My STEP Signature experience was a remarkable, life-changing leadership opportunity over 21 days in Australia and New Zealand, which developed my curious and adventurous nature by providing individual and leadership growth. I spent this time learning about various leadership styles, leading adventures, and embracing the Pacific through a variety of unique activities including kayaking, hiking, skydiving, exploring, bungee jumping, white water rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, and more.
During this adventure, a major transformation took place in me. When my parents dropped me off at the Outdoor Adventure Center on Friday, May 11th, I was very anxious. I didn’t know anyone in my group and I had no idea what was in store for me. I started the adventure very timidly, not knowing what to expect. When we boarded the plane the next morning, and traveled first to Dallas then halfway around the world to Australia, I was nervous and very quiet. By the end of the adventure, I realized how much I had grown on this experience, and felt much more outgoing. I had 21 new best friends that I had completely bonded with.
I have always been adventurous, but this trip tested my limits with new experiences and challenges every day. I never thought I’d eat a bug or bungee jump or hike 230+ stories up the ascent, but I learned that I’m braver and stronger than I realized. When the hikes got very challenging, I leaned on the encouragement from my new friends and pushed through, because I knew that we were all in it together. On the free days, I chose the most dangerous, daring, and thrilling options.
Much of my personal growth came from the many adventurous activities that were included in this experience. As soon as we arrived in Australia, we began our immersion into the Pacific culture. Each day, it seemed that the outings became more and more exciting. We started with snorkeling and scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, followed by white-water rafting, skydiving, interacting with crocodiles, kangaroos, and koala bears in an animal sanctuary, and stand-up paddleboarding. The most challenging day was fairly early in the trip when we hiked the Grand Canyon of Australia. This really stretched the limits of my physical and mental capacity, first trekking to the bottom, then climbing all the way back to the top. Many of us thought we couldn’t make it, but we persevered, which was really rewarding.
Throughout these experiences I had the opportunity to really get to know each of the 21 other students. With each new adventure, I was grouped with different people, giving me the opportunity to really appreciate our diversity. This was truly a life-changing experience since we were trying new things and stretching our limits, giving us the ability to really bond with one another. Being without internet for three weeks allowed me to become more focused, both on myself and on others, and to make deep connections without the many distractions that technology can provide.
After about 10 days in Australia, we flew to New Zealand where I had the opportunity to practice my team leadership skills as Leader of the Day for a river cruise. The leadership portion of this experience was well organized, giving each person on the trip the opportunity to practice, receive feedback, and develop their own personal leadership style. Prior to the trip, we were each tasked with researching 2 different leadership styles. By sharing what we had read about our assigned styles, we were able to quickly learn and understand many diverse approaches to leadership.
Most of our adventures in New Zealand included hiking, and gave us the opportunity not only to continue to stretch ourselves physically but also mentally as we took in the remarkable, unique landscape. In between hikes, we went horseback riding, bungee jumping, kayaking, mountain biking, and flew by helicopter to the Franz Josef Glacier. We also had an opportunity to observe kiwi birds in their natural habitat and feed eels. This outdoor adventure was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My natural curiosity and quest for adventure was fulfilled over and over again.
Coming out of my shell and stretching my physical and mental limits are extremely significant for my life and career. The leadership skills that I learned, and the opportunity to experience physical challenges day after day have really prepared me for my senior year at Ohio State, during which I will participate in an investigative internship. In my career in criminology, my expanded curiosity, sense of adventure, and life experiences will be critical to my success. The opportunity to interact with a very diverse group of peers in such a variety of situations has really expanded my perspective and curiosity. Not only has this adventure enhanced my college experience, but it has been truly transformative, causing a marked change in my personality, confidence, and abilities. I am so very thankful for this STEP experience and especially for my new friends.