When we had our pre-departure meeting back in April, our program coordinators and instructors joked about the culture shock we would experience going from the east coast to Wyoming and back again. I couldn’t imagine then that I would feel much of a difference at all. It’s all the same country, I thought to myself, and we’re mostly coming from similar majors, how much culture shock could there be?
After spending six weeks in Wyoming, I’m struck by how ignorant I was going into the course. It was shocking being in this part of the country, constantly around 17 other people I barely knew, surrounded by plants and animals and rock formations I had never seen before. But my immediate world was quickly made back up by all the things we learned and experienced. I grew to love the strong wind across the prairie and the taste of a delicious shale. I keep looking for my field notebook and my rock hammer when I’m getting ready to leave my house. And I miss all the people I met, all the places we went, even the dry Wyoming air.
Existing and learning in such a different place than what I’m used to changed me. Well, changed is maybe the wrong word. I’m still myself. I was myself before I left and I was myself while I was there and I was myself when I returned, but I feel like something was unlocked. I felt more open in Wyoming than I have in a long time: open to new ideas and perspectives, open to being my whole self.
During the semester when I’m taking multiple classes, I often feel like I can’t fully immerse myself in the material because I don’t have time to do more than what is absolutely necessary for each class. But during this field study course, I felt comfortable and excited to ask questions that veered away from the focus of an activity, and I loved it when other people brought up interesting points, too. Even though it was only six weeks long, I walked away feeling more passionate about learning.
As amazing and awe-inspiring and just downright fun as Wyoming was, it was still hard and overwhelming at times. Collecting data for my research project and realizing that I couldn’t compare nitrogen levels in two wetlands because neither had any ammonium was especially frustrating. Six weeks ago, I think I would have cried and tried to start my project over from scratch. Now, I feel more comfortable accepting nonclosure as part of the scientific process. I started my research with a question and a hypothesis, and I didn’t get a clear answer. I still learned a lot in the process of doing research and designing a project, and I got to think my way through why I didn’t get the results I expected.
Even though I never left the U.S. during those six weeks, I felt worlds away from Pittsburgh, both because of how different the landscape was and how different the work was from anything I had done before. I feel so insanely lucky to have experienced Wyoming this way, talking about rocks and ecology and everything else with 14 of the most passionate, funny, amazing people I’ve ever met and 3 of the smartest, kindest, most engaging instructors I’ve ever had and everyone else who was willing to share their expertise with us this summer. Wyoming, I’ll miss you, but I’m so excited to bring what I’ve learned back with me to Pittsburgh this year.
All the best,