Ninety percent of the time you’re with Sarah, you’re laughing. Last year, she decided to skydive out of her comfort zone, and moved to New Zealand to push her boundaries. While she plans to pursue a Masters in Social Work, she’s currently pursuing a life well-lived. As you can tell, she’s joyful, intelligent, self-aware, and intuitive. I speak from experience when I say that adventures with her are full of good times and surprises. That’s how I know this BYOM adventure is going to be a great one. Without further ado, meet Miss Sarah Leonard.
- Age: 24
- Location: Auckland, New Zealand
- Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Field of Interest: Psychology
- What Inspired You Today? I took a day-long bush walk (that’s Kiwi-speak for a wilderness hike) today along the scenic and deserted Waitakere Ranges in New Zealand and saw a total of five other people the entire day. Each and every one of them made eye contact, smiled, and went out of their way to greet my friend and me. The friendliness and generosity of spirit that I’ve come to identify with Kiwis is pleasantly disarming and constantly inspiring.
- What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? My sense of adventure. I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, and I’ve lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; New York, New York; Seattle, Washington; London, England and now Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve also participated in long-term exchange programs with delegations from France, Germany, and Mexico. It’s led to some of the most rewarding experiences of my life, as well as some of the hardest. But it’s the people that I’ve met and the bonds that I’ve forged with them that really make me appreciate it.
Questions + Answers
You’re on the Trip of a lifetime in New Zealand, coming off a big road trip across the U.S. What inspires you to take those kinds of adventures?
Strangely enough, I think my thirst for adventure stems primarily from my desire to better know myself. I want to know what my limits are and what I’m capable of, not so much in the physical sense like how long I can run or what I can endure, but in the sense of being and living and growing.
I’ve found that I’m typically my “most true” self, or at least the self that I’m most happy with, when I’m fully present and interacting in a completely foreign situation. There are no comfortable routines to fall back on, so the choices and approaches you take are more significant, and I think that’s when real growth takes place.
The concept of a “home base” also inspires me. My home in Cleveland isn’t going anywhere, and if I can make myself at home elsewhere through the building of new relationships and a growing familiarity with a once-foreign country, then it seems to me like I’m almost doing the impossible – simultaneously making my world both a bigger and smaller place.
One of your traits that inspires me is your self-awareness. How have you cultivated that?
I’m constantly trying to put myself in new and sometimes uncomfortable situations, be it moving to a foreign country or simply trying to befriend someone I’ve never met before. I’d be lying if I said that in these experiences I didn’t often feel self-conscious and insecure and maybe even a little scared, but I just try to tell myself that instead of wasting energy feeding these negative feelings, I should save the energy those negative feelings would require for being present in the moment, and for later when I can truly reflect on what happened.
I just do my best to be objective about my experiences. With a little distance, the self-consciousness and insecurity that I was initially feeling transforms into a semblance of self-awareness. I’m then using that energy in a productive way — analyzing and determining what I can do in the future that would make a similar interaction go more smoothly.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself this year?
That I’m capable of maintaining, and even furthering, healthy relationships with friends and family even when I’m thousands of miles away. I’ve found it to be extremely important since I enjoy traveling so much. Being so far away from my friends and family requires a constant and conscious effort on my part to maintain the same level of closeness with them, but it prevents the distance from feeling like such a sacrifice. Overall, I think it makes the traveling feel more worthwhile since I still have active, meaningful connections with the original places and people in my life. It’s also reassuring to realize that supporting the personal growth of the ones you love surpasses the challenges posed by extreme distance and time differences.
There are highs and lows on every adventure. When you’re having a low day and you’re far away from everything comfortable, what do you do to pull yourself up?
When I’m having a low day, and there are plenty, I make sure to remind myself that without the low days, not only would the high days not feel so high, but I most likely would not be where I am now. I’ve found that it is through the struggle to balance the two extremes that you find the fuel to explore, adventure, and generally live your life to the fullest .
Who’s your muse?
My mother. She’s constantly pursuing and achieving her own goals, while simultaneously encouraging and motivating others to achieve their own.
My grandmother had ten kids, and my mom was right in the middle. It somehow came up that my grandmother wanted to go back to school to become a nurse, which was totally unrealistic considering the responsibilities she had at home. My mom dedicated herself to helping my grandmother and taking over a significant chunk of responsibilities so that my grandmother could go to night school and achieve her dream. My mom was only 14 at the time and still managed straight A’s in school and went on to college.
That’s only one example, but she has been the catalyst for countless others’ dream-seeking, including my own. She has an inexplicable way of motivating you in the most constructive and encouraging way. It’s entirely selfless. I admire that so much and I hope that one day I can fill a similar role for the people I care about.
Additionally, I’m constantly inspired by my good friend Kristel Harlacher for her extensive, loving work with nonprofits in Kenya.