go please?”.

(My mom and I on the morning of May 8th, the day I left for Australia.)

Looking back now, exactly a month after I returned to the States from the trip, it’s hard to believe that those little emails would come to mark the start of my own adventure. It’s also hard to believe how much I’ve changed over the past few months. For starters, I had never been south of the Equator, let alone that far away from home. It would be the second time for me to ever be out of the country. My passport was barely two years old. And now, 7 flights later (with 4 of them being international), I feel like a world traveler. I may be exaggerating a little, but Australia and New Zealand are their own world. I’ve never been anywhere that compares to those beautiful countries, nor have I ever sat for 16 hours on a plane ride across an entire ocean.

(A look into the Sydney Opera House, a night I will never forget.)

After this trip, my world perspective has changed as well. For once, I could really see how the rest of the world looks at the United States. For some, it may seem obvious how other countries view us, but to have experienced the lives of people halfway across the globe was truly eye-opening. I met and talked with individuals (mostly our guides), that had similar and also vastly different opinions. We are diverse, contrasting, beautiful, and unique. People live so differently, yet somehow, at the same time, we are all human beings. The culture of Australia is different from that of New Zealand, and both combined are particularly exclusive to our own. Of course, there is another large similarity; the English language. And it’s lucky for us, because if they didn’t speak English, I can only imagine how many times we would have gotten lost. Because of this, I believe that I have gained a new appreciation for communication.

(The breath-taking view from the rooftop balcony of our youth hostel in Sydney, Australia. O- Devon, H- Me, I- Shannon, O- Nathan.)

Another new thing for me was spending every minute of every day, for three weeks, with complete strangers. Of course, by the end of the trip, we were no longer strangers, but I have definitely seen changes in my character because of this experience. I find myself to be more patient, more pensive, and more caring. Never have I grown so close to a group of people so quickly. I’ve come to love (and miss) the quirky, easy-going, yet amazingly different personalities of each and every person I traveled with. I think I have taken a little bit of each person with me, and I will them will me always. There was one day, towards the very beginning of the trip, that stands out to me as a day we all bonded. We woke up early in Cairns, Australia and boarded a bus to the Misty Mountains and the Tully River for a day of white-water rafting. I don’t think we all laughed harder or for longer than that day. It was full of fun, full of jokes, and full of smiling faces all arounds. I think after that day, we all clicked. Every new relationship became a real friendship.

(“THE Script Ohio”, Cairns, Australia. After one of our many trips to a local gelato shop, we permanently marked our visit.)

While completing the leadership portion of my STEP project (let’s be honest, there were leadership aspects in every single thing we did), I learned more about my individual style, as well as my peer’s styles. We taught each other about the traditional definitions of leadership, and encouraged one another to focus on our strengths. It really was amazing to reflect on our Leaders of the Day after every dinner, because we knew that we were changing each other. Many of our days were challenging, either physically, mentally, or sometimes both. For example, just before the halfway point of our trip we went to the Blue Mountains in Katoomba, Australia. It was pretty remote, but had gorgeous views, and for two days straight, we hiked. We climbed down into the valleys, along canyon walls, up cliffs, and near the end of the second hike we climbed nearly straight up staircases on the opposite side of a giant ravine. As we pushed our bodies, we also pushed our minds. We grew tired and agitated, and at points, we tested our new friendships. But with the help of our Leaders of the Day and each other, we all reached the top. I am positive that had I been with any other combination of people, we would have given up; but I wasn’t and we all grew so much from that experience.

(A photo from a cold and wet hike in New Zealand. Top left to bottom right; Rachel C, Ali B, Claire, Me.)

Though I was constantly surrounded by people, I also feel as if I grew to be more independent. When it came down to it, I was there for myself. I know it sounds a little selfish, but I was there for STEP (along with about half of the other participants). STEP’s purpose is to give second year students a chance to grow personally, mentally, to discover themselves. We all came for personal reasons, and as we bonded, we grew individually. Yes, we all bonded over rafting, surfing, hiking, sleeping, but it was amongst these things that we grew alone. We could be ourselves on this trip; to be completely honest with 24 other strangers. For me, I think it was a very refreshing thing to act like an adult and child on the same trip. I was responsible for making sure I was healthy, involved, motivated, but also having fun! And being so far away from home, it was difficult at first. During this trip I was allowed to be me, while being fully supported by my peers. We never had any issues, and with a random group this large, I know we were lucky.

(Horse trekking through the stunning landscape of Queenstown, New Zealand. Left to right, Ali B. and Claire.)

(Group photo at Palm Beach, near Sydney, Australia (after a morning of surf lessons).)

Overall, I am very grateful to have experienced this adventure with these people. When I think about all I’ve learned about myself and my new friends, I’m amazed that the trip was only 19 days long. I always thought that change happens slowly, but this time it took 5 new airports and 23 new friends to initiate a transformation in me. I am more easy-going, which you have to be when you don’t know anyone you are with. The natural leadership qualities that I possessed before this trip have grown stronger, and I have also gained new insight on my personal leading style. Through the structure of this undertaking, I have learned so much about who I am and how I lead and manage teams. But, most importantly, I learned that I have an unquenchable thirst for travelling into the unknown and discovering more than new places. I understand now that “life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it”. I now hope and strive to live my life by this quote, something I wouldn’t have done before this trip. It has inspired me to live my dreams, and for that, I thank you STEP.

(After skydiving in Wanaka, New Zealand, we had smiles plastered to our faces. It was something we had only ever dreamed about, and I know for me, it was better than a dream. Left to right: Nick, Emily, Aliyyah, Rachel C, Devon, Me, Marina.)

Australia New Zealand Adventure

Alli Collins

For my STEP project, I decided to go on the Australia New Zealand Adventure. The trip entailed every kind of outdoor adventure thinkable, from mountain biking, to hiking and kayaking. The goal was to explore and build upon our  leadership styles.

Before coming on this trip, I pretty much thought that there was only one way to live. I thought that you grew up, went to college, and then got yourself a secure job that will provide a comfortable life for you. After coming on this trip, my mind has significantly opened to many different ways to live and has come to appreciate each of them. In addition, I learned by physically challenging myself things that I value in myself and others. Finally, I learned that I’m a lot braver than I think, and if i can just swallow my fear for a few seconds, I can achieve great things.

The person who taught me to appreciate all of the different ways people live was our guide in New Zealand, named Marios. Marios is one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met. He knew everything there is to know about New Zealand, including its geography and the way the people live. I was instantly drawn to Marios, and knew that I could absorb so much knowledge by talking to him. One day, I decided to make him my buddy for the hike, and walked next to him the whole time. We spoke in depth about how the school systems in New Zealand differ from those in the states. They’re much more driven by the student, and are geared towards their interests, rather than state mandated curriculum. He also explained to me that many people in New Zealand participate in the tourist industry, and work to live, rather than live to work like we do over here. He explained that although they don’t make much money, they’re able to be outside all day, and do what they love. The idea that there is no rulebook when it comes to life, and that there is no set path, is something that really transformed me and now comforts me.

On some days of the trip, we had to challenge ourselves immensely. On one day in particular, we had to hike 12 miles through the Blue Mountains. The hike pushed everyone to their limits and tested our ability to face adversity. At the end of the trip, the leaders asked us to go around and say one thing that we learned we valued after coming on this adventure. As I was trying to think of my greatest value, I reflected on the day of our hike. I realized that the thing I value most in myself and others is positivity. There were moments during the hike where all I could think about was how hungry I was and how badly my feet were hurting, but what made me carry on was all of the people around me joking with me, and laughing. I found positivity within myself that I didn’t even know existed, and this is something that I will take into my everyday life.

Before coming on this trip, I calculated the risk of all of my decisions. I didn’t like to stray too far out of my comfort zone in fear of messing up. While on this trip, I decided to take some risks, and committed to living in the moment. In doing this, I realized just how beautiful the moment can be. On my very first full day in Australia, I decided to go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, and I realized how much I love being in the water. I also went White Water rafting in the Tully River. For my biggest leap (literally) of faith, I decided to go Bungie Jumping. I was frozen with fear on the ledge, but decided to jump anyway. It was one of the only times in my life where I can confidently say I had absolutely no control, and I realized that was okay.

Overall, I experienced so much growth during my trip. Moving forward, I’m going to utilize my open mind, positivity, and newfound zest for life. These three things will help me make the most out of the one life that I’m given, and assure that I live without regret. I will use my acceptance when I meet new people to appreciate where they’ve come from, and who they are. I will use my positivity when things aren’t going my way, and will choose to look on the bright side. Finally, I will use my bravery to step as far outside my comfort zone as possible to realize all that life has to offer. As a wise man once told me (My STEP advisor), if you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.

Australia and New Zealand Leadership Expedition Reflection

Shannon McIntyre

Leadership Project: Australia and New Zealand Leadership Expedition

The only way to begin this is to thank STEP for giving me the opportunity to join this group of 23 other extraordinary people travelling the world because it was truly the adventure of a lifetime. The three weeks I spent exploring Australia and New Zealand while learning about myself and others and our abilities and styles of leadership have been by far the best three weeks of my life. We participated in numerous types of activities including hiking, snorkeling, surfing, mountain biking, and so much more as we made our way through the lands of the Aussie’s and the Kiwi’s. We met wonderful locals along the way, learned incredible amounts about their culture and lifestyles, and most importantly, learned to work together as a group and that within each of us was a leader, capable of leading a group of young adults through foreign countries.

While on this trip, I realized so much more about my life and what I wanted it to be than I expected. I knew it would be a transformational experience, but I had no idea just how much of an impact it would have on my life. As the adventure came to an end, I found myself most scared that when I came home I would return to my life exactly the way it was. Not that it was terrible, but this trip showed me that it could be so much more. So I set out four goals for myself. One, to wear less makeup. As simple and possibly trivial as this sounds, it’s extremely important to a young adult female in our world today. While on this trip it struck me how there was absolutely no judgement and therefore no self-criticism. Almost every day we were either walking around in bathing suits or sweating up a storm hiking a mountain, with no makeup, a lack of clean clothes, and guess what, it was completely okay because we all knew we were there for the experience, not for proving ourselves to our peers. Two, to write down three appreciations of nature every day. Spending three straight weeks out in the wilderness, surrounded by nature and for the most part being isolated from civilization is one of the most rejuvenating experiences I have ever had. Before this trip I had always considered myself a lover of the outdoors but it wasn’t until experiencing it like we did that I realized how necessary it is to my well-being and the well-being of others. To a certain extent we all need some alone time in the outdoors. One of my favorite parts of this trip was when we were hiking, sea kayaking, or mountain biking, and everything was silent  except for the sound of your breath and the breeze through the trees. Not to mention, the views in Australia and New Zealand were both entirely unreal and I cannot wait to return to the countries I’ve grown to love so much to be able to explore and experience even more of them. Three, to limit my use of social media. This one is important, and particularly difficult. We spent a great deal of our debriefs at the end of our days talking about this sticky subject. Social media, an aspect of our lives crucial to our communication and yet destroying it at the same time. While overseas we had no access to data or the internet for the most part and were therefore forced to stay away from social media. It was difficult for a lot of us and it really started to hit me how addicting of a culture it really is. It started to impact me a lot when I would notice myself standing at the most amazing peak of a mountain and be thinking of nothing else but where I should stand to get the best picture for my Instagram. That’s when you know it has gone too far. Before, I would have considered myself a pretty average person when it comes to social media use, but this trip made it clear to me that I was hooked on it far more than I knew. It comes to a point where it begins to hinder your personal enjoyment of moments and suddenly you find that the whole world is living their lives only to post them online to show it to others. That’s not fair to ourselves or anyone else. So I made the goal to limit my use. After much discussion, I realized it a bit unrealistic for someone in my generation to completely get rid of all social media for it has some positive implications on our lives as well such as keeping family in touch and long distant friends not seeming so distant. So I picked out the worst parts, Snapchat stories, constant checking of my phone, and reaching for my phone every morning and evening right when I wake up or right before I go to bed and I cut them out of my life and already I feel so much better. And lastly, four, to do something entirely new and completely for myself at least once a week. On top of everything else mentioned before that I learned through this trip, the biggest thing I have gained is self-empowerment. While we all went on this trip with 23 peers, it was a very individualistic program. We spent a lot of time with ourselves and, like mentioned before, with the lack of social media, we were all actually living entirely for ourselves during those three weeks. During my free days I chose to go skydiving and bungee jumping and the moments I decided to jump in both situations were so incredibly freeing, not only because I was quite literally falling through the sky, but because in that moment I realized I was doing it solely for myself. I had no idea that such a tiny thing would have such a huge influence on my life. I realized we all need more moments like that in our lives. Before this trip, I tended to be a more passive, co-dependent individual. I set this last goal and arguably most important goal for myself to ensure that I continue to spend time doing things solely for myself and continue to feel that freedom while adventuring into new things I may not have done before.

 

 

As it has now been several weeks since returning from my trip, I can proudly say that I’ve done a decent job sticking to my goals and I have many people and places to thank for my transformation. First I have to thank Spenser and Ana, the leaders of the trip, for being such inspirational people and for leading by example. They constantly made themselves available to us while also somehow continuously organizing our huge group of 24 people wandering through two foreign countries. They were kind, personable, and hilarious, and also strong, responsible, and nurturing. They believed in each of our abilities and it is surely because of them that I came out of this trip 100% more certain of my leadership abilities. I can’t thank them enough for the wisdom and lessons they taught me.

Next I have to thank our tour guides during our trip, Anthony, Marios, and Tim-Tam. Not only did they openly invite us into the countries they call home, but they made our experience what it was. Without them the entire trip would have been completely different. They spent practically every moment with our group, pulling pranks, playing games, making jokes, and again sharing their wisdom. It was incredible how after knowing them for less than 12 hours we found ourselves sitting around a table having one of the best intellectual conversations I have ever had about religion, open-mindedness, and understanding. Not only were they some of the most fun people I have ever met, I truly believe them to be some of the best people. They were genuine, full of knowledge, and constantly pushed us and encouraged us to see what we were capable of.

 

In addition, of course, I have to thank the 22 other student of The Ohio State University that accompanied me on this adventure of a lifetime. It was incredible how we all get along so well and were completely open and accepting of each other from the start. Every night we would sit around and debrief about our days and those were some of my favorite moments, hearing how everyone experiences everything so differently and how much the opportunity to do what we did meant to everyone. We all grew so close and I cannot have imagined a better group of people to travel with. I have learned something from each and every one of them and I couldn’t miss them more now that we’ve all parted ways for the summer. In particular I made three really great friends, Nathanial, Roz, and Devon. Nathan taught me how to work hard and be fabulous at the same time. He taught me how to reach for my dreams and then work my way there. His constant spirit and personality never failed to brighten my day and push me harder, especially while we were on long and grueling hikes. Next is Roz, a bundle of excitement and spirit. I have never met someone more thankful for an experience than her. She never took a single moment for granted and I admire her so much for it. She constantly hyped up the entire group with her crazy words of encouragement and hilarious stories. She taught me how to be strong and to face my fears. Due to her incredible fear of heights, naturally she decided she absolutely had to bungee jump. That to me is a sign of ridiculously strong character and self-empowerment, two things I work towards now every day. Lastly, is Devon, the happiest, most loving and selfless human you will ever meet. For three straight weeks I never once saw a frown on her face, even as we were all saying our goodbyes. The thing with Dev is that the constant happiness isn’t fake. She genuinely falls in love with everyone she meets and everywhere she goes. She knows how harsh the world can be and yet she chooses to see life through rose colored glasses and honestly I believe we all should be living that way. She taught me to make the most of every moment and to see the good in everything. She showed me what it means to be truly open-minded and loving of everyone. I will never be able to thank these three people enough for their impact on my life but I am so excited to see where their lives take them as I know they are all headed toward amazing futures.

 

So how do you sum up the impact of a trip like this? You don’t. It continues to push me every day. As I work on my goals and remind myself of the amazing adventures I experienced these three weeks of my life, I know that I will continue to grow as a person and as a leader. My overall goal I have always had for my life is simply to be happy. Simple, and yet complicated for many. But I can tell you, during the time I spent in Australia and New Zealand, I was purely happy. It pushed me in ways I never expected, physically and emotionally. It was sometimes hard and strenuous, for the majority of it I couldn’t feel my legs. But it was entirely worth it in the end and I never hated any moment of it. People ask me what my least favorite day was and I really don’t have an answer because somehow every day continued to prove itself better than the last even when we thought that was no way possible. So leaving the trip I told myself one thing that I continue to repeat to myself daily, this trip doesn’t have to just be a trip, it can be my life. I think too many times we go on trips like these and then think, “Okay, now it’s time to go back to the ‘real world’ and my ‘real life’”. Well why is that? Why does it have to be that? It doesn’t. We live in a land that is free and yet we are often too easily controlled by society and the system without even knowing it. This trip and the people I met through it opened my eyes to the possibility that maybe life isn’t all about getting a job and then settling down and starting a family. Maybe there is more. And so in conclusion, this trip has altered my vision for my future endeavors. I plan to graduate from tOSU, but instead of rushing right away into grad school, I plan to take a gap year to travel and experience the world. Yes, it might not be the most practical idea in the eyes of our society, but it’s an idea that I believe will make me truly happy and that will change my life. What better time to travel than when we are young. Those people’s lives that we all say we wish we could have, those people who just picked up and left everything and traveled, that can be your life. You just have to have the self-empowerment to make it happen.

Wilderness First Responder

Name: Wilderness First Responder Colorado Program

Type of Project: Leadership

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

This was a two-week program in Colorado. For the first week, we did classroom lectures for the Wilderness First Responder Certification and also went through workshops to help with medical school applications. The second week was in the wilderness practicing our new-learned skills in the field.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

While completing this program, I became more aware of my passions. I also gained an understanding of what actually is important to me. I always knew I wanted to be a physician, but by actually doing so hands-on work and shadowing, my passion ignited even more. I gained a better understanding of how important the wilderness is to me. I felt complete and at home while backpacking. I now validated my future career aspirations while also rediscovering a love for the outdoors.

3. 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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

I think the biggest influence during this trip was the people I was surrounded by. The students that also took this course were probably the most inspiring people I have met. They were all driven and passionate about their healthcare goals. It was a pleasure being able to make long lasting friendships with these amazing people. They helped me grow over the past two weeks in my leadership and speaking skills.

During the scenarios we performed, I gained great leadership and supportive care skills. Going into this, I was always a follower and was on the shy side. By being forced to take leadership roles and voicing my opinions, I am now more comfortable being a leader. I think this was a very valuable experience for me to grow to a better person.

Lastly, being in the wilderness and truly appreciating the backcountry lit a light inside of me. In today`s world, we are so used to being plugged in. By taking a step back with no technology really helped. I was able to grow valuable relationships with people without being distracted by phones or the internet. True human connection is a beautiful and valuable thing and I am glad I got to experience that.

4. 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.

I touched on this above a little bit. This change is so significant for me as a person. I am now able to continue to grow as a person and help grow upon my weaknesses. Leadership and public speaking skills are so valuable for anything. This includes academic, personal, and professional aspects. Being able to exemplify that I am a leader and can also be a team player is so valuable in society. Particularly healthcare, which is a team “sport”.