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.