Back to the States! Woo! After exploring Paris, road tripping through the Loire Valley, backpacking in the Pyrenees on the GR10 Trail and then attending a month of French language classes in Montpellier, I was excited to come home. It was a wonderful adventure, but after two months abroad, I was ready to see my people, experience familiarity, shop at Trader Joe’s (haha), and get back to work. You’d think I would’ve flown straight back to Austin, but-surprise!-I flew to Salt Lake City, Utah. I know, I know, you’re probably wondering, “What in the world, Eleanor? You went from France to Mormon weirdness?” But, it wasn’t like that. I went back to school and earned a professional certificate at the University of Utah. Keep reading to learn about exploring the West with Jason and my experience living in Salt Lake City for six weeks.
Why I Chose Salt Lake City to Go Back to School
Okay, here’s what happened: remember how I said I’d been working in marketing at an Austin engineering company before going to France? If you didn’t know that, now you do. 🙂 My daily tasks included blog writing, infographic design, website updates, social media management, and small graphic design projects. I was using tools like Canva, Adobe InDesign, WordPress, and a few others. This was my first time really using those tools and working in the digital marketing world. Before moving into that role, I’d worked in field marketing for Nuun Hydration, but that was more in-person marketing and event planning. My degree is in mechanical engineering, so this whole new creative, marketing, design world was super new to me and I was doing my best to rapidly learn and produce quality content but didn’t feel like I had the knowledge, or time, to learn best practices and deliver my best work. So, I started thinking about going back to school. I love school and learning! I started googling phrases like “digital marketing programs Austin,” or “graphic design courses online.” I also took an Adobe InDesign course through UT’s Informal Classes and went to a couple of digital marketing workshops at General Assembly and Galvanize. These were all good courses, but not enough and I still didn’t feel like I could fully focus on the new skills, while working full-time, keeping up with friends and family, maintaining a house which I also Airbnb’d, trying to stay fit, etc. Now maybe you’re thinking, “Eleanor, you could’ve just stopped some of those things…like say no to social activities, or stop going for jogs,” but I don’t think that would’ve been the healthy answer. I need balance. I considered an MBA program and went to an info session for UT’s McComb’s School of Business MBA program, but decided that I didn’t want to go into so much debt (probably like $100,000). I also looked into Austin Community College’s Visual Communication program, but it was going to take too many semesters and wasn’t a mix of marketing and design.
I was doing all of this research as the seasons were changing and transitioning from the temperate Texas spring to blistering Texas summer. Ugh, I was not looking forward to a summer of sitting in rush hour traffic in 105 degrees. “Oh,” I thought, “maybe going back to school would be a good reason to go live near the mountains for a bit. I could fly straight there from France and totally skip Texas summer. Yes, that’s a great idea.” I started looking up digital marketing and graphic design programs in mountain cities, like Denver, Boise, and even Spokane. I was reading “city vs city” forums and checking cost-of-living estimates and people kept mentioning Salt Lake City. Most of the mentions were something along the lines of, “If you stay in the Salt Lake City and Park City area, it’s awesome for outdoor activities and still pretty affordable. There’s also a growing tech scene and people are friendly. The Mormons aren’t that weird and you really won’t even notice.” Inspired by these claims and after looking at photos, I checked out the University of Utah’s Professional Education program and found a perfect fit! They offered a Certificate in Digital Tools for Creative Professionals, which would cover some digital marketing, some graphic design, some web design, and some social media advertising. Everything I wanted to learn! Plus, it was only six weeks long with twice-weekly lectures and full-day labs on Saturdays. I saw they offered scholarships, so I applied, because why not? They generously offered me a $500 discount and the program ended up costing about $1000 (sold my road bike and furthered my career). Much better price tag than an MBA. The timing was perfect too. Classes would start about one week after I left France, which alotted about one week for exploring the West with Jason.
Road Tripping in the West – Salt Lake City, Grand Tetons, and Boise
My sweetie pie husband (boyfriend at the time) generously drove my car all the way from Austin to Salt Lake City and picked me up at the airport. Probably one of the nicest things anybody’s ever done for me. (Mom and Dad – you’ve done many similar generous things for me…thank you always and forever!) He brought his mountain bike and tent and camped and shredded some trails along the way. He said he enjoyed the trip, except for getting a flat tire and the hydraulic pump on the car tailgate failing. Eek! But, walking out of the Salt Lake City Airport and seeing him was such a wonderful feeling and I was overwhelmed with love, comfort, and appreciation. It felt great to hug him. We stayed in Salt Lake City for two nights and checked out a couple of places. We took the streetcar to the amazing Salt Lake City Downtown Public Library, had dinner at the East Liberty Tap House and took care of some car work, like getting new tires. While in France, I’d been applying for jobs and ended up having two interviews asap in Salt Lake City. One was for a remote position with a digital marketing agency and one was for working in the local Salomon running store. I ended up getting the remote digital marketing position and worked for the agency while in Salt Lake City, but not until after the road trip with Jason.
We had a plan of leaving Salt Lake City and visiting Grand Teton National Park, then rolling over to Boise to see some friends and then Jason would fly home from Boise.
Camping in Grand Teton’s National Park in October
We made it to the Grand Tetons, paid the entry fee and found a campsite at the Colter Bay campground for $30/night. It was mid-October when we arrived and already pretty chilly, but we figured we’d be okay in our sleeping bags inside the tent. Omg, psych! It was freezing! I think it dropped down to 17 degrees on the first night and my gear was not adequate. Remember, I’d come straight from summer backpacking in the South of France! My sleeping bag was only rated for 42 degrees and that first night was rough. I put socks on my hands and tried to roll next to Jason to get some of his body heat. The next night was much better as he generously let me use his 0-degree rated sleeping bag.
After we set up our tent, we drove around the park a little and checked out the warm, cozy, Jackson Lake Lodge for a happy hour beer. That became our new routine. Spend all day outside hiking, then go to a warm lodge for a drink and then stay there as long as possible before going back to the cold campsite to cook dinner. Haha.
On our first morning, we woke up and quickly got dressed in the 20-degree temps. Brr! Not yet ready to hit the trails, we drove over to Jenny Lake Lodge and ordered a pot of coffee and read the newspaper and used the wifi. It was so cozy and the perfect way to warm up and start the day. We eventually left the lodge, filled our backpacks with snacks and water and did an 8-mile hike around Jenny Lake. I’d done this hike with my Mom in the past, but it was fun to do it again and at a different time of year.
A Quick Stop in Boise
After the Grand Teton’s, we packed up the car (trusty, spacious, 2002 Volvo V70) and headed towards Boise to see our friends, Hannah and Jake. They’d recently moved there from Austin and had offered to host us. Thanks, guys!
We made it to Boise in the late afternoon and caught up with Hannah and Jake a bit before heading out on the town. They had two extra bicycles for us to ride and it was fun to explore on two wheels. They knew all of the best routes and trails! We made it to Camel’s Back Park just as the sun was setting and climbed up the big sand dune to check out the view. Then we got back on the bikes and rode to dinner.
Jason flew back to Austin the next day, Sunday, and I dropped him off at the airport and made my way back to Salt Lake City. My classes were going to start the next day!
Living and Learning in Salt Lake City
I made it back to Salt Lake City at the height of fall color and some sunshine. I was renting a room on Airbnb in the Sugar House neighborhood (hip area with cool shops and a Whole Foods) and enjoyed jogging around the neighborhood and taking pics of the fall color and ever-present mountains.
My course started and I was really impressed. There were only about 10 people in the classroom and the instructors were great. One was a software developer turned project manager for the University of Utah, one was a freelance graphic designer and one managed digital marketing for the University of Utah. We met in a lab with brand new iMacs for 3 hours on Mondays and Wednesdays and then again for 8 hours on Saturdays. There was always an agenda and we did some practice projects and then had a capstone project to complete at the end. The instructors were very hands-on and ready to answer any question. I learned a ton! At this point, I’d also started working for the digital marketing agency as a content marketer and had picked up some freelance work for an Oracle partner company. I was busy! Most days started at 7am and I’d have some coffee and go for a run or to the gym. Then I’d shower and go to a local coffee shop or library and work from about 9am-1pm, then take a lunch break, then work some more and then go to my class at the UofUtah.
On the weekends, or if it was a slow weekday, I’d explore new trails. One of my favorites was the 6-mile round-trip Lake Blanche trail. It started at Mill B South Trailhead in the Wasatch National Forest and then climbed up 3 miles to the top, where you found the beautiful Lake Blanche.
I became friends with the folks in my UofUtah class, especially a gal from Seattle who also worked remotely, and also went to group runs, Meetup groups and Creative Mornings to meet new people.
I also enjoyed just walking around the Salt Lake City neighborhoods, like the Avenues and those in the 9th & 9th area. Yes, there were multiple Latter Day Saints churches, the Temple was huge and buying alcohol was weird (could only buy at state-run liquor stores), but I never had a bad experience with the LDS/Mormon community. I think my Airbnb host was Mormon (he worked for the LDS church and didn’t have coffee for guests), but he was so friendly and seemed like a great Dad. I also read the book, Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, which is all about the Mormon religion, and learned that modern-day Mormons don’t practice polygamy and are really trying to distance themselves from the stereotypical fundamentalists. I don’t know, yes, some parts of their belief are a little strange to me, but to each their own. Also, I was only there for six weeks, so I can’t really say if I eventually would have felt differently. I do know that they have some of the best libraries I’ve ever seen and their public schools are good and there’s a nice farmers market. Additionally, Adobe, WorkDay, Black Mountain, Overstock.com and other big companies have established offices there and Salt Lake City’s nickname is Silicon Slopes. I heard that the winters can be rough because smog gets trapped in the bowl between mountain ranges and you often have to drive up to Park City to see sunlight.
My Mom also came to visit for a few days and we had fun exploring some outdoor stuff and cooking nice meals together.
After Mom left, I had a few more days of my program at the University of Utah, which also meant a few more days of enjoying the nearby mountains and my new friends. I said goodbye and packed up my stuff and Mom flew back out to drive back with me. We drove south through Moab, then New Mexico and then back to Texas. I had a wonderful time in Salt Lake City and in the program at the University of Utah. It was just the right amount of time and just the right type of certificate to help my professional growth, but Texas will always be home!
Do you have questions about the program at the University of Utah? Ever been to Salt Lake City or the Grand Tetons? Have you ever gone back to school as an adult? Comment below or send me a message! Would love to hear from you.