- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Katy-Jane Angwin often asks herself a question before disembarking on adventures to places she’s never been.

The University of Wyoming student asked herself the question before she left her home in Bishop’s Stortford, England, a market town of roughly 31,000, to live and work in Paris.

And she asked it again when she left Paris, an iconic metropolis of more than 2.2 million people, to work on a cattle ranch in Hyattville - population 72.

The question Angwin asks herself is this: “What’s the worst that can happen?”

More often than not, the 31-year-old has found that the worst is not that bad.

“I like to think that I’m an opportunist,” Angwin said. “If opportunities come my way, I will take them. Everyone talks about having these goals. I think I’m going to be one of those people who’s 65 and still has no idea what they want to be when they grow up. I guess it’s just who I am.”

Angwin is a senior in UW’s Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management program, with a minor in wildlife and fisheries biology and management.

Despite donning her fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude every now and again - which could be mistaken for whimsy - Angwin is a dedicated student. This year, for example, she needs 11 credits to graduate. She’s taking 20.

She has a 3.94 grade point average and was named the UW College of Agriculture’s outstanding student of the year in 2013 and 2014. Angwin also won academic writing awards in 2011 and 2012.

Her professors describe her as “engaged,” ”grounded” and “intellectually hungry.”

“She was the best student in the class in terms of checking facts with me, contradicting me or trying to clarify what I was saying when I was being vague,” said UW Professor Donal O’Toole, who had Angwin in two courses. “I just thought it was like having a colleague in class.”

The route Angwin took to get to UW was circuitous. She’s visited 26 countries on five continents and lived in five countries. Along the way, she was willing to take risks and jump headlong into new adventures - so long as they took her in the general direction of her passions.

“I think I might have about 40 careers: a jack of all trades, master of none,” Angwin said.

At age 21, she moved from England to Paris on a whim with some friends.

“At the end of the first week, I called my mom crying, and I was like, ‘Oh, I hate it,’” Angwin said of Paris. “And she said, ‘You are not coming home. You have got to give it a try.’”

Angwin decided to “stick it out.” She found work as a legal secretary for an international law firm. The office was on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, where she exited the subway each day at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe. She rode horses in her youth, so she found a Parisian riding club. The club offered her free lessons in return for teaching children how to ride.

“I just fell in love with Paris,” Angwin said. “I mean, I think it’s the most beautiful city in Europe.”

Working on the Champs-Élysées was like attending a “fashion show.”

“It was designer clothes and stilettos every day,” Angwin said. “That’s what you wore. That’s what everyone wore. I think, at one point, I had 45 pairs of shoes in my closet, which is not the way it goes now.”

In Paris, she made a friend from San Diego. Her friend invited her to visit in California and - true to her nature - Angwin accepted. They visited a dude ranch in central California. Each morning, Angwin rose before everyone else because of her jet lag, and she began helping the wranglers with their duties. A woman took notice of her handiness with horses and invited her to participate in an internship with Paint Rock Canyon Enterprises - also known as the Hyatt Ranch - in the Big Horn Basin.

She took the offer, secured a visa, moved to Wyoming in February 2009 and quickly found her familiar feelings of discomfort renewed - but for entirely different reasons.

For one, the pastures and canyons of the Big Horn foothills are a far cry from the Champs-Élysées.

“I had just come from Paris, you know, so when I went to the bar, I’d put on a nice pair of jeans and a cute little shirt,” she said. “Well, you don’t really do that in Hyattville. You just go in straight from work in your muck boots, covered in whatever you’re covered in. So, they thought I was a bit weird.”

Although she previously spent plenty of time around horses, it was always in an arena; the free-ranging steeds of the Hyatt Ranch were a new breed altogether. And working with cattle was a new experience, too.

“I didn’t even know the difference between a cow, a heifer, a bull and a steer - I just called everything a cow,” Angwin said.

But she threw herself into the work, asking questions of another intern from Minnesota, reading ranching books and working 12-hour days.

“When I came out here, it was a lot of humble pie,” she said. “I realized I didn’t know much about riding horses. I knew about riding in an arena, but that was about it.”

Her tasks were those of a general ranch hand: mending fence, herding cattle, working irrigation, training horses and haying. In time, she transitioned to primarily caring for ranch horses, which she still does in the summer and during the semester when she can travel to the ranch.

Ranching is a rough-and-tumble job. Angwin was kicked in 2011 and broke her wrist; bucked off a horse in 2012 and broke her elbow. But she said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“People think I’m crazy, I guess, but I just love being outside; I love the hard work,” she said. “There’s something so honest about ranch work. You’re out there, and you’re literally working - physically - very hard. But it’s so simple, somehow, and when you go to bed at night, you sleep really well, and you’re not staying awake worried about things.”

Angwin plans to graduate in December, then take the GRE. She is considering going to graduate school, but has not finalized her decision.

Reflecting on her adventures, she said she learned it’s important to seek out uncomfortable situations. Within the discomfort, she found opportunities for growth.

“I really learned a lot about what I’m capable of,” she said. “I think you’ve got to challenge yourself.”

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com

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