New Zealand/Australia 2018 Adventure Program

The main point of my S.T.E.P. project was to learn new leadership skills in an exploratory study abroad atmosphere. Each of the individuals on the trip had a chance to be the “leader of the day” for two different days of the trip. When you are the leader you must direct and communicate with all the others (24) on the plan and logistics for that day and ensure everything runs smoothly. This is not an easy task because each day is a new adventure, hiking, white water rafting, traveling, etc that you usually do not know all the details of until the day everything occurs.

I have always enjoyed travel and considered myself a person who craved to know more about the world. My time abroad completely amplified these feelings. I had never been off the continent before this trip, so my hobbies had never been fully backed up but after this trip, I can confidently claim these characteristics.  Each place, country, city, and hostel we stayed a

t I strived to learn something new. I fully immersed myself in the culture. I made sure to talk to locals and interact with them in order to better understand the world I am living in. I even recorded the information I learned. The most rewarding part was getting to explain my perceptions of the U.S. and learning how that affects the rest of the globe.

Going into this experience I thought I was an excellent leader due to the fact I had, had prior experience. However, this trip showed me how stressed I truly become when there is no definite plan in place. To remain a calm and helpful leader, while personally stressed is something that was difficult to balance. Yet, I feel like because this trip forced me to “go with the flow” I was able to improve my skills of leadership in that regard and better adjust to changing plans.

I so much enjoyed my time in these countries and specifically, New Zealand that I now have new goals in life. My future goals include returning to both countries to see even more of what I did not have an opportunity to see. The biggest new goal of mine is to someday live in New Zealand. Everything about that country made me feel more at peace with myself then I have been for most of my life. Before this trip, I never considered moving outside of the United States. Now I want to live in another country for over a year in order to fully immerse myself in the culture and witness the landscape.

I did not think it was possible to create such lasting friendships in the amount of time (less than a month)that this trip was. However, living together each day, traveling constantly, experiencing some of the best and worst moments together, seeing each other stressed, afraid, sad and extremely happy all while trying to comfort each other and experiencing an array of emotions yourself. Missing family, friends, and the comforts of home life with no connection to the outside world.  Getting to witness peoples firsts and share in the success of climbing mountains together, conquering your fears together, talking and playing games on every bus ride, and growing as a person with them by your side. You create a bond that I believe is unbreakable. This group of friends truly made my trip what it was, an amazing, life-changing, experience that I would not have chosen to have with anyone else.

I got the chance to completely step outside of my comfort zone due to the activities on this trip. It was my first time off the continent as previously mentioned, as well as my first extended plane ride with connecting flights (16 hours and 4 flights to get there to be exact), it was the first time I got a chance to live with 20 other people whom I barely knew for a month, not to mention completely wireless with lack of communication with the outside world. It was the first time jumping off a towering cliff with nothing but a harness, it was my first time  white water rafting, it was my first time hiking two 7 hour hikes back to back even though every part of my body was screaming to stop, it was my first time snorkeling (and I got to in the Great Barrier Reef), it was my first time jet boating, and my first time jumping 15,000 feet out of a plane. All of these activities I was fearful of before the trip and most of them during the trip right until they occurred. Each of these experience taught me how to push my personal limits and instead of being scared to fully live every moment. I can truly say I left this trip with no regrets and that is one of the best feelings, to know I got everything possible out of this once in a lifetime experience.

All of these personal changes in me have shaped a new person, that has lasted when I am back in the states. Living each day to the fullest and not having regrets is something I have carried each day. I have sought to see more of the U.S. and nature every day. I have already visited the friends I made and have future plans with them. These relationships will not only be lasting friendships but future networking opportunities with individuals in a variety of fields. This will help me in my career and has also shown me how much I crave a job with travel and new elements. This trip taught me so much about myself and molded me into a better leader, person, friend, and world citizen.

High Sierra Leadership Trip Reflection

1.

The High Sierra Leadership expedition was a month-long backpacking trip in Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks in California. Our 12 person team hiked over 130 miles of backcountry trails while discussing and practicing various leadership theories, as well as learning many backcountry camping skills along the way.

2.

Something I struggle with frequently is that I get frustrated very easily in difficult situations and I allow it to affect my attitude far too easily. This has always been an issue for me though I have always tried to keep a positive outlook in tough situations. One major transformation that this trip has led me to is becoming more positive and learning to control this frustration.

I have realized that my frustration in certain situations often stems either from my feeling of discomfort or my lack of control of a situation. When these things occur, I feel my usually clear, intuitive mind become clouded with frustration. This occurred several times during the trip, and now after coming back and reflecting on my experiences I see that this frustration was so silly and only took away from my experience; nothing positive came from it at all. I see that this frustration is a product of myself and it is something that I can control if I really try.

3.

Over all, this trip did not go as expected. Our itinerary was essentially thrown out the window by the end, due to a long series of unforeseeable events. When a difficult situation occurred on the trip, it really took a lot from me to try and let go, to accept what is happening and use it as a positive. Only after returning from the voyage have I made sense of the way I was feeling, what caused it, and the impact it had on myself and others.

Generally, I was able to roll with the punches that our trip handed us and just be happy to be on the voyage. But there is one specific time where I recall feeling so overwhelmed and frustrated that I couldn’t let it go easily. When our group announced that we would be cutting our mileage short and skipping a large part of the JMT, I didn’t know how to react. I felt so frustrated, disappointed, and confused.  I felt like the whole trip being ripped away from in front of us, like we had really failed. I felt like the world we had created out there was crumbling away, and we were now just trying to salvage what we could for the last week. And yet, the rest of the trip was some of the best times that we had out there. We were able to get much more independent free time to explore, reflect, and get to know each other. Being home now, I have thought back on this last week of the trip and it seems so silly to me that I would be upset for having chosen this option. Though at the time I had tightly-wound frustration inside of me, I look back now and see that I had nothing to worry about. We had only failed to finish our miles, and in the meantime accomplished so much more. Overcoming this failure has given me great joy and the ability to see the positive in any bad situation which may arise; it has shown me that everything has a positive side if you can just try and find it.

Another example that comes to mind impacted the group less and was more of a personal frustration. On only our fourth day of backpacking, I accidentally left my mosquito face net at our previous campsite. I realized this about two miles into the trail, too late to turn back. Thinking back on the mosquito hell we had to endure the past two days, I began to get angry at myself for the misery I would endure the rest of the trip. I was so frustrated with myself that I isolated myself from the group, hanging behind and not really talking to anyone. My stupid mistake just ruined my mood so badly that I wanted to be in silence by myself. I spent the whole day like this, until we finally arrived at our beautiful campsite in Tehipite Valley, 11 miles later. Soon after arriving and re-hydrating, Tyler wanted us all to have an hour of alone time for reflection or whatever we pleased. I chose to go sit by a big tree in the meadow near our site. There, for an hour, I sat in silence. The sheer beauty and majesty surrounded me and filled my soul. My mind felt clearer than ever before, and I never wanted to leave this spot. I had time to think about the events of the day. I thought about my group, my wonderful group. While they were all up ahead of me laughing and hiking, I lagged wallowing in self-pity. Why would I do this? It seemed so unreasonable now, sitting in this meadow feeling like the luckiest creature in the world. I realized that I had spent the whole day being miserable about something I couldn’t change, and that it had costed me a day which I could’ve spent bonding, laughing, and reflecting. I have taken this experience as an example of what can happen when my frustration takes over, and I will continue to use it for changing my perspectives in future situations.

4.

These experiences and lessons that they have taught me will hopefully impact me greatly in the future. Someday I hope to be an inspiring, effective, and honest leader. This is not something that I can do if my frustration has taken over my mind. During one of our group activities called “As a leader I am…”, two group members even specifically noted this about me. Everyone said very positive things about my leadership style, but some noticed that it all goes away when I feel frustrated. It saddens me that this people notice my frustration, as it is something I try to keep from others. I know that in future leadership positions, difficult situations will occur, and I cannot simply resort to being silent and frustrated as an effective leader. I want to be the leader who encourages and inspires others in these adverse moments. I want others to look at me and feel like they want to emulate my positivity. My experiences on this trip have shown me the effect that my frustration can have on others, and I will use this knowledge to develop myself into a more positive group leader.

Melikian Center Critical Languages Institute

Samantha Young

Leadership Transformation Project

This summer, I traveled to Tempe, Arizona to live and study the Russian language at Arizona State University’s Melikian Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. Each weekday, I attended classes of roughly 10 students for 4-hour intensive language sessions, practicing grammar, writing, and speaking. After class, I practiced conversation, attended professional development/ scholarship sessions, and completed nightly homework for several hours.

My summer out west marked my first significant length of time away from central Ohio. Not only was it academically stimulating and conducive to narrowing my career goals, but I had ample time to gain independence navigating a new home and preparing for international travel. STEP funds allowed me to spend less time thinking about finances and more freedom to contemplate where I was in my studies and whether or not my pursuits were genuinely satisfying. I only had to focus on my language gains, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Being in a new academic environment away from Ohio State, with students from around the world, nudged me to step up as a leader in the classroom.

If you ask people in the Western world about their perception of Russia, their opinions are often heavily influenced by politics and media. Learning the language from native Russian-speakers revealed cultural and anecdotal aspects of Eastern Europe that I can’t find simply reading about the history or self-teaching the language. Of course, I gained a solid framework of the Russian language, which served me well when I traveled to Estonia later this summer to learn about international relations. I now have access to texts written in the Cyrillic alphabet, news outlets, dialogue, and semantics that English can’t grasp the same way. I was even administered an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) that allows me to set tangible goals for fluency improvement moving forward in my language studies and pursuing a translation career.

Meanwhile, I learned to cook my own meals, arrange transportation from my homestay to campus, and attended weekly events with speakers delivering information about Boren scholarships, FLAS fellowships, and careers for the United States government where critical language skills are an asset. During one of these sessions, I was honored to shake the hand of Greg Melikian- the man who wrote the telegraph announcing the end of World War II under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. I’ll never forget his words at the panel he delivered, “When you speak a man’s language, you speak to his heart.” He truly believed that learning foreign language was integral to peace, the safety and success of our country, and world relations, so much so that he funded a language center dedicated to this cause. It inspired and convinced me to pursue a career in the language industry, whether teaching, interpreting, or analyzing.

CLI also gave me something priceless- friendships. Studying alongside ROTC members from around the country, future Fulbright ETAs, engineers, and polyglots motivated me to step up and give my full attention to each lecture, to live in the moment. I studied with brilliant friends, laughing through the many language blunders and enjoying coffee runs between sessions. Their discourse and charisma make me optimistic about the future of my generation’s professionals. Even further, my housemates treated me like family and celebrated my first birthday away from home with me. All of these relationships helped me grow as a student, linguist, and friend.

I’d encourage anyone, from high school to working professionals, to take advantage of the resources made available by universities and the U.S. government to learn a foreign language. It’s an amazing feeling to go into an experience not knowing a single word of a language, and eight weeks later watch a five-minute video of yourself speaking in full sentences, knowing an entirely new alphabet, with 30 new friendships. I know this will be an experience I draw upon as I make decisions about my future and apply for graduate school.

North Cascades Mountaineering Course

My Project was a 30-day mountaineering course in the North Cascades through the National Outdoor Leadership School. The course was expedition style so we stayed in the back-country the entire 30-days and carried everything for the entire course on our backs. During the course we learned technical mountaineering skills like self-arrest, crevasse rescue, team haul, snow anchors, and many more. We also summited two peaks, Eldorado and Glacier.

 

One of the biggest changes in my understanding of myself that happened during the trip was that I tried to work more on dealing with change. I am not someone who adapts to new situations easily and I like to have a plan for everything I do. This can make things like unexpected decisions or big life changes difficult, things like moving to a new state for school. In the outdoors you can’t control so much of what is going on around you and so you have to become comfortable with change and the unknown. That is something that I think will be very useful for when I come back to school. During the course I also spent a lot of time reflecting on my leadership styles. One of the reasons I went on this course was to become a better leader so I worked a lot with my mentor on discovering my leadership style and then figuring out how to tweak that and modify it to become a more effective leader. I learned that one of my biggest strengths is my capacity to be empathetic and inclusive but that I struggle with voicing my own opinion and standing up for the things that I need. To be an effective leader it is really important to be able to put your own voice into the mix so I worked on speaking up in group discussions and making sure that I was a presence at each discussion.

 

The course was very strenuous and both emotionally and physically taxing simply because of the environment that we were in. We spent the entirety of the course secluded up in the mountains with only the 10 people on our course to talk to and our instructors. Because of this we all became very close quickly because we had to rely on each other for everything. We were each others families, best friends, and significant others all at the same time. This sort of close relationship was really special for me because I have struggled to make friends at OSU. Being forced to rely on others showed me how important it is to have those strong connections with others and that really wherever you are it is much easier to get through life when you have support from other people around you. These people on the trip supported and encouraged me every single day. They helped me to become a better leader by making sure that I voiced my opinion when it came to group decisions about routes we should take up the mountain or whether or not we should move camp on a day that it was storming. Not only did they encourage my participation in group discussions, they listened when I spoke and my opinion was always given a lot of thought and respect. They made sure that I knew that my voice mattered to them, and that was a huge confidence boost. Having this group of supportive people around was essential when it came to learning to accept change. Every morning we would wake up at 6am and unzip our tent and step out into a cold and harsh environment and not know what that environment would allow us to accomplish. Some days that we were supposed to cover 7 miles of terrain we would wake up and it would be a complete white out so we had to stay in our tents all day and figure out a new plan. Or some days we would be half way through our move and then it would start to dump snow and all of sudden you have to figure out as a group how to pitch a tent on the side of a snow slope that is at a 60 degree angle. Those kinds of situations can be incredibly stressful, especially for someone like myself who likes to wake up each day and know exactly how my time is going to be spent. Having the support of my group made it possible to overcome these challenges. All of a sudden it wasn’t a big deal if it started to hail in the middle of the day because it wasn’t just me figuring out where to put up the tent or how to dig a platform or even set it up in 45 mph winds, there was a whole group of us doing it together. The stress was spread out between all of us and we all kept an eye out for each other so that no one person was carrying more of it than anyone else. One day when I was designated leader (each of us had two days on the trip where we were completely in-charge of leading the group, so this meant picking the route and then leading the entire group on that route) we had a really long move to do. We had to descend over 5,000 feet all on snow and then hopefully find somewhere to camp on top of this frozen lake. I was so focused the entire time on making sure that I was leading everyone in the right direction and that my group was handling the move okay that I wasn’t paying attention to how I was feeling. During one of our rests, one of the people in my group, Colin, came over and asked how I was feeling. I said I was doing fine, and then he looked at me and said, “no, how are you actually  doing.” In that moment I realized I hadn’t been able to feel my feet all day. I told him and he helped me take off my boots. When I took off my socks I realized that my toes were purple and even when I tried to warm them up I had no feeling in any of them. I wanted to just ignore it and put my shoes back on because I didn’t want to hold the group back, especially when I was supposed to be leading them, but Colin realized that I wasn’t taking care of myself and so he called over our instructors and made sure that they were aware of what was going on. In that moment I realized how important the friendships that I had built were. They were keeping me safe, and they were looking out for me when I wasn’t. It reminded me that even though I would like to think that I can do college alone, it will be so much easier if I do it with people who care about me.

 

This NOLS trip fundamentally changed the way I look at relationships. I consider myself a very independent and self-sufficient person, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need help every now and then. It’s okay to lean on others for support because the reality of it is that life is hard, and its confusing and a lot to take on alone. By relying on others we can actually take on so much more because we have that support backing us up. Friendships are important because we can’t predict what is going to happen every day, and when something bad does happen we need those friendships to help us get through it. Friends know when to push us, and when to listen to us, and when to make us laugh. They know how to support us without taking over. As I move forward with my degree at OSU I want to make an effort to connect with more people in my major. School isn’t always easy, but I don’t have to do it alone. I think that reaching out and connecting with people that are working towards the same thing as me could be really useful when I reach challenging moments. I miss NOLS every single day, and more than that I miss the people on my trip. They taught me so much about what it means to be a friend and what it means to care for others. More than anything they taught me so much about myself and the type of person that I can be when I am around people who support and love me.

 

High Sierra 2018 Leadership Expedition

My STEP project was the OAC’s High Sierras Leadership Expedition. Myself and nine other OSU students and two trip leaders challenged ourselves physically, taught each other lessons, bonded and learned new teamwork skills, and had a rocking great time.

Many things changed in my perspective while walking through the High Sierras. John Muir said that the mountains were a mirror. After witnessing them firsthand I certainly believe that. They let me see myself for what I was when I had not known myself. What I saw was a chrysalis. A child who had not yet become an adult. I saw that I had not taken up the mantle of responsibility for my own life. I saw that this mantle had been lying at my feet for some time now. Before the High Sierras I had laid the responsibility for my own life at the feet of others: my father, my school system, my society. “Support me”, I asked. “Teach me, tell me what it is that I should do”. But I got no answer, because there was no answer to give. Instead, a mantle was placed at my feet, but I was afraid to accept it. Now there is no more fear, because I know I have what it takes. I have acknowledged that the responsibility is on me to create my dreams, to sharpen my skills, to pursue relentlessly those things that are worthy of pursuit. More importantly though, I now know that I not only have the responsibility to do these things myself, but the power to do them. I went into the mountains looking for the piece of steel that would help me be strong, hardworking, flexible, and confident. That was stupid of me. The mountains showed me that I had had it all along.

A lot went into the change I experienced. I climbed up and down passes and mountains. Sometimes at speeds that impressed me, other times at speeds that disappointed me. But I always made it and I never slowed the group down, save for once. I woke up early after hard days and packed up my gear efficiently. I hiked for a day with little food. As a group we made plans, saw them broken by weather or circumstance, and then we took the pieces and built different ones. We didn’t end up where we had planned, and for some of us even where we wanted. However, I still felt happy at where we had ended up because we had worked hard to get there, and it was not a bad place to be in the least. It left me with the impression that life will at best alter your plans or at worst trash them. You have to be flexible, adjust, abandon old plans and make new ones. That doesn’t mean you give up or abandon your goal. Maybe it means that you change your tactic, or maybe it means you have to change your goal and maybe, if it just took you beyond your limit, you quit. You put it down for a while, rest, and then take stock of what you gained, what you lost, and what you can do to keep moving forward.

The interactions I had with my trip mates changed me just as much as the events of the trip itself. Many of these interactions involved farting. We got to be who we wanted to be without constraint or construct or culture. Before this trip, I am fairly sure I had never heard a woman fart before. Now I’ve heard some ones that would put whoopee cushions to shame and had a smell that probably killed some wildlife (which is not according to LNT principles). What I mean to say is this: we were honest with each other. Often times we laughed. Sometimes we were deep and personal. Sometimes we said things that others didn’t agree with. That brought frustration. But, because we were honest, there was always respect, and with respect there we were able to work through our issues. When I did something wrong, I was told so with brutal honesty. At first it stung a little, but then I realized it might have been one of the few times in my life where I was told specifically what I was doing wrong and what I could do to improve. I realized this is one of the kindest things you can do for a person, because not only does it give an avenue for improvement, but it also conveys faith in that person; you would not tell a person what they were doing wrong if you thought they could not do it right. My teammates honesty and faith in me has made me a better leader and a better person.

I got to be a part of all these little interactions and slowly, curiously, I began to feel like I was a part of the team. Not like a cog in a machine, which is replaceable, but like the limb of a deadly and effective predator. Not only were my words, ideas, and perspective valued, but so was I. As a person.

I learned a lot from my teammates. We taught each other many things. Things we had been assigned to teach, sure, but also things about life. Learning from my teammates’ example I saw how to relax and crack jokes, how to move your body to be quick and efficient even if it was five in the morning and you were only half awake, how to approach challenges with tenacity, and chip away at them until you turned that mountain into rubble. I saw how to approach people with honesty and empathy and how to offer them support that really meant something. I saw that speaking from your heart is a scary thing, but words from the heart hit the hardest and mean the most. I learned the value of having practical knowledge about your situation and not being afraid to use that knowledge. Each and every one of us had something valuable to bring to the table, and I tried my best to gather up a piece of everyone I could. It is those souvenirs that I find most valuable, because not only are they skills, they are friendships.

This trip was a wakeup call for me. It told me not to be afraid of who I was and what I was capable of and to try and fail as many times as it took; to be tenacious. During the trip I read The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch. In his book he said, “The brick walls are there to stop the people that don’t want it badly enough”. This transformation showed me I have what it takes to live a life, my life, with guts. With my blood flowing and heart pumping. I know now that excellence is a choice. It is giving that extra 10%. It is working that extra hour. It is picking up the phone and making the call, when you could have sat back and let the issue slide. Being excellent and achieving what you want is not quite that simple, I know, but I also know that it starts with action, and action starts with me.

Australia and New Zealand Leadership Trip

Name: Dominique Hadad

Type of Project: Leadership Development

 

My transformational project was the 22-day 2018 Australia and New Zealand Leadership Trip, developed as a partnership between the Second-Year Transformational Program (STEP) and the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC). Our group of 23 students learned leadership skills while embracing the culture of the southern continents and a variety of adventures, such as skydiving, hiking, sea kayaking, canyon swinging, sightseeing, white water rafting, surfing, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, and more.

 

I grew in my understanding of myself, sustainability, and the new cultures that I visited. In regards to myself, I gained a stronger understanding of why I am so passionate about the environment. I was privileged to come face-to-face with some of the most beautiful natural landscapes. After spending the past two years learning about environmental conservation efforts in a classroom and working towards Ohio State’s sustainability goals from behind a computer, it was powerful to be surrounded by so much nature. As an environmentalist, I often find myself in a room of environmentalists or people who have similar passions to my own. While in Australia and New Zealand, I traveled alongside 22 other students and two trip leaders from a variety of academic disciplines which made the experience even more enriching. The culture around sustainability in Australia and New Zealand is focused on the importance of caring for the Earth without being concerned about personal inconveniences.

 

During our first trip to the grocery story as a group, the team bought 10 reusable shopping bags in New Zealand to avoid the wastefulness of single-use plastic bags. It is also a cultural norm to drink from paper straws and clean with cloth towels rather than napkins or paper towels. Each accommodation had signs that explained how to reduce energy and explained why it was so important to preserve our natural resources. It was amazing to watch the team adapt to this lifestyle and even express a passion for these new practices.

 

Sustainable habits seem less effortful when the most beautiful landscapes are right outside your window. We also encountered the physical effects of climate change on the land in New Zealand. The team hiked to see the Franz Joseph Glacier, but unfortunately found that the glacier had melted and was no longer within view from the look-out point. It took us an additional few hours to hike further through the valley to get a glimpse at the glacier. This sparked a discussion about the reality of climate change around the world.

 

Not only did I learn about cultural differences, but I experienced personal growth during my time in Australia and New Zealand. The trip was primarily designed to facilitate leadership development. I got the opportunity to challenge myself as a leader by serving as leader of the day during a 14 mile hike through the Blue Mountains. I recently accepted a leadership position in a student organization and the feedback I received from my team members has shaped how I will lead my peers in the coming year.

 

These experiences were so meaningful for me because I gained a stronger sense of my career goals. I returned home and immediately set up meetings to change my major. I had always known that I wanted a career focused on sustainability, but I was unclear on what that future career would look like. After traveling through these two beautiful countries, I gained a clearer view on sustainability practices, my strengths within a team, and my future career.

 

 

High Sierras Leadership Expedition

By: Brandon Weis

 

I was one of 10 Ohio State students to go on the High Sierras Leadership Expedition through the Outdoor Adventure Center. It was a 28 day trip with 21 days of backpacking in the backcountry. It was filled with lessons on wilderness knowledge, leadership theories, and good times.

This experience changed me in many ways, gave me a lot of time to reflect on my life, and think about myself and my future. With all this time to think freely, I had many revelations. One of the largest was realizing the weight I put on trivial things that don’t matter in my everyday life. In modern society we care so much about little things, like what other people think of us. In the High Sierras we had a rule that I will certainly bring back to my normal life: always look out for #1 (yourself) first. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to accomplish anything or help anyone else. I should not make myself miserable or stress myself out just to please somebody else, if it is not important or beneficial. I also thought a lot about my future, namely where I want to go to law school. I have a lot of thoughts all over the place on the topic, but this trip gave me a lot of time to think about it, and helped me take a step further along the decision process. I also learned a lot more about myself that I previously did not realize.

This project really changed my view on people. Before this trip, I would not have believed that in just 21 days 11 people could become so close to one another. But we bonded very quickly, and I now have some amazing new friends that I probably would not have met otherwise.  A large component of this bond was our realness with one another. We agreed from day 1 to always be honest. We held to that, and grew very close in a short time. I had more deep conversations with these “strangers” than many of my close friends in a long time.

Normally, I keep to myself and I don’t share my deep thoughts very much. But these people changed that. We did activities that forced me to open up and share things I wouldn’t normally do. This was very transformational for me. I am now more okay with opening up more to people and telling them how I really feel.

I also feel that I am now a better leader. We each took a turn as Leader of the Day. Basically that person is in charge of everything: route, roles, water, safety, weather, etc. Then after a person had their 2 days as Leader of the Day, we would sit down and critique them on how they did, and then offer advice on what they could improve on. This was a more brutally honest part of the trip, but it was for a good reason. I am a person that is always focused on continuous improvement, and this part of the trip was very beneficial for me.

This experience proved to me that I can do anything I want. I am able to do anything I want, and even if there are obstacles in the way, I can always work around them. I have long feared law school. I know that I want to go, but I am fearful of where to go, if I will do well, and other things. This trip has given me confidence that I can be successful in whatever I want to do, all I have to do is work for it.

Leadership in Anatomy 5300: Uncovering the Human Body

 

During my STEP Signature Project, I spent my time in the anatomy lab dissecting human cadavers to better my education of anatomy and to become a better leader. I participated with classmates that were also taking Anatomy 5300, and worked together to expose the desired structures.

Through this experience, I learned a lot about myself, anatomy and as well as about the world around me. I started this course as a shy pre-med student who didn’t like to be the “boss” of a project. As the project progressed though, I found that I could actually be someone who can be in charge; plus, I don’t mind it either. What I have experienced in the past was that most of the time, the people who took lead on a project needed to be in control of every aspect. They liked to tell others what to do and when. I never enjoyed being patronized or being told what to do so I never wanted to be one of those people. But because this project was with both undergraduate and graduate students, we didn’t have condescending leaders within the lab. I quickly learned that as we get older, the easier it is to work well together without animosity. It was an environment that allowed me to grow my knowledge on anatomy and become comfortable with leadership.

This course was set up so that every day, we had a set of structures to find and dissect. It was very relaxed as it was set at your own group’s pace and that we didn’t have our graduate teaching assistants hovering over us. We had the ability to come into the lab after lab hours and continue to dissect to finish to project, and if we had questions we could simply ask. This removed the stressful atmosphere, allowed us to work better as a whole, and allowed me to become a better leader.

The group I was placed in was very easy-going and didn’t mind communicating if he or she got tired of dissecting one thing. The way we divided up the work was that we all discussed what we were the most interested in and what we most would enjoy discovering. Then I suggested to the others what they could individually dissect that day. I knew I didn’t want to boss my groupmates around so by asking if someone would like to dissect a certain part of the body, it relieved the pressure and took any negativity away from the group. Then at the end of the lab session, if we hadn’t finished all the tasks that day I would say that I am coming in that evening to finish and if anyone would like to join me, they could. This way they know I have initiative to do my own work instead of pushing it all off on them.

Through this, my group got along and even became friends. We were able to talk about prior classes and how we felt about what we found within the body. When entering the class, I was nervous about whether or not I would know exactly what a structure is and that was making me hesitant about whether or not I could be a good leader. I quickly learned though that my classmates were also unsure of some structures and that we were all in this together. My graduate teaching assistants didn’t mind teaching as we dissected as well. Because there was a basic anatomy class that was needed as a prerequisite for this class, I figured they would be frustrated if I didn’t know what a structure was. The GTA’s were very understanding and helped us out along the way. Because of such positive interactions with my classmates and graduate teaching assistants, it allowed me to continue to better my leadership skills as the class progressed.

The reason why I needed to become a better leader is because a physician needs to know how to lead his or her team when performing procedures, diagnosing patients, and treating patients. No matter what specialty I go into, there will always be a need for leadership within my job and practice. A great physician doesn’t get frightened when someone questions his or her diagnosis. He or she backs up the diagnosis with facts that proves why this was diagnosed. The person I was before would have cowered if someone didn’t understand why I diagnosed what I diagnosed. But because I worked on my interpersonal skills, my confidence in my judgement, and my ability to nudge people in the right direction, I am confident I can defend myself.

As a physician, I should also be able to lead my team through example-a skill I learned through this STEP experience. A physician shouldn’t only be able to diagnose and treat, but should be able to care for and empathize with patients. If my team saw a distant and cold doctor taking care of patients, they would be under the impression they don’t have to empathize either. Even though medicine can be backed by hard science, there is still evidence that mental health affects physical health. If I don’t provide enough care for my patients with the result that they aren’t mentally stable, then I shouldn’t expect my team to either. By showing my group during my STEP program that I was willing to put in extra time, they felt the need to do so as well. This is the type of leadership I will continue to demonstrate as I go through medical school and as I practice medicine.

LGBT in NYC: Learning the History of Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow

This June I travelled to New York City for the first time to learn more about the history of the LGBTQ+ community so that I could feel more confident in my identity as a transgender man and develop my ability to have educational conversations with others about my community. During this week in the Big Apple, my project partner and I visited the National AIDS Memorial, the LGBT Community Center of New York, Stonewall Inn, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, the Lesbian HerStory Archives, AND we had the opportunity to attend one of the biggest pride festivals and marches in the world. Engaging with the history and being surrounded by the positivity in each of these spaces has re-inspired me to continue to embrace my identity and be proud of who I am.

I strive to live unapologetically as myself each and every day. But I have struggled with this in the past year because I know that when I come out as trans to someone, they will likely treat me differently because of my identity. I “pass”, which means that most people do not know that I am transgender just from looking at me. However I believe that in the situations I can come out, I feel as though I am living more authentically and am making room for others to do the same. One of the biggest takeaways from my project in New York was the casual atmosphere surrounding LGBTQ+ identities. Everywhere we went, from the subway to the piers to the shopping centers and museums, we saw LGBTQ+ people who were out and about, going to work, celebrating pride month, headed home, buying groceries, etc. These people were living their lives, plain and simple, but they were not afraid to live as themselves and be out. Prior to embarking on this project, I thought that I would feel a boost in self-confidence and a greater appreciation for my community from engaging with the historical content itself. However a large portion of that confidence came from seeing members of my community, whether it be individuals, couples, families, tourists, in every day life. They gave me the support I needed at this point in my life to continue to live as myself without holding anything back.

My project partner and I attended the New York City Pride March and had the opportunity to watch floats and groups for three hours… and that was only half! The first pride “celebration” was in New York City and commemorated the Stonewall Riots, which were a series of demonstrations pushing back against the high rate of arrests and police brutality against all LGBTQ+ people, but particularly trans women of color. The “celebration” in 1970 was a march, and it was very different from the typical parade and festival that it is today. Pride started as people standing up for what they believe in and fighting for their rights as human beings. Now, almost 50 years later, it is because of those individuals that I can live my life and honestly take many things for granted. I can celebrate and be proud of who I am because I do not have to fear for my life, as many others did at that time, and as some more vulnerable communities today still do. I am privileged to have the opportunities I do and I thank God and my trans and LGBTQ+ predecessors for that every single day.

For me, this trip wasn’t about just being in the city that never sleeps and having millions of people around me that had me lost for words. It was knowing that the people I look up to, the people who have done so much for my community and fought with all that they had by being who they are- it was being where they stood, walked, marched, and fought that had me in awe. Each historical site built upon that feeling until I found myself drowning in a feeling of not doing enough. Sylvia Rivera was only 18 when she fought with Marsha P Johnson (who was 24) and other trans women at the Stonewall Riots. Peter Staley was in his 20’s when he fought with ACT UP for access to HIV medication and treatment for those who had AIDS. During this project, I started to ask myself: In comparison to them, among so many others that are the pillars of LGBTQ+ history, what am I doing? How am I really helping my community and making a difference for those that will come after me?

It was those questions (and working with my new therapist) that have helped me to not only understand more about myself, but also helped motivate me to continue to be involved with my community. To extend on the topic of visibility that I touched upon above, I truly believe that the best way for me at this moment to contribute to the fight for equal rights for my community is to be seen. By following in the steps of random strangers I saw in New York and taking cues from the household LGBTQ+ history names, I believe that by allowing myself to be seen, truly and vulnerably seen, by others in my community AND the world as a whole, I am making a difference.

Each time that someone asked me “How was your trip to New York” I had the opportunity to share a piece of myself and my community with them. When I met with my STEP advisor and we were able to discuss the importance of the Stonewall Riots to LGBTQ+ history and how that event relates to the controversy over Columbus’s Pride celebration this past year. Then when I shared pictures with my boss at work, I was able to explain the connection between my involvement with the Central Ohio AIDS Walk to Damrosch Park, which was the location of the first ever AIDS Walk in New York City. Her and I even had a chance to analyze the features of the National AIDS Memorial: while its white triangles do justice to commemorating ACT UP, the anti-homeless benches and spikes contradict the ability for ALL people to access resources that ACT UP fought for. It was also through sharing images from the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art with some of my LGBTQ+ friends that we were able to discuss what visibility really means and how powerful it can be, whether it be in the context of the AIDS epidemic or in day to day life. By taking part in this project, I have been able to start more conversations and educate others about my community, simply by sharing my experiences and my knowledge. It honestly took me so long to put this reflection together, because I feel as though I have so much to say. The perfectionist in me not only procrastinated this post, but also gave me a lot of anxiety in regard to how to discuss my project in general. However, I believe that even though I may not have the perfect words to describe my project, my experiences, and my community, it is still important to start those conversations.

(Since the end of this project, I have been developing my journal entries and the history I learned along the way into what I am starting to think of as lesson plans. Once I have finished and put them together, they will be available here: http://u.osu.edu/varabkanich.2)

 

 

New York City LGBT History Trip

My STEP Project entailed a week-long trip to New York City. My project partner and I visited LGBT historical monuments, museums, and archives, finishing the week off by attending NYC’s yearly Pride celebration. As members of the executive board of a student organization dedicated to volunteering at LGBT organizations in Columbus, we were looking to expand our knowledge about LGBT history, as well as take in the contemporary culture in a larger city.

My assumption about this trip was that it would be the gateway into an incredible junior year. Towards the end of my sophomore year, I switched my major from neuroscience to English, a decision that had been a long time coming. I was excited to start this new phase of my life, and completing my STEP Project would be a great beginning. I thought that visiting the historical sites I’d read about for years would give me chills; they were where the magic of the modern LGBT rights movement was!

Then, my project partner and boyfriend of over a year and a half broke up with me three weeks before we were supposed to go on this trip. We’d already booked the hotel and flights and had passed the refund period, so we couldn’t back out of the project or try and think of a new one. Once we were in New York, it was just the two of us in a huge city for a week. I previously hadn’t thought of myself as mature, but having to catch flights, navigate public transportation, and plan the trip’s schedule day by day — all with someone who was suddenly a stranger to me — helped me grow in my self-confidence and resilience. I also found that the monuments and museums were just places; the founders of the movement carried the magic of it and passed it on to the rest of us. We can and should learn from our history, but it’s just as important to keep making it.

On our first day in New York, we went to the number one site that’s been immortalized in LGBT history, the Stonewall Inn. It was extremely hot out and I was pretty sweaty and tired by the time we reached it. Once we’d pointed at the sign in awe and taken our pictures with it, that was it. The amazing Stonewall, the single thing mentioned in my high school history class when talking about LGBT rights, was just another gay bar. I was disappointed at first, but realized that the thing about Stonewall is that it was an event. The riots themselves were the important part, they just happened to take place at the Stonewall Inn.

The people are what made these events and sites incredible. We stopped by the Lincoln Center a couple days later, where the first AIDS Walk took place in 1986. The Lincoln Center itself is beautiful, but the amazing part about being there was knowing that we’ve marched in and donated to the Columbus AIDS Walk since our freshman year and will continue to do so as long as we’re in Columbus. Seeing Stonewall was cool, but at Columbus Community Pride the weekend before our trip, I got to meet Miss Major, a trans activist from the Stonewall era, and that was so much more meaningful for me. My favorite part of the trip was our visit to the Lesbian Herstory Archives, because it was the blend of historical and modern activism that I aspire to achieve. Reading through books from past LGBT women was touching for me, but what was just as touching was seeing the researchers who were visiting that day to continue building upon the work of the past.

The LGBT communities today have been (and continue to be) a lifesaver for me, and the reason I enjoy learning about our history is because it reminds me we’ve always been here. While we were signing the Lesbian Herstory Archives guestbook, we flipped back a few pages and saw our friend’s signature from their visit a few months ago. It was a tether to my community at OSU, a community that I was so proud of as we visited these sites. My small LGBT service club is doing our part for the greater community by volunteering at other LGBT organizations and learning about our history at the same time. In a way, we’re carrying on the legacy of those who made history in New York, something meaningful that I didn’t realize until I was face to face with that history.

This transformation was significant to my life because I want to grow our club and this has given me the energy I needed to work on that this year. Volunteering has made me feel much more connected with the LGBT community as a whole and I want other people to experience that as well. In addition, although I plan on going into copy editing once I graduate, I still want to continue working with LGBT organizations in my free time. The appreciation I’ve gained for the vivacity of our community will energize me to pursue those opportunities to help others.

On a sadder note, the resilience I mentioned earlier has already been tested. My grandpa passed away while I was on this trip, and a few weeks afterward, my grandmother, who I was very close to, has passed away as well. These are the first deaths I’ve experienced, and it’s been absolutely heartbreaking. However, this hasn’t been the first bad hand I’ve been dealt this summer, and this trip really did solidify my confidence that I can get through anything. I didn’t plan on this happening, but I’m working hard to move past the pain and start being able to remember the joy.