by Julia Palmigiano, AP'18

They say that if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. However, after participating in the Glacier Bay Summer 2018 program, I don’t think this statement holds much ground anymore. The stark transition from living in a big city to a secluded island in Southeast Alaska was one I was excited about, but could not fully prepare for. I wanted a change in pace, and challenging myself to participate in the program seemed the best way to get that. Though I welcomed the challenge, the idea of putting my mind and body to the test still made me nervous. I had never done anything like this before.

Upon arriving to Inian Islands Institute, my nerves seemed to settle. I began meeting not only other students from where I am from, New York, but students who expressed the same internal struggles that I was facing as well. I was immediately comforted. The warm welcome I received from the staff also helped in soothing the little voice in my head that was giving me every single reason to turn around and go home. One way or another, I would get through the next four weeks, and I was positive that the people around me would help to make that happen.

The program quickly started, and before I knew it, I was down in the dirt, my hands tightly gripping the handle of a metal shovel with the new work gloves I had bought only a week before. The first week of labor was the most intense, but the most satisfying as well. Seeing all the people around me committed to a common goal was extremely motivating. They pushed me to do my best, but also assured me that my best would not be the same as that of others. And that was ok. For our labor project, we are building a wood shed that will allow for the family to cure and store wood during the harsh winter. The foundation of the wood shed, like anything in life, was the hardest part to get started. Digging three-foot holes for hours was not exactly what comes to mind when I think of confidence building. But I have been pleasantly surprised more than once on this island. I felt an overwhelmingly strong sense of community all around me, and was encouraged to power through our labor project. After a days work, and a two foot hole, I saw my insecurities fade away into the pile of dirt that had been accumulating just to the right of the shed site.

“Great work you guys, lets go grab some lunch.”

Sighs of relief filled the air, and we gave each other high fives of accomplishment as we walked back to the main cabin in search of our lunches. I sat on a lawn chair outside to soak up what little South East Alaskan sun we had left for the day, and thought about how physically tired I was. But the strange thing was that I couldn’t complain. Satisfaction and pride had pushed out all the other emotions I had expected to feel. I had just spent a good portion of the day doing hard physical labor. This was nothing like running for the train in a New York City subway station, or lugging around a heavy backpack for school. This was physically straining, but yet so fulfilling. Who would have guessed that the young New York City girl who was hailing cabs just a week ago would have dirt underneath her nails and mud all over her pants. But this is Southeast Alaska. And I am convinced that if you can make it in the Inian Islands, you can make it anywhere.

Julia Palmigiano is from Queens, NY. She studies at City College of New York, where she majors in English Literature.