Learning Slow Down. My Experience Studying Abroad in Vigo, Spain

For my Beyond the Classroom Experience, I spent the Spring semester of 2022 in Vigo, Spain, a small but lively town in the autonomous community of Galicia where I attend the Universidad de Vigo. I am a senior studying in Environmental Science and Sustainability and minoring in Climate Change Studies with a certificate in Global Leadership. During my time here in Vigo I have been able to study and experience these interests in a completely different way and grow in even more areas, like my Spanish language skills. In the Global Leadership Initiative, I am focusing on the Resource and Sustainability theme where I have chosen to study challenges related to the ocean and the people that depend on it for their livelihood.

The view from my apartment in Vigo

The town of Vigo is situated on the northwest coast of Spain, protected from the harsh waters of the Atlantic Ocean by the Cíes Islands. Due to its proximity to the ocean and Galicia’s dependence on the aquaculture industry, the Universidad de Vigo was the perfect place for me to explore my global theme and challenge. In school, I was able to take a Marine Zoology and Spanish course as well as participate in an intensive internship with one of my marine science professors and her research team. In this internship, I spent the semester studying the effects of global change on commercially important intertidal clams of Galicia and the effects of a seagrass (Zostera Noltii) as a refuge for those clams. Throughout the semester I have worked both inside my professor’s lab and outside, doing field work in the neighboring towns of Cambados and Combarro. Participating in this internship has allowed me to learn about the fragility of the ocean and its importance to communities like Vigo. It has also made me realize the value of concentrated areas of research in the larger scheme of creating a world more environmentally conscious.

My life in Vigo extended beyond just studying the ocean, more profoundly, I was able to live and experience an entirely different culture and language. Life in Spain is a complete 180 from life in the United States. People aren’t in a rush; they enjoy their time and the people they are with. Taking breaks for a coffee or a chat during school or work is more than a suggestion, it’s scheduled into your day. In Vigo, the people’s connection to each other, food, land, and sea is strong. Slowing down and taking the time to appreciate life and the connections I was making was a hard but important lesson I had to learn coming from the U.S. where the mindset is, “your work is your worth.”

In Vigo I have also had the opportunity to grow my Spanish language skills. At school, I took a Spanish language course and in my everyday life I was able to speak and practice Spanish. One leadership skill that I would not have been able to grow without this experience of learning a new language is communication. Living in Spain and not speaking fluent Spanish is difficult, communication was a challenge. To add to this challenge, there were over 300 other exchange students from different countries who I interacted with during my time abroad. Suddenly the way in which I spoke and the words I used, in Spanish and English, were my most important tool. I learned that the way one communicates is one of the most important skills to have as a leader because if you are not understood you cannot lead or support others in a common goal.

Living in Vigo, Spain was everything I wanted, never expected, and more. This place and the people that live here will always have a special place in my heart. Vigo, gracias por enseñarme a vivir más despacio.

Swing next to the sea in Monteferro

The Bigger Picture in Little Minds

My name is Hailey Powell and I am a graduating senior double majoring in Psychology and Communication Studies. My Global Theme was Social Inequality and Human Rights and my Global Challenge centered around Women’s Right and mental health advocacy. For my Beyond the Classroom experience, I interned at the YWCA GUTS! (Girls Using Their Strengths) program here in Missoula, Montana. I facilitated three after-school groups, made and delivered activity kits for our virtual groups, and created a mental health curriculum to work into the GUTS! program. GUTS! focuses on building strong leadership skills within young girls (or those who identify differently but believe the program will be benefit them) and teaches and discusses important topics like friendship, diversity, body image, goals, and strengths. The goal of GUTS! is to cultivate a safe and welcoming environment to help give children the tools and discourse they need to acquire new and strengthen existing characteristics. My theme relates to my experience because I worked with kids who came from all different backgrounds. GUTS! is a trauma-informed program and tries to tackle, or at least open the conversation, about important issues surrounding race, equality, and gender differences. My theme also relates to my experience because of the mental health curriculum I created. It’s important to start the conversation about mental health early, so the signs and symptoms are easy to spot, while also providing local resources in case the participants needed it. It was age appropriate material that talked about depression and anxiety, and had an activity that gave them coping mechanisms.

My experience has strengthened my leadership skills vastly. Not only was I able to lead three groups of ten children or more, but I was able to be flexible in our sessions depending on the group needs. Some days my plans would not follow through and I would have to switch everything at the last minute. As a leader, it’s crucial to be adaptable. It also helped me learn how to interact with different types of people at that age level. Some kids were really closed off, while some were full of energy. My experience gave me experience on how to help kids come out of their shell and refocus those who needed it.

Some questions that were raised during my experience was how a program like GUTS! could be implemented at a larger scale. I’m sure other places around the United States have similar programs, but if something was held in public schools, I think it would change not only how women may view themselves as they grow up.

I am so thankful for my internship experience and the lessons it has taught me.

National Student Exchange to Mayagüez, Puerto Rico

For my Beyond the Classroom Experience, I spent the spring semester of 2022 in Puerto Rico to become fluent in Spanish. I am a senior studying Computer Science and Spanish with certificates in Cybersecurity and Global Leadership, and this experience has allowed me to combine my interests in both technology and languages. I participated in the National Student Exchange program, and was placed at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, Mayagüez on the west side of the island in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.

While in Puerto Rico, I have been able to gain new insights into my global theme, Technology & Society. In school, I have greatly enjoyed a course in Artificial Intelligence, and am working on a project with other students to create an app with an AI model that can categorize what kinds of trash can be recycled on the island. Recycling is complicated in Puerto Rico since much of it has to be shipped back to the U.S. mainland, so it has been a great experience to work with local students to make something that will benefit their community. It is important to many people here to preserve the natural beauty of their island, and there are also efforts to keep the beaches and rivers clean and healthy.

Outside of school, I have enjoyed listening to local music and visiting wonderful beaches and waterfalls. One type of music that is very popular here is called bomba, and it is a form of latin music with lots of percussion and call and response lyrics. There are some student bomba groups that I got to see in a talent show, and there is always a band playing at events and festivals. The beaches are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and it has been especially nice to have 80 degree weather every day while it is still snowy back home in Montana! I’ve also enjoyed getting to know my classmates and the other exchange students, and we’ve gone on trips around the island. All in all, I would recommend Puerto Rico to anyone who wants to improve their Spanish and enjoy the nature and culture of the island. 

Anthropological Internship at the Moon-Randolph Homestead

During the fall semester of 2021, I was fortunate enough to partake in an internship at the historic Moon-Randolph Homestead in the rattlesnake. The homestead was first used by the Salish tribe, long before settlers came to the Missoula area. It was then homesteaded by the Moon family then sold to the Randolph family a few years later. Then in the 1990s, after the last member of the Randolph family to live on the homestead passed away, the city of Missoula purchased it in order to preserve its history and to increase the public land surrounding Missoula. While interning there I was tasked with two large projects and a number of small ones. The first of the two major projects, which took place in the first half of my time there, was to care for the homestead’s historic orchard; I learned more than I ever thought I could about orchards, by pruning the trees, weeding the area, spreading mulch, and almost single-handedly harvesting all the apples from the nearly sixty-tree orchard which were then given to Western Cider where the apples were crafted into a special cider which consisted of only homestead apples. The second major project which I undertook was the cleaning of the homestead’s original tack shed which had not been opened since the city first bought the land in the 1990s; while wearing a full-body Tyvek suit and respirator, I removed every artifact from the shed and used gallons upon gallons of bleach to clean more mouse nests, dead mice, and, above all else, mouse feces than I have ever seen at every other time in my life combined. I then cleaned every artifact individually and then reorganized the shed and created a meaningful display within it so that visitors could have a better understanding of how homesteaders relied on horses every day in a time when mechanical machines were almost non-existent. In addition, I helped with general maintenance of the historic homestead and gave tours on several Saturdays during the semester to help visitors understand what it was like to live during the time period of homesteaders.

My internship experience not only gave me relevant work experience which will help me in my anthropology career, but it also helped me to gain diverse perspectives on American history, including those on the opposing side of homesteaders- the indigenous peoples whose land was ultimately taken from them. Learning about the history of the area in which many of us call home from both the commonly learned perspective of the colonizer and the underrepresented perspective of those who were colonized helped me to fulfill my global theme: culture and politics. Those diverse perspectives are now assisting me in the way that I go about my capstone project which involves indigenous misrepresentation in the media, which stems directly from the US’s history of settler colonialism. The information that I learned at the internship in order to accurately provide information on tours has helped me to see a narrative about homesteading and manifest destiny which is not often taught in American history.

Teaching Dance at Lowell Elementary

My name is Chloe Burnstein and I use the pronouns She/Her. My chosen global theme is social inequality and human rights. For my beyond the classroom experience I had the opportunity to teach a somatic dance therapy focused class as part of Lowell Elementary after school program in. I was specifically interested in combining the practice of emotional regulation with the theory that kinesthetic movement can heal our souls and bodies through my teaching. Lowell is located in East Missoula and is considered the lowest income elementary school in the district. The after school program at Lowell Elementary is the only school in the Missoula County Public School district that offers a free after school program full of intellectual activities and opportunities, provided and funded by Missoulas’ Parks and Recreation department. Most of the children attending Lowell come from low economic households and often do not have the opportunity to attend dance or therapy. No child should have to miss out on activities that provide moments internal discovery due to financial hardship. Therapy should not be considered an “opportunity,” but instead, a health care “right.”

During the hour-long sessions I taught, I encouraged different emotions, feeling, and sensations through a variety of games and challenges, supporting the exploration of emotion, without fear and instead curiosity and empowerment. The goal of these activities were to visualize, regulate, and simply notice the feeling being experienced through movement. It was the hope that these techniques would be something the children could return to and utilize as an outlet. Throughout the last 14 weeks I was guided by both Heidi Eggert Jones and Brooklyn Draper, professors of dance and Tess Sneeringer, the director of the Lowell after school program. In moments of frustration and failure their words of guidance and suggestion, reminded me that dance and talking/feeling your emotions is incredibly vulnerable. I narrowed my focus into just giving my time and energy into allowing the 60 minutes to be a safe place, where every child was seen, acknowledged, and loved. A space where emotions could be felt, and a place where we began to slowly begin to explore what those emotions may look like in the body without judgement. I yearned to share to share the healing and magical benefits that movement can provide. 

This experience was incredibly humbling. I saw just a bit of what these children lives were like. I remember talking to a peer in the program, identifying that many of these kids were experiencing, “adult sadness, not kid sadness.” There were many moments of self reflection, gratitude, joy, and even guilt. I discovered the elation that teachers often speak about. The feeling of connection and community that is developed between both the learner and the leader. I unearthed through my own personal experiences that a teacher is just as much a learner as well. The feeling of providing support, structure, decision making, and a safe space for children whose homes lack those elements is incredibly special. I believe this realization will influence the future actions I take as a leader.

A Season on a Women’s & Nonbinary Chainsaw Conservation Crew

For my Beyond the Classroom experience, I had the immense privilege of joining a women’s and nonbinary chainsaw crew through Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC). I wouldn’t hesitate to call my time on this crew the best of my life. The work was definitely hard, but that’s what made the experience so impactful. I lived, camped, and worked outside for the entire season for both the on and off hitches. I was able to be a successful full time student on top of the twelve hour work days. I packed my life down to the bare minimum (one has to do that when living out of a 2002 Toyota Corolla), learned how to wake up at five thirty every morning, learned how to become safe and competent with a Stihl 461 chainsaw, learned that Russian Olives are really thorny, learned that drinking seven Nalgenes a day was necessary, learned that disassembling and reassembling saws is a sort of art form, learned that living outside in November in Colorado is demanding but beautiful, and that I am so much stronger—both physically and mentally—than I ever thought I could be. But the physical demands of the job were only a part of the picture.

When living and working full time with a small crew of people, being able to work with others and accommodate all perspectives is key. Being on a conservation crew means that every person absolutely has to pull their weight, but there is also room to support one another when rest (either physical or emotional) is needed. In order to form a good group culture, our crew as a whole would pick one reading they found impactful each hitch and we would discuss it around the fire before bed. One of our members brought us a different group craft to do each hitch. On Halloween, we dressed up in our best backcountry costumes and went trick or treating to each person’s tent. Personally, I felt that there was a lot of space created for me to expand my leadership capabilities. Work ethic and motivation were key, but so was being able to show up to the group and facilitate a fun environment. During the final evaluation of the season, my crew leaders recommended that I myself try my hand at being a crew leader with my own crew in the future. 

My GLI theme is inequality and human rights, and I found that this tied in well to my experience in many ways. For starters, the crew that I was on was something called an “affinity space.” This means that it was a space reserved specifically for women and queer folks, and was intentionally formed this way in order to create a safer space to live, work, and have fun. Our crew was its own sort of wonderful, intentional community built around queerness and a love of the earth. This made me realize that having affinity spaces at every level of work and society in the real world could be a way of cultivating social justice and support everywhere in the future. In addition, the work itself that we were doing was invasive species removal (Russian Olive and Tamarisk) and the subsequent conservation of riverbanks and riparian areas. Social justice is environmental justice, and vice versa. Humans and the natural world are deeply connected, and being able to preserve and protect the environment is vital if we hope to achieve many of the goals of social justice, specifically the ones oriented around having stable and safe and accepting places to live, work, and express oneself, as well as having clean water, air, and food to be able to do so. 

Wilderness & Civilization

My name is Libby and I spent the Fall 2021 semester backpacking and camping throughout western Montana as part of the Wilderness & Civilization program. My theme is Resources and Sustainability, which pairs well with my major in Wildlife Biology. My major is a fairly niche field, but Resources and Sustainability encompasses a greater scope of topics that I was able to explore through this program, including wilderness ethics, nature writing, and land art.

Land art at Blackfoot Pathways sculpture garden in Lincoln, MT

What I really loved about this program was the way it balanced teaching us about big, abstract concepts driving discourse about the wilderness with learning practical skills for surviving in it. There were many days where I would get into heated discussions about the future of the Wilderness Act in the morning, then literally heat it up in the afternoon with emergency fire building. It challenged me to rethink my opinions on everything from land designations to the logging industry, and more importantly, to put those ideas into words and actions.

Logging site owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy in accordance with the principles of ecological forestry

One of the ongoing conversations we had in almost every class was about whether or not “wilderness” is even a worthwhile concept in the first place. “Big W Wilderness” as we called it is the strictest, most protected land designation we have in this country. It preserves landscapes in their most pristine condition, with no roads, motor vehicles, or extractive activities. However, it operates under the assumption that “pristine” means untouched and “untrammeled” by people. This is a very Western idea because it ignores a long history of active management by Native peoples in these landscapes. We spent over a month reading about the wilderness from the perspective of early foresters, indigenous leaders, nature writers, and modern scientists. At the end of the semester, we had to distill all of these conversations into a final essay defining our wilderness ethic and our hope for the future of wilderness. This is one of the hardest essays I have ever had to write. 

I learned so much this semester about the amazing place I live and the many perspectives and experiences that have made it the place it is today. But I also learned a lot about myself. I put myself way out of my comfort zone to do this program, and it was worth it in more ways than I can count. I realized I am so much more capable than I thought I was. I lived in the backcountry for 10 days, I navigated my trek crew through river crossing and bushwacking and trusted them to lead me in turn, I learned from indigenous voices and challenged my assumptions about industries I knew little about. And all the while, I was making friends for life. Thank you, W&C cohort of 2021. I will never forget you.

Admiring a valley in the Badger-Two Medicine, the aboriginal land of the Blackfeet Nation. The next day, we would hike past that furthest peak.

Learning the art of Lawaiʻa

Hello, my name is Sierra Franklin and I was apart of the National Student Exchange, with help from GLI, and attended The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo for the Fall 2021 semester. I learned so much during my semester in Hilo and will always have a piece of Hawaiʻi in my heart. My experience was not what I thought it was going to be, but it turned out to be even better. I chose the Resources and Sustainability theme during my time at GLI due to my passion regarding protecting the environment. I am majoring in Wildlife Biology and minoring in Restoration Ecology and want to one day become an Environmental Lobbyist that advocates for policy that protects and conserves the environment.

Hapuna Beach located on the Kona side of the island, about an hour and a half from Hilo over the Saddle.

I wanted to come to Hawaiʻi to learn about the ocean and get some hands-on experience regarding marine biology labs and classes. Due to COVID regulations and rules, I could not get into any marine biology labs or even any in person classes at all. This made me really upset, but I figured that I would just use my time in Hawaiʻi to learn about Hawaiian Culture, so I enrolled in several Hawaiian studied classes. I learned about the Hawaiian Family System and how ancient and present-day Hawaiians carry out their day to day lives. I also learned all the limu [seaweed] and iʻa [animals] that the island has to offer. In my Hawaiian Ethnozoology class we learned about these specific ʻōlelo noʻeau [sayings] associated with each iʻa and what they meant in context of everyday life. For example, the ʻōlelo noʻeau about the kūmū fish is “He kūmū ka- iʻa, muʻemuʻe ke aloha” [ kūmū is the fish, bitter is love ]. Due to the fishʻs bitter taste, it is used by Hawaiians to describe the bitterness of love and how sometimes love bites back.

A traditional Hawaiian canoe shown resting on a beach on the Kona side of Big Island.
The sleepy town of Hilo on a Saturday night.

I learned that most people pronounce Hawaiʻi wrong; it is [ havai-i ]. The Hawaiian ʻwʻ is said like the English ʻvʻ. So applying this to the title of this blog post, it is said [ lavi-u ] which is translated directly to English as fishing, but it means much, much more. Lawaiʻa means to take what you need but leave the rest for the future. Does this sound familiar? It is almost exactly the definition of sustainability. In Hawaiʻi the land, sea, and iʻa are a way of life for the people living there and they treat the land with love and care. They understand that in order for the land to give to you, you need to give back to the land and help sustain itʻs health. Hawaiianʻs relationship with their land is highly admirable and I wish that the mainland US shared these same attitudes towards the environment. Relating this to my GLI theme is so easy because everything I learned in Hawaiʻi reflects practicing sustainable resource use.

Inside of a town building in downtown Hilo during a night market.

I also took a Sustainable Tourism class during my time at UH Hilo and it shed a light on a larger issue. Hawaiʻi is being largely exploited for its resources due to mass tourism over the years. Most of the tourist organizations are run by mainlanders who pocket the money out of the state of Hawaiʻi. The tourism industry is selling white sand beaches and Margaritas by the pool; they are not selling Hawaiʻi. Many tourists come here and leave, not having learned one thing about Hawaiian culture. We cannot treat Hawaiʻi like another state in the US. There is a whole different culture and way of life here that has resided for hundreds of years. This mass tourism has damaged the islands environmentally and shown the world that Hawaiʻi is just a vacation to book when you need time away from your busy life. This needs to change and it needs to change fast because Hawaiʻi is not just a vacation spot. It is a sacred place and home to thousands of people. If mass tourism continues to proceed as it is now, Hawaiian culture will be muddled and the land and sea will continue to suffer.

Akaka Falls State Park, 20 minutes outside of Hilo.

I took away many things from my experience at Hilo, but one of the biggest things that I will take away is to respect Hawaiʻi for more than what it is marketed for. Hawaiʻi is a hotspot for cultural, linguistic, and environmental knowledge. There needs to be a renovation of respect for Hawaiian culture and a revamp of the tourism industry that is focused more towards showing Hawaiian culture. My Kumu [ professor ] Lito, who taught my Hawaiian Ethnozoology class, was apart in creating the Pono Pledge that will now be aired on all incoming Hawaiian Airlines flights to Hawaiʻi. Being Pono means acting with correctness and respect. The Pono Pledge according to the website, is, “a creative new initiative by the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) and Hawaii County, encourages safe, responsible and respectful tourism.”. This pledge encompasses not only respectful tourism but also practices sustainability and lawaiʻa in the name of all lands on this Earth. If you have read this far, you have to visit the link and take the Pono Pledge, make sure you click the link and scroll all the way to the bottom and click “Take Pledge” to watch the video! Mahalo nui, and I hope if you ever visit Hawaiʻi you take all of this into consideration.

A freshly planted taro patch on campus.

Summer of Science with SpectrUM through Americorps

I spent my summer volunteering with Americorps in Missoula, MT working with SpectrUM, an interactive science museum for kids. My Global Leadership Initiative global theme is inequality and human rights, so working with all walks of life at the Missoula Public Library and having the ability to educate any person of any income gave me the chance to offer equal opportunity to all, even those living with unfortunate circumstances.

Working for SpectrUM, I got the. opportunity to assist with Parks and Recreation camps and assist the EmPower place at the food bank, giving out free meals to those in need. Volunteering with Americorps gave me the chance to live with little to no income, as none of my hours were paid but all necessary to receive an education award at the end of service. As an educator with SpectrUM in the library I am able to get more in touch with the community as parents and children filter in and out, interacting with me as I have the chance to educate the kids.

Before this experience, I was cleaning houses with my headphones in all day, rarely getting the chance to have conversations with anyone, so getting the opportunity to work with kids and lead in camps or educate at the discovery bench gave me new skills that I never thought to explore. This experience has taught me to appreciate children more as I recognize just how pure they are to the bad things in the world and how it is so important to educate them as they grow up and become, eventually, the citizens who decide the future of the world.

I enjoyed my summer experience so much with SpectrUM through Americorps that I actually decided to serve another Americorps service term part-time during the school year. I recommend serving with Americorps to anyone who desires to get in direct involvement with their community and inspires to make a difference. The people I have met and the connections I have made throughout this experience have me overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to volunteer within my community.

A Summer on the Hill

I spent the summer living in Washington, D.C. and working as a Senate Intern through the Baucus Leadership Institute. I was assigned to work in the office of Montana Senator, Steve Daines. Senator Daines sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee; the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee; the Finance Committee; and the Indian Affairs Committee. My global theme is Global Public Health, so I was extremely fascinated to observe the Covid-19 response from the federal level and explore other topics like rural mental health and telehealth. I was able to attend Senate committee hearings that covered each of these topics, including a hearing that Dr. Anthony Fauci attended to give expert testimony.

Standing on the balcony of the West Terrace of the Capitol building overlooking the National Mall.

Some other interesting healthcare topics I had the opportunity to learn more about included direct primary care economic models, Medicare expansion and reimbursement, and pharmaceutical patent litigation. My favorite part about the fast-paced environment on Capitol Hill was the constant push to learn and stay on top of each issue. I was fascinated to learn more about the Library of Congress and their sole purpose of educating members of Congress and compiling information and reports on every topic imaginable.

In addition to healthcare topics, I spent a majority of my time working with the Natural Resource Policy Advisor in our office covering topics from forest management and wildfire prevention to endangered species protection and management. The Montana drought emergency and cattle market transparency were also critical issues addressed by Senator Daines’ office during my internship.

Senator Rand Paul being interviewed by reporters after exiting the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee hearing to examine the current state of the nation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci testified at this hearing.

Second to the learning, I immensely enjoyed getting to meet so many new people on a daily basis. It was a privilege to meet and develop close friendships with the other interns in Senator Daines’ office, in addition to interns in Senators Klobuchar, Grassley, Lankford, Cramer, and Tester’s offices, to name a few. To my surprise, I observed more comradery than expected between offices of contrasting political ideologies. It was interesting to witness events on the Hill in real-time and then see how media outlets would report on those same events. For example, I was in the Hart building when Representative Joyce Beatty (OH) and multiple voting rights activists protested for H.R. 1 and were arrested for demonstrating in the building. I had a front-row seat to several other news-worthy events, including a shooting incident at a Washington Nationals baseball game, flash-flooding and a tornado that touched down within proximity of D.C., and Senator Schumer’s call for cloture on the INVEST in America Act.

One of my fellow interns and a Staff Assistant standing in the Marine Corps hallway during our Pentagon tour.

Washington, D.C. is a city of rich history and culture and I feel lucky to have experienced living there. Every neighborhood was unique from the other. It was a bit of a challenge at first to adjust to life without a car, but I quickly got the hang of the metro and enjoyed the convenience and simplicity of getting anywhere I needed on the metro or by my own two feet. Thanks to some generous friends, I was able to visit both the National Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the first time.

Senator Daines made it a priority to meet with our intern cohort and know our stories. The Senator also invites each of us to shadow him for a day and accompany him to meetings and hearings.

My summer internship opened my eyes to career paths I had not considered and allowed me to see how I could make an impact in politics, either at the state or federal level. This experience provided some clarity in my career path, gave me the opportunity to establish a network of friends, mentors, and professionals, and gave me memories that I will treasure for years to come.