Sarah Bosch is a Class of 2013 Flinn Scholar from Flagstaff High School. She attended the University of Arizona, graduating with degrees in neuroscience and cognitive science. Her journey to Malaysia and through the wilderness of Arizona has inspired her to apply for graduate school.
As the sun melted away, my friend and I rounded a corner and peeled our eyes for the offshoot to Polk Spring, hopefully our resting spot. Other hikers had raved about it: “Great water, and the best camping on the trail!” Our hearts—if skeptical —were yearning for this unexpected oasis, 415 challenging miles into our 800-mile journey on the Arizona Trail.
Peeking out of the thick, green shoulder of our dirt highway was the sign we’d been searching for. A little weather-beaten and crackly, its carved message still seared with truth: Polk Spring was right off the trail.
We squealed and embraced, still blissfully ignorant of the twigs snapping softly around us. We let go, and my heart stuttered: a pack of twelve wild horses descending into our midst. As they were horses, they had no concept of personal space, and at least five of them were steadfastly blocking our path to the spring.
So, there we were!
Some of our new pals sniffed at our salty backpack straps while we whispered about how we were going to get out of this mess sans trampling, and I couldn’t help but giggle. I was caked in five days of grime, quite literally in the middle-of-nowhere Arizona, wanting nothing more than a sip of cool water and some cold-soaked couscous, yet a pack of wild horses was in the way.
Of all the experiences I’ve had that I can (very genuinely) thank the Flinn Foundation for, this was by far the most absurd.
Flinn community, Malaysia, & the Arizona Trail
When I was applying for the Flinn Scholarship at the start of my senior year in high school, it was hard to fully comprehend the magnitude of what I was reaching for, to understand just how many ways this scholarship would impact my life.
As the caretaker of a searching, indecisive, and occasionally unconfident soul, the Flinn Scholars community was one of the award’s first huge gifts. It’s not every day that you get to spend time with people so genuinely and completely full of curiosity, thought-provoking ideas, and kindness, but, in college, that was my every day. I had the incomparably good fortune to grow from teenager to quasi-adult in the presence of these humans, to be surrounded by their certainty in the importance of doing hard things.
Their examples and encouragement helped me understand that we all deserve to hold space for big, audacious dreams. The immense privilege of studying at an Arizona university and graduating without debt gave me the time, space, and freedom to reach for them.
One of the occupational hazards of being curious and indecisive, though, is that, for just about all of college, I was never entirely certain where I wanted to go next. Only in my last year-and-a-half did I start considering a path in education. This—combined with my love for language and global curiosity—pushed me to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.
And that’s how I ended up spending 2018 in the small, coastal Muslim town of Kerteh, Terengganu, Malaysia.
That year was one of important juxtapositions. I dripped sweat in the equatorial heat, shivered in the blasting air conditioning, and began to feel how temporary our experiences really are. I cried lonely tears in my tiny purple bedroom after a day filled with bellyaching laughs, and I realized that these contrasts are what give depth to the colors in our lives. I felt the generosity, curiosity, and occasionally challenging perspectives of the lovely community I lived in (and examined my own socialization as a “White American” more than I ever could have at home). I learned that, though I may be small, the value of sharing stories, open-minded interest, and empathy is absolutely not.
By the end of the year, I also realized that classroom teaching wasn’t a long-term fit.
This was scary. College was over, the Fulbright grant was over, and now it was time for the “real world.” I had ideas sprouting in my brain, but I didn’t want to jump in without giving them the time and careful consideration that they deserved.
The Flinn Scholarship’s continuing gift of financial flexibility allowed me to create that time and thru-hike the Arizona Trail from the border with Mexico to the Utah line. The bigger-picture value of the seven weeks I spent hiking is still revealing itself, but I have no doubt in the inherent beauty of pushing ourselves to do hard things.
In asking ourselves to slow down and focus on the hill in front of us.
In taking intentional care of ourselves (and Earth), every day.
In touching foot to ground across the entire length of Arizona, my home.
The magic of the Flinn Scholarship
Which brings us back to Polk Spring!
After successfully wheedling our way out of that horsey embrace, my companion and I sat in our tents and munched on dinner: hers satisfying, mine lacking. She sang the praises of the filling, delicious, and easy ramen meal, and I balked.
“What have I been doing this past month, eating crummily prepared couscous?”
Her response was simple.
And there it is, the deepest (and at times most unobvious) magic of the Flinn Scholarship—having the freedom and privilege to learn about this world in your own way, at your own pace, surrounded by people who push you to do so.
The 2020 Flinn Scholarship application will open for Arizona high-school seniors in mid-August. The deadline to apply is Sept. 16. Learn more about the Flinn Scholars Program, including how to apply, at flinnscholars.org.