I participated in a service learning STEP Project.
Description of STEP Signature Project
My STEP Signature Project entailed embarking on a Buck-I-Serv trip to Arizona. We traveled to the Palatki Heritage Site in Coconino National Forest and as a team, worked on building a trail/trail preservation to keep the archaeological sites accessible. Before we left, we cleaned up trash out of a Boulder Beach campsite in Nevada, helping preserve our earth and environment that allowed us to enjoy our activities that comprised the rest of the trip. In between these two acts of service, we challenged ourselves with a backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon and experienced adventure at the bottom of the canyon with white water rafting along the Colorado River.
How My Understanding of Myself, My Assumptions, and My Views of the World Changed or Transformed
My biggest moment of transformation was probably the humility I came to embody for a number of reasons. Perhaps one of the more important reasons was the sheer difficulty of building the trail as we did, and coming to a deep respect for those that put their work and effort into preserving our trails and environments so that we can explore the world around us and learn from it. Another instance of humility came while standing among the archaeological ruins. Our society today is just one of many different predecessors that managed to learn and grow and create lifestyles that we can hardly imagine. And in our age of destruction, their simplicity never ceased to awe me, and made me wonder about other ways that we can continue to conserve our national parks and environment, as well as the history that comes along with them. The last large moment of humility came from standing as one tiny human among the vastness of nature in a variety of instances. Among red rocks that loomed so tall, the Grand Canoyon which stretched as far as the eye could see and dipped and diverted in a complicated yet sophisticated pattern only nature could conceive, in the Colorado River as the walls of the canyon skyrocketed upwards in beautiful arrays of rock and stone, I was met with the same sense of humility. I was one human surrounded by vastness I had never felt or seen before. And in these moments, I was met with the desire to explore, to learn, and to apply myself more readily to the world around me – because that world is pretty awesome.
As a girl who had not really left Ohio all that often until college, I am comfortable with the small and familiar. I had never really been exposed to the wonders that lie outside of the Ohio border, and it wasn’t until recently that I began to feel this yearning to begin to explore and feel things beyond what my Ohio environment had provided me. And although I was excited for this trip, I also harbored a few nerves about delving into experiences completely outside of my comfort zone. By engaging in these activities and exposing myself to sights, sounds, physical exertion, and a group of people I had never experienced before, I pushed my own limits in a way that really opened up many doors for me and thoroughly expanded my horizons. I became more comfortable with being uncomfortable and that’s a feeling I don’t want to lose. I still have a lot to learn in this life, and this trip illuminated for me that I am capable and willing to take on challenges that might seem insurmountable at first or situations that are unlike anything I have done in the past. In a way, by embarking on this small, 12 day journey, I was introduced to the fact that not only do I desire to learn and expand myself more, but I am more than capable of doing so in creative and wonderful ways.
Events, Interactions, Relationships, or Activities that Led to Transformations Above/How They Affected Me
Going in order, initiating this cascade of realizations and new understandings, building the trail created a new sense of camaraderie among my peers and I as we worked towards a common goal that demanded a lot of physical activity. In the first days of our trip, still getting to know each other, we found a binding sense of friendship by participating in this activity. We looked out for each other, swapped out jobs so everyone gained a sense of each aspect of the work, kept up with each other down to hydration and sunscreen. It was incredible how comfortable we became with each other in such a short amount of time. Doing this was fantastic and having each other as a team to enjoy our time in Arizona made the trip so worthwhile. Together we learned from each other and contributed individually to the whole period of learning and exploration. Also, working on this trail provided me with an inside view of just how grueling it can be to do manual work to preserve our trails and environment. As a whole, this gave me an entirely new sense of appreciation for the trails that have been laid out before me so that I can enjoy and explore our world. It definitely is not easy.
Following this service, backpacking in the Grand Canyon presented a whole new set of wonders, but also fears and hesitations. It is hard physical work, and your mind must always be alert because the trails are steep and sometimes narrow. But being within the canyon and looking out over it at the top provided me with sensations and views I had never yet experienced. Also, it became incredibly fulfilling to backpack. The work paid off with phenomenal views and a sense of accomplishment, and honestly humbled me by illuminating how much I take for granted in the front country – where I have water and food and shelter readily accessible to me. Each night in the Grand Canyon provided an opportunity to not only learn the basics of backpacking but apply myself as we hunted down water and prepared food and camp each night. Obviously, it wasn’t luxurious in the sense that we have come to define luxury as comfort and immense resources, but it offered a slice of peace and satisfaction that I don’t always feel in my day to day life. Pushing myself this far outside of my comfort zone really illuminated to me how much I crave these experiences and how much I am capable of if I put all into it. It was a wonderful experience.
Heading down to the bottom of the canyon to complete white water rafting afforded a whole other set of views and challenges, but an adventure of a life time. You feel so small at the bottom of the canyon that you cannot help but marvel at how beautiful the world around you is. I was purely in the moment here – no phone, no distractions. And had time to reflect on how unique my experiences until that point had been, and how much I had learned about our Buck-I-Serv team, the outdoors, and myself. I could feel my reservations about taking chances and exploring the unknown leaving me and I was left with a renewed motivation to create a life that I will remember and reflect gratefully upon for myself. Again, I was humbled by how much of a “bubble” I have lived in, and how much was out ahead of me to learn and experience. Nothing like night skies unlike anything I’ve seen, pure blue-green waters among canyon walls, and the willingness to embrace new challenges to open my mind up a bit.
Value of the Change or Transformation to My Life/Future
In the most literal sense, I have been toying with the idea of moving out West for grad school, but was nervous about picking up and moving off when my whole live has been lived comfortably in Ohio. I had liked to pride myself with a desire to explore, but was not sure on the degree with which I would act upon this desire. This trip and things my mind had been enlightened with has proven to me that there is nothing to fear about making such a move. Looking ahead and expanding my horizons is exhilarating, a great learning opportunity, and fulfilling in ways that I couldn’t have imagined until completing this trip.
This trip also illuminated for me a profound passion for conserving the environment in order to preserve the beauty that lies around us. As a student on a pre-health track, I had been primarily involving myself in service directly related to healthcare. This trip was a chance to explore something new and did not disappoint. I have a newfound desire to apply myself in ways that don’t directly relate to healthcare, and as a result, I feel more wholesome and well-rounded and have a focus for other things I would like to involve myself in.
Overall, as deep and overarching as this seems for one trip, I feel more ready and willing to take on challenges that I might not feel so comfortable with. With this trip, I have learned that the payout can be wonderful and that I have so much I want to learn and experience – so I shouldn’t be afraid to immerse myself in experiences and opportunities that don’t adhere to things I have done previously. In a responsible way, it is wholesome and fulfilling to take chances and exposing myself to a variety of new ideas, thought processes, and people gives me new perspectives that I wouldn’t have gained otherwise. There really are no words to accurately capture how useful and beneficial this is, and how much having a more open mind can be a positive in any work or social environment. Personally and professionally, I can benefit innumerably from a willingness to learn and experience things outside of my comfort zone. It makes me more receptive to others, their thoughts, their opinions, and the knowledge that they can confer to me. I believe it can make me a better team member, a better cooperator, and even a better leader – ready to take initiative not only for myself but for a team as well. Learning never stops and this is an important concept applied to all aspects of life – and a concept this trip exemplified greatly for me.