I drove from my native New Jersey to the campus of the University of Central Arkansas with a fellow PITP participant from another school, Tim. Prior to meeting at the Vince Lombardi service area along the NJ turnpike, we had never met, exchanged a few Facebook messages, and, to our knowledge, had nothing in common, save for the mutual goal of getting to Conway, Arkansas. Tim was looking for someone to split gas and driving duty with, and I needed to get to UCA’s campus in the cheapest manner possible. By the time we arrived the following evening, I’d already made a friend.
Tim would be the first of 13 new friends I’d make in a matter of days.
As overwhelming as the natural beauty of the Buffalo National River was, the people really made the trip. When combined, the result was truly remarkable. One night, we laid down on a riverbank staring up into the darkest night I’d ever seen, while one student pointed out constellations and helped us make sense of the sky.
If you were to put 14 people, 12 students and two professors, together for a week, the odds of all of them getting along are fairly slim. Yet our group was as thick as thieves. When one canoe lost an oar after tipping, the whole group lost an oar. It’s much easier for 14 people to manage with 13 oars, than for two people to try and get by with one. I’m certain that the inborn curiosity that pushes people to the outdoors is somehow tied to general agreeableness.
While I was always looking forward to continuing our expedition down the river, it was as much, if not more so, because it meant my rowing partner Jared and I would pick up wherever our meandering conversation had left off when we’d hit shore the day before – sometimes it was a book or our equally tumultuous environments at home. By trip’s end, we had drawn matching tattoos on each other’s biceps.
Needless to say, the calm river and warm sun created fertile ground for friendship. Even the rain couldn’t keep the group apart. In the midst of what should’ve been a camper’s misery, we were instead huddled in the largest tent, lining the floor with limbs and carrying on with our nightly ritual of sitting around the campfire – minus the campfire.
I was one of the only participants whose studies did not at least loosely connect to the sciences. As a Finance major and a Journalism minor, most of my friends at Northeastern are involved in the Business program. I am accustomed to being surrounded by same-brained people, ones that use jargon such as “yield,” “interest rates,” etc. when discussing schoolwork and co-op experiences, and hope to land entry level positions with asset managers, marketers and accounting firms.
And here I was in the middle of Arkansas, sitting around a campfire, listening to people discussing grad school plans, intended areas of research, or total uncertainty as to where their Physics or Ecology degree might ultimately lead them. Often, if you spend too much time with people in your discipline, it’s easy to unconsciously fall into the programmed decisions others around you are pursuing, and adopt the same goals they strive for.
In the months leading up to the trip, I’d begun to question how attached I was to the future I felt was prescribed to me. During one of our fireside chats these insecurities came to a forefront. This was naturally followed by the anxiety of not knowing what I wanted in lieu of the traditional business track.
Simply being around a different group of peers, particularly ones with futures more open than I was used to, was a reminder of the limitless paths available, and that while daunting, uncertainty is a prerequisite to “figuring things out.”
As a member of the class of 2014, it’s a lesson that came just in time.
P.S. A special thanks to UCA professors Doug Corbitt and Allison Wallace for making the trip possible and encouraging us to dream bigger.
Dylan Lewis, Business Administration