My STEP Signature Project was through the Outdoor Adventure Center at OSU and took 21 students, accompanied by 2 leaders, across the world to New Zealand and Australia. These beautiful destinations offered the 23 of us the most magnificent views and experiences, as well as the ability to step outside of our comfort zones as us strangers became like family in just three and a half short weeks.

This trip opened my eyes to more than I could have ever imagined. Going on a journey across the world with 22 strangers really forced me to put myself out there. I’m not usually in situations where I don’t know anyone around me- and although intimidating at first, I quickly found myself growing to be extremely comfortable with every single one of my travel companions. This trip was meant to teach us about leadership by assigning two new people to be leaders of the day each morning and by also pairing us up with another partner to research and present a leadership theory to the rest of the group. Through these experiences of not only being a leader but learning about various leadership styles, I felt that I really found out much more about the way that I lead as well as the way that my peers lead. It was really transformational to have the ability to lead a group of college students on our daily adventures through these amazing countries that none of us knew anything about. It required a great amount of collaborative skills, communication skills and organization skills in order to be an effective leader with your partner who you barely knew and to lead the group on a safe and fun-filled day. Through this leadership experience, I have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to leadership- not even only from just being a leader myself, but from seeing and learning about how my friends led our group.
During my time abroad, I really found that I was the happiest version of myself. Our leaders Tyler and Morgan highly recommended that we didn’t use our phones while we were away, which at first really made me nervous. Although I will admit to using it here and there to check in with a few people back at home and let them know that I was alive, I found that without all of the social media and all of the involvement in the busy-ness of everyone else’s lives, I was truly able to focus on myself and my own happiness for one of the first times. Looking back, I can’t even think of a single time on my trip where I wasn’t happy or wasn’t enjoying myself. I truly think this was due to the removal of myself from society back at home. I have found upon my return to the States that I am a much more easygoing person and things that once bothered me, don’t anymore. I have finally realized, more than ever before, what it means to live in the current moment with the people around you and to not live for the people who see you on social media.

I owe absolutely everything good that came out of this trip to the people I was with. Every single person in my group truly impacted my experience and transformation that I had in Australia and New Zealand, making every single second of my time there as enjoyable as possible. I learned so much about each and every single one of my group-mates and formed the most incredible bonds that I know will last a lifetime. We have only been home for a month and already two reunions have happened. The fact that we got so close after only three and a half weeks and almost all of us being complete strangers is so incredible. I feel so lucky to have been a part of a group of people that were able to mesh so well together despite being 23 completely different individuals.
The adventures we experienced every single day allowed me to have a seriously enhanced appreciation for the world around me. I have never seen such beautiful places in my entire life, and I know that I will make it back to these places one day and experience it all over again. Being on long hikes, car rides, boat rides and everything in between made me talk to new people every single day and experience all that we were experiencing with a different person each time. This made the days and the views even better by having someone else’s perspective and feelings right there with me.
One of the most amazing things that brought us so close together were not necessarily the amazing activities that we did during the day, but our times together at night. A handful of times, we would have discussions at our evening meetings where everyone would share a little something about themselves; their aspirations, their fears, their dreams, their scars. Hearing people open up and talk about things that were really personal to them was truly amazing to see and made me realize how every single person has things that they are going through that are not necessarily visible from the surface. Personally, I have never opened up this much to a group of people that I barely knew, but the fact that I felt comfortable enough to do so made me realize how incredible the relationship we all had was, and how day by day, these countries were changing all of us in the best of ways.

This transformation truly will impact me for the rest of my life. I think that I have grown up a lot on this trip- I’ve learned how to live in the moment, how to socialize and form relationships with people who are completely different than me, how to appreciate all of the beautiful things this world has to offer, how to put my phone down, how to be a leader at all times and most of all, how to stop worrying about things out of my control and to just be myself.
These skills will be extremely beneficial to me in my life as I graduate college this year and take on the “real world” where I will constantly be working in teams with all different kinds of people and trying to be a leader whenever I can. Remembering and reflecting on this trip constantly will remind me to continue to work hard so I can afford to do more amazing things like this, hopefully with some of the same people. This whole experience was such a once in a lifetime experience and I truly miss it every single day and will be forever thankful I was selected to take part in it. I plan on traveling a lot more in the future, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and taking risks by partaking in things that scare me.