View from the dashboard
in New Mexico, USA

No Passport Required

USjournal Student Writer: Rebecca Darrup, Cross-Country Cowgirl

It takes one thousand, six hundred and seventy miles (about 2,687 kilometers), or about twenty-seven hours if you travel by truck and trailer, to get from the eastern coast to the deep southwest of the United States. More specifically, from central Pennsylvania – fast-paced, green, leafy, mountainous, numerous large colleges and universities, and small rodeo associations, a noticeable Polish and German influence – to northeastern New Mexico, with its flat, rugged landscape, a culture of cowboys, big rodeos, Native Americans, Mexicans, and a homey, mellow atmosphere almost anywhere a person wanders. Despite the fact that Pennsylvania and New Mexico are a part of one nation, the change from state to state can seem like a "study abroad" experience – except without the passport.

Currently, I am just ten days away from making that cross-country trek again, and I am honestly quite excited! Last year, on the other hand, I was so nervous that I could barely focus on anything. I was excited then too, but there was so much that I didn't know about Mesalands Community College, the town I was going to be living in, the people that would be surrounding me, and even the kind of food I would eat. I knew that when I got to the college, with the exception of the two rodeo coaches and the two instructors for my major classes, I wouldn't know anyone in the entire town. My nerves were constantly on end!

Sunset in New Mexico, USA

Mountains of Arizona, USA

Yet, as my family helped me load my horses and we hit the road, I was filled with a sense of peace that I had made the right decision about my continued education. The drive was uneventful, and the town was quiet as we drove through to the school. When we finally stepped out of the truck, the air was dry and hot, especially for mid-morning. One of the rodeo coaches met us at the arena and helped me to get my horses settled in. A big part of the reason I chose the college I did was to be able to compete in college rodeo. While my education in class focused on farrier science (how to make and apply horseshoes), and silversmithing (building jewelry, spurs, and other items for the equine industry), my education also included the world of rodeo. From the culture itself, to competing in the variety of events the sport offers, I had a chance to get involved in it all, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.

Over the course of the first few weeks, I was kept busy with classes and practice. Due to the small size of the college (about 1,100 students), and the small town, we all got to know each other, and I made good friends in my classes and on the rodeo team. In class, the teachers were helpful and encouraging when I struggled, and working with other students brought out the best in all of us.

Practices were challenging, but always fun, and most of the time, I felt that I left for the day better than I had been when I started. Although it was late until we were all done for the day, groups of us would often gather at a friend's apartment and make supper, eat together, watch movies or play cards, and talk. We would stay up late (too late, usually!) discussing our families, hobbies, classes and assignments, the latest drama, our love lives or lack thereof, the last rodeo, the next rodeo, the professional rodeo circuit, the oil industry and the price of diesel fuel, and just about anything else we could come up with.

The day's end at the
College Practice Pen

Creek in Central Pennsylvania, USA

One noticeable cultural difference (and challenge) was the language. In central Pennsylvania, English is the most common language, along with Pennsylvania Dutch - very similar to German. However, in New Mexico, I began to dive into the Spanish language, as well as learning some Navajo terms. Several of my friends, along with one of my teachers, had a big hand in that, and made it enjoyable for me. We would tease one another about pronunciation as well: where I would say "oil", the word sounded like "ohl" when someone from New Mexico said it!

Most of us came from diverse backgrounds, and it was incredibly interesting to learn about one another. Our rodeo team consisted of kids who had grown up on New Mexico and Arizona cattle ranches, a handful of Native American kids, a few more who were of Mexican descent; there was a young man from Washington State, one from California, another from Colorado, from Arkansas, Connecticut, and four kids from New York. Oh, and me, from Pennsylvania. We all had quite a lot to learn about one another!

Through all the miles/kilometers on the road, hours in class and at practice, and letters to and from family, I'd be lying if I said I never got a little homesick, particularly when my grandpa got sick last fall. However, I can absolutely say that going somewhere that seems like a whole new world is worth everything you might have to sacrifice in order to go. It is an eye-opening experience, creating opportunities to make connections with new people, understand different cultures, and explore unique places. My college ventures thus far have had their ups and downs, but it has been good overall, and I'm looking forward to getting my second year underway.

Rebecca's Family Farm in Pennsylvania, USA

Here are Rebecca's other posts, in case you missed them:

Best of luck in all your endeavors this year,
and as you move forward on your college path!

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