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The mission of the Honors College at East Carolina University is to
prepare tomorrow's leaders through the recruitment, engagement, and
retention of exceptionally talented students of character in a diverse
intellectual living-learning community and to challenge them to attain
high levels of academic achievement.
ECU Honors alumna Kelly Kerschner (’14) graduated with a BS in Public Health Studies and a minor in Biology. She then completed a post-baccalaureate program in medical laboratory science in Charlotte in 2015. Kelly is currently employed as a traveling medical laboratory scientist at a clinic on an Indian reservation in Oregon.
I’ve spent some time trying hard to figure out how to condense a 120 day life altering trip into 2-5 paragraphs. How do I get someone to take a walk in my shoes when I took over 5 million steps in them? There is no “right” way to sum up my experience hiking the Appalachian Trail, but this is my attempt:
In a world where we are frequently bombarded with social media, negative news, and life on a bigger scale than anyone can comprehend, I found myself lost. I had a good job, and I was complacent living in the city; but I found my anxiety always lurking around a corner and felt a sense of incompleteness. One October day, after having a rough time at work, a seed was planted in my mind: What if I quit it all and do something bigger than me, get off the grid for six months, break the daily grind and challenge myself? What if I took what I had been learning on my weekend backpacking trips and applied it to a through hike of the Appalachian Trail? So I slowly began to shape things that would assist me in starting the 2190.9 mile hike on March 19, 2018.
I quit my job in February, having saved up enough to travel to Europe for a few weeks before returning home to head to Georgia. When that morning of the 19th came, my parents stopped at Amicalola Falls to let me weigh my pack (38 lbs!) and check in before driving up to the Springer Mountain trailhead. I had no idea what I was going to face on the trail, you can’t prepare yourself mentally or physically enough, and my parents felt conflicted as they watched their daughter wander off into the woods on a footpath with just a pack on her back. They questioned my sanity on multiple occasions, but they never really gave up hope.
My first month and a half I endured typical weather in the south – scorching abnormal March heat, then snow and ice the next day. I walked through rain, whiteout conditions, winds reaching almost 100 mph, and the dreaded humidity. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it day-in and day-out, but I was motivated and determined; plus I had given up a lot to be out there and didn’t want to go back to starting over. Before I knew it, I was two months in and halfway there. A stroll through the mountains had become a physical challenge and a need to push my body to see what it was truly capable of. The day before I hit Harpers Ferry, I had hiked my largest day: 35 miles. It poured rain the whole day (as it had for the past 4 days straight) and involved a section called the roller coaster, known for its steep ascents and descents. I felt so satisfied at the end of that day and rode that high for the next week. The trail taught me to love my body. I learned to appreciate the people around me (the AT was a very social experience), and I learned to embrace the small things that gave me joy.
After Virginia the states flew by – some I hiked through in 3 or 4 days. The terrain got harder, and the mountains got higher, but I still never slowed my pace. Once I got my hiking legs about 5 weeks in, I would average 22-25 miles a day—much faster than most people.
In early July, I crossed the last state line. I had walked from Georgia to Maine, but I still had 280 miles to the finish. Some of the most beautiful hiking wasthrough New Hampshire and Maine, and
I hope to return and take my time someday. On July 16, around 3 p.m.on a sunny warm day, I summited Mount Katahdin – 3 months and 27 days after I had started.I went up alongside a guyI had hiked 110 days with, and we touched the sign side by side sharing that moment.
I cried as emotions washed over me – there is no way to put into words the feelings I had standing right there. Some were of relief, some were of pain, some were fear, but all together beautiful. When I stepped foot on the trail I was just Kelly, but when I trekked up the final mountain, I had changed—I was 16 pounds lighter, and everyone knew me by my trail name Throwdown. I was a thru-hiker.
Hiking the trail changed me, and sometimes, I wonder if it was for the best; but overall, it was an experience I am glad to have set my mind to and completed. I learned patience and the ability to leave myself open to change. I raised over $2300 for the organization ‘Hike for Mental Health’ and improved my own mental health along the way. It was a scary move to leave behind a comfy life at a steady job, but that part I never regret. I spent some time traveling after the trail and I have now moved out to Central Oregon, where I found a job and I can plan my next adventure.Whether it is the Pacific Crest Trail or just another weekend day hike, the sky is the limit, and the Appalachian Trail has instilled an unwavering confidence in me. I know I can do whatever I set my mind to – and you can, too!
You can follow Kelly’s adventures on Instagram, her Facebook blog, or e-mail Kelly directly at email@example.com with questions about her experience.
Sophomore EC Scholar and biology/chemistry double major Peyton Jackson spent last summer interning at the Georgia Aquarium in their Fish and Invertebrates Department, specifically working with the Galleries Team. The experience was an incredible opportunity to build on their knowledge and experience in conservation; the summer before college, Peyton had interned at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher in the Aquariology Department.
“As the Galleries Team’s intern, I was responsible for prepping food and feeding animals, cleaning exhibits, and maintaining life support systems,” said Peyton. “I worked alongside aquarists and learned about different aspects of animal husbandry, including water chemistry, animal behavior, and life support. I took care of a wide variety of animals from jellyfish and corals to sharks and octopuses.” They were also exposed to other departments within the aquarium, such as Quarantine and Ocean Voyager, and even had the chance to shadow medical procedures.
“After college, I would love to work with an AZA institution with conservation and animal care,” Peyton added, “so this was a great way for me to experience first-hand what it’s like to be an aquarist at such a large institution with unique animals.” Check out their photos and videos from their internship below!
“I will never forget the stars in the Sahara desert. It looked like a glitter jar exploded on a huge body of ink. I relive that moment as often as I can. Another one of those moments was getting to the top of the Great Wall. It was more than breathtaking. Words cheapen what it meant to me.” Although Jules Verne might have considered traveling the world in eighty days impressive, Carly Judd believes that taking the time to smell the roses is better practice. Otherwise, what kind of meaning can you get seeing the world from a narrow airplane window? Like us, Carly finds the value of a study abroad in seeing the world from a wider window.
It might’ve not been in the renowned eighty days, but senior EC Scholar Carly Judd got to sail the world in 116 days with the Semester at Sea study abroad program. From January 5th to May 1st, Carly continued her Neuroscience and Art History double majors aboard a cruise ship, stopping along the way to travel from ports dotting the globe. Semester at Sea’s mission is “To educate individuals with the global understanding necessary to address the challenges of our interdependent world,” aligning with the Honors College’s philosophy to call the world your classroom. Carly’s whirlwind adventure began in San Diego before setting off for Hawaii and sailing around Asia to Japan, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, and India. Her program didn’t stop there, continuing to Africa at Mauritius, South Africa, and Ghana before working her way up through Morocco to Europe. Portugal, the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic were last but not least on her itinerary.
With so much to do and see, it’s hard to imagine what any particular day during her study abroad could have looked like, let alone become the usual. “On the ship, we would wake up, have classes, hang with friends, and have a movie or something at night. Without internet, we played A LOT of card games. But I miss having no social media/internet and what came with it: stargazing on the end of the ship, deep conversations with my friends, and exploring. When we landed in country, it was go-go-go—not a moment of rest. The travel was independent so we had to plan everything with people on the ship who we met. It was such a growth experience to travel this way—sometimes we would just pack a bag and explore.”
These experiences served as opportunities for your abilities to develop outside your comfort zone. Since Carly had to adapt to vastly different cultures on a regular basis, being lost in translation gave countless stories to see herself through new lenses. “One moment I will never forget was in a train station in Japan. My friends and I had just bought some gyoza (a type of wonton dish) and we were looking everywhere for somewhere to sit down and eat, but we couldn’t find any chairs or tables. We finally settled for the corner of a department store-type joint and ate our food standing up. As we finished up eating, we realized that the store had closed and all the employees were awkwardly staring at us, politely waiting on us to leave. We hustled and threw our garbage in what we thought was a trashcan before we left. When I turned around, I saw a wet umbrella symbol on the side of the “trashcan.” To make the situation even more hilarious, all of the employees were laughing as we dug out our trash and hurried out!”
If you ask anyone who’s done a bit of traveling, they’ll tell you that improvising and rolling with the changes are key to growing with the journey. What we think we can translate from our own background into global impact changes with the new tides we’re swept away in, and what impact we bring home is sometimes molded by cultures that refined our goals. “I went in thinking I could make an impact but quickly learned that the world was to be my classroom, its beautiful people my teachers, and its lessons crashed upon me like the waves that hit the ship day after day—comforting and never-ending,” Carly said. “My study abroad was one big perspective shift. It would teach me every day how little I knew about the world I lived in and how small the window of things I had been exposed to was, even though I considered myself open-minded. It humbled me in so many ways.”
“ECU prepared me with the tools and the self-confidence to feel I could do something so different than anything I had ever done before. It built my wings up so that I truly felt and feel I can go anywhere and do anything I want to do. I have brought back with me a renewed passion for what I love, an appreciation for our amazing campus and faculty, and an excitement for the global perspective in how I operate on campus and with my fellow students.” ECU and the Honors College give students wide-ranging financial support opportunities to pursue their dream experience abroad. Carly received funding through the EC Scholars award and the program’s study abroad stipend, as well as scholarship funding through the Semester at Sea program. I asked Carly for some parting words about what the lasting positive change a study abroad experience can mean for prospective students. “It will change you and broaden you. It will provide you with the discomfort to allow yourself to truly grow into more than you knew you could be.”
To learn more about study abroad opportunities, you can contact us at 252.328.6373, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us on ECU’s campus at the Mamie Jenkins Building. To keep up to date on Honors College events and student stories like Carly’s, follow us on social media.