Type of Project: Leadership
For my STEP Signature Project, I spent 11.5 weeks in the mountains of Colorado working at a YMCA while participating in a leadership program through my church on campus, H2O. During the program, we met three times a week for session where guest speakers would come in and discuss different topics from leadership to faith. While working at the YMCA, my job was in the food service department working in the kitchen.
Going into my STEP Signature project I knew that I enjoyed being comfortable and that I did not like going out of my comfort zone. Experiencing this summer spent out in Colorado made me realize that going out of your comfort zone and doing uncomfortable things is not that bad and can even be fun. This summer I also realized just how big the world is and how many different cultures there are. Living in the United States, we are a very patriotic bunch that, I believe, are very content and tend to want to stay focused just on the greatness of our own country and culture. This summer I got to experience and learn about other cultures that made me register how closed off and small minded I was. Prior to my Leadership Program and working at the YMCA of the Rockies, I was not a huge fan of international students. I lived in Morrill Tower my freshman year with a number of international students where I did not have a good living situation or experience. After this summer, I can 100 percent say that my opinions have changed.
Over this past summer, I worked in the kitchen at the YMCA of the Rockies as a cook’s helper. My job as cook’s helper was crazier than I expected and one of the hardest jobs I have ever had to do. We prepped for, prepared for, and fed up to 800 guests per meal, three times a day. For a majority of the summer, it was not a great time and I questioned if I had made the right decision going out to Colorado. As I look back on it, the thing I believe made it all worth it was the people that I worked with.
The kitchen staff at the YMCA of the Rockies was one of the most diverse group of people I have ever seen in my life. Snow Mountain Ranch had a program that enables international students to come and work at the YMCA from all over the world. My coworkers were from everywhere; Malaysia, Spain, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, China, and the Philippines just to name a few. I not only got to work with these international students every day, but also got to become friends with them. I got the privilege to experience each and every one of their cultures every day. Every Tuesday night of every week, there was a presentation on a different country given by the students from that country. There, they got to present and show off their countries, explaining their histories and favorite parts of their homeland. It was an amazing time where I got to see the passion and pride that each international student had for their country. They all got so excited to be able to share and teach about what made their own country so special. My favorite presentation was probably the one on Colombia. My close coworker and friend—Andrés—is from Colombia, so he was presenting. During the presentation, Andrés and the rest of the international students from Colombia taught us how to salsa. It was so much fun!
Not only did I just get to experience different cultures at work and on Tuesday nights, but I got to hang out with my international coworkers outside of work too. On a couple of occasions, we would all get together at night and everyone would cook a dish from their country. These were my favorite nights where I really got to experience the different cultures first hand and get to hear about what the international students enjoyed about the United States and what they also missed about their home—mostly they missed the food.
I truly enjoyed getting to learn about the different cultures, but I enjoy the friendships I made even more. I believe that my STEP Signature Project this past summer was vital to me as a human being. I learned more than I could have ever imagined and was submersed in an environment where it was impossible to be closed minded and stay in ones’ comfort zone. Because of this past summer, I will no longer seek to remain where it is comfortable, but choose to pursue opportunities where I can embrace and learn about others and their cultures. I now know how to go out of my way in situations and be better at meeting new people, always keeping an open mind and keeping misperceptions away—a way of life and a set of skills that I would have never gained without my STEP Signature project.