A Backpacking Adventure Became One Student’s Life-Changing Experience: Inside how Rebecca “Becca” Belotti’s study abroad assignment in Oregon altered the course of her life.

In the fall of 2019, senior psychology major, Rebecca “Becca” Belotti traveled over 2500 miles to Ashland, Oregon through The Oregon Extension Program dedicated to college students’ learning outside of the normal classroom.

“Every autumn since 1975, several dozen college students from across the country have taken a step “out of the current” for an unusual semester of vigorous intellectual exploration.  Students earn 17 credits, but focus on one topic of study at a time.  Daily reading, small group discussion, and one-on-one conversations with faculty members comprise the heart of the OE program,” The Oregon Extension said on its website.

At first, Belotti saw a brochure for the Oregon Extension Program her freshman year at Eastern. Then, two years later, as a junior, she saw the same brochure and took it to her apartment on campus. However, this experience was still on the back burner for Belotti as she dealt with other college issues like class, work, etc.

However, fate seemed to come for Belotti when a professor from the Oregon Program came on campus.

“I first heard about the Oregon Extension Program [in person] when Professor Tad Cobb [from the program] came to talk in my Cross-Cultural Psychology class last spring,” Belotti said.

In this meeting, Cobb gave a slideshow about the general rundown of the Oregon Program. Belotti remembers how he emphasized that there would be no tests, a plus for any college student. Cobb also encouraged students to apply to the program within a few days, as they would be given a $400 scholarship if accepted, a bonus for early applicants.

She applied to the program shortly after Cobb’s presentation, hoping that receiving the scholarship would help her make this trip happen.

“My philosophy is always to apply and see what happens,” Belotti said.

However, even after the conversation with Cobb, Belotti was still not sold that she would want to spend a whole semester on the other coast of the country.

“I felt like I had to think about it a little more… it’s a big commitment,” Belotti said.

The main thing that started to push Belotti into wanted to go to Oregon was her passion for travelling. As she learned more and more about the program, she was informed more about the places that she would be able to see within the few months she would be there.

“As I was filling out the application, I got more and more excited,” Belotti said.

After contemplating all of the possibilities that could be offered in Oregon, Belotti decided to give the program a chance. The summer before going to Oregon, Belotti spent much of her time shopping at REI, an outdoor store with a location in King of Prussia, and breaking in her newly bought boots that would be used for backpacking.

“It didn’t seem necessarily real. It seemed far away before I would be using them [her hiking backpack and boots] in Oregon,” Belotti said. 

However, even though this practice seemed arbitrary, Belotti knew that she needed to be as prepared as she could be before going on any official hike in Oregon. This practice came in handy once she went to Oregon in late Aug. of 2019, officially starting the program. Once in Oregon, Belotti flourished and blossomed all the while backpacking in gruesome weather and reading dozens of pages of reading a day.

“I thought that it was going to be hard, but it wasn’t,” Belotti said.

At first, Belotti thought that keeping up with the physical labor and learning at an intense speed would be so overwhelming, but the program seemed to become easy.

“I felt like everything I was doing was already an extension of who I always wanted to be,” Belotti said.

Belotti encourages everyone to give Oregon, or a program like the Oregon Extension a try.

“At first it took some time to get used to, but by the end [of the program] no one wanted to leave. By the last week, we were all joking about returning our plane tickets out of Oregon, so we could spend more time together,” Belotti said.

After coming back from Oregon, Belotti has gained a passion for implementing what she learned in Oregon to her time left here at Eastern.

“Sustainability. Absolutely. No question,” Belotti said.

Belotti wants to inform the general campus about the importance of sustainable practices that can help lessen human destruction on the earth. To do this, Belotti joined Eastern’s Student Association for Sustainability, a newly formed club on campus. This club meets Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in Jammin’ Java.

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