Monday, November 29, 2010

A Simple Act of Kindness

The world is made up of a large spectrum of cultures and beliefs. No two people are exactly alike in the way they perceive life. It is my belief that no one is wrong, we all just have a different way of looking at things. Instead of forcing our beliefs and culture on someone, we should listen to what they have to say and find a common ground. We can learn a lot from other cultures and it is important to be exposed to all the beliefs of the world to formulate our own unique beliefs. One thing I’ve found that unites all people is kindness. No matter what beliefs you hold, acts of kindness are universally understood and are a way to connect with people of any culture. One of the best experiences I’ve had was working in a nursing home making valentines with a Navajo lady who spoke very little English. When I first met her, I couldn’t get any response from her. I put on my biggest smile and tried to make small talk, but she just stared at me with her arms crossed and frowned as I made the Valentine. I felt horrible because I was there to give her company and it seemed like she would have preferred me not to have been there at all. To her, I looked like a privileged white girl that had nothing to offer. I didn’t want her to have that perspective of me, but it was difficult communicating verbally so instead I used kindness to win her over. When I was finished with the valentine, I handed it to her. She looked at me and pointed to herself. I smiled and nodded. She reached out and took the valentine and looked at it as if I had handed her the Mona Lisa. It was nothing special, a red heart with flower cutouts, lace doilies, and some glitter, but it produced one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. Holding that valentine in her hand, she looked at me with glistening brown eyes and gave me the biggest, most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. She then rolled around to all the other people in the dining hall where we were working and showed off what she had gotten. When the day was done she hung up the Valentine right by her bedside table. It was an amazing feeling to have connected with someone over something as simple as a Valentine. We didn’t share our language, are beliefs, or even the holiday, but the simple gesture was enough for us to create a bond that left a lasting impression on the both of us. I believe that if you show people kindness, you can win their trust. Even though my culture and beliefs will be very different from those of the people in the country the Peace Corps sends me to, I know I will be able to adapt and connect with the people because I know how to share the gift of kindness.

A Quest for Keys

One of the most interesting pieces of wisdom on life I have been given is that before we are born we have a box filled with keys to the meaning of life. When we come into the world, we toss the keys from our box and they are randomly distributed to people around the world. To collect our keys, we have to have deep, meaningful conversations with people. As life passes, we meet more people and collect more of our keys, always learning more about life. Ever since I was told this, I have been on the lookout for my keys. Because I will be exposed to such a different culture and different views on life, I believe that the people I meet while in the Peace Corps will give me some of my most valuable keys. I also want to help others discover their keys and working in the Peace Corps would help me to do this.
The keys I’ve found after two summers working for the park service and a summer working for a conservation corps have opened a path to better the planet for future generations by conserving the land, utilizing it properly, and educating people about conservation and protection of natural resources. I hope to work permanently with the Peace Corps, NOLS, the Park Service, or the Forest Service to fulfill my goals. Being in the Peace Corps will be the first of many journeys I will have educating people about the amazing things the Earth has to offer.
I will have no problem dedicating 27 months to the Peace Corps because it is something I have always wanted to do and I always commit myself fully to everything I am involved in. I am always flexible and I am seeking a new and exciting adventure, so anywhere I am sent I will be more than happy with. I always conduct myself in a professional manner, appropriate to the situation. I thrive off of change and new experiences, so I have no problem adapting to new situations and cultures. I am always looking to create lifelong bonds and learn new philosophies on life to improve my own.
The biggest challenge I will face will be establishing a leadership role as a young female. I plan to overcome this by being confident and assertive about my goals and objectives and make sure I complete everything I start. I will also treat all people with respect and integrate their suggestions and culture into my plans.
The most important thing in life is experiencing as many things as possible and soaking up every drop life has to offer. Peace Corps is a perfect fit for me and it will provide me with the keys to my true path.

Cover Letter

My nose lay plastered against the back seat window of my family’s old gray mini van, and my big blue eyes slid from left to right, following the stubby juniper trees disappearing over the horizon. I was only six years old and to me it was just another family camping trip, but this time instead of going to dry, sandy Chaco Canyon in New Mexico we were heading north to green, mountainous, northern Colorado.
The dust and junipers were slowly being replaced with giant pine trees and grass that covered every hill as far as I could see. Although there was a change in environment, it didn’t make the trip any shorter. After a full day of driving, my younger sister and I were getting fussy. The last couple hours of the trip turned into an “Are we there yet?” every half-hour, and the annoyed response, “We’ll be there in four more showings of Barney.” (The stupid purple dinosaur seemed to be our only method of time.)
Finally, we turned into a tiny secluded campground tucked into the Rocky Mountains. We had reached the end of our long trip. I squiggled in my seat until the side door slid open and my mother’s soft hands reached in. The seatbelt clicked, and she pulled me out of the car. Excitement flooded my veins as I jumped out and danced around in circles. The cool evening breeze blew my short brown curls behind me. A sea of purple, dark blue, and pink oozed up behind the tall, jagged, mountains as the sun sunk behind them. Dark, thunderous clouds swirled around the tops of the mountains, only adding to the picture.
With little preparation, the tents were pitched, a fire was lit, and my sister and I were tucked into our sleeping bags. As tradition, we both turned headfirst into the bags and climbed downward to see who could get to the end first. Having expended our last bit of energy, we curled up and were both asleep instantly.
As the night drew on, the wind beat progressively harder on the tent and the cold began to creep in. When we woke up the next morning, there was half an inch of water covering the bottom of our tent. In the middle of the night a freak storm had blown in and left us a morning present of an inch of snow. I was upset at first, thinking that it had ruined our camping trip, but I soon realized that instead of swimming in the river we would be able to build snow forts and have snowball fights. There is something positive hidden in every situation; the trick is looking deep enough to find it.
These early childhood adventures have helped shape my love for the outdoors. As I grew older I was able to explore this relationship even more through backpacking, which brought me even closer to nature. I have had the opportunity to swim in high mountain lakes that few humans have seen, and sleep under the stars on top of an isolated mountain. Most will never feel that unique feeling of cool tranquility, accomplishment, and happiness. Never do I feel so small and insignificant compared to nature as when I am outdoors completely alone. I also spend a lot of time in the outdoors doing community service. I’m an active member of Grand Canyon Youth Service Organization, often help the Stewards of Public Land, and volunteer at the Forest Service and Grand Canyon Trust. Last summer, I had the most amazing experience working on a trail crew in Arizona. I learned so much and gained a real connection with the people and places that I worked.
I would love the opportunity to further my love and knowledge of the outdoors by working for the Parks Service in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. It would be a dream come true to work on a trail crew again, on a fire crew, or as a backcountry ranger. I am eager to conquer any task that is laid in front of me and I am a hard worker that doesn’t give up if something is challenging.

The Aspen

An aspen stands alone
Sunshine and fire burst from its dew dripped leaves
Radiating into the overwhelming mass of green and brown
Surrounding it

A smile from the cloudy heavens
Focuses down upon the single tree
Making its beauty and grace stand out
In the forest of mediocrity

The aspen’s beauty intensifies with every passing day
Even as the eve of winter
Rolls in
On the breath of the wind

The other trees stand in silence
Their shadows grow long and dark
But as the wind shudders through the aspen’s golden leaves
A glorious song rises out of the silence

The aspen’s wisdom is incomparable to the rest
It survives the vilest of winters
With more compassion to offer
Than the entire forest

Summiting Mt. Biology

I can finally see the summit to Mount Biology, the peak I’ve been hiking up for almost four years now. The journey has been tough and in places, the trail hasn’t been well marked. Even with just one last section of uphill left, I sometimes look back at the trail behind me and question if this was even a peak I should have bagged. Biology? Why not Journalism or English or Philosophy or something I’m actually good at and have a passion for? I have never been much of a science person. In high school, science was a constant struggle. I studied way harder than my best friend and she always did better than I did with out even trying. I had a hard time grasping the concepts. When it came to being creative, on the other hand, I had no problem. I jumped at the opportunity to take any art or English class. Those subjects came way more naturally to me than science ever did. The problem was that the pressures of high school forced me to believe that going into something science related was the only worthy choice. I was surrounded by smart friends and the idea that to win anyone’s approval, I had to be smart.  I always felt like I was hidden in their shadows and I wanted more than anything to be seen and to prove to my family and classmates that I was smart. That’s why when making my choice on a major, I chose Cellular Molecular Biology. It had a big flashy title and when I told anyone that’s what I was going for, they were automatically impressed. My goal was to become a geneticist and to find a cure for cancer. In my mind, accomplishing this would make my family proud, I would no longer be invisible, and everyone would see how smart I was. At the time, it seemed like a perfect plan so I pushed aside the minor detail that I didn’t really like science.
            When freshman year started, I had my first reality check. All of my classes were science based and I was miserable. I almost didn’t pass my intro chemistry lab because I couldn’t figure a how to use a pipette (that should have been my first clue) and most of the time I had no clue what was going on. I kept telling myself that it would be ok once I was working as a geneticist because I would be doing something that I loved.  Finally, I realized how much I really hated being in a lab. A lab coat, goggles, fluorescent lights, no windows, and looking in a microscope all day was not appealing in the least, so I changed my major to Community Health to pursue Nutrition.
            This was also an attempt to create an image for myself. I had major body image issues and I thought by going into nutrition people would see me as the skinny, healthy athlete.  Pursuing nutrition made my self esteem drop even lower. I became obsessed with how I looked and how much I weighed. I was paranoid that everyone thought that I wasn’t skinny enough to be a nutritionist, so all I thought about was exercising and losing weight. I drove everyone around me crazy and eventually I even drove my best friend away.
            After a year of being a Community Health major, I decided to change back to biology because of all the biology and chemistry prerequisites I needed for nutrition. That semester was one of the lowest points in my life. It took me months to try and adapt back to the college lifestyle, after my life changing summer working at Rocky Mountain National Park. I struggled in all my classes and I was exercising over 3 hours of intense cardio a day. I eventually broke the neck of my femur because of overtraining and not eating enough protein. This made me realize that maybe nutrition wasn’t the best career path for me since I couldn’t even take care of my own health, so I decided to stick with getting a degree in general biology so I could finish on time.
            It’s embarrassing trying to respond when people ask me what I want to do with my biology degree once I graduate. My general response is that I’m going into the Peace Corps, so I have a couple of years to decide, but what I’m really thinking is, “Yes, I am getting a degree in biology. Do I plan on having a career in this field? Well… I honestly have no idea.” Maybe I will maybe I won’t, I’m not out ruling it out as a possibility, but I’m also not counting on it. Getting a degree in Biology is the quickest way to the summit. I want my diploma so I can move on to other adventures. I am tired of this scenery and there are plenty more summits to conquer. At this point, I have no idea where life is taking me, but that’s the excitement of it. I’ve learned that life isn’t what you expect and in the end I know I’ll end up where I’m suppose to be. I have some ideas of what I might do after the Peace Corps, but things always change. I am definitely not where I thought I would be four years ago. If I set plans for where I might be three years from now, I may miss an amazing opportunity because my vision will be narrowed to nothing but the current trail. Honestly, at this point I don’t feel like I need a plan. Life presents plenty of opportunities and opens many doors. It’s my job to see all opportunities and take them. If do that, I know that I will eventually stumble upon what I want to do with my life.
            So, yes, even though Mount Biology isn’t exactly where I wanted to go and it was a difficult trek, the journey to the summit was worth it. Mount Biology provided many side trails that I wouldn’t have gone on if I was on any other path. I would not have gotten a job as a park ranger and met the some of the most amazing, inspirational people that have shaped who I am and I would probably not be going into the Peace Corps. To say the least, Mount Biology has been one of the most difficult trails I’ve ever been on and there have been sections where I thought I wouldn’t make it to the summit, but overall I’m glad that I took this trail. Life tends to work itself out, mostly in unexpected ways and every experience I’ve had, both good and bad, has meaning and has given shape to my life. Because of these experiences, I have become a person that I actually like. I’m no longer unhappy and striving for an image to get other people’s approval. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened. Bring on the summit!