Stories from the Field

Armstrong Scholars 2014: Reflections from Kelsey Wong

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Armstrong Scholars backpacking

After coming back from the Joie Armstrong Scholars program, I am not the same person.

There are times I find myself studying in the library, growing frustrated at the complexity of a math problem and for a second, I take a breath and give my heart a chance to speak.  “Hey, you climbed a mountain before. You went 2 weeks without a shower. You hiked through the blazing sun, through the vehement rain, through thunder and hail. This math problem isn’t a mountain, and it certainly does not have anything on you.” 

There are times I find myself chuckling randomly into the open air when a joke from the trip pops into my head. I laugh and laugh, so badly wanting the share the laughter with my fellow sisters—scattered across the United States—but it’s just me in the crowd, the crowd to whom even if I take a million days to explain my Armstrong experience, won’t be able to grasp it fully. Because there are some things you learn and see while living in the Yosemite backcountry for two weeks that simply cannot be described in words alone.

There are times I cannot fall asleep in my bed and wish to be in my sleeping bag, where the rock-studded ground and the star-shrouded night are parallel to each other and I am but a mere point on the ground line, yet sturdy enough that the wind does not blow me off the earth’s surface. I am an Armstrong Scholar.

What I learned and gained

Joie’s trip taught me about myself. Before I enjoyed looking at trees but it is a completely different experience to rest and eat under their shade, realizing how much more they have learned during their century-old lives then I have learned in my 18 years. When I went on the first 0.3 miles of the journey, my backpack another human clinging on for dear life, I wanted to leave, afraid I wouldn’t make the 60-something mile journey, sure that they picked the wrong person for this trip, a person who considered a 1.3 mile run the most horrendous part of high school. But that’s exactly it: you need to take risks to grow, to find who you are and what the status of your heart is. The Armstrong Scholars trip pushes you to emotional and physical limits—limits I purposefully avoided. But it is coming to these limits that we arrive at the front gates of our hearts and demand for the gates to open up. We let our masks fall off and let honesty flow. We let authenticity shine. We find strength where we thought there was none and joy in sharing our deepest pains and struggles with each other.  

There are a thousand and two memories from this trip that I hold in my deepest pockets. Yes, it was the best two weeks of my life. And yes, there were time I felt small and insignificant under the blanket of the universe, but we were all there together.

There is nothing like the camaraderie that grows deep roots when you put together 15 crazy burly girls, place them in the majestic wild for two weeks, and let them see the wild, majestic beauty in themselves and in each other. The warmth of that unity (shout out to my spooning buddy, Olivia) brings so much life into your body, reminding you how beautiful it is to be alive.

Thank you Joie, for teaching me how to gulp life.

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