Every year at college has been a totally different experience for me and my third year at UC was no different. I made new friends and formed closer bonds with my old ones, some of my hobbies have shifted and changed, and my GPA even got a little boost to boot. Throughout this year, I’ve found ways that I can relate with more people, but also have found a bit of my own originality, the things that make me “me”, if you will.
The story begins with the summer of 2017. This was a summer where I was taking classes due to the co-op program. Something I discovered very quickly that summer was that campus is very, very quiet, and if you are tired of the silence, you’re gonna have to make your own noise. So that’s just what I did. To this point, I had still been quite involved with the Mountaineering Club, and as such, I wanted to spend as much time outside as I possibly could. The major obstacle to this was the fact that it was summer in the Midwest. Which means there was a bit of humidity. Ok, a lot of humidity. Oh yeah, and it was hot. This makes outdoor escapades quite sweaty. Which makes climbing quite difficult. Still, despite all of this, many a weekend was spent outside. Through this, I became a lot closer with some of my closest friends to this day.
While all this climbing and tomfoolery was going on, there was also some real-world work (read: classes) going on as well. The classes I took in summer were my first real look at what an environmental engineer does, and let me tell you, I’m all about it. It was absolutely fascinating to look at the chemical and biological processes that go into water treatment and the physics that go into water conveyance, which is how water flows through pipes. After my first co-op rotation, I was unsure if that was what I wanted to do in life but seeing it in the classroom and gaining a more in depth and intimate knowledge of the intricacies of my job made me more fascinated than I was before.
Slowly, but surely, summer came to an end, and I had to shift from classes to co-op once again. Before fall truly set in, however, I got to take a week-long road trip out West, visiting many national parks, namely Rocky Mountain National Park, Zion National Park, Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park. There were two main things I discovered during this trip. First, there is nothing that can strike inspiration and awe into the hearts of a human being like a national park can. It is one of the many reasons that I believe that the national parks system is a keystone of the modern United States. Second, the commercialization of these national parks is leading to the reduction of the beauty of the parks. I believe fully in beauty being accessible for all eyes, but there is a point where introducing too many amenities to a place that is meant to have none can make a national park into a Disneyland. It is a balance that must be struck, and struck carefully for the national parks system to exist as it has for over a hundred years.
Fall semester was a mixed bag for me. Co-op felt mostly like the same-old, same-old and outside of work, I wasn’t nearly as active as I had been. This was largely due to the fact most of my friends weren’t in town, which made it difficult to do much, especially on the weekends when I would normally be climbing. While I didn’t put on much weight, I definitely lost a good amount of muscle, which made many of the outdoor activities that I like to do a lot harder. On the bright side, I got a lot more into my cooking, experimenting with a lot of new flavors and even messing around with whole spices instead of just using ground spices and spice blends. It definitely stimulated my love for food and flavors and gave me a new appreciation for the various cultures around the world.
After the long drag of fall, spring semester couldn’t have come sooner than it did. One of the unfortunate things about spring semester is that the cold weather tends to keep a lot of people inside, while I don’t mind the cold and will gladly go outside at any point. The cold didn’t stop everyone, however. The Mountaineering Club lead an ice climbing trip in February to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. During that trip, the warmest it got was 10 degrees. At night, it was well below zero. Despite this, I had a fantastic time, and made some fantastic new friends. During this trip, I discovered that when I was having conversations with other people, I was talking a lot and not listening to what they had to say, and when I did listen to them, it was only surface level and I was just thinking about what I was going to say next. The moment I started consciously paying attention to this, I noticed that my conversations went more smoothly and more engaging.
At this point, despite having been in environmental engineering for 3 semesters, I still was only familiar with the other people in my major on a surface level. I made a point in the spring semester to form friendships with those people. At the end of the spring semester, I had a close-knit group of friends who I was able to study with and just hang out on Sigma Sigma, just talking and hammocking. All it took to do this was a little courage and stepping out of my comfort zone just a little, which goes to show the great things that can come of leaving your comfort zone.