When I look back on the month of May, I think of all the stress and headaches that went into the process of finding and settling on an internship. I knew that going to North Carolina to intern with the North Carolina Coastal Federation was a great opportunity and the best choice for me, but I was nervous to move away from home and be completely on my own in a new place for an entire summer — although my mom was definitely more nervous than I was.

I was trying to convince myself that I was being bold and find that spirit of adventure, which is always an intimidating prospect until you actually take a deep breath and go for it. The truth is, I had no clue what was in store for me when I committed to the federation. My summer here has been nothing short of life-changing.

As cliché as it is to say that, I’ve had the ability — removed from my small hometown and the constant pressures of college — to evaluate myself and figure out who I am and who I want to become. I’ve grown and I’ve changed. I’ve become a coffee drinker, an environmental journalist and a student of the many things the coast has to teach. I’ve begun to write a novel, I’ve banded pelicans, I’ve surfed (badly, but loved it), I’ve successfully cooked dinner without burning the rice. Most of all, I’ve been presented with countless opportunities and thrown myself into them without fear.

Over the course of my internship, I’ve had the chance to work with Jockey’s Ridge, crafting text that will be written on the walls of the updated visitors’ center and read by thousands of people. I’ve collaborated with the Coastal Studies Institute, creating interpretive signage that will be placed on the Roanoke Island Trails system so people can learn about the history of the area and the natural world around them. I’ve worked with the wonderful Leslie Vegas on the Ocean Friendly Establishments program, attending meetings and synthesizing mountains of information into a few short, sweet documents that explain the different types of plastics and how to dispose of them. In the process, I’ve learned about the different types of plastics and how to dispose of them.

Sara Hallas has been there to take pictures of every cool education opportunity she’s let me help lead. I’ve planted seeds, literally (cheers to living shorelines) and figuratively, that will stretch beyond a summer and change the course of the world. That is what the federation has given me this summer. It’s not only taught an English major about science in so many different ways; it’s given me the chance to write my own legacy and leave something behind me that’s bigger than a 5’5” girl from northeast Pennsylvania. The people I’ve interacted with on a daily basis and the lessons I’ve learned from everyone I’ve encountered — whether it’s about the different types of oyster reefs or how to use a dibbler or that I can put tin foil in the oven and pull it out with my bare hands because it doesn’t conduct heat well — will never leave me.